On Air: Does democracy have to be secular to work?

Ayatollah KhameneiEver since the Iranian election, there is one issue that’s cropped up again and again in your discussions on Iran. Does democracy have to be secular to work? On yesterday’s show, Maggie commented that democracy doesn’t work unless politics and religion are separated. SouthAsian believes that what’s happened in Iran crushes the idea that religion and democracy can ever be compatible. And this blogger believes that Iran has a dictator hiding in the shroud of religion. Can you ever be a true demcracy if religion rules?

“Today there are two Irans. One is prepared to support Khamenei’s bid to transform the republic into an emirate in the service of the Islamic cause. Then there is a second Iran – one that wishes to cease to be a cause and yearns to be an ordinary nation,” comments Amir Taheri.

This blogger says that what’s happened in Iran has reminded us that there can be no freedom without a secular government .  “Not a theocracy, but a thugocracy” agrees Bruce Walker. If you live in a nation with religious rule, how free do you feel? In Iran, Islamic theologians have an overarching hold on government, here’s a breakdown on power sharing in the country.  What’s the point in an election if one man has the ultimate say?

Elsewhere in the world, the Dalai Lama has encouraged Tibetans in exile to embrace the democratic system of electing a leader, saying that his “job is too much for one man” . His video speech to hundreds of monks, nuns and the Dharamsala community highlighted the pressure he has felt being both a political and spiritual leader. His comments could close the door on a ritual that has lasted almost 500 years. The Dalai wants to be the last “boy king” . Should Iran accept that the two do not always work, as the Dalai Lama has? Would religion be more effective playing a background role as we are seeing in Iraq?

151 Responses to “On Air: Does democracy have to be secular to work?”

  1. 1 anu_D
    June 22, 2009 at 20:05

    Offcourse….why not…what’s wrong with religion and politcal leadership overlapping.

    It is one way social living….as right and as wrong in as many ways as are societies where religion and politics are partially or wholly detached.

    Where faith and spirit of community living are the fundamental human drivers……religion and poilitics are interspersed and entwined.

    anu_D in Kuwait

    • 2 Andy
      June 23, 2009 at 18:59

      Religion and democracy can never be mixed. In a democracy everyone’s opinion must be taken into account. In a true democracy where the public votes there may very well be a decision that goes against a religious ruling. How can the democracy work as it should unless religion is willing to step aside and allow the democracy to rule itself? If religion always over rules the vote in situations like this then there is no democracy but rather a theocracy.

  2. June 22, 2009 at 21:05

    His Holiness the Dalai Lama should be spiritual leader only.

    The Tibetan people have intense love and respect for him. In many ways, he’s earned it: by opening himself and his people to democracy, to science, to other faiths, and pushing for peace all over the world.

    But this respect has a nasty side. If someone speaks up against HHDL, they are often shunned by their community. It has happened to a lot of pro-independence fighters, who have discussed how they’ve received threatening letters from HHDL’s staff for questioning whether the Middle Way approach (backed by HHDL) is what’s best for the Tibetan people.

    In a survey done recently, the majority of Tibetans in exile voted for “Whatever HHDL wants”, followed by “Independence”, followed by “the Middle Way.” I was shocked by these results: if HHDL woke up tomorrow and changed his tune to independence, would the majority of the people really change right there along with him?

    With the sway that HHDL has over his people, I do not believe he is fit for a political office. We should be able to vote against a politician if he/she does not serve us well, and well… it’s a bit impossible to go against the word of someone who is reincarnated.

  3. 4 Lee Roy Sanders, Jr.
    June 22, 2009 at 22:01

    “Being both a political and spiritual leader, can being both work?”


    Not the way the world presently exist because both means and structures have become hideously subverted and exploited.

    Well, first off let’s define spiritual as the emotional ethics of benevolence. Instead of limbo the socialized propaganda of dictated thoughts filling in where there should be self judgement, emotion and understanding.

    Now to be a leader you have to become the servant to all. To know when a law instead of ensuring a eventful living pursuit of happiness comes too close to impede it.

    Life is precious and it’s quality of life today is measured in money and not the substance in a individual. It is known that there is no expiration date stamped on the bottom of your feet.

    Let’s change the world around instead of destroying and killing, make death our only enemy and the process that leads to it. There is one enemy and it is death. The supreme being your looking for is you and your love for life is the only miracle that is ever successful..

  4. 5 Anthony
    June 22, 2009 at 22:21

    Well, in a religion like Islam, the leader is SUPPOSED to be a Spiritual Leader and Political Leader at the same time. In something like Christianity, I believe it’s much harder.

    -Anthony, LA, CA

  5. 6 T
    June 22, 2009 at 23:17

    No, it doesn’t make you a better leader because they’re all human. Instead, in this global age of connections it makes for a “sexier” story for the MSM to sell. If Martin Luther King wasn’t a Rev., would anybody had paid attention? Maybe not at the time.

    Look at what happened with the guy before Obama (who says he talks to God).

  6. 7 Tan Boon Tee
    June 23, 2009 at 04:02

    In history, whenever politics became deeply entangled with religion, and religion used as the tool of governance or administration, the nation would fail steadily.

    Many of the world current conflicts arise from mixing politics with religions blindly, especially in pluralistic societies. Religions deal with faith and belief of individuals, while politics look for the best way of promoting the well-beings of the people.

    Religious leaders ought to refrain from championing any political activity or raising any contentious political issue.

    Do not forget that RESPECT and tolerance are more essential if not crucial to the existence and sustainability of healthy communities as well as stable nations than prosperity and democracy.

    • 8 Peter_scliu
      June 23, 2009 at 19:50

      There is limitation in a democrasy under any circumstances. When a country is run on a religious platform the limitation is greater. Can a country allow a majority who wants rape or murder to run a government. Only in a secular government can such a proposition be thinkable. Any religion who don’t follow at least the 10 commandment is not a religion. The problem is not the religion but the evil of men , some wolves disguised as sheep.

    • 9 Peter
      June 25, 2009 at 02:19

      I think that the RESPECT and tolerance were supposed to be one of the pillars of a democracy, so how they can be more crucial?
      Another point is that, in my opinion, the true and pure democracy exists only when every single person in a community have the SAME power to fight for what he/she thinks that is better for the community. Unfortunately this isn’t what happen in many of the so called democracies of the world. For example:
      In the imaginary country of Bruzu there are two political parties the Repugnants and the What. The Repugnants party is sponsored by rich companies, so it have a great economic capacity and also a great advertisement capacity. The What is a small party sponsored by normal people that believes in its ideal, but it doesn’t have much money, so it’s a little hard to it spread its ideal at the same way that the Repugnats party does. So, there is something really strange there! They have much more POWER.
      In an election the Repugnants will have a greater possibilitiy of win because many people won’t know the What party well enought.
      This doesn’t seen to me a democracy…

    June 23, 2009 at 07:23

    The Dalai Lama is struggling to salvage his legacy which has been trashed by politics. He sees himself as a religious leader and probably this is what he wants to be seen afterwards. The world continues market him as a leader of a theocracy which does not exist traversing several country: China, India, Burma etc. It is the diversity of politics in this planet which has made his work a goalless pursuit because the naitonal borders were created without giving his religion any consideration.

    He is right and his image could not have been turnished as it is in some quarters if he chose to be a religious icon like the Agha Khan.


    Politics has become a perenially inconclussive science and it has muddied the career of Dalai Lama. He is right and the world should help him achieve his personal goal.

  8. 11 Deryck/Trinidad
    June 23, 2009 at 09:48

    Being both a religious and political leader will fail utterly because from the moment that you declare your faith of preference you immediately alienate a significant portion of the society.

    Leaders should be neutral regarding their faith, where they practise in private if they so desire. But publically they must show respect for all religions and treat all equally.

    • 12 patti in cape coral
      June 23, 2009 at 13:55

      I absolutely agree with Deryck. You cannot be a religious leader and a political leader if the people you are representing come from many different religions. Also, unfortunately, God is used as an excuse to do many things that common decency and morality would not allow, i.e I am taking over this land because God gave it to me, or I am going to kill these people because they don’t believe in my God, etc.

  9. 13 John in Germany
    June 23, 2009 at 10:10

    There are to many conflict that arise. A man and leader of his church, who devotes himself to God, No matter which God, has to give himself entirely to his Religion. How can he pray peace, and be a politician, how can he teach respect for all, and order or accept the killing of the people he teaches, his own people.

    Every person killed is a small piece of God that dies. So how can a religious leader accept this. How can he tolerate suicide bombings, or murder in the name of the religion he leads. Surely he must put his soul at risk, and that of his followers.

    It can work when the Religious title is not abused by the person.
    Queen Elizabeth for example although not a political leader still the leader of a working democracy.

    Wishing you all a peaceful day.
    John in Germany

  10. June 23, 2009 at 10:44

    In Islam, politics and the religion cannot be separated. In a true Islamic country elected representatives cannot make laws to compete with the laws that are ordained by Allah and contained in the Koran. That is the belief. This also means that western democracy is repugnant to Islam because it undermines the very core of Islam. It is naive for the West to try to enforce western democracy on Muslim countries.

