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Comment on “Freedom from Offense is Offensive to Human Rights”

Comment on “Freedom from Offense is Offensive to Human Rights”

Why should the CCP be compelled to shut down an art exhibit simply because Mideo Cruz’s iconoclastic works are deemed by some religious quarters to be blasphemous and obscene? Why should religious beliefs be exempt from satirical criticism and be deemed worthier of respect than freedom of inquiry and expression, which is the lifeblood of democracy? The problem with the state’s accommodation of religious prejudices is that it dignifies a mindset that claims immunity from criticism and any obligation to prove its ideas to be true and thus worthy of respect. When the state indulges sectarian sensibilities to the extent of censoring criticism of sectarian prejudices out of fear that criticism might incite religious unrest, it reinforces religious fanatics’ sense of entitlement and emboldens them to engage in acts or threats of violence that would have incurred legal recrimination had they not been committed in the name of god and faith.

Who is the offended party in the case of a painting of a long-haired and bearded man, with a wooden penis attached to his face where his nose should be? Does the figure represent any real person, living or dead, which warrants the flak that Mideo Cruz received? Knowledgeable scholars such as archaeologist Israel Finkelstein and bible experts Robert Price and Bart Ehrman have produced volumes of evidence that cast doubt on the historical authenticity of biblical figures such as Abraham, Moses, and even Jesus of Nazareth. The fact that Jesus has been portrayed in varied and often conflicting ways with cherry-picked bible verses – as a preacher of prosperity by dollar-waving evangelists, as a Che Guevara-like revolutionary by liberation theologians, as a miracle-working mystic by Pentecostals, and as a pleasure-hating moralist by conservatives, etc. – should prompt Christians of all sects to critically examine their faith and to observe prudence when their most cherished beliefs are challenged. The “blasphemous” works of Mideo Cruz are no more an excuse for a faith-driven riot by Christian fanatics than the portrayal of Batman and Robin as gay lovers are an excuse for superhero fans to lynch the spoof-makers.

Am I trivializing the anger and pain felt by those offended by the “blasphemous” exhibit? Let it be so! Had I the talent of a Michelangelo, I would have done a wall painting of the 4th century C.E. Alexandrian philosopher Hypatia, a heroine for the cause of reason and secularism. Hypatia was murdered by a mob of Christian fanatics who, at the agitation of Bishop Cyril of Alexandria, dragged her from her chariot, and repeatedly stabbed and cut her up with oyster shells, for her criticism of religious dogmatism and advocacy of separation of secular and religious authority. There would be two images of Hypatia – one at the bottom featuring her mutilated body, over which her murderers gloat and brandish the symbols of their faith, and the other one on center top, with the transfigured body of the resurrected Hypatia being surrounded by historical figures known for their advocacy of freedom, reason, justice and universal fellowship such as Giordano Bruno, Rosa Luxemburg, Emma Goldman, Helen Keller and the like. The heroes of the painting would be set against the background of varied images suggesting humankind’s struggle for progress in science, economy, politics and ethics, reminiscent of Diego Rivera’s wall painting. Hypatia’s torturers would resemble John Paul II, Benedict XVI, Mother Teresa, Aloysius Stepinac, Escriva de Balaguer, Pat Robertson, Osama Bin Laden, Ayatollah Khomeini and other modern-day theocrats. Though the theocrats would be set against the background of a pit with fire and brimstone, they would be unaware their infernal predicament and would even appear to be reveling in it. The principal villains will be surrounded by a supporting cast of cheerleaders that includes Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Tito Soto, Manoling Morato and other religious hypocrites attired in miniskirts and with matching pompoms. The victims of theocracy will be depicted at various phases of their emancipation – some enduring torture, others discarding their burqas or breaking their chain-like rosaries, and the rest of them climbing out of the infernal pit to take part in the ascent of human progress.

Image taken from womanastronomer.com

Posted in Politics, Society3 Comments

God in Our Constitution

God in Our Constitution

For many who had expected the July 13 Senate hearing with the “Pajero 7 bishops” to be more than just an occasion for face-saving apologies or Pilatean hand-washing on the part of persons involved in the PCSO plunder scandal, the whole affair turned out to be a letdown. What could have been a forum for investigating in aid of legislation public officials’ conduct in appropriating GOCC (government owned or controlled corporations) funds for the wealthiest and biggest sect, instead, became a pretext for condoning the routine practice of showering administration-friendly religious leaders with state largesse on secular grounds!

