Lately I have been reading a number of posts about religion and Christianity in particular. This wasn’t planned as it just so happened that the blogs I frequently read had articles about religion. The more interesting ones were: “True values are never at risk” by MsAfropolitan; “I Chose Not To Have A Religion” at Cry Me An Onion; and “I Love The Culture Of The Black Church” by our own Sis. Anna. I highly recommend that you take the time to read them… it’s great stuff!
Last week Pope Benedict XVI, addressed the British parliament and lamented the marginalization of Christianity in western democratic societies. Now let me preface by stating that I am not Catholic and don’t consider the Pope to be “The Vicar of Christ” here on earth. With that being said, I do admire his intellect. I find his discourses interesting in that he provides an intellectual basis for matters of the soul and by extension Catholic Church doctrine. So when I heard that he discussed the marginalization of Christianity in his speech, I was interested in what he actually had to say (see here).
In discussing the central question of “where is the ethical foundation for political choices to be found?”, Pope Benedict states that: “the role of religion in political debate is not so much to supply these norms, as if they could not be known by non-believers – still less to propose concrete political solutions, which would lie altogether outside the competence of religion – but rather to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles.” The main theme of his speech was that ideally, reason and faith are equal partners within the political sphere, each performing its role to compliment each other, with the goal of creating a better society. However, he voices a concern over what he perceives in reality, as the increasing marginalization of religion, especially Christianity, in public life, particularly in the political arena.
I addressed in this previous post: “Walking the narrow path”, some factors why religion is losing it’s influence in western societies. Added to this, specific to the Catholic Church, is the never-ending revelations about it’s sexual abuse of children, plus now we have accusations that the Vatican Bank is involved in money laundering (see here). Although I agree with the ideals of the Pope’s arguments, what he misses is the reality that Christianity is fundamentally for the marginalized and was never meant to occupy the center of the political arena.
Christ proclaimed his message was for those at the margins of society: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted; to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind; to set free those who are oppressed…” Luke 4:18. When was asked about his political philosophy, Jesus stated: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” Matthew 22:21. When tried by Pilate for treason, he claimed: “My kingdom is not of this world…” John 18:36. Jesus was a political revolutionary in his day because he was apolitical.
Christianity was first moved to the center of political sphere when the Roman Emperor Constantine I embraced it as the official religion of the empire during his reign (312-337 a.d.). The predominance of Catholic doctrine within the political arena of Europe was entrenched during the 11th and 12th centuries. During these periods and throughout history up to the present day, there has always been a tension between official church doctrine, regardless of denomination, which has used Christianity as a political tool for control and exploitation of the masses, and those who wanted to fulfill Christ’s final commission to his followers to “go and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything that I have commanded you…” Matthew 28: 19-20. What is this “command”? Simply: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself.” Matthew 22:37-39.
Regardless of what religion you practice and where you practice it, living your life by these 2 commandments will propel you to the margins of today’s society. “You mean I have to love God first… and not myself, nor my intellect… and then second love other people… and again not myself, nor my possessions.” This way of thinking does not conform with today’s secular or religous ideology, particularly when it comes to the exercise of political power.
In contrast to Pope Benedict XVI, I see the marginalization of Christianity in the political process not as a cause for concern, but as a cause for celebration.