    Besides, we have seen what happened in the British Parliament when religious faith was kept out of politics. Elected members of a parliament dipped into public funds without a qualm. They would not have resorted to thieving if they were religious men and women with fear of God in their hearts.

    • 15 patti in cape coral
      June 23, 2009 at 14:23

      I think it is a mistake to believe that a religion in politics is going to prevent corruption, thieving, and abuse. On the contrary, I think it would make it easier to get away with more. I personally believe in God, although I am not a “religious” person, but I believe that should be an individual thing and should be personal. Many atrocities have been committed in the name of God, and actually, in the name of democracy for that matter. Anything can be corrupted and a religious democracy would be doubly corruptible.

    • June 24, 2009 at 07:08

      I have never heard of politics in the original Qur’an. And I believe that Allah’s laws are for his foolowers and not earthly politics that is just a product of the “Rahamani”. I see that these religious leaders that are engaged in politics are fooling themselves and the people they rule because come what June, they will never be able to govern like Allah and in the process they commit grave sins that Allah himself won’t forgive them for. Is it not in the same Qur’an that we are told that, “there is no other God but Allah?” Why then should you allow yourself to be fooled by someone (for instance the Supreme Leader-Ayatollah) who pretends to be God and therefore should decide peoples’ fate? Does the Qur’an not say that, “Allah alone is Supreme?” Your analogy of the Britsih parliament is weired and do you know why you are able to what the MPs did? becuase democracy says you have the right to know. This is one major difference with Islamic democracies.The secrecy in Islamic democracy is too much as a result people are not accordingly informed and so people do not have the opportunity to check, question and balance the system. Do you know how much corruption goes on in those parliaments? Do you know what is in their bank accounts which may not have been gotten only by their salaries? Do you know the illegal business deals that most of them are engaged in? I wish their nights turns to day, you would not believe what you will see. Remember, religious leaders alaways tell you do as I say and not as I do.To end, I have seen in society that people whom you think have the fear of God are more hard-hearted to do wicked things.

  11. 17 VictorK
    June 23, 2009 at 11:00

    @Krish: indeed. The question is futile. There’s only one religion on the planet that has a fixed and incorrigible hostility to democracy because it insists, as a fundamental point of doctrine, that society (in fact, the entire world) must be governed by sharia, not man-made law. That’s why Islamic societies are doomed to be Talibanised, because Talibanesque groups are closer to ‘true Islam’ than any would-be democrat. And that being the case what good Muslim can be motivated to resist them?

    The Western media is too frightened to simply ask if Islam and democracy are compatible, and just as frightened to state the obvious truth, as uttered by orthodox Muslims, that no, of course they’re not.

    And there’s another question, ‘…and should non-Muslims care?’ – no. If Muslims prefer Islam to democracy that’s their business. This fanatical wish to convert the world to democracy is just another instance of the determination of the Western elite to interfere in the affairs of other countries. I prefer the Taliban, who aren’t constantly engaged in public speculation about what’s good for other countries.

    • 18 leti in palma
      June 24, 2009 at 09:20

      you prefer the taliban…? I can tell you’re not a woman. Of all the silly things to assert. Don’t you KNOW how they hate all things free and female? How they chop off hands for having painted finger nails, how they prohibit flying kites? singing? dancing? listening to music?
      You obviously haven’t yet equated religion with social control.

  12. 19 Taban Alfred David
    June 23, 2009 at 11:34

    Islam, Islam is the problem in the world today, Islamic leaders always punishing its people and those around them in the name of Alaa, or Islamic democracy just like what is happening in Iran. It is difficult to trust Islam to day from its image today; it is really shame to Iranian leaders doing Iranians like bigs with flue.

    • June 23, 2009 at 12:12

      Your generalization that Islam is the problem in the world today is specious and has no leg. Islam is practice in many countries around the world and there is still peace and stability sustained there. If you have clerics be it Muslims or christians controlling the body politics of any nations, there will always be secular and religious contradictions.Like the days of cold when the church a say in the running of the world. The death of Socrates,Galilee and many heretics is a classical case. The signing of the Magna Carta to reduce the influence of King John at Runnymede. I am certainly sure that you will revisit your logical fallacy.

      • June 24, 2009 at 02:33

        Dukuly, I am not sure you are aware of the current trends. Yes Islam is supose to be a peaceful religion and it is also true that it is practiced in many countries around the world and there is still peace and stability sustained there.You might be right but the only countries I have seen Islam practiced and peace reign are the countries that does not use sharia laws as part of the governing system.I have never been informed of any punishment like amputation of arm or leg that God imposed on anyone because they stole. You would also agree with me that Allah being the only Supreme Being sees all men’s activities but he has never burried any man halfway alive and stoned that person to death. This is why democracy is not stupid to seperate church and state or Mosque and State or religion and state. It does not barr anyone from holding political office but it cautions that one’s political decisions not be influenced by your religious doctrines or beliefs. There is no justification for one part of the world to be civilized and the other remains backward interms of human values. Talking of King John and others does not solidify your arguement simply because of trends of times. You are refering to past centuries whilst we are dealing with and talking about the 21st century.Even if those you refered to were alive today, I believe they could have adjust and change a lot of their thinking with the trends of time except if they were fools. So I believe it is you that may have to revisit your logical and chronological falacies.

  13. 22 Ibrahim in UK
    June 23, 2009 at 11:49

    Saddam was a secularist but Iraq did not have democracy.
    The Soviet Union was atheist but they did not have democracy.
    Dictatorships repress the people to stay in power, they can use religion, or nationalism or anything else as a shroud to to sanitise their desperate cling to power.
    Which country has true democracy where the rule of the majority is absolute, unchecked and uncontrolled? Very few (if any). Most countries will apply some form of limits. What these limits are and how far they go is for each nation to debate internally with the aims to evolve a system which reflects the culture and values of it’s people.
    It is this freedom to even debate that is being forbidden in Iran (and many other countries).

    • June 23, 2009 at 14:30

      Democracy is not only about the “will of the majority”, it is about protecting minority rights and civic institutions as well. Not always an easy balance. That”s for sure.

    • June 24, 2009 at 06:34

      Ibrahim, thanks for talking sense.There is no country on earth with true democracy.Even America and the UK that claimed to be demovratic, it’s just to some extent.Coming to think of it, some laws are impediment to democracy and the politicians used these laws to hide their greed and ego. Iran’s democracy is something I refer to as an independent jail.

  14. June 23, 2009 at 12:03

    There many moral ideals borrrowed from religion by democracy. The moral rectitude and character of political leaders, transparency and the rule of law are all core issues of religion. But let me assert firmly that extreme religiosity is incompatible with democracy because democracy is secular. Passionate and fanatical religiosity usually undermines democratic tenets. I am of the conviction that separating religion from democracy will endgender a free will and niche for both religious and secular education to thrive.

  15. 26 Dinka Aliap Chawul-Kampala
    June 23, 2009 at 12:25

    Religion and democracy are compatable no matter what, since both exist within humanity but they problems here is the system & its practical terms……without people,there`d be no religion as well democracy is concerns.

  16. 27 Steve in Boston
    June 23, 2009 at 13:17

    Not only are religion and democracy compatible, but you must have both to counterbalance each other and provide for a stable, long-term government.

    Democracy without religion is doomed to failure as we are seeing here in the United States, where religion has been slowly falling out of favor due to abuses by its practitioners. With no moral compass or institutional wisdom and foresight to follow, people ever more frequently vote themselves a free lunch (welfare, food stamps, bailouts, below-cost health insurance, low taxes, etrc.), and the system begins to crumble. It saddens me to say, but it’s obviously only a matter of time before my beloved country falls to ruin out of laziness, immorality, and lack of discipline. The changes I’ve seen in my own lifetime alone are staggering, and the changes in climate, which everyone rails about, pale in comparison.

    Religion without democracy is doomed to failure as we are seeing in Iran. Too much power is placed in the hands of too few, and inasmuch as humans are imperfect, they can lead a country to abuses and ruination, all in the name of religion which has no foundation in logic or science, and therefore cannot be questioned. Religion when practiced too obsessively, can lead one to check one’s brains at the door, and can lead to madness.

    It’s not a question of which to choose. You need both. One without the other is a recipe for disaster.

    • 28 patti in cape coral
      June 23, 2009 at 13:59

      @ Steve – Which religion would you choose to “mix” with democracy?

      • 29 patti in cape coral
        June 23, 2009 at 14:05

        Maybe mix was the wrong word, which religion would you wish to join with democracy? Also, how would you prevent discrimination against people who were not members of the “federal religion.” Or would everyone have to be the same religion?

    • 30 Mark
      June 23, 2009 at 18:48

      “Too much power is placed in the hands of too few, and inasmuch as humans are imperfect, they can lead a country to abuses and ruination, all in the name of religion which has no foundation in logic or science, and therefore cannot be questioned.”

      True, but, aren’t you arguing against the separation of church and state?
      Or are you trying to argue that only your religion is founded in ligic and science?
      I’m sorry, it’s not. None of them are.

  17. 31 Ramesh, India
    June 23, 2009 at 13:19

    I don’t think it is possible. Look at Iran. People call Nejad a dictator. But the actual dictator is Khameni. These protestors refuse to accept that fact because they may love or fear him. There lies the failure of their protests. Soon some of these protestors will pack their bags to US or Europe on asylum and in pursuit of democracy in Iran!!

