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Reimagining Faith for Democracy

By Marin Lissy

March 27, 2024

In Response to Against All Odds

Ece Temelkuran’s essay “Against all Odds” compels the reader to ponder the dilemma of hopelessness in the face of great disillusionment, which, in her context, manifests itself as the decline of democracy. The essay spells out tragic governmental inefficacy and the abandonment of human dignity on a global scale, which characterizes this dilemma, and bring us to pessimism: Why do we deceive ourselves that we can bring change? Temelkuran’s answer to this question is multifaceted, emphasizing the inherent conflicts between democracy and capitalism, and global equity and Western exceptionalism, as causes. She also proposes the employment of a nonreligious, political faith as a guiding principle towards a collective humanity.

Temelkuran illustrates a bleak world outlook as the world faces the “end of a system,” the system being capitalism attempting to synthesize itself with democracy. In practice, capitalism promotes a continuous growth model, which can undermine democratic principles such as pluralism and equality. Capitalism’s incompatibility with democracy creates an unsustainable concurrence, which Temelkuran argues has reached the degree of “implosion.” It is true that capitalism’s incompatibility with democracy has become increasingly apparent: The Washington Post, for instance, adopted the controversial slogan “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” which declares itself in italics directly beneath the paper’s logo. The looming assertion may seem melodramatic, yet it renders discomfort largely due to the undeniable reality it underlines of a deeply politically polarized United States.

I self-consciously use the example of a U.S. newspaper, since it parrots not only Temelkuran’s discussion of the “end of liberal democracy,” but also the phenomenon of “Western exceptionalism,” which Temelkuran argues leads to the exclusion of the Global South from dialogues about global development and cooperation. Thus the question becomes, how can we foster a global consciousness in policy and decision-making if its influence is so crucial to sustainable, effective solutions?

This leads me to consider Temelkuran’s proposal of a sort of political, secular faith, which serves as a creative response to our ongoing pessimistic dilemma. I must admit that I find such an association difficult to make, which Temelkuran anticipates, with faith being a term “monopolized by religion.” However, more acutely, I am hesitant to appeal to the power of a term such as "faith" without defining it clearly. “Faith” invites a plethora of criticisms, and it may be paradoxical for faith to be both “impregnable” and not require any proof, simply by virtue of it being self-evident. Consequently, the connection of its value system—or lack thereof—to capitalism and Western exceptionalism could be more evident. Perhaps it would be advantageous to the acceptance of Temelkuran’s construction of faith to pursue additional arguments, analytical or philosophical, that do provide reasonable proof for it.

The challenge of addressing our pessimism—and the challenge of finding faith in democracy—is first identifying its systematic causes, and secondly addressing the doubts we have in our solutions. The faculty of faith, as it traditionally pertains to morality and reason, is charged and elicits associations of the theological and spiritual. This faith then, reimagined, must be prepared to defend itself from criticisms and contradictions and have an outlook for how it desires to complement or serve as an alternative to existing methodologies of activism and reform.

Marin Lissy (C’27) is a freshman in the College of Arts & Sciences at Georgetown University.