Church and politics in modern-day democracy
[T]he liberal state has an interest in unleashing religious voices in the political public sphere” (Jurgen Habermas).
There is no compelling reason to silence the Catholic Church’s prominent voice in the country on public matters. The Church should remain as that strong moral mouthpiece in order to maintain the delicate balance between religion and public morality. Democracy cannot thrive without a real opposition. President Duterte’s will power is a gift of divine grace, but it is equally reasonable to say that the Church’s objection to some of his actions forms part of the country’s pursuit of the common good.
Indeed, it is not an overstatement to say that a Church that is conspicuously silent is dangerous, while any politician who is subservient to some religious overlords is inutile.
Habermas says that “a liberal state must not discourage religious persons and communities from also expressing themselves politically.” The Church cannot be excluded in the public debate on the many contentious issues that besiege the country today. Religion and politics are intertwined in our political culture. It is true that there are those in the clergy who take advantage of their privileged place in a community of believers; but, undeniably, across many regions in the country, many good priests have become champions of the poor.
President Duterte’s rants against the Church are no more than an affirmation of the tumultuous configuration that so defines Philippine society’s public sphere. Both have a common enemy, as a matter of fact. It is not a question of who controls political power. It is a question of values.
Some religious values have become part of our public morality. Church teachings on human dignity and the sanctity of life have helped construct the informed judgment of the majority of Filipinos. As such, these do not appear as an imposition by one religion on government, or as interference in the civic activities of citizens, because social issues are also a moral concern.
Kent Greenawalt thinks that in settling the issue regarding the infusion of religious values into matters of public policy, “much depends on history, culture, religions, and other comprehensive views that people hold.” Habermas says that religious doctrines can potentially deliver the profound truth on important public matters. The pronouncements coming from the Church, while inspired by revelation, do have a stake in the realization of social justice. Religious teachings, especially those that promote preferential option for the poor, must enter into the institutionalized practice of deliberation.
The public sphere often acts as a sounding board for problems that must be processed by the political system. Habermas explains that the public sphere in modern-day democracy must help in amplifying the moral pressure and convincingly thematize them and, in the process, point the ethical way forward. In this regard, he believes that the political system must remain sensitive to the influence of public opinion. This influence is often converted into political power and, thus, into binding political action.
The German political thinker points out that, “basic constitutional guarantees alone, of course, cannot preserve the public sphere and civil society from deformation. The communication structures of the public sphere must rather be kept intact by an energetic civil society.”
Notwithstanding all the complaints from the present administration and the President himself, the dissent coming from the Church is consistent with what modern-day democracy is all about, because it unshackles an otherwise meek and sometimes helpless populace. According to Karl Gaspar, this is strongly grounded on the idea that “the Church in the Philippines believes that ministering to the needs of the poor and the oppressed is a moral option, a moral obligation.”
Christopher Ryan Maboloc teaches philosophy at Ateneo de Davao University.
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