  18. 33 anu_D
    June 23, 2009 at 13:38

    WHYS….you turned the title your blog around to such that my response ( very first ones ) reads out of context 😦

  19. 34 Judy Munyoki
    June 23, 2009 at 13:40

    Yes but only in an ideal situation cosidering the religious divisions on our globe. I think the only way leadership is gonna be unbiased to specific groups and remain to govern democratically is only if it’s secular.

  20. 35 anu_D
    June 23, 2009 at 13:47

    [Steve in Boston says] [i]Religion without democracy is doomed to failure as we are seeing in Iran. Too much power is placed in the hands of too few, and inasmuch as humans are imperfect, they can lead a country to abuses and ruination, all in the name of religion which has no foundation in logic or science, and therefore cannot be questioned[/i]

    a_D says…Where ( or What) is the failure in Iran ????
    They hold elections, self-govern, self sufficient in technology, on the verge of developing a nuclear bomb…no hunger, poverty or reported overt corruption.

    Hmmm…if in an election process people cast 60% votes in favor of a particular brand / philosophy of leadership ( whihc is religiosuly inclined)…what’s the problem??

    Too much power if usurped by force ( such as Musharraf in Pak) or other military dictatorships or even monarchies that offer no election process such as Saudi…are BAD.

    Too much power if earned through majority votes in an election process is the WILL of the people voting that needs to be respected.


    • 36 Peter
      June 25, 2009 at 03:48

      …a_D sayed:
      Hmmm…if in an election process people cast 60% votes in favor of a particular brand / philosophy of leadership ( whihc is religiosuly inclined)…what’s the problem??
      …Peter says:
      In my opinion, No problem if the government tolerated and respected the right of the other 40% of the population of being different.
      In my opinion, No problem if the media was not censored and the population had acess to many sources of information.
      In my opinion, No problem if the other 40% of the populatian were free to spread what they think or demonstrate peacefully.
      In my opinion, No problem if the govenment showed that the election was really reliable, just as it was supposed to be in a democracy.
      …a_D sayed:
      Too much power if earned through majority votes in an election process is the WILL of the people voting that needs to be respected.
      …Peter says:
      In my opinion, It’s not the will of the people, but the will of the majority of the people… There is still a minority that have to be listened.
      If my words seemed harsh, please forgive me. It happens because I don’t have a complete fluency in English. =)

  21. 37 Linda in Italy
    June 23, 2009 at 13:56

    Non-democracies can of course be both secular and religious, but democracies can only be secular. That is not to say that political leaders are not allowed to have some sort of religious faith, but it has to be kept out of the business of law-making.
    Religion is based on irrational beliefs that cannot be proven empirically and the monotheistic religions in particular are by nature totalitarian, since the belief is in one omnipotent and omniscient being, whose will cannot be contravened. This surely is the antithesis of democracy.
    If freedom of religion is one of the tenets of democracy, by introducing a particular belief system into the governmental system, it inevitably privileges those who share those beliefs and discriminates against those who don’t.

  22. 38 Prem Nizar Hameed
    June 23, 2009 at 13:59

    The word misuse is very important. If Science was misused, we got Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Similarly if we misuse democracy or religions, the results will be tragedies and anarchy. Both can go together if we determined to stay together. However, I prefer to keep religion away from democracy. India is the biggest democracy, and we have certain drawbacks because of religious interference.

  23. June 23, 2009 at 14:07


    This is a self answering question. A “religion” is a predetermined system of beliefs, laws, and expected behaviors that govern a community. These attributes are set forth by an unquestionable and an addressable power and are set forever. “Constitutions” are predetermined sets of rules designed to encompass the beliefs and outline the expected behavior of the members of the community. In a democratic structure that constitution is addressable and changeable as the perspective of the community is changed with time.

    So having a non-secular government is like having 2 engines in your car. One drives the front wheels and just starts running as soon as the driver turns the key on, and the other one controls the back wheels and the driver control with the gas pedal. As long as they are both going the same speed everything is fine. It is when the driver wants to speed up or slow down that the trouble occurs. Then throw in a couple of drivers and the destination really becomes skewed.

  24. June 23, 2009 at 14:16

    the question shows a complete misunderstanding of what democracy and secular means. democracy is the will of the majority. now, some think america is a democracy, but it is not. if america was a democracy, there would be no legalized abortion or homosexual marriage, which are both opposed by the majority of the american public. the secularism of america is leading to its destruction. secular means things of the physical world. the iranian mullahs are not religious, they are very much concerned with their own worldly comforts and controls. too many people do not truly understand the doctrines of faith. for instance, CHRISTIANITY is not a faith of laws. it is a personal relationship with JESUS and is built upon grace and forgiveness. it is one major doctrinal difference between CHRISTIANS and Jews, Muslims and all others, who base their lives on adherence to laws. true CHRISTIANS follow GOD’S laws instinctively, not because of fear, the way others do. we understand the temporary things of this world are a speck of what the eternal is. there are only two laws: love GOD and love all people, friends and enemies. if we all really did this, the KINGDOM would surely arrive on earth.

    • 41 leti in palma
      June 24, 2009 at 09:29

      ok fine, but thats not religion… thats lovey dovey hippy philosophy and should be applied everywhere on the planet. ALL other religions are a set of rules and regulations invented BY men (not women) FOR men and are therefore only a means of CONTROLLING society.
      If you’re thinking that morals and a loving outlook are fostered by religion, you’re barking up the wrong tree. It is possible to have a deeply spiritual approach to life and everything on the planet WITHOUT being a member of a “Club” which is in most cases exclusive, elitist etc etc etc..

  25. 42 steve
    June 23, 2009 at 14:22

    In a society where there are no religious minorities, I think a theocracy could be democratic if everyone shared the religious beliefs. Given that’s not ever going to happen, there will always be those who don’t believe in God, I would say a theocracy can never be a democracy.

    But what’s to say democracy is a good thing? If the majority of religious people wanted to kill the minority of nonbelievers, that would be democracy in action. Would you want that?

    • 43 Ramesh, India
      June 23, 2009 at 15:03

      Then, it wont be a democracy because in democracy everyone would have some human rights. In you case, I will press charges against the majority for genocide!!!

  26. 44 Bob in Queensland
    June 23, 2009 at 14:36

    Any so-called democracy that limits itself to a particular religion cannot be a democracy. We wouldn’t accept the idea that a democracy can presuppose a certain race or ethnic group; why should we accept a religion as a pre-condition?

  27. 46 Ramesh, India
    June 23, 2009 at 14:53

    Democracy does not just mean that the majority rule should prevail. It has to take the minority views into account also. That makes the democracy truly secular. In Iran’s case, the minorities(protestors) are behaving like they are the majority. They should accept the fact that they are minority and then try to convince the government that their opinions should matter too and be given consideration. They must recognise the limitations of the democratic system they chose, if at all it is a democracy.

    • 47 Brian from Ca.
      June 23, 2009 at 16:13

      A democracy? The four candidates were selected by the Guardian Council, which was appointed by the Supreme Leader and the Head of the Judiciary. The Supreme Leader also appointed the Head of the Judiciary. The Council of Elders appoints the Supreme Leader. They are unelected.
      The country is really run by an elite religious group, a theocracy. This group is having a dust up. What we are seeing now is the military combined with a wing of the elite eliminating competing elements of the theocracy through a rigged vote.
      Sadly, the only real democratic voice is on the streets. Too bad BBC doesn’t get this or is scared for its reporters to really discuss the issue.

  28. 48 Lee Roy Sanders, Jr.
    June 23, 2009 at 15:05

    Does democracy have to be secular to work?


    Yes, democracy has to be secular to work else wise it is governed by other laws than it’s simple ethics. Through corruption the creation of our society has created masters and slaves. There can’t be both. The lesser will eventually become the master and the master the slave. That history shows. Without respect for truth, equality and a absolute love for life we will not make choices that can sustain a evolving civilization.

  29. 49 rob z.
    June 23, 2009 at 15:19

    In a democracy,the separation of church and state is essential for true and equal treatment under law.
    If you can not express your views without fear of persecution,then votting is waste of time.
    If you can not speak,no one hears you,you don’t count.
    The democratic process is about many working together as one,FREELY.
    A person who is a religious leader and political leader ;can not and will not be a fare judge because of the moral code his religion.
    In the U.S.,this means Christians are supposed to be anti-gay,anti-muslim;or anything outside of the bible is wrong.THIS IS HARDLY FARE.

  30. 50 Roberto
    June 23, 2009 at 15:24

    RE “” Does democracy have to be secular to work? “”

    ——— There’s no long term evidence any form of governance works better than another.

    Democracies are failing at the exact time Islamic terrorism is ascending. Don’t have to be a multimillion dollar political consultant to see that will lead to even greater worldwide conflicts, destruction, and atrocities.

    On a personal level, I’d prefer a secular democracy over a religious one, but ideally I’d prefer an intelligent benevolent king or queen to rule rather than a bunch of flimflamers in the democratic process hijacking the vote with lies and fraudulent actions designed to fleece scared and poorly informed voters.