Santiago’s Speech

Senator Miriam Santiago virtually acquitted the “Pajero bishops” and preempted all discussion, by pointing out to her colleagues the secular purpose behind the bestowal of funds on the bishops and by berating the COA officers, mass media practitioners and common people for their supposed intrusion into the Supreme Court’s dominion as the ultimate interpreter and arbiter of legal issues concerning church-state relations. Though Santiago made a number of valid comments regarding discretionary powers that enabled incumbent public officials and PCSO officers to exploit charity funds for private gain and partisan political uses, she buried the whole issue of clergy influence-peddling and preferential treatment of administration-friendly sects beneath a mountain of legal apologies for religion’s presumptive right to state support.

After Santiago’s pandering speech to clergy sensibilities, the Senate hearing followed a descending path, with Enrile casting the whole blame on the former PCSO officers, Estrada cracking a few quips about the propriety of a bishop’s acceptance of tainted funds from the Devil, Bishop Pueblo explaining his reasons for backing GMA and assuring P-noy of his support, and finally, PCSO Chair Margie Juico apologizing to the bishops for her scandal-causing tautological lapses (confusing second-hand pickups with brand new big name luxury SUVs) and assuring the Bishops of PCSO’s openness towards supporting the Catholic Church’s charity work for the poor.

The Church and the State

The problem of church-state relations in our country does not simply lie with corrupt public officials and influence-peddling religious leaders who take advantage of their respective offices. The problem lies with the Philippine State itself which has yet to shed off its feudal and colonial connections that bestow undue economic, cultural and quasi-political privileges on religious institutions, not accountable to the citizenry. Modern democracy is the fruit of the common people’s earthly struggles for social justice, welfare and development, against politico-economic systems that perpetuate elite monopoly over resources and power without accountability. The democratic ideals and values of freedom, equality, justice and fellowship draw their strength from the ascendancy of reason and science as guides to public morality and public policy, over and against supernatural creeds that have historically nurtured despotic regimes that self-servingly claim a mandate from god and his ordained hierarchy of nature.

Ironically, it was the February 1986 Uprising that paved the way for the adoption of our present Constitution which is riddled with conflicting provisions concerning democratic rights and state guaranteed religious privileges. Due to the ruin wreaked by state terror on mass media, social institutions and people’s organizations during the darkest years of martial law, many progressive priests either joined the underground movement or made use of their offices and social action programs to resist the Marcos regime, aid the peasants, workers and urban poor in their struggles for ameliorative reform, democracy, and justice for the disappeared or incarcerated victims of the regime, often against their superiors’ desire for amity with the dictatorship. The murder of opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr. in 1983 triggered a shift in the bishops’ critical collaboration posture towards the Marcos regime, as unprecedented mass outrage over the atrocity moved hundreds of thousands in street protests throughout the country including Makati its key financial district. The political awakening of the normally conservative middle class and clergy marked a huge advance towards the overthrow of the Marcos dictatorship, but it also imposed severe limits on how far democratic change could proceed. Though the Catholic hierarchy in the person of Jaime Cardinal Sin played a crucial role in the overthrow of the Marcos regime in 1986 — when it was already enfeebled by fourteen years of popular struggles for democratic change, armed rebellion, intra-ruling class conflict, and chronic crisis — they played an inordinate role in the making of the Constitution to an extent unequaled by any church in past regimes.

Given their mixed composition, the drafters of the basic law came up with a Constitution replete with contradictory principles that endanger the state’s commitment to democracy, namely:

(1) All persons have the right to freely practice their respective creeds or worldviews, to the extent consistent with the rights of everyone else. Article III, Section 4 of the Bill of Rights declares that “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances”. Section 5 of the same article further affirms: “No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed. No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights.”

(2) Though Article II section 6 declares that the “separation of church and state shall be inviolable”, other provisions bestow on religious institutions pecuniary privileges and special accommodations that comparable secular institutions cannot claim on a presumptive basis. Section 28(3) of Article VI of the Constitution limits tax exemptions to church-owned assets and improvements “actually, directly, and exclusively used for religious, charitable, or educational purposes” while section 29(2) of the same article restricts state support for religion to funds for religious ministers “assigned to the armed forces, or to any penal institution, or government orphanage or leprosarium”. Though these provisions apparently limit state support for the church to secular purposes wherein church and state have a mutual interest, they in fact transform into enforceable law religious beliefs that are discriminatory and amenable to slipshod sectarian interpretation. Religious groups invoke the separation of church and state doctrine, not to protect the state and society against undue sectarian influence, but rather to hinder the state from enacting measures beneficial to society at large but possibly injurious to their sectarian interests.

