More than often, whenever religious people speak in defence of the oppressed and the deprived, the government has always come up in arms, warning them not to mix politics and religion, but to “give Ceasar what is Ceasar’s, and God what is God’s”. It is as if religion is totally and in whole anathema to socio-economic wellbeing of the society, and that those who profess it are not part of the very people who vote a government in power.
This indifference to the role of religion in society is manifest in the type of leaders, whom I prefer to call them as “the Pharisees”, bent on dictatorship and therefore, are unable to rise out of the quagmire of human oppression, injustice and suffering.
But why should our present day leaders wear a stance of indifferent to the message of “love and treat your neighbour as you yourself would like to be loved and treated”? And by the way, what is religion and what is its role in Society?
“The ordinary man”, wrote Sigmund Freud in his book Civilization and its Discontents, “understands by religion as that system of doctrines and pledges that on the one hand explains the riddles of this world…., and on the other assures him that a solicitous Providence is watching over him. The whole thing is so patently infantile, so incongruous with reality”. Elsewhere in his book – “The Future of an Illusion” (1928), Freud pleaded, “Man cannot remain a child for ever; he must