August 20, 2009
It is generally accepted that the intermingling of the religious and the political is not always fortuitous. However, political protests led by Buddhist monks in Burma were received sympathetically in much of the world. The Dalai Lama’s position as both political and religious leader of the exiled Tibetan community is, largely, unquestioned. Certain situations seem to warrant, indeed demand, a sympathetic view of religious forays into politics.
In this light, news about the eviction of Thich Nhat Hanh’s followers from their monastery in Vietnam by the state police is particularly appropriate (if a little late). Hanh, who is well known for his criticism of the Vietnam War, has urged the Vietnamese government to “disband religious police.”
My question, then, is, “When is ‘religious intervention’ all right?” Should religious groups stand up to totalitarian regimes? And should the world protect them when they do?