God in the Machine

The drafters of the 1935, 1973, and 1899 Constitutions were content to invoke “Divine Providence” or “Sovereign Legislator of the Universe” in deference to adherents of different faiths, Buddhists, deists, pantheists, animists and even agnostics and atheists who accept “Divine Providence” as a metaphor for the sum total of the laws of the physical universe. In contrast, the 1987 Constitution invokes the “almighty God” in apparent reference to the God of three major monotheistic faiths, namely, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

But the one provision of the 1987 Constitution that imposes sectarian religious beliefs about life and socially constructed institutions is Section 12 of Article III: “The state recognizes the sanctity of family life and shall protect and strengthen the family as a basic autonomous social institution. It shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception. The natural and primary right and duty of parents in the rearing of the youth for civic efficiency and the development of moral character shall receive the support of the Government.” This provision has been abused by ultra-conservative and reactionary religious groups to sabotage every progressive proposal from the Magna Carta of Women to the present Reproductive Health and Divorce Bills which aims to empower and liberate women, spouses and children from misogynistic moral codes embedded in numerous families and religious sects.

If the slippery and unscientific notions of “conception” and the “unborn” were construed to elevate the status of a still non-sensient human cell to that of a human person, then every sexual act that involves the use of contraceptives could indeed be labeled as “abortion”, which is illegal under Philippine laws. It was on this basis that former Manila Mayor Lito Atienza issued an ordinance banning the provision of contraceptive pills, condoms and other reproductive health services in public hospitals and clinics. Serious public discussion of abortion as an option for women and child rape victims afflicted with unwanted and life-threatening pregnancies becomes taboo even among liberals and progressives.

Likewise, the invocation of the family as a sacred “autonomous social institution” renders bad marital unions and dysfunctional family traditions impervious to reform and unresponsive to the needs of real life couples and their children. Without divorce and its attendant provision of alimony, spouses who have no love for each other, abused spouses and abused children who need a violence-free family environment, are denied the means of getting out of their predicament and starting life anew with a new pair of spouses like people trapped in a burning building without a fire escape.

Freedoms

The principle stated in number (1) is unassailable but is often mislabeled by religious interest groups as “freedom of religion”. The democratic principles and rights enumerated in Articles II and III are for all citizens and will hold true independently of any religious doctrine. Regardless of whether an individual person is a believer or an unbeliever, male or female, gay or straight, leftist or rightist, colored or white, and endowed or not endowed with an immortal soul, he or she should be entitled to the same rights to life, health, freedom of expression and association, and pursuit of happiness as everyone else.

Regardless of the factuality or fictitiousness of any god or gods, people will discern common human values and affirm the need for reason-based state laws vital to the maintenance of societal health and civilized life. Unlike principle number (1), principle number (2) is philosophically unsound, legally incoherent, and morally indefensible, because it automatically confers undue privileges on members of influential sects and unjustly foists on unbelievers the duty to conform to worldviews other than their own. Consider the following cases that demonstrate the feebleness of legal and political doctrines that purportedly extol complete freedom of religion and non-discriminatory policy towards all creeds and sects.

In the U.S.A., Mormon parents can raise their children according to their faith but may face criminal prosecution for denying their sick children proper medical treatment on account of their belief in the sinfulness of blood transfusion. A woman, not of the Muslim faith, marries a Muslim man and freely decides to settle with her husband in an Islamic state such as Saudi Arabia or Iran (as distinguished from non-theocratic, secular Muslim states such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh and Turkey); however, by doing so, she loses her legal right to publicly practice her faith as well submits to her husband’s superior status which could later expose her to the risk of losing custody over her children in the event that her husband divorces her on whatever grounds.

In Australia, an Aboriginal man pleads not guilty to the charge of child-sexual abuse, invoking his right to initiate his victim into full manhood through sodomy in accordance with his tribe’s customary laws; the court finds him guilty and promptly sends him to prison, on the ground that the accused person’s tribe has no such customary laws. Indeed, prison serves him right! But what if sexual initiation rites for pubescent boys were really part of the convicted child abuser’s custom and belief system as they were and still are among the Keraki and Sambia tribes of New Guinea?

All of these extreme examples prove that “freedom of religion” exists only to the extent that the religious acts and beliefs in question concur with or bear no consequence to the laws and values of society at large. Though individuals may invoke private conscience, popular religious beliefs, ancient traditions or ethnic customs as a basis for state laws, it would be wiser and sounder to ground these laws and norms on shared secular moral values and objectively appraisable societal ideals.