  31. 51 K Anaga
    June 23, 2009 at 15:27

    Democracy has become a matter for laughter in Asia. Remember Genocidal war against the Tamils took place in Srilanka under the guise of democracy supported by India,Pakistan and China. The world looked on without batting an eye lid.
    What matters is selfish Commercial Interest commencing from USA.

  32. 52 anu_D
    June 23, 2009 at 15:28

    Hmm….The agenda of the debate has twisted radically from

    ” can a religious / spiritual leader be a poltical leader also”


    ” Does democracy have to be secular to work”

    as if someone is driving the agenda that will implicate some chosen states (like Iran).

    However still….democracies can work even with state having a stated preferred religion….because that does not imply that those following other religions will be discriminated against.

    Look at Bangladesh…which is an Islamic nation and yet a fucntioning democracy.


    • 53 sanjeev......India
      June 24, 2009 at 17:59

      What kind of democracy is bangladesh. They had had many years of military in power in the name of care taker government.

      The religious fanatics are always at loggerhead with the government. A democracy ensures fundamental rights to everyone. Did Bangladesh offered any protection to TASLIMA NASREEN when the Mullahs issued fatwa and didn’t allow her to live in adjoining India also.

      Democracy in bangladesh and pakistan is Fake. There only army rules.

  33. 54 anu_D
    June 23, 2009 at 15:31

    ^ and conversely….Cuba a secular state that ain’t a democracy

  34. 56 John in Salem
    June 23, 2009 at 15:32

    A government has to be secular for an AMERICAN-style democracy to work but it’s not like we invented the concept. If another society develops a system that works for them and they want to call it a democracy it doesn’t matter whether it fits our definition or not (unless they claim it does).

    But the Dalai Lama isn’t a good example to use for this argument – he wasn’t elected to his position by popular vote.

  35. 57 Margaret Harris
    June 23, 2009 at 15:33

    Its a difficult question. Since governments have to legislate moral choices, they are drawing on religion whether they want to or not. Morality is based in religious ideas as well as common sense. A country cannot thrive if it’s government is immoral. Social structures cannot function without a set of moral rules and laws. Even the United Nations has a set of moral principals. It is not clear to me how the two structures work together in Iran for example, but they have a spiritual leader and a political leader. They appear at the moment to be working together. There are governments that are immoral, but their countries are not thriving, rather they have wide spread poverty in many of them. Only the “elect” are thriving.

    • 58 patti in cape coral
      June 23, 2009 at 16:23

      Morality exists outside of religion.

      • 59 leti in palma
        June 24, 2009 at 09:32

        yes.. at last a voice I can agree with

      • 60 sanjeev......India
        June 24, 2009 at 18:06

        Yes i agree with you patti in cape coreal

        Morality governs a persons behaviour in this world with other beings, the other beings are real and concrete. Wheras

        Religion governs a persons conduct with some supernatural powers or ideals.

        True morality is secular…otherwise there will be confusion regarding what is morally good and what is not

        Just think different religions have different set of moral code attached to them…which moral code to be taken as genuine?

        GENUINE MORALITY HAS TO BE ALWAYS SECULAR….Emmanuel Kant held this view.

  36. 61 Chedondo, Johannesburg
    June 23, 2009 at 15:52

    Democracy revolves around the right of a people to question their leaders’ decisions and to remove them from office if they cannot account for their actions satisfactorily. In a clerical system of government (the Vatican, Afganistan under the Taliban, Iran today) the leaders are supposed to act on behalf of a superior being and the subjects must accept their decrees as unquestionable. A ruler whose decrees cannot be challenged is called a dictator and a dictator (no matter how benign) cannot survive in a democracy.

    While democracy requires a secular system of government, not all secular systems are democratic. No-one can possibly accuse the North Korean rulers of being democratic, although they are clearly secular.

  37. 62 Brian from Ca.
    June 23, 2009 at 15:56

    Combining religion and politics is dangerous. Politics is primarily a game of economic and social interests. By combining religious zeal and politics, what you end up with are political interests that are fanatically defended as God inspired privileges or worse yet commandments from God. Not a lot of room for liberal democratic compromise.

  38. June 23, 2009 at 16:07

    Democracy in itself means the right to choose a political system and the leaders who should embody it. In conservative societies, it is hard to persuade people to separate religion from politics. What they need are good rulers that can preserve their traditions while enjoying the good aspects of modern life.

    Actually many politicians are popular because of their advocacy for the role of religion in political matters. In such societies people seek justice and good rule based on what they religiously believe in.

    After all, there are many secular “democracies” in multi-ethnic and multi-faith societies where it is a failure because of the dominance of one group over the rest,corruption and vote rigging in a flaggrant defiance of the principle of democracy

  39. 64 Vijay
    June 23, 2009 at 16:08

    Does democracy have to be secular to work?
    If democracy means merely casting a vote then no.

    Is there a standard definition of democracy to which countries can be held to account?

    Popular “Historian” Simon Schama wrote a book Citizens(1989) in which he asserted that all revolutions were failures apart from the American Revolution(he lives in the USA) why not invite him onto your show to explain why the Iranian Revolution was/is a failure.

    • 65 Brian from Ca.
      June 23, 2009 at 17:56

      There is a theory that Great Revolutions (Cromwell’s England, France, Russia, China) follow a predictable pattern. The pattern is named after the stages in the French Revolution: Decline of the Old Regime; Period of Democratic Revolt; Reign of Terror and Virtue; Thermadorian Reaction; and Counter Revolution.
      The American Revolution under this theory was a nationalistic revolution, not a Great Revolution. sadly, the Iranian situtation is following some of the pattern of a Great Revolution.

  40. 66 Ramesh, India
    June 23, 2009 at 16:11

    Is there any reason why WHYS has removed the picture of Neda Agha Soltan from a caption and renamed the caption itself?

  41. June 23, 2009 at 16:12

    Whether a government openly calls itself a theocracy or is manipulated by a particular religious dogma, the effect is a skewing of policy to fulfill only one mindset within a population. Take the US as a case in point: For eight years, a minority religious agenda manipulated the actions of US policy at home and abroad to the detriment of US Constitutional ideals. An example of the art of manipulation of this agenda was the conservative Washington Times’ Jeff Kuhner’s ranting on WHYS yesterday… he arrived with a narrow perspective (which is his right), but then refused to accept open debate and back-lashed with harsh rhetoric and spurious accusation. This has been the style of “debate” in the US since 2000, and is conducive to neither understanding, nor thoughtful, long term action.

    By definition our democracy is grounded in the will of the majority with special guarantees that ALL perspectives can be voiced and demonstrated. Religious dogma, whether formalized in a theocracy or usurping the government from within, is a threat to the DEMOCRACY it pretends to uphold. I think any other perspective on religion mixing with government is a rationalization of the religion to justify and maintain its control over national policies.

  42. 68 Justin from Iowa
    June 23, 2009 at 16:12

    A democracy does NOT need to be secular to work. Asking that question in and of itself reflects a bias towards one form of government. What a democracy MUST be is tolerant. A democracy cannot exist where its people’s right to speak out and discuss the government and their beliefs is being infringed upon. An In-tolerant government which alienates its varied peoples cannot function as a democracy. When a democracy ceases to represent all of the peoples within a country, it becomes elected despotism.

    The USA is in just as much danger of walking down that road as any other country, including Iran. In the USA, it is the disenfranchised lower classes who are in danger of becoming excluded from the political process. In Iran, the argument revolves more around foreign relations and religion.

  43. June 23, 2009 at 16:16

    It is not a Democracy if it is not secular. The basic tenet of a democratic system is that people govern themselves. Within that frame, it is more demanding than a theocratic system because we must rely on the law we create and the good nature of our fellow citizens. In the U.S., the main defining point has been the effort to expand the rights of it’s citizens. Sometimes it’s a hard process, but it is necessary. It’s not perfect. It is human, though.

  44. 70 Rachel in California, USA
    June 23, 2009 at 16:17

    The question “Does democracy have to be secular to work?” is a little unclear. Democracy can and does thrive in religious societies that value truth, equality and love of life.

    Mousavi has said that the state shouldn’t try to drag people by force into heaven. This shows a clear understanding of the limits of state power over matters of heart and soul. This understanding is supported by the Quran and much Islamic scholarship.

    Islam has a long history of toleration and collaborative cultural enterprise, as demonstrated in medieval Andalusia. Whatever is happening now, we mustn’t accept the Wahhabis’ claim to speak for “Islam” as a whole.

    Modern democracy is only a few hundred years old. It looked incompatible with Christian religion at the beginning. There is nothing specifically antidemocratic about Islam; the religion has accommodated over the years to authoritarian rule, as Christianity accommodated to the Roman Empire and then to despotic kings. It will take some time for that accommodation to be shaken lose.

  45. 71 Tom K in Mpls
    June 23, 2009 at 16:22

    I have to say, why not. The only way to know is to try it. As I understand it, that is exactly what is happening in Iraq. There were many in the US opposed to it as it started. Then it was correctly rubbed in our faces, ‘why not?’. Granted it has not yet been proven viable, but it is well on its way.

  46. 72 anu_D
    June 23, 2009 at 16:25

    And with some more googling I found that Denmark and Finland are two of the dozen odd non-secular democracies..where christianity is the state reilgion.

    No one ever rasised aquestion mark over Denmark being a “not-proper democracy” ??

