Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Islam, Democracy and Dictatorships: The Tension Between Church and State VIII
“Let the emperor hear the voice of a free priest…It is unworthy of an emperor to refuse freedom speech and unworthy of a priest to remain silent…For priests nothing is so dangerous before God and so infamous before men as refraining from expressing their views.”
-St. Ambrose, (Fourth Century A.D.)
“The people have been awakened, as it were, from a lengthy dormancy. In face of the state and in the face of their rulers they have assumed a new attitude- questioning, critical, and distrustful. Taught by bitter experience, they oppose with increasing vehemence the monopolistic reaches of a power that is dictatorial, uncontrollable, and intangible. And they demand a system of government that will be more in accord with the dignity and freedom of the citizenry.”
-Pope Pius XII, Radio Message Dec. 24, 1944
Mohammad was a political and religious leader. He, along with his followers, conquered other nations by the sword. And henceforth they grew in number. In early Christianity, on the other hand, the followers of Christ were put to the sword and as result, their numbers multiplied. Tertullian, an early Church Father, said, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
Unlike Mohammad, Jesus Christ never claimed to have political authority. In fact, he drew a sharp distinction between Caesar and God. His kingdom was not to be confused with the State. According to St. Augustine, the tension of City of God and the City of Man would endure until the end of time. Throughout the centuries, this tension would turn into outright conflict; a conflict between the Church and the State. For the first three hundred years of Church history, Christians were martyred by the thousands. It was even reported that out of the first thirty popes, twenty-nine died a martyr’s death. And should we be surprised? Since the beginning of his earthly life as an infant, Herod, representing the State, tried to hunt the new born Messiah down and kill him. At the end of his earthly life, it was Pilate, again, representing the State, who appeased the angry mob by sentencing our Lord to death. Even with the hostility the State would exercise against Christ and his followers, the Catholic Church always held that political authority comes from God and as such, whatever just laws that are decreed should be obeyed. As St. Paul said, Let every person be subordinate to the higher authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been established by God. (Romans 13:1)
According to Catholic political theology, the authority of the State originates from God. However, this civil authority is communicated or given to the people for whom it is meant to benefit. It is then the people who decide what kind of government they wish to be subjected to. The main principle here is that State or civil authority exists for the people and it is therefore determined by the people. Like the work of creation and redemption, political authority comes from God and is entrusted to citizens of any given nation; and it is through the citizenry that political power is conferred on the ruler.
Autocracies and dictatorships violate these principles. In Islam, political authority does not reside in the people; it instead resides in the State; which is often indistinguishable from the religion of Islam. To be sure, the distinction between Church and State is, at the very least, blurred in Muslim nations. As such, the check and balance benefit, the purpose of which is keep the State in check, is weak at best. To be sure, there is no single institution possessing moral authority, similar to that of the Papacy or Holy See, to offset or challenge an aggressive Islamic State. In any case, the State- Islamic or Christian -needs to be held accountable by an institution of a higher authority. This institution, what Catholics know as the Church, ought to have the interests of the people in mind. Absent this accountability, unlimited power naturally accrues to the government. Indeed, where religion and politics converge into one or where religion is absent all together, very often what emerges is totalitarianism.
Posted by Joe at 11:12 PM