(Not So Good) God

In our country, separation of church and state is routinely violated in government offices, public schools, the Courts, the Cabinet and the Congress itself through opening prayers for every occasion and blatant display of religious symbols and messages alongside national icons and on government advertisements. One wall graffiti co-sponsored by the Manila local government and the Philippine National Police urges the youth to “Get high on God not on drugs!”, indeed a catchy slogan aptly comparing religious devotion with narcotics addiction but a poor remedy to a deeply rooted social and political problem. While secular militant organizations have to hurdle bureaucratic barriers to secure a permit for holding a rally at a public place, influential religious sects get a free pass as well as government assistance for holding day-long religious ceremonies and processions at the cost of traffic jams, deaths by stroke or trampling and rise in street crimes due to inordinate deployment of police personnel to celebration sites for crowd management.

Due to former Mayor Atienza’s ban on contraceptives in public hospitals, people have to undergo a tedious litigation process to fight for rights they are entitled to and had enjoyed for years under previous administrations. Students who get pregnant out of wedlock are summarily expelled by Catholic schools. Doctors deny women timely and appropriate medical treatment on suspicion that they had deliberately attempted abortion and that it is against their faith and the law to condone let alone perform abortion. Bishops bypass normal procedures for obtaining funds from the PCSO and PAGCOR in spite of their church’s billions and moral indictment of gambling, while poor people endure long queues under drizzling rain or sweltering heat at PCSO offices just to obtain paltry sums for medical treatment. Religious ministers slander their counterparts in rival faiths on national TV without fear of recrimination, but an obscure author like Ross Tipon gets slapped with a lawsuit for allegedly defaming the INC and its founder and seeking to incite religious unrest through his still unpublished but narrowly circulated book. Though politicians shun debate on church-state relations as a futile exercise in “preaching to fellow believers (or unbelievers)” and “antagonizing believers” (sect-affiliated religious voters), they deliberately ignore the adverse impact of church interventionism and influence-peddling on a wide range of societal concerns such as taxation, public access to information about the socio-economic profile of public officials and patterns of revenue allocation and expenditure, public health, education, sexual ethics, family relations and so forth.

Since religionists and church-pandering politicians have turned our state laws on their head, it is imperative upon democrats, secular humanists, freethinkers and other progressive activists to turn these laws right side-up and fight for progressive reforms at both national and local levels. Since we cannot wait on our vacillating national leaders and lawmakers to act on their campaign commitments and our demands for progressive measures such as the Reproductive Health and Right of Information bills, we have to build up critical mass for these reforms through advocacy, popular education, organizing work and direct action on urgent social issues in our schools, workplaces, social organizations, civic institutions and barangays.

(Images taken from Inquirer, Schriftman, OFW Now, Wellsphere, and Ahmadiyya Times)

Posted in Featured, Politics, Religion, Society3 Comments

Rough Notes on Secularism, Democracy and Human Progress, Part 3

In part 1 of this series, we looked at what secularism is. Part 2 examined the relationship between the church and state in a secular democracy. In this final installment, we’ll see how secular democracy affects human progress.


Image by Olivander, used under creative commons license.

Secularism and democracy are legacies worth fighting for, because they in union provide the only safe public space whereby people of different outlooks can amicably tackle their differences and pursue shared goals for their common welfare. In what follows, we shall attempt to prove our opening statement by discussing the relationship between secularism, democracy and human progress,

Secular Democracy and Human Progress

The empirical studies of Gregory Paul on secularism and religion reveal a strong correlation between dysfunctional societal conditions and public acceptance of conservative religions as well as an inverse correlation between improving social conditions and a high level of popular religiosity (Paul, 2005, 2009). The most religious affluent nation USA scored the worst in 14 out of 25 societal health and the highest in dysfunction indicators (homicide, incarceration, juvenile mortality, venereal disease, abortions, teen pregnancies, income disparity, poverty, work hours, and volume of energy consumption/resource-use per head), while the least religious democracies in Western Europe, Japan and Canada scored best in societal health indicators.

Paul attributes the USA’s exceptional ill health to unregulated capitalism and the American people’s heavy reliance on religion as a psychosocial mechanism for coping with stress and fear of misery and dispossession. Among the affluent states, all but the USA, have adopted a mix of pragmatic and social democratic policies that include progressive taxation, moderation of predatory propensities of corporations, protection for women at home and in work environments, job security and universal health care that reduce the risk of catastrophic ruin of ordinary citizens. Though the least religious of the prosperous democracies have their own major problems, they enjoy a high level of societal health such as they’ve never experienced before under past theocracy-friendly regimes. In contrast to these countries, the USA imposes the free market principle on ordinary people while handing out billions of tax dollars to big business firms, military contractors and faith-based initiatives, with disastrous results for democracy, popular welfare and global ecology. Far from proving claims about religion as an indispensable guide to moral conduct and about democratic secular values as a contributing factor to moral decadence, the results of these studies demonstrate the ease with which many people outgrow the faith of their forefathers and devote their lives to earthly but no less ethical endeavors, as soon as they attain a certain level of freedom, education and economic security.

