Auburn Unitarian Universalist Society
In addition to the role of social networking websites, the power of a "secular soul-force" may be the most important lesson that the world will gain from the recent Egyptian revolution. Prior to Egypt, the paradigmatic example of a revolution in the Muslim world was Iran. The original galvanizing leader of the Iranian revolution of 1979 was Ayatollah Khomeini. Although he originally promised not to turn Iran into a theocracy, he quickly did so. Khomeini‘s legacy is the current symbiotic theocratic dictatorship of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and a close circle of ayatollahs, or "holy men." Similar Islamic revolutions included the infamous seizure of power by groups such as the Taliban ("talib" roughly translates to "religious student") in Afghanistan; and Hizbollah, which calls itself "the party of God," and now has a controlling interest in the Lebanese government.
Remarkably, the rebellion in Egypt was led by secular forces. The Muslim Brotherhood, which was seen as the Islamic bogeyman that Hosni Mubarak was protecting the civilized world from, was virtually a non-presence with its "hokey-pokey" (put one foot in, take one foot out) role as events unfolded in Tahrir Square. As a Sunni Muslim society, Egypt does not have the clerical caste of ayatollahs functioning as self-proclaimed mouthpieces for God‘s will (sic) on earth, as there are in Shiite societies. So, there was no Grand Ayatollah (as there is in largely Shiite Iran, as well as Iraq) with power and gravitas equal or superior to that of the ruler/monarch/dictator.
Rather than an explicitly religious voice, Egypt‘s secular army stepped in and took a caretaker role, maintaining order and ensuring that events would turn out peacefully. Furthermore, to quell perhaps the greatest fear in the west, the army stated that all of the peace treaties and agreements with Israel would be maintained. With that statement, most of the world was able to breathe a sigh of relief.
This is not to say that religion had nothing to do with the successful revolution in Egypt. After all, some of the biggest demonstrations took place on Fridays, the traditional Muslim day of prayer, when most people attend prayer services in the mosques. Then again, there is a reason major sporting events take place on Sundays in the United States and throughout the western world—that is the day that most people are off from work.
I use the term "secular soul-force" to describe a power that may "feel religious," but actually transcends our various religious traditions. For example, although Mohandas Gandhi was a Hindu, his teachings on nonviolence drew heavily on those of Henry David Thoreau, the nineteenth-century Unitarian. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King would later base the nonviolent power of the civil rights movement on the teachings of both Gandhi and Thoreau. Dr. King‘s doctrine of nonviolence was explicitly religious, as was his use of "soul-force." This was because of the role of the church in African-American society. However, Dr. King was also ecumenically-minded and savvy enough to describe it in language that transcended Christianity and was inclusive of all humankind.
What we have witnessed in Tahrir Square was yet another manifestation or version of this soul-force. It was, in effect, more secular. Although there were people praying in Tahrir Square, the energy driving the revolution was secular rather than religious. I would define "soul-force" as a power that animates the human will and imagination to act in ways that will eventually lead to justice and liberation.
I believe that soul-force is something that we intuit, rather than something that we need explained in a rational manner. That is to say, it is "self-evident," and may not be inspired by a god, though some may view God as its source.
It is similar to what Theodore Parker, a Unitarian minister in Boston during the 1830s-1850s was speaking of when he spoke of "The transient and permanent in Christianity." For Parker, the transient was all of the church teachings and mythology about Jesus; it was the stuff that changed from one generation or century to another. The permanent was "Love of God and love of man" and we might retranslate that to "love of humankind." Parker wrote that even if Jesus had never lived, those truths would still exist, and we would be able to intuit them within our hearts, without the need of a Bible or any other scripture. Parker was also an ardent abolitionist, who provided sanctuary in his church for escaped slaves when The Fugitive Slave Act was passed, and slave owners gained the right to pursue their slaves who had escaped and moved north.
I believe that what happened in Egypt was a result of a similar "soul-force." Furthermore, it was secular in that it was based on the human desire for freedom from totalitarian rule, rather than by religious leaders hoping to gain power. I hope that it will serve as a model for progressive change throughout the Muslim world. This will benefit the people, because it will free them from the religious totalitarianism which has been used as an oppressive force in too many Muslim lands for far too long. It will also benefit those of us in the non-Muslim world by providing us with stable democracies to deal with, rather than dictators who have served as lackeys for western interests, taking our money to enrich themselves, while providing the non-Muslim world with a false sense of security.