Thursday, October 4

Faith and Politics

Memorial Feast of St. Francis of Assisi


There has been a recent upsurge of public interest in the U.S. about the interplay of religion and politics. Last month CNN-TV devoted a 3-hour long series on the subject, with Christiana Amanpour herself as the main commentator/interviewer. And a senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, namely John C. Green has gained a lot of readership with his latest book, The Faith Factor: How Religion Influences American Elections (Praeger).

John Green came to the fairly easy conclusion, among many others, that Presidential re-electionist George W. Bush slimly edged Democratic Senator John Kerry because of the solid support for Bush from Protestant fundamentalists.

Appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court have also been a magnet for religious controversy for many years now, because of speculations that with more pro-life advocates among the Justices, it could lead to the reversal of the long standing Roe vs. Wade Decision, and thus prohibiting early stage abortions.

In the Philippines, the Roman Catholic Faith has never been a significant, much less a decisive factor during elections despite the fact that ever since its first electoral contest some 75 years ago, at least 80% of the voters have been baptized Catholics. In fact I remember Paul Aquino (youngest sibling of national martyr-hero Ninoy Aquino) emphatically telling me when he was the overall campaign manager of the late Ramon Mitra’s unsuccessful presidential bid in 1992, that the Catholic hierarchy’s public endorsement of Mitra would in fact be fatal to their cause!

And I for one believe that any such public endorsement from any religious faith, denomination or group, IF WITHOUT any clear and unmistakable explanation as to its IMPERATIVE and SERIOUS MORAL BASIS, would be undue interference on FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE. I therefore also believe that imperative moral options but limited to serious matters where a wrong choice would directly, seriously and demonstrably violate the natural law, religious freedom or the obvious common good and the like such as fundamental human rights, including even the public condemnation of atrocious moral behavior of public servants, are the instances where religious shepherds have a duty to guide and admonish their respective flocks.

In fact here in the Philippines Catholics somehow expect their Bishops to speak out in condemnation of what they believe is extremely wicked or scandalous moral behavior of important political leaders such as those who triggered the EDSA One and EDSA Two crises.

John the Baptist at the cost of his life spoke out PUBLICLY against Herod’s scandalous and adulterous PRIVATE relationship with his brother’s wife, with the apparent approval of Christ Himself who was then already engaged in His own public preaching. There is therefore all the more reason for Catholic Bishops to speak out against widespread FRAUDULENT and illegal gambling which victimize the poor, especially if perpetrated under the auspices of public servants and/or their relatives. Or to warn the people against habitual lying, stealing and hypocrisy particularly among government officials. And to protest against the plunder of public funds regardless of who are involved. For all these high crimes impoverish the poor even more, and provide not only a lifelong bad example to the youth and future public servants but also encourage other politicians to engage in similarly atrocious behavior affecting the obvious common good.

But the bigger burden of responsibility to live our faith in the public arena and courageously witness to it especially in the fields of economics, public governance and politics which are all closely intertwined, rests on the shoulders of us the lay people. We are and should be its FIRST LINE OF DEFENSE. Religious leaders with their institutions, form the SECOND or AUXILLIARY lines of defense against atrocious public immorality and corruption.

Thus I wish to zero-in on OUR most common MORAL failing especially with respect to our Catholic politicians we have elected to high office. Many of them are lawyers and have their own highly rewarded advocates, defenders, partisan supporters and political partymates, most of whom are graduates of the best Catholic schools or of the top State University, and thus are far-and-away more intellectually gifted than our poor people. It is apparent however, that INTELLECTUAL DISHONESTY and/or INTELLECTUAL INCONSISTENCY are their common habits and weapons to gain and stay in power. And yet the moral virtues of intellectual honesty and consistency antedate even Christianity and Catholicism, as far back or even earlier than Aristotle, Plato, Socrates and Virgil.

For our Catholic politicians and we their partisans are in general NOT AT ALL LESS intellectually dishonest or intellectually inconsistent than Protestant Christians, Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, Muslims or even atheists and agnostics. In short, we the supposed salt of humanity at least here in the Philippines, have grossly failed even if only in the moral and political dimensions. And thus more so if the spiritual and theological aspects are considered. For even if we are not directly involved in doing what is morally wrong or injurious to our citizenry, we are at least indifferent and nonchalant in the face of it.

Moral outrage or pangs of conscience? Nah! In fact it is safe to say that our Asian neighbors none of whom are predominantly Christian, have demonstrated significantly higher standards of morality in government. Shame on us!

Yet we condemned Marcos and Erap and their respective principal partisans and collaborators. But as soon as these were thrown out into the dustbin of history, we stepped into their old shoes and sooner or later became nearly, or just as bad. Or even WORSE!

Thus too we saw former leaders of anti-Marcos freedom fighters, anti-Erap street marchers, some of them Church leaders, priests, nuns, or supposed Marian devotees too quickly and easily migrating with their usual fervid but shortlived loyalties from one disgraced partisan camp to the next politically victorious cabal.

And so I get immediately prickly whenever I hear some seemingly wise political commentator even among my own friends and acquaintances who fall into the prevalent elitist habit of blaming “the poor and uneducated” who rush in droves to vote for traditional (meaning, unscrupulous!) politicians come election time.

This elitist view overlooks the fact that our trapos (dirty rags, in the vernacular) have always had in their deep pockets the rich and powerful, a big banker, a business tycoon, even a high ranking Churchman sometimes, many highly paid lawyers among the biggest law firms, top ranking military and police officers and their allies among other well entrenched powerful politicians. These are their main organizers, propagandists, campaign managers, treasurers and procurers of “guns, goons and gold”. Plus a COMELEC bigwig to boot.

Thus in fact it is the poor, some 80% of our population, who are almost inevitably attracted like moths to these trapos’ false glitter and seeming invincibility. And so the POOR are burned and betrayed, again and again. Victims of slick but dishonest political propaganda, gangsterism, or the lure of a few hundred measly pesos come every election time.

Worse, after every election, it is again the triumphant cabal of rich and powerful trapos and their mercenary partisans who corner and enjoy MOST of the power and financial windfall out of the spoils of political warfare.

So, do we blame the poor, or weep for them? And was it the impoverished yet neglected Lazarus, or the rich but uncaring Dives, who ended up in the fiery depths of HELL?