Conclusions

Secularism is a necessary but insufficient condition for the growth of amity and cooperation among people of diverse outlooks and cultural backgrounds. The flaw in many secular societies lies not in excessive democracy (or “moral laxity” as conservatives and reactionaries are wont to argue) but in its limited and inconsistent observance with regard to ownership of productive assets, distribution of incomes and benefit-entitlements, as well as control over the policy-making process. The ideals of liberty, equality, and fellowship do not prevail in nominal democracies not because of their lack of validity, but because of their being stunted by stratification of these societies along class, ethnic, gender and/or geopolitical lines (imperial states versus their respective neo-colonies). These modes of stratification generate impoverishment and social exclusion of underprivileged sectors that in turn fuel identity formation and violent contention along ethnic and religious lines.

Democracy must not to be confused with a multicultural pluralist polity of the sort that bestows upon every ethnic community and religious sect immunity against external criticism on issues of broad societal concern such as reproductive health, sexuality, marriage, medical care and so forth. Faith-based privileges such as speech codes and anti-blasphemy laws do not a democracy make; they in fact constitute a distortion of democracy that leads to any or all of the following evils:

a. tyranny of dominant religious groups by virtue of state-guaranteed special privileges to meddle in the affairs of government;

b. ghettoization of cultural minorities and strengthening of their traditional leaders without commensurate accountability for respecting the constitutional rights of their individual members as citizens of the republic;

c. elite cooptation of leaders of minority communities and their very agenda for sector amelioration as quid pro quo for special privileges; and

d. self-censorship and concealment of deep seated prejudices
that manifest themselves in insidious and antagonistic forms.

Religion has always been a worldly affair and it would profit people to subject to critical analysis both the doctrinal contents and secular histories of their respective faiths with same impartiality that they analyze non-religious issues. For instance, some Jewish scholars — such as Israeli historian Ilan Pappe and American political scientist Norman Finkelstein — have contributed to the demystification of Israel’s official history by revealing how the Zionists built the Jewish state through the propagation of ancient myths, exploitation of the Holocaust tragedy and the expulsion of the Palestinians from their native land.(Finkelstein, Nov. 2000; Lendman, 2007) Likewise, Muslims must rediscover their past, not only with a view to acquitting Islam of the sins of religious despotism and misogyny as well as casting all blame for these on Western imperialism and secularism; they must also consider the merits of secular democracy by disentangling democracy’s substance from its corrupted forms that foreign and local elites have foisted upon them.(Dacey and Koproske, 2008) Such is the level of honesty required of both secularists and religionists in discussing and settling disputes on the basis of truth, fairness and practicality.

References:

1) Concordat Watch. “Millions for the bishops: Why the German State pays the wages for the church” http://www.concordatwatch.eu/showtopic.php?org_id=858&kb_header_id=41971

2) Concordat Watch. “”German taxpayers subsidise 98% of faith-based social services” http://www.concordatwatch.eu/showtopic.php?org_id=858&kb_header_id=32561

3) Dacey, Austin and Colin Koproske, “Islam and Human Rights: Defending Universality at the United Nations, Center for Inquiry, September 2008. http://www.centerforinquiry.net/uploads/attachments/ISLAM_AND_HUMAN_RIGHTS.pdf

4) Dacey, Austin. “The Secular Conscience” Excerpt from The Secular Conscience: Why Belief Belongs in Public Life (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus, 2008). http://www.culturaljudaism.org/pdf/Dacey.pdf

5) Frerk, Carsten. “German Taxpayers Subsidize 98% of Faith-Based Social Services”
http://www.concordatwatch.eu/showtopic.php?org_id=858&kb_header_id=32561

6) Farris, Anne. R. P. Nathan and D. J. Wright, ”The Expanding Administrative Presidency: George Bush Jr. and Faith-Based Initiatives” The Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy, Rockefeller Institute of Government, August 2004. http://www.religionandsocialpolicy.org/docs/policy/FB_Administrative_Presidency_Report_10_08_04.pdf

7) Finkelstein, Norman. “The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering”, Nov. 2000, http://www.vho.org/aaargh/fran/livres4/NFHolindustry.pdf

8) Loll, Anna Catherin and Peter Wensierski, “The Hidden Wealth of the Catholic Church”, Part 1: http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,700513,00.html; and Part 2: http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,700513-2,00.html