    I can see another WHY giving another twist to the title of this debate…..changed to..

    ” Can muslim states be democracies”


  47. 73 Shannon in Ohio
    June 23, 2009 at 16:43

    Here in the U.S. , some (not all) evangelical Christains long for the kind of “democratic” theocracy on display in Iran. In other words, they wish to impose their own religious convictions on American society at large. They challenge PUBLIC school systems who teach evolution instead of biblical creation. They believe women should “submit graciously” to their husbands. Abortion and even birth control and family planning are out of the question, and homosexuals should be singled out in the Constitution as being “less equal” than heterosexual people. They also believe certain books, newspapers, movies, television programs and websites should be heavily censored–or banned althogether. The list goes on and on.

    When one group imposes its deeply held religious convictions on those who do not hold the same beliefs, democracy is, at very least, disfigured beyond recognition. Freedom of speech cannot exist in a state in which all are expected to believe exactly the same thing, say (and read) exactly the same thing, and live exactly the same way. By all means let the religious have their religion–democracy ensures that, BUT let those who believe otherwise enjoy the same right to build a peaceful, dignified life without fear of reprisal.

  48. 74 Justin from Iowa
    June 23, 2009 at 16:44

    Stephen, Religion at its core is nothing more than a codified set of beliefs that a large number of people believe in. (a secular definition, but true enough I think) In the US, our government is based upon our Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and subsequent laws based upon the ideals set out in those documents. In Iran, their religion is the ‘document’ which their subsequent laws are based upon. They are the same concept, whether one is based upon a religion or not.

    There is nothing saying that a religious democracy cannot show tolerance for other beliefs, religions, etc. while holding its own beliefs pre-eminent within its borders. Sometimes they don’t, but sometimes secular democracies don’t either.

  49. 75 Akshay Kumar
    June 23, 2009 at 16:48

    When you talk of Secularism and democracy and its co-existence, no better examples then Indian democracy which has survived the severe test of diversity within diversity. The fabric of Indian Constitution is democracy. When we talk of Indian Polity, our political parties ensure that each faction has adequate representation in the say of Indian parliament and resultantly in legislation. As you know India has diversity of religions and faith. So when I say ‘each faction’, I mean people irrespective of their religion, faith, caste, culture and gender have freedom of expression. The Indian constitution is for the people by the people and of the people.

    Diversity is the founder of virtues of democracy. Different religions, faith have given birth to multi party system, as a result we have more regional parties having a say in forming government, which again bolster the concept of democracy.

    We heard people say that religion should not be mixed with polity, Mahatma Gandhi father of our nation long back said that it’s religious institutions and religious leaders that is the cause of worry, not the religious expressions of ordinary citizens.

    I can proudly say that my country India is the flag bearer of being the largest democratic country where diversity in religions and faith of the people has played its part in chosing the course of action.
    May be Iran can take a leaf out of Indian polity.

  50. 76 Julia in Portland Oregon
    June 23, 2009 at 16:50

    I believe a true democracy by definition has to be secular.

    But, I am not naive enough to believe that we have a true democracy throughout the US, we still have regions that are not secular. We do the best we can and we are constantly trying to improve, but we still fail to have a completely true democracy in all areas of the US.

    I don’t see anywhere in history any examples of a truly successful government that was based in religion that didn’t at one point or another try to oppress another race, tribe, group, country, or religion in some way shape or form. If anyone has an example of one I’d love to hear about it.

  51. 77 Alby
    June 23, 2009 at 17:05

    even though may US people are confused about it…the separation of church and state was a critical one in order for a true democracy to ever take hold. Democratic principles come from Socrates, not any other of the world’s major religious philosophies. These philosophies all rank people on various attainments of religious practice, and proscribe behaviours on no other basis than a religious one.

    The Dalai Lama is one case in point, but like the Supreme Leaders and Clerics in Iran, so is the Chief Rabbinate in Israel too who also wage a social war against gays and freedom of information and ideas!

    Socrates alone stood up to contradict this, he was called an Atheist, and he lost his life for it. But, his principles were the ones that eventually lived on to prove what it takes to have a truly functioning democracy.

    People in the US are terribly confused about this too now, but what do you get cutting history, civics and humanities from high school curricula for 3 decades on basis of “not enough money”? …inhumanity!

  52. 78 Gary Paudler
    June 23, 2009 at 17:06

    As long as a leader, even a democratically-elected one, can cite a “higher power” as their guiding influence, then religion and democratic government cannot work together. The Dali Lama, and Buddhism, are different because Buddhists don’t believe in a deity; some invisible God whose words are only heard by George Bush or another Ayatollah. Religion must be a personal belief and government needs to be a product of a society’s consensus. A government cannot represent all the people if it is informed by what can be a self-serving interpretation of an ancient, spiritual text written in a time of ignorance and superstition.


    • 79 sanjeev......India
      June 24, 2009 at 18:35

      Well said gary

      I think BBC should have taken DALAI LAMA’s example. budhism is a religion without GOD. They only have a goal of becoming Bodhisattva (i.e. like Budhha)

      Budhism is not a religion of the BOOK. Budhist don’t have to follow any Book like CHRISTIANS, JEWS AND MUSLIMS do.

      What Budhha prescribed was a philosophical thought which emphasizes how we can minimise miseries in life. It is non violent religion. It never mentions what form of polity will be for Budhists. the same applies to Hinduism and other INDIC religions.

      This is the reason that religion has never been in confrontation with state in India and other east Asian countries with EASTERN religion. BUT YES POLITICIANS CAN TAKE ADVANTAGE OF RELIGIOUS AFFILIATIONS DURING ELECTIONS. Through emotionally exploiting people of their religion to vote for them when the opponent is of different religious belief.

      This has been the case with all the INDIC religions ( hinduism, Jainism, Budhism, Sikhism). So there have never been any issues of religion dominating in the countries where these religions predominate.

      BUT reverse is the case with ISLAM, JEWS, CHRISTIANS.

      ISLAM is political and religious movement. So the probelm is more in the ISLAMIC countires. their the Mullahs try to impose their sharia, quran etc.

      ISLAM is surely incompatible with democracy other religions may not be.

  53. 80 deryck/trinidad
    June 23, 2009 at 17:08

    @ Margaret Harris
    June 23, 2009 at 15:33
    [Its a difficult question. Since governments have to legislate moral choices, they are drawing on religion whether they want to or not. Morality is based in religious ideas as well as common sense. A country cannot thrive if it’s government is immoral.
    Social structures cannot function without a set of moral rules and laws.]


    1. Based on what she said can we assume if a leader is not religious he is immoral?

    2. Do leaders who practise religion behave or govern more morally?

    3. Are atheists immoral people who don’t follow any code of conduct?

  54. 81 Abram
    June 23, 2009 at 17:12

    Anyone who reads a lot in the religion-in-politics debate is likely to see charges that, for example, “Neuhaus and the theocons want to read their version of Christianity into the Constitution.” The charge is basically an inversion of the truth. The vast majority of people called “theocons” aren’t trying to get the Supreme Court to outlaw abortion; they want the issue to be resolved democratically.

    They’re not trying to get the Court to force states to implement voucher plans or install Nativity scenes. They believe that the Constitution makes it possible for legislatures to act in accordance with our convictions. The other side, which often speaks in the name of secularism, has moved—aggressively—to pre-empt debate on all of these issues.

    Secularists forget that modern democracy has its roots deep in Christianity, and, for instance, Christianity played a significant role in the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe.

  55. 82 Grahame Shadbolt
    June 23, 2009 at 17:16

    Power corroupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, never more so than when in the hands of religious zealots. Democracy derives from the freedom of expression of all citizens, and teh desire from freedom from persecution. You certainly do not get this in any islamic state (or from any one party state either). Visitors to these countries have even fewer rights, thank goodness for British democracy. It is no wonder that many people from the repressed societies on our planet gravirtate here, Europe and the US.

    Religion is a system that depends on blind faith, ie belief without evidence. It is always driven by obsessive believers, the Pope is an equivalent example. it is regretable that the followers regularly swallow the narrow minded views that these leaders regularly regurgitate.

    You cannot have true freedom and religion, they are mutually exclusive, so of course a true democracy must seperate state and religion. Religion is essentially dictatorial, as of course they are realising in Iran. What is happening there is nothing new, history repeats itself.

  56. 83 Denise
    June 23, 2009 at 17:25

    While there are certainly problems and issues with our government in the United States, our founding fathers got one thing very, very right – separation of church and state. We are free to worship (or not) as we like without religion creeping into law. Though it could be argued that George W and his ilk did try to impose some of their so-called Christian values on America.

  57. 84 Archibald
    June 23, 2009 at 17:31

    Religion should have no part in the establishment of a government, other than outlining the days of worship for those who choose to privately practice. The melding of religion and politics is and has always been a catastrophic mistake which has taken many empires to their grave. The delegation of gov’t responsibilities is difficult enough without attempting to incorporate the tenets of said religious doctrines and their usually unbending requirements. Besides, the overall sanity, clarity and dedication of most gov’t officials caught up in religion is suspect at best, because they will always serve two masters; god and the state, usually in that order…………….

