Saturday, September 29, 2012

Religion and Politics

I continue to blog about the Holy Father’s  visit to Lebanon Sep 14-16, excerpting and commenting on his various talks there, which  provide a much needed perspective on the challenges of the Middle East in our day.

Like the rest of the world, the Middle East is experiencing two opposing trends: secularization, with its occasionally extreme consequences, and a violent fundamentalism claiming to be based on religion. Some Middle Eastern political and religious leaders, whatever their community, tend to look with suspicion upon secularity (laïcité) as something intrinsically atheistic or immoral.

It is true that secularity sometimes reduces religion to a purely private concern, seeing personal or family worship as unrelated to daily life, ethics or one’s relationships with others. In its extreme and ideological form, secularity becomes a secularism which denies citizens the right openly to express their religion and claims that only the State can legislate on the public form which religion may take. These theories are not new. Nor are they confined to the West or to be confused with Christianity.

A healthy secularity, on the other hand, frees religion from the encumbrance of politics, and allows politics to be enriched by the contribution of religion, while maintaining the necessary distance, clear distinction and indispensable collaboration between the two spheres. No society can develop in a healthy way without embodying a spirit of mutual respect between politics and religion, avoiding the constant temptation either to merge the two or to set them at odds. The basis of a constructive relationship between politics and religion is, first and foremost, human nature – a sound understanding of man – and full respect for inalienable human rights. A sense of this correct relationship should lead to the realization that relations between the spiritual (religious) and the temporal (political) spheres should be marked by a kind of unity in distinction, inasmuch as both are called, while remaining distinct, to cooperate harmoniously in the service of the common good.

This kind of healthy secularity ensures that political activity does not manipulate religion, while the practice of religion remains free from a politics of self-interest which at times is barely compatible with, if not downright contrary to, religious belief. For this reason, a healthy secularity, embodying unity in distinction, is necessary and even vital for both spheres. The challenges raised by the relationship of politics and religion can be met patiently and courageously through a sound human and religious formation. Constant emphasis needs to be put on the place of God in personal, family and civic life, and on the proper place of men and women in God’s plan. Above all, greater prayer is required for this intention.

Post-synodal exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente 29

Reflection – Benedict the teacher, at his finest here in this passage! I can’t possibly condense or elide this paragraph of the exhortation, so here it is in its fullness—a clear, simple, well-thought-out presentation of the relationship of religion and politics, Church and state.

Since the passage is long, I will write short. The document is aimed at the Middle East, but boy, do we ever need to read it in the rest of the world! There is so much confusion, and so much genuine nonsense, afoot in the land about this subject. So many people, as soon as the Church issues a statement on any public issue, scream ‘Church and State, Church and State!’ as if the mere pointing out of the moral and human implications of abortion, same-sex marriage or health care laws in itself ushers in the Taliban among us.
In our secularized society there is little (in my opinion) of the fusing of religion and politics, but one can see the dangers of this in the Middle East certainly. Anyhow, Pope Benedict has said all that needs saying here, and the post is long enough now, so I’ll leave you with lots of him and very little of me today (great sighs of relief are heaved…).

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