9) Lendman, Stephen. “On The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by Ilan Pappe”, Feb. 2007, http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=viewArticle&code=LEN20070207&articleId=4715

10) Paul, Gregory. “Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies: A First Look” Journal of Religion and Society (2005) http://moses.creighton.edu/JRS/pdf/2005-11.pdf

11) Paul, Gregory. “The Chronic Dependence of Popular Religiosity on Dysfunctional Psychosocial Conditions” Evolutionary Psychology, Volume 7(3). 2009. http://www.epjournal.net/filestore/EP07398441_c.pdf

12) Sizemore, Bill. “Gaining Faith in Federal Money” The Virginian-Pilot, January 17, 2006 http://www.redorbit.com/news/education/359888/gaining_faith_in_federal_money/index.html

Posted in Politics, Religion, Society1 Comment

Rough Notes on Secularism, Democracy and Human Progress, Part 2

In part 1 of this series, we looked at what secularism is. Today we examine the relationship between the church and state in a secular democracy.


Image by Olivander, used under creative commons license.

Secularism and democracy are legacies worth fighting for, because they in union provide the only safe public space whereby people of different outlooks can amicably tackle their differences and pursue shared goals for their common welfare. In what follows, we shall attempt to prove our opening statement by discussing the relationship between secularism, democracy and human progress,

Church-State Relations in Secular States

Not only the non-religious but the organized religious as well have benefited from secularism and democracy. Historically dominant churches have survived and minor sects have flourished – some, to an arguably greater extent than they deserve — owing to liberal policies adopted by secular states that range from neutrality and benign tolerance to outright accommodation of politically significant sects. Whereas, in the past, a single hegemonic church ruled society directly or in partnership with secular overlords, various churches now freely evangelize without fear of prosecution under apostasy and blasphemy laws. These varying policies toward religion attest to the pragmatic concessions that societies had to make to various sects in their arduous and conflict-ridden march towards secularism and democracy.

A few examples would prove the aforementioned fact about church-state relations. The United Kingdom still maintains a national church, although one with a much diminished public role, as part of its bourgeoisie’s concessions to the old aristocracy, which it left ensconced in a constitutional monarchy and a House of Lords. In spite of the rising number of non-religious citizens in Germany, taxpayers subsidize 98% of faith-based social services, which are provided mainly by 2.5 million workers of the Catholic Caritas and the Protestant Diakonisches Werk. Thus, German state subsidies for faith-based social services seem less a function of popular religiosity than of the state’s pragmatic policy of honoring old agreements with the Vatican and the Protestant Churches. (Frerk)

America’s policy toward religion has been more ambivalent than what its secular liberal Constitution suggests. The First Amendment of the Constitution forbade the Congress from enacting “laws either respecting the establishment of a religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”, but the U.S. government restricted the meaning of this clause to the establishment of an official national religion and allowed state governments to enact faith-based discriminatory laws against non-Christians until 1868 or three years after the Civil War. It took a century and a half for the U.S. Civil War (1861-65) and the mid-20th civil rights movement to sweep away these faith-based laws along with racial apartheid laws.

However, state support for religious discriminatory laws reemerged with a vengeance under the Republican administrations of Ronald Reagan and later George Bush Jr. In 2001, George Bush Jr. initiated the outsourcing of social services (that were once provided by the state) to favored church-affiliated organizations or “faith-based initiatives” through executive orders, rule changes, managerial realignment in federal agencies, and other innovative uses of his presidential prerogatives. Among these innovations is the creation of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives under the President and linked to sub-offices in 10 government agencies, each with a director and staff empowered to articulate, advance and oversee coordinated efforts to generate financial support for faith-based services.(Farris, et. al.) While the Bush Administration didn’t come up with a comprehensive faith-based legislative package, it crafted laws that permit recipients of government grants to hire only those whose religion and sexual orientation is compatible with the grantee’s mission. In 2004 alone, Bush extended more than $2 billion of tax money to religious organizations. Among the program beneficiaries was right-wing televangelist and 700 Club founder Pat Robertson whose annual revenue from government grants ballooned from $108,000 to $14.4 million in the brief period from 2003-2004. (Sizemore, 2006)

What could we surmise from the above relationship between church and state in secular societies? Much of religion’s resilience arises partly from default on the part of secular states that either make a fetish of faith or deliberately exploit faith for political and pecuniary purposes.

