Why separate the inseparable?
Elections are over. Post mortem commentaries have preoccupied not only political parties and pundits but also the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. As usual, the endorsement of religious groups in favor of political candidates has again sparked debate among many Catholics, both the laity and the hierarchy of the institution itself. Again, the issue of the separation of the Church and State comes into play.
The separation of Church and State naturally favors those who do not belong to a dominant religion. In all probability, a dominant religion must have long been influential in the land – and not only on religious matters. History will show an unbroken stream of examples of how dominant religions also had a dominant influence on State affairs. In the Muslim world, religious and political beliefs and institutions remain intertwined. There is no question of separation, only a matter of how moderate or conservative a society is. And I am not even talking about the extremists. The separation of Church and State is virtually impossible today for all Muslim nations.
In many once Christian-dominated nations, however, the dominant religion could not hold on to its controlling influence. While religion was not immediately set aside n the power-sharing of the land, its separation from the State guaranteed that it would only be a matter of time. In Western Europe, it is now obvious that religion plays a more minor part than it had ever been. Even in a few countries where Christianity or Catholicism is still influential, that influence is not enough to prevent divorce. It is also weakening in its stand against legal abortion. Gender equality seems to be the greater advocacy than religion in the Western world and awakening even in Muslim nations.
In truth, separating the church and the state, no matter what church and no matter what state, is separating the inseparable. Church and State are merely symbolic of a more fundamental nature, our human nature, a nature with a preordained co-existence between spirit and body. The overlaps are so many and so strong that it is amusing how societies will draw demarcation lines to separate them. As the lines are drawn, they are seen only as compromises of the moment. The national mood and momentum actually set the tone of the delineation. A materially progressing society wants freedom to create and innovate with the least restrictions. Religion and tradition restrict whether they mean to or not.
On the other hand, an opposite climate elicits the opposite reaction. Societies that, for one reason or another, are driven by fear and apprehension will go conservative. That conservatism will induce the traditional beliefs to come to fore, once already sidelined to give way to liberal material and intellectual growth. The refugee crises in several parts of the world are clear examples of how already moderate governance is giving way to conservative views again. Even in the United States, the bastion of free-wheeling democracy, there are signs of conservatism fueled by fears of waves of immigrants. Unfortunately, whichever direction the societal mood goes, it will move towards the extreme until circumstances and painful lessons evoke restraint.
And so it is with the relationship between Church and State – so sensitive to the mood of liberalism to allow unfettered materialism and innovation, or so sensitive to the mood of conservatism where traditional mores and values will hold sway. Societal mood is not limited to momentary sentiments; society can move in one direction for centuries until a certain line is reached and that direction meets great resistance. That mood in the West had gone on for a long time and persisted despite two world wars. Today, though, it is experiencing a hiccup. Conservatism is on the rise as conflicts cover more countries in the world, from Africa, the Middle East to South America.
Today, too, the compromise between the inseparables will be tested with more frequency. The conflict need not be externally induced. Within nations themselves, the conflict can be with their own value systems, how material progress has challenged the standards of morality and ethics, how technology strains traditional human relationships. Morals and ethics are grounded in religions, but they are also grounded in culture. And culture dictates on governance whether those in government realize it or not.
In the Philippines, for example, the Constitution refers to the highest ethical standards when setting behavioral parameters for public officials and government employees. That is treading too close to what is religious, or what religion prescribes – virtues and values. Yet, the State cannot do away with moral and ethical standards because their very standards in the performance of duty necessitate them. There are too many common areas that belong to both the spirit and the body. Separating them is impossible. We may try to do so but any articulation to that effect will always fall short when a conflict of interest arises. Actually, there is no conflict because the issue will be the same. What will be different is when the Church criticizes on moral grounds and the State will decry it as interference.
I do not think there is any possibility in my lifetime and in the next generation for any substantial change in the arrangement between Church and State. Just as I anticipate that the usual tension will continue to bother both and not find favorable resolution. There may be slim possibilities, really slim. One is the emergence of a truly moral and ethical leader, paternally or maternally firm, administratively astute, will put the spirit of the law first and foremost to push the letter of the law to follow, and possess a vision of the future that the majority of the young can embrace with passion. Once in a while, for some countries, a man or woman does emerge, and a strong nation is born, once in a while.
See how slim the possibilities are?
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