Monday, June 11, 2012

Holding the State Accountable: Catholicism or Islam (repost)

“Let the emperor hear the voice of a free priest…It is unworthy of an emperor to refuse freedom of 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


A Democratic-republic presupposes a network of relationships; starting within the family, extending into neighbors and then rippling out into society at large. Sound economies and political systems are also built upon trustworthy and solid relationships. Historically, any given network of relationships was inspired by religion. What we believe about God’s relationship with man has a profound effect on the interactions people have with each other. These ideas give birth to certain kinds of governments and economies.

In Mohammad’s time (at the beginning of the seventh century), among Eastern Christians, there were many debates about the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity and the divine and human nature of Jesus Christ. For Mohammad, these doctrinal intricacies were deemed too complicated. He wanted a simple doctrine; much like what the Jews already believed: One God who was one person. As for Jesus, he was a prophet but nevertheless just a man. To this day, the simplicity of Islam is attractive to a good many people.

Creation: Through Persons

In contrast to Allah (whose main attribute is power) the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is a divine family of Three Persons. You heard it said, “God is love.” He is love precisely because he a family of Three Persons in one divine nature. And these Three Persons are eternally bound in a relationship with one another. From the Father, the Son is generated. The Son was also known as the “thought” or the “wisdom” of God in the Old Testament (Proverbs 8; Sirach 24). But when the Father spoke to humanity, the Son then became known as the Word of God; the Word that would reveal the fullness of the Father. And from the Father and through the Son, the Holy Spirit proceeds- as if from two parents -only to unite the Father and the Son in love. It is not only with one another they relate, but through one another. This latter point is key in understanding how the Holy Trinity, the Christian God, interacts with the human race and how people relate to each other.

Take for instance, the creation of the first family in book of Genesis. You will notice the manner in which they were created is a microcosm of how the Father, Son and Holy Spirit relate to one another. After forming Adam’s body, the Lord breathed life into him. And from Adam’s side, Eve was created. But life was given to her only through Adam. And from their spousal love came forth their first born.

Redemption: Through Persons

Moving on to how God redeems humanity, it is important to note that the order of redemption reflects the order of creation. In other words, God redeems and reveals himself in much the same way as he created. In both cases, the Lord uses human instruments to achieve his goal. In Catholic theology, the Church is the oracle of God, the voice of Christ. As for the pope, he is not only the successor to St. Peter. No. The head of the Apostles, according to Catholic doctrine, continues his ministry of leading and teaching the faithful (from heaven) through each pope throughout the ages. And through the words of consecration spoken by every bishop or priest at Mass, Jesus Christ comes to us body, blood, soul and divinity. In the confessional, through the words of absolution spoken by the priest, Christ himself forgives our sins.

The Political Effect of Both:

God’s act of creating through- redeeming through –sanctifying through –and speaking through human means and even matter itself has inspired democratic principles. If political authority resides in the people, as the Catholic theology holds, then they will take ownership being that it belongs to them. Furthermore, as the custodians and the beneficiaries of political or State authority, citizens are more likely to set up a government that is accountable to them and one that will serve them with justice. Since it is impossible for everyone to govern, it is natural, therefore, that they communicate their political authority to their representative leaders. And it is through these leaders that State authority- originating from God which is then bestowed on the people –is applied.

Mohammad and Sword:

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.”

Tension between Church and State:

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)

Church Holds Goverment Accountable:

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.