The secular humanist philosopher Austin Dacey has valuable insights on what he discerns as errors in secular thought. One is the Privacy Doctrine, which regards fundamental beliefs about morality as strictly private matters, not to be debated in public or urged on anyone else. The other is the Liberty Doctrine, which supposes that freedom of conscience entails that beliefs should be insulated from criticism and not held to any shared standards of correctness. The prevalence of these doctrines results in “a culture unwilling or unable to sustain a real public conversation about religion, ethics, and values.” A trend contributing to the privacy model of conscience is the commercialization of social and cultural life that tends to reduce the realm of values, ethics, and religion to private possessions and market choices. Traditional faiths, non-denominational religions and New Age occultism compete with one another, offering a buffet of diverse beliefs from which consumers can pick and choose the wisdom that best suits their needs. Ethical and religious questions are not “subjective” and “personal,” but open to rational inquiry and amenable to critical scrutiny by others. Claims of conscience may be introduced into public discourse so long as they are held to the same standards as other political proposals: practicality, rationality, consistency, and legality.

In the final installment of this series, we’ll take a look at how secular democracy affects human progress as well as the conclusions of this series

References:

1) Concordat Watch. “Millions for the bishops: Why the German State pays the wages for the church” http://www.concordatwatch.eu/showtopic.php?org_id=858&kb_header_id=41971

2) Concordat Watch. “”German taxpayers subsidise 98% of faith-based social services” http://www.concordatwatch.eu/showtopic.php?org_id=858&kb_header_id=32561

3) Dacey, Austin and Colin Koproske, “Islam and Human Rights: Defending Universality at the United Nations, Center for Inquiry, September 2008. http://www.centerforinquiry.net/uploads/attachments/ISLAM_AND_HUMAN_RIGHTS.pdf

4) Dacey, Austin. “The Secular Conscience” Excerpt from The Secular Conscience: Why Belief Belongs in Public Life (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus, 2008). http://www.culturaljudaism.org/pdf/Dacey.pdf

5) Frerk, Carsten. “German Taxpayers Subsidize 98% of Faith-Based Social Services”
http://www.concordatwatch.eu/showtopic.php?org_id=858&kb_header_id=32561

6) Farris, Anne. R. P. Nathan and D. J. Wright, ”The Expanding Administrative Presidency: George Bush Jr. and Faith-Based Initiatives” The Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy, Rockefeller Institute of Government, August 2004. http://www.religionandsocialpolicy.org/docs/policy/FB_Administrative_Presidency_Report_10_08_04.pdf

7) Finkelstein, Norman. “The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering”, Nov. 2000, http://www.vho.org/aaargh/fran/livres4/NFHolindustry.pdf

8) Loll, Anna Catherin and Peter Wensierski, “The Hidden Wealth of the Catholic Church”, Part 1: http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,700513,00.html; and Part 2: http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,700513-2,00.html

9) Lendman, Stephen. “On The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by Ilan Pappe”, Feb. 2007, http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=viewArticle&code=LEN20070207&articleId=4715

10) Paul, Gregory. “Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies: A First Look” Journal of Religion and Society (2005) http://moses.creighton.edu/JRS/pdf/2005-11.pdf

11) Paul, Gregory. “The Chronic Dependence of Popular Religiosity on Dysfunctional Psychosocial Conditions” Evolutionary Psychology, Volume 7(3). 2009. http://www.epjournal.net/filestore/EP07398441_c.pdf

12) Sizemore, Bill. “Gaining Faith in Federal Money” The Virginian-Pilot, January 17, 2006 http://www.redorbit.com/news/education/359888/gaining_faith_in_federal_money/index.html

Posted in Politics, Religion, Society2 Comments

Rough Notes on Secularism, Democracy and Human Progress, Part 1


Image by Olivander, used under creative commons license.

Secularism and democracy are legacies worth fighting for, because they in union provide the only safe public space whereby people of different outlooks can amicably tackle their differences and pursue shared goals for their common welfare. In what follows, we shall attempt to prove our opening statement by discussing the relationship between secularism, democracy and human progress,

Secularism and Democracy

Secularization is the process by which religious ideas and institutions tend to lose influence in society with the progress of science, technology, economy and modern government. Included here are such phenomena as the decline of formal church membership, reduced role of religion in formal education, institutional separation of church and state, as well as the supremacy of state laws over sectarian religious codes.
Democracy, in its 20th century sense, is a government that possesses the following traits: (a) universal suffrage or equal voting rights to all citizens of legal age regardless of class, creed, race, gender or sexual orientation; (b) a bill of rights; (c) rule of law; (d) periodic elections, whereby voters can freely choose among candidates bearing alternative platforms; and (e) rule of the majority for the election of representatives as well as for parliamentary deliberations.