  58. 85 Livia Varju
    June 23, 2009 at 17:34

    Religious leaders should stick to their holy (or unholy as the case may be) books. Freedom of religion is fundamental to a true democracy, and if religious leaders rule a country they want to impose their particular beliefs. Livia

  59. 86 Alexis Massey-Ryan
    June 23, 2009 at 17:36

    The two cannot co-exist in the same arena at the same level since democracy lends itself to being subverted by religion when people start using their own religious values instead of those for whom democracy is supposed to protect and serve.

    The only way to run anything efficiently and fairly is to have all decisions made with an objective viewpoint, then everyone’s base values and interests are covered 🙂

  60. 87 viola
    June 23, 2009 at 17:38

    I believe that separating the various estates of a society is preferable and quite likely necessary. In fact, I feel protected from potential danger from religious zealots of all kinds who would in a red hot minute enforce their beliefs on me and, failing that, punish me in some fashion or kill me–if I wasn’t protected from that by the laws of the land.

    All zealots believe in their inalienable right to force others to believe as they do– if they can get away with it. It is flawed reasoning to say “I follow God’s teachings and you must, too, when those teachings may not even be from God, Satan being so devious and clever. And human beings being imperfect and subject to error.

    Separating the religious world from the governing of the nation is essential. The reason is that people are human and subject to error so that inevitably any system established by humans will be flawed. A governing body that believes itself to be ordained by God has already made an error. Such a system cannot work simply because it will not protect dissenters who may have something good to contribute.

    If any nation chooses not to do that, it is their right. It is also my right to feel heartily sorry for their people.

    Brian from Ca. has it right.


  61. 88 Ben in Cameroun
    June 23, 2009 at 17:39

    So far Ros, you have handled the programme with such professionalism and style keep up the good work! I’m a regular listener of WHYS unfortunately, i often listen just to the second half of WHYS. Can you sign me up for the daily email?

  62. June 23, 2009 at 17:40

    The debate about religious vs secular is kind of a red herring. (At least for me) A democracy has to allow for civic institutions to thrive; it’s leaders must be prepared to be voted out; it should strive to protect its minorities. Democracy is a project; it is not a finished product. If people are not ready to give space to minority voices or to participate in decision making then the democracy will suffer. Voting is among the least of all democratic values.

    S religious democracy is possible as long as there is human interpretation of the laws (as there is in Shiism). I would rather live in a secular democracy. That’s me. Given the choice, however, I would choose a religious democracy over tyranny any day.

  63. 90 Tom D Ford
    June 23, 2009 at 17:50

    Religions were created during the times of Kings and Queens in order to oppress and control people, and they are severely outdated for our current times. Let’s remember that the “One God” religion was created by King Abraham.

    Religion is inherently incompatible with democracy. Religion is the opposite of democracy.

    Democracy is a government of the People, by the People, and for the People, in stark contrast to Religion which is government of the people by a Priest class (whether Priest, Preacher, Pope, Ayatollah, Mullah, Guru, Lama, Archbishop, Cardinal, etc.) that claims to speak for some supernatural alleged “God or Goddess”.

    In a democracy the power comes from the people with their consent, whereas in a religion the power comes from outside of the people and is imposed on them without their consent.

    Religion is anti-democratic!

    In addition, our economic systems were created during the times of Kings and Queens and just like Kings and Queens, are not compatible with democracy. It is time to remake and revise our economic systems to a system of “Economics of the People, by the People, and for the People”, to paraphrase President Lincoln. I suggest that we need to moderate the extremes of economics at both the high and low ends.

  64. June 23, 2009 at 18:05

    Democracy enshrines basic freedoms: freedom of speech, thought and action based on mutual respect. People need to make their own choices without duress. Once people lose respect for one another democracy flounders. Democracy definitely has to be secular. Religion imposes strict adherence to dogmatic principles: devotees follow often them blindly.

  65. 92 steve
    June 23, 2009 at 18:10

    Obama and the west should be silent on what is happening in Iran. Countries like Iran blame absolutely ALL of their problems on the west. The rally around hatred of the west, so if the Mullahs can now point to the President supporting the protesters, it will be a seal of approval from the Great Satan, which they consider the US to be. It will turn opinion against the protests. The Iranian regime needs conflict with the west to stay in power. By giving support to the protesters, Obama makes the regime more powerful.

  66. 93 Justin from Iowa
    June 23, 2009 at 18:11

    Just a point to make: Freedom of religion is not the same as seperation between church and state. I’ve seen several responses directly linking and interchanging the two, and its not the case. You can have a religious state that also allows freedom of religion… its not common or likely, as we’ve seen, but the two are not mutually exclusive.

  67. 94 David M in SJ
    June 23, 2009 at 18:14

    Power corrupts — Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

  68. 95 Julia in Portland Oregon
    June 23, 2009 at 18:15

    @Justin from Iowa

    Good point!

  69. 96 Justin from Iowa
    June 23, 2009 at 18:16

    Tom D Ford:

    Your point is misleading though. You are comparing a Democracy to a Theocracy. But Iran is not, or its people do not wish it to be, a Theocracy.
    A government whose officials are elected by its people is, by definition, not a theocracy.

    And has been pointed out earlier, Religion is NOT inherently incompatible with democracy, as there exist several Christian Religious Democracies in the world today!

  70. 97 steve
    June 23, 2009 at 18:20

    Your guest says that Americans won’t vote for athiests. Thomas Jefferson, the third President, was an athiest. Also, I would easily bet that most modern Presidents are athiests, despite what they say. The more they bring up God, the less I believe what they are saying. Remember, they are politicians and will say what they think people want to hear. Imagine Hillary Clinton talking about God. I would only be for votes.

  71. 98 brinda,India
    June 23, 2009 at 18:30

    By definition : democracy stands for : first all members of the society (citizens) have equal access to power and the second that all members (citizens) enjoy universally recognized freedoms and liberties.

    If so then not one perticular religion should have a palce in it…..All religions should have a place in it.

    Secularism is the esence of a democracy if not the definition is lost.

    Unfortunately for Iran,,,,,and Iranians,,,,,,,,,,,,i dont think will change much.My best wishes though.

    Do they even know what they are fighting for ? is it futuristic enough.Well it is for them to answere and for us to wonder and speculate.

    Democracy with one religion to be practical ,,,,,,,,every citizen should be of that religion,,,,,,,,,,,even if a hand ful of them have differnt beleif then there is no point i guess…

  72. 99 Anthony
    June 23, 2009 at 18:30

    @ steve

    “I resign myself to my God, and my child to my country.”

    That was Jeffersons last quote. He believed in God, he wasn’t an Atheist. You’re confusing not believing in Christianity and Atheism. (just plug into “Thomas Jefferson views on religion” into a search and you’ll find all the proof you’ll need.)

    Please don’t assume, especially about great people like Jefferson.

    -Anthony, LA, CA

    • 100 Shannon in Ohio
      June 23, 2009 at 21:15

      @ Anthony

      Which child, Anthony His white child, Patsy? His five black children via Sally Hemmings? Please specify.

  73. 101 arek
    June 23, 2009 at 18:34

    religious democracy is an oxymoron. how can a believe in a higher being (and which version of it, muslim? christian? jewish?) provide a base for a democratic system that promotes pluralism, a true democratic value?

  74. 102 steve
    June 23, 2009 at 18:35

    The UK isn’t secular, yet I would consider it a democracy. It has a state religion, the head of state is the leader of that religion, and I don’t see the UK having the problems that Iran is having right now.

  75. 103 Andrew in Australia
    June 23, 2009 at 18:35

    The problem with religion and politics is that religion is a personal choice and generally not one that is imposed upon others but when combined with politics and ruling parties cannot possibly represent all the people unless that society is completely given over to one belief. Many societies are now a mix of religious beliefs so how can one belief be superior to others, if in fact religion is considered something real rather than a matter of faith or belief as people increasingly move away from religion in the developed world.

  76. 104 Anthony
    June 23, 2009 at 18:35

    @ patti in cape coral

    But morality isn’t needed outside of religion, nore does it make sense most of the time. Just look at nature and you can see that.

    -Anthony, LA, CA

    • 105 patti in cape coral
      June 24, 2009 at 14:04

      I don’t know if it is needed or not, I do know that there are a lot of atheists who are upstanding, “moral” people, without the need to believe in a deity, they are just good to be good. To say that you can only be good if you believe in a religion is wrong. Maybe we define morality differently?

  77. June 23, 2009 at 18:37

    A secular democracy is a better fit for a diverse population, because
    of its ability to encompass more than one ethnicity, culture,
    language, religion, etc. However, religion is not necessarily
    contradictory to democracy. There are many religions that do protect
    human rights. I, as a Western convert to Shia Islam, think that Islam
    is one of them. I cannot abide, however, with any government, secular
    or religious, democratic or not, that forces its population to act in
    opposition to their intrinsic natures. France cannot be considered a
    democracy as long as it prevents the public’s access to certain media,
    prohibits young ladies to wear hijab in the school, and calls for the
    banishment of the niqab. Turkey likewise cannot be a democracy: it
    sidelines Kurdish people and pretends that there was never a genocide
    against Armenians. And the democracy in the US has several huge flaws.

  78. 107 Justin from Iowa
    June 23, 2009 at 18:40

    The idea that the USA is a completely secular society is also questionable, as should be pointed out. Didn’t Jefferson also state that the constitution as a document could only function in a just and godly state? I know I’m butchering the quote off the top of my head…. But the point is, that our founding fathers (for Americans) were for the most part deeply religious men. While they set out seperation between church and state, their religion was the lens through which they viewed the world and constructed our most important documents.

  79. 108 steve
    June 23, 2009 at 18:43

    @ Anthony

    Do you really think every time a politician mentions God, he really believes what he’s saying? Do you think Bill Clinton really is religious, or was he paying lip service to religion, you know, was he thinking about God while he was having an innappropriate relationship with Monica Lewinsky?

  80. 109 Richard in Monrovia
    June 23, 2009 at 18:44

    How can America claim to be a secular democracy when over half the states continue to outlaw gay marriage? A legal decision based solely on one admittedly large group’s intepretation of Leviticus calling ‘homosexuality an abomination’.

    A secular democracy is an unachievable goal, because even when leaders aren’t influenced by religious beliefs, they are driven by personal ambition, greed, or worse. Just look at Africa.

  81. 110 Waqar Toor
    June 23, 2009 at 18:46

    Democracy is the will of people. These are the people of a particular state, who can decide what type of democracy they want?

    People can willfully mold the shape of democracy. Masses have got every right to rule over themselves

    • 111 sanjeev......India
      June 24, 2009 at 18:55

      Waqar what rights are you tlking? . People don’t have right ot question what is written in quran. Ask Wafa Sultana, Taslima Nasreen, Salman Rusdie.

      If people criticise QURAN the clerics issue fatwa, asking for anyone to behead whoever has insulted Islam.

      This is highly unfortunate that Muslims sitting in western countries saying that people have right to decide. but look back into middle east and their system of issuing FATWA.

      I can say religion can not be compatible with democracy…..Just look at 55 OIC countries. HOW many of them have democracy and if they have how they are working.

  82. 112 Peter in Jamaica
    June 23, 2009 at 18:46

    It cannot work because of the moral conflicts that occur. It is evident in what is happening in Iran today. The right of the individual to express once self is not allowed in a religious environment because a religion rely on cohesion and harmony and submission to the word without question and as such devoids the individual of his or her freedom.
    That is not the way we were built. We were built to question and to express our opinions and to make choices based on our own which is steered by means of open discussion and with the need if necessary to protest if need be when we feel that we have been wronged.
    We have the freedom to make choices that is our right and if we allow religion to intersect with politics we loss that choice because it is based manipulation and control.

  83. 113 Matt in Ottawa, Can
    June 23, 2009 at 18:47

    Theocracy’s are inherently corrupt after the first or second generation of leader. A hardliner will always be appointed who then uses his magic phone to speak to God and spread “what is right” (as per God).

    When “what is right” conflicts with “what they want” (the people) the leader does what “God” told him to on his magic phone.

  84. 114 mers
    June 23, 2009 at 18:47

    Everyone who lives in a democracy has personal experience with religion??!! Excuse me, but I have lived in a democratic society all my life and I’m pleased to say that I have never had a personal experience with religion. Keep religion private so that government can represent us all.

  85. 115 Claudius M Fundi
    June 23, 2009 at 18:47

    Religion should never be mixed ith democracy because people with divergent views will be maligned. This is the logic some us tried to bring to my nation Zambia when a former president was busy declaring our nation as a Christian Nation.

  86. June 23, 2009 at 18:48

    The essence of religion is never compromise. The essence of politics is compromise. Religious leaders are therefore ill suited to politics.

  87. 117 CJ McAuley
    June 23, 2009 at 18:49

    This is such a simple question, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel! A simple test is all that is required:1(: how many former rivals of religious leaders are still breathing?; and 2) how many former demopcratic rivals in a real democracy are still breathing?

  88. 118 Hani from USA
    June 23, 2009 at 18:49

    Secular-Religion free governments don’t exist and is nothing more than a wishful hallucination. The people in power are split according to party lines and support laws that in agreement with their beliefs and religion. Just look at the issue of abortion in the United States and how religious beliefs is playing a role in that debat between democrats and republicans. Look at Lebanon which is considered to be a secular democratic country in the middle east, and how it’s government representatives have been recently voted into power based on thier religious party lines Shiat, Sunni, Maronite, Roman Orodox, Druz.

  89. 119 Pieter De Praetere
    June 23, 2009 at 18:49

    Religion usually claims that it is an universal truth, and cannot accept ‘mistakes’, as they would undermine their universal truth. From my point of view, accepting and being ‘punished’ for failures and mistakes is essential for a democracy, where a politician is held accountable by parliament and his voters, where religious leaders claim that only ‘God’ will judge, which provides an excuse for any action, including shocking abuse of human rights, where in an, ideal, democracy, those would not be possible and punished by the voters. I therefore believe that a state has to be secular before it can be a democracy.

  90. 120 brinda,India
    June 23, 2009 at 18:50

    I do not think morality is directed only by religion.

    Whatt about atheists,,,,,, do they not have morality ?

  91. 121 steve
    June 23, 2009 at 18:50

    When Bush said he gets his instructions from God, he was being a typical western politician, and saying what he thinks people want to hear. When heads of Islamist states say it, they really mean it.

    Obama brings up God all the time, he does it even more than Bush, and I have NO doubt in my mind he’s an absolute athiest. He just says what he thinks will get people to like him. This is politics as usual.

  92. June 23, 2009 at 18:51

    “Religion imposes strict adherence to dogmatic principles: devotees follow often them blindly.”

    This is why I don’t think a religious democracy would really work. A religious democracy could be a paradise on earth for the followers of that religion, but eventually it’ll run into the brick wall of how to deal with those who fall out of the religion, who start questioning it. Democracy isn’t a product, as someone said, it’s a progress, and religion is as well. A religious democracy, particularly if headed by a supreme religious leader, is probably going to threaten/shun those who start to question it, which, in a perfect democracy, this wouldn’t exist.

  93. 123 Timothy
    June 23, 2009 at 18:52

    Religion give the uneducated some assurance that the official they elect will govern within a similar mindset. This is why the US will never elect an atheist and why so many countries are ruled by a theocracy.

  94. 124 steve
    June 23, 2009 at 18:53

    Your caller brings up treatment of Kurds in Turkey vs. treatment of Kurds in Iran, which is a very valid point. However I could point out that Turkey treats its Jews much better than Iran treats its Jews. It just depends on the group you are focusing on.

    • 125 RightPaddock
      June 24, 2009 at 11:20

      I think a greater proportion of Turkish Jews than Iranian Jews have gone to Israel or elsewhere in the past 100 years or so, which puts your assertion into question. My understanding is that there are about 25,000 Jews living in Iran and about 20,000 in Turkey. in Iran Jews and Christians have a guaranteed number of seats in the Majlis, does Turkey have anything similar in its Parliament. So I’m not sure that Turkey’s treatment of Jews is that much better than Iran’s, obviously the relations each country has with Israel are far apart, but that’s a different issue.

      In the 20 century Turkey committed acts of genocide against the Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians, I’m not aware that Iran is guilty of any such atrocities.

  95. 126 Chrissy in Portland
    June 23, 2009 at 18:58

    The US government was based on Christian values. Having said that, in my opinion, during the Bush administration the US was NOT a true democracy.

    The United States is supposed to have checks and balances by all three branches of our government to make sure that one branch of government or one leader doesn’t have too much power.

    What makes a true democracy work is BALANCE. Having “supreme leaders” that have the final say on everything is anything but democratic.

  96. 127 Patrick
    June 23, 2009 at 19:08

    government should be wholly isolated from any religious influence. i have no problem with anyone observing their religion as long as it doesn’t infringe on my or any one else’s rights. Religion seeks to control through “morality”. the dark ages were a good example of why religion and politics don’t mix.

  97. 128 Scott [M]
    June 23, 2009 at 19:10

    This is not possible!

    This question is not up for dispute. They cannot. It would simply be impossible. The inherent meaning of the terms are contradictory. The umbrella is not large enough to contain both side-by-side.

    It is essentially the equivalent of suggesting that everyone in a democracy voted on being a dictatorship, and then still calling the result a democracy, because it was decided by the people. Religion is inherently (generally) undemocractic. So by proxy, a religious democracy is no longer a democracy.

  98. 129 matt
    June 23, 2009 at 19:26

    there has NEVER been a truely democratic country anywhere on the planet, EVER .. if you think there is or ever has been then stop fooling yourself, democracy is a cruel joke that has been played on people for a long time

    June 23, 2009 at 19:52

    I believe democracy should be secular. Ironically this is a utopist premise that I carry because religions do not exist in strictly equal in terms of proportions of numbers of followers. Democracy has the pontential to negate itses due to the fact that, when voting takes place, the ideals of secularism are often trashed or negated through the egoism of the majority. An atheist is equally a religius person though in a reversal role.

    June 23, 2009 at 20:02

    America is secular? I do not think so if you saw the fiasco that surrounded the re-election of George Bush junior after Bin Laden released a videotape. As if that is not enough the American dollar still carry the motto: IN GOD WE TRUST. Which God and does the atheist agree or protest to that insinuation? It is often through tolerance that we form a consesus as to what democracy is. Its not the Mulahs alone that interfere in a democracy. The royals too in England and the politburos in China and Moscow. Poets and court jesters don’t exist today? Think tanks and lobyists, are they elected by the majority?

