"What is the biggest sin you have committed? Do you believe in evolution or creation? What is the role of faith in your daily life? Do you make decisions based on your moral values or a different set of values?"
Although you would expect to be asked these questions to get accepted to a university or federal job in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, or Iran, I was surprised and perturbed to hear these questions being posed to the 2008 presidential candidates in the United States of America.
Upon seeing the TV show on "faith and politics", and hearing the preliminary presidential debates, I called a friend in Tehran to share the irony of it all: in a day and age where Iranian people are sick and tired of non-secular government and of hearing faith-based allegations and claims by its politicians and clerics, how can this be happening in the US?
How is it that at the advent of the 21st century, with a secular constitution, these are the focus of questions being asked of politicians in the US, instead of how they plan to diminish poverty in the most affluent country in the world, increase the quality of the health care system (or lack thereof), or internationally, deal with the genocide in Darfur, stop the war in Iraq and promote peace in the Middle East?
In Iran, despite a religious government and the importance of tradition among people, when politicians emphasize their faith or hide behind it, people become suspicious and do not believe the authenticity of what they hear. After years of living in an Islamic Republic, people no longer care about a politician's particular faith or daily relationship with God: they want to know how the policies will improve their lives. In fact, faith and morality should be evident in good policies and decisions, and not something to be used as a banner simply to get votes.
Many leaders in the Middle East, including Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, are allegedly masters of faith and have very close (if not direct) relationships to God. But the question is how has this faith translated into Human Rights, freedom of speech, and the possibility of living in abundance? In most of these countries, politicians hide behind faith and religion to keep people in misery and suffering, only to their own personal benefit.
There is a fine line between embracing God and using faith as a basis for governance. These lines are fast fading as we see the parallels between two leaders who repeatedly rule behind their faith: President Bush who has made the Middle East a pool of blood, and President Ahmadinejad who continues to run his country into economic ruin, while taking away from the Iranian people their most basic human rights.
The real question is why it that in one of the most educated, affluent, and democratic countries in the world, politicians are being questioned on their faith for votes rather than their agenda of improving life for Americans. Could it be that faith-based organizations are forming the direction of the upcoming elections, again?