Though modern democracy and secularism rely on rational and scientific arguments instead of appeals to faith and divine fiats, they are distinct from each other. Democracy is a form of government, dedicated to advancing and defending freedom, equality, social justice, fellowship and common welfare. Secularism is a social orientation that delimits the role of religion and faith in supernatural agencies to the non-governmental sphere of civil society, so as to protect society and state from endless conflict driven by faith-based claims. The institutional separation of church and state in democracies is not, as some religionists, argue, primarily intended for the protection of believers and their faith; it is intended for the protection of both believers and unbelievers, and their right to be held to the same standards of logical and scientific evidentiary tests, whenever and wherever they submit their claims to appropriate public institutions for adjudication or parliamentary deliberation.

Secularism is not anti-religion, but only anti-theocracy. A comparison of Old Testament norms and modern democratic norms should clarify the difference between a secular society and a theocratic society. In a democratic secular society, a person who files a case of marital infidelity against his/her spouse must first present a list of charges indicating probable cause of the said offense and later produce supporting empirical evidence for his/her case to prosper in court. In ancient Jewish society under Mosaic law, jealousy on the part of a husband is sufficient ground for him to compel his wife to submit to the “water of bitterness” ritual, a trial by ordeal wherein the suspected wife drinks a concoction of holy water and temple dirt prepared by a priest The suspected wife’s illness and eventual demise after her ingestion of the “water of bitterness” would prove her guilt, while her survival would clear her of all suspicion. (Numbers 5: 11-31)

Secularism and democracy have progressed at highly uneven rates across societies with varying politico-economic structures, cultures and historical legacies. The continuing hegemony of religion in some modernizing societies such as the Islamic Republic of Iran and the ascent of faith-based political blocs in affluent societies such as the United States defy a simple correlation between modernization and decline of religious practice. Likewise, the supposed synchrony of secularization and democratization cannot be taken for granted in view of the numerous regimes that are both secular and authoritarian. The lack of synchrony between secularization and democratization across affluent societies is underscored by the contrast between democratic welfare states and the USA which is a self-declared “free enterprise society” with minimal social security nets.

In part 2 of this series, we’ll take a look at the relationship between Church and State in secular states

References:

1) Concordat Watch. “Millions for the bishops: Why the German State pays the wages for the church” http://www.concordatwatch.eu/showtopic.php?org_id=858&kb_header_id=41971

2) Concordat Watch. “”German taxpayers subsidise 98% of faith-based social services” http://www.concordatwatch.eu/showtopic.php?org_id=858&kb_header_id=32561

3) Dacey, Austin and Colin Koproske, “Islam and Human Rights: Defending Universality at the United Nations, Center for Inquiry, September 2008. http://www.centerforinquiry.net/uploads/attachments/ISLAM_AND_HUMAN_RIGHTS.pdf

4) Dacey, Austin. “The Secular Conscience” Excerpt from The Secular Conscience: Why Belief Belongs in Public Life (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus, 2008). http://www.culturaljudaism.org/pdf/Dacey.pdf

5) Frerk, Carsten. “German Taxpayers Subsidize 98% of Faith-Based Social Services”
http://www.concordatwatch.eu/showtopic.php?org_id=858&kb_header_id=32561

6) Farris, Anne. R. P. Nathan and D. J. Wright, ”The Expanding Administrative Presidency: George Bush Jr. and Faith-Based Initiatives” The Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy, Rockefeller Institute of Government, August 2004. http://www.religionandsocialpolicy.org/docs/policy/FB_Administrative_Presidency_Report_10_08_04.pdf

7) Finkelstein, Norman. “The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering”, Nov. 2000, http://www.vho.org/aaargh/fran/livres4/NFHolindustry.pdf

8) Loll, Anna Catherin and Peter Wensierski, “The Hidden Wealth of the Catholic Church”, Part 1: http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,700513,00.html; and Part 2: http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,700513-2,00.html

9) Lendman, Stephen. “On The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by Ilan Pappe”, Feb. 2007, http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=viewArticle&code=LEN20070207&articleId=4715

10) Paul, Gregory. “Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies: A First Look” Journal of Religion and Society (2005) http://moses.creighton.edu/JRS/pdf/2005-11.pdf

11) Paul, Gregory. “The Chronic Dependence of Popular Religiosity on Dysfunctional Psychosocial Conditions” Evolutionary Psychology, Volume 7(3). 2009. http://www.epjournal.net/filestore/EP07398441_c.pdf

12) Sizemore, Bill. “Gaining Faith in Federal Money” The Virginian-Pilot, January 17, 2006 http://www.redorbit.com/news/education/359888/gaining_faith_in_federal_money/index.html

Posted in Politics, Religion, Society2 Comments


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