    You cannot divorce dilema from the human drama. That we continue to demonize others goes to show how much we are all undemocratic and democratic at the same time. Democracy is not yet perfect even though we are not yet done with it.

  101. 132 Pavan
    June 23, 2009 at 20:28


  102. 133 Jim Newman
    June 23, 2009 at 20:33

    Hello again
    As far as I can see there are three main politico-religious groups in the world today. The corporate money based group, the social people based group and the god camp.
    Any one of these groups excludes the other two.
    In my opinion democracy can be the system of governement in any of these groups but to change from one group to another a deep going cultural revolution is needed.
    If democracy is expressed by the slogan ‘for the people, by the people, with the people’ then, in fact, democracy does not exist. The reason I say this is that once a governement is elected it has a number of years to do exactly as it pleases without any further refernce to the people. So at best so-called democracies are elected dictatorships with a ruling junta.
    The only way for the ‘by the people’ bit to be implemented is for a system of referenda where a referendum is obligatory if a certain number of signatures is collected.

  103. 134 Shannon in Ohio
    June 23, 2009 at 22:11

    @ Athony

    At the time Jefferson died, none of the above were considered US citizens: Female whites, poor white men, Jews, Catholics, and Quakers, and all people with black skin. All were considered non-citizens at the time. That would include Sally Hemmings and the black male and female children she produced w/ Thomas Jefferson. It would also include Jefferson’s white daughter, Patsy.

  104. 135 Dennis Junior
    June 23, 2009 at 22:18

    No, Democracy doesn’t have to be secular to work….It has to be fair and not behind ideological backgrounds…..

    ~Dennis Junior~

  105. 136 steve
    June 24, 2009 at 00:33

    Someone one’s comment, read on air, stated that religious governments can be control freaks. That’s true, but you can have secular control freaks as well. Smoking bans, government sale of alcohol. In fact, the LCBO in Ontario, the ONLY place you can buy liquor from in the Province, is having a strike, meaning you can’t by liquor in Ontario because they only place you can, will have striking workers. I think in any society, you have control freaks.

  106. 137 Nigel
    June 24, 2009 at 01:19

    As I listened to World Have Your Say on BBC Caribbean from the car I wondered whether the passion showed by some commentators on the rights of the Iranian politcal minorities would similarly extend to the Neo Nazis in Germany who are despised by the German political establishment in the same way as the protesters in Iran are reviled by the Iranian politcal establishment. Secular democracy, authoritarian theocracy, they are really all the same just different levels and methods. I have seen on TV some pretty hard protester thumping, tear gas etc. in France and Germany. What about the man who was killed iin England for Heaven’s sake.

  107. 138 Saman
    June 24, 2009 at 01:30

    Radio Farda has serious amounts of indepth reportages about what’s going on in Iran at the moment. It’s crazy how they find out about things. I think the Iranian government is going after the BBC because they can not because there is an ounce of truth to what they’re saying…if they want to attack the media then they should be attacking Radio Farda as they are far more of a threat than the BBC has ever been to the Islamic regime…but they know that most Iranians who choose to listen to international media choose radio farda so that would alienate most people….weird..

  108. June 24, 2009 at 03:12

    The IRI does not want to be a democracy, it is an emryonic caliphate. Muslims watch carefully, dissent will be unknown in the muslim world within 10 years, beaten into “dust”.

  109. 140 T
    June 24, 2009 at 03:21

    Yes church and state have to be seperate. Can you imagine if the neocons in the States had their dream of McCain being President? If that happened, things would be 100 times worse than they are now. And then the emigration rate from here would skyrocket.

    Does the U.K. really want millions of American refugees?

  110. 141 tanboontee
    June 24, 2009 at 04:43

    Why keep harping on democracy? What is so very special about it when it is just another form of governance?

    This world is nothing but a colossal platform of injustice and fraudulence. Whatever the nature of the government may be — socialism, communism, democracy, feudalism, or autocracy — the bottom line is similar, i.e. trying relentlessly to grab as much power and wealth as one can, and as long as possible.

    So, why all the anger and protest?
    (Tan Boon Tee)

  111. 142 MarcusAureliusII
    June 24, 2009 at 05:06

    To be a democracy, a nation must be neutral towards religion. Once there is an established religion, whatever it is, those who belong to and are favored by that religion have an automatic advantage in all dealings with the governent over the outsiders. This is why the provision of the Constitution of the United States separating church and state is a pillar of its democratic construction. Iran is only one example proving a nation with an established religion cannot be a democracy. Separation of church and state is necessary but not sufficient for democracy as are free and fair elections. Iran has neither.

  112. 143 Tracy
    June 24, 2009 at 08:27

    Religion has no place in democracy. The last time religion had a strong role in the US, George Bush caused havoc.

    Religions have agendas that cause the erosion of the rights of the people. Rights like abortion, contraception, up to date medical/scientific research, equal rights for women and gays/lesbians are all examples of areas that religions can influence government policy and stifle social and economic development.

    Religion must be kept out of schools and politics and be banished to the church and home.

  113. 144 Ann
    June 24, 2009 at 13:14

    There is a fundamental contradiction between democracy and religion. But the contradiction lies in the way some religions are practised. Any religious group that is fundamentalist in it’s outlook is undemocratic by it’s very nature – they claim divine authority – but no-one can step beyond the limits of their own minds to know the absolute truth; so fundamentalist religions are dangerous delusions,

    But we should be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Denying religious groups a voice in state activities only leads only to increasingly ignorance. (The creationist debate in the US?). More worryingly, marginalising religious groups leads to increasing polarisation, paranoia and victim mentality behaviour.

    Additionally, any state has to address questions often of a moral and ethical nature – it would be impossible to debate these issues without reference to the viewpoints of various religious groups. Nor should we – because their viewpoints SHOULD be heard. Silencing them only makes them more powerful. And there is much to learn from religions of the more moderate kind. For example, Buddhism has an ethical ideal of kindness – now wouldn’t that be a great place to start democracy!

  114. 145 Stewart Hart
    June 24, 2009 at 19:30

    Democracy is, by definition, whatever the people decide it is. If a people are religious, then it’s religious. If a people are secular, it’s secular. If a people are egalitarian, it’s egalitarian. If a people value merit, it’s meritocracy.

    At the same time, we have to value and respect values that aren’t our own.
    Good ideas and good intentions are what should define any worldview, and it’s the people that live the principals of their beliefs or twist them that make them what they are.

    [For example, contrary to propaganda, the world’s religions have, by and large, gotten the idea of peaceful coexistence down a lot better than many of secularism’s sects (think death tolls by Secular Humanism, Atheism, Communism, etc.) have, but I would never outlaw secularism.]

    The second someone says: “Sorry, before you decide anything, things have to be run my way and can never be changed and you’ll never have any say on that” then it’s not democracy anymore. It may be a representative tyranny, but it’s still tyranny.

    If you look at another country and go: “sheesh, that sure does suck,” then don’t do what they did, follow your own path set by your society.

  115. 146 radu from canada
    June 24, 2009 at 19:48

    thank you bbc and radio free europe for your coverage. please don’t let what is going on in iran pass unnoticed. keep up the good work. long live bbc and radio farda!

  116. 147 radu from canada
    June 24, 2009 at 20:40

    I agree with Saman. Radio Farda is a threat to the regime for sure. It is black listed as you probably know. They have had 24 hour coverage since the demonstrations began and they have also been speaking with demonstrators on the streets right when the unrest is happening, but then again they are farsi speaking so it is probably easier for them to get access than say the bbc.

  117. June 24, 2009 at 22:52

    There will always be too much sectarian factionalism. Democracies must remain secular. Too much of the peoples rights have been trampled upon by the sectarian factionalism that abounds.

  118. 149 Amir
    June 24, 2009 at 23:33

    Democracy and a government run by a religion are incompatible. Simple as that. Democracy deals with certain freedoms and rights; the freedom to assemble, the right to free speech, and other certain rights that are incompatible with religion.

    In Iran, the “supreme leader” claims that his power comes from God. He claims to be god’s representative on Earth. this supreme leader is chosen, and serves for life.

    The right wing fanatic Iranian government can claim that Iran is a democracy all they want, but this is ludicrous to any Iranian that has lived under this islamic regime, such as myself.

  119. 150 Ibrahim in UK
    June 26, 2009 at 15:02

    Most countries have a majority of a certain race or faith. Let’s take Britain for example: A majority Christian nation. Democracy means the laws of the nation would reflect Christian values. Secularism would require the introduction of laws which may fall outside the tolerance of Christian values (e.g. the Kosher/Halal debate).
    Who defines what a “secular” law is and who applies this law despite the feelings of the Christian majority? Is there an element of dictatorship in forcing secular laws upon the people?
    In the absence of monoculture, it is probably finding the right balance between “benovolent dictator” and free democracy that is key to having a happy society.

  120. June 27, 2009 at 12:41

    I think the term you are searching for here is theocracy. Yahoshua Ben Joseph and the12 Disciples were democratic according to holy scripture and only bowed to God. Of course its possible.

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