The official news website of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) recently published an article titled “Church and state: Why can’t they be friends?” which tells of the Pope’s warning on the dangers of secularism. The following are some key excerpts pertinent to the Philippine situation and worthy of analysis, in an attempt to answer the title question why the church and state can’t indeed be friends.
[T]he pope warns that societies without the moorings of Christian values will be lost at sea, unaware of or indifferent to the truth that anchors humanity to justice, peace, respect and solidarity.
This statement implies that the principles of justice, peace, respect, and solidarity are held exclusively not only by religion, but by a particular religion, which is Christianity. It is a very arrogant statement that insults not only nonbelievers but believers of other faiths as well. Such a premise alone is already reason enough as to why church and state cannot be friends.
The separation of church and state, which is a hallmark of a democracy, “has also gone onto the separation of God and life unfortunately,” in which religious beliefs and values are expected to be left not only out of the process of public decision-making, but out of people’s own personal lives, too, he [Fr. Theodore Mascarenhas] said.
Secularism does not really intend to eradicate religion as much as keep religion a private affair. In our country alone, millions depend on religion for hope, happiness, and peace of mind, and secularism has no problem with that. It’s one thing to want to keep religion separate from government; it’s totally another thing to try to wipe it out.
One key topic, in fact, under discussion at the 2010 special Synod of Bishops for the Middle East was how to promote “positive secularism,” a form of separation of government and religion that still allows people’s faith to have a role in society without consecrating one religion as the religion of the state. The church supports a form of church-state separation that ensures religions have a voice in society and that laws reflect moral values — including laws dealing with life and marriage.
The main problem here is that different religions disagree among themselves on important issues including those involving marriage, such as birth control and divorce – both of which the Roman Catholic Church condemns while other religions accept. If our laws were to reflect religious moral values, the halls of congress would be filled with a cacophony of voices and our laws would conflict with one another.
In the West, secularism is understood as the problem of God being foisted out of the public sphere; but for the East, it’s a positive state of affairs in which governments show respect and protect all religions, letting them have a voice and not treating anyone better than the others, he said.
In the Philippines, one religion has the loudest voice and is listened to more than others.
“A real church-state separation would be that the church can freely express and ask its followers to adhere to the principles it holds dear,” Father Mascarenhas said.
Sounds just about right, for as long as the legislators, most of whom are members of both state and church, do not forget that they represent the former when they are in congress, even as they heed the latter for guidance on how they live their personal lives.
“Show me one human situation that is not reflected in the Gospel,” he said. Not only are the human challenges of death, fear, doubt and persecution detailed in the Bible, it also spells out the solutions, too.
How about three: cloning, stem cell research, and genetic engineering. But there’s a situation about disobedient servants that the Gospel of Luke (12:47) talks about and spells out a solution to: “The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows.” Should this be incorporated in our Labor Code?
“The answer to death is the resurrection, and the answer to doubt and anguish like Jesus felt in the garden of Gethsemane is give yourself over to the will of God,” he said.
But who gets to declare what the will of God is, assuming he exists? The Vatican? What about the other sects and denominations? What about the other religions?
In The Science of Good and Evil, Michael Shermer wrote:
“Religious freedoms must always be protected, but the price for this security is the separation of religion from government. Historically, where church and state were wed, individual liberty suffered, including and especially religious liberty.”
“The rationale of the rule is summed up in the familiar saying, ‘Strong fences make good neighbors.’ The idea is to delineate the boundaries between the two institutions and thus avoid encroachments by one against the other because of a misunderstanding of the limits of their respective exclusive jurisdictions.”
Indeed, Church and State can be good neighbors for as long as the strong fence of secularism stands between them, because rights are trampled every time either of them crosses that fence and steps into the other’s territory. And no matter how noble their intentions are, they can never, ever be friends.
Image from www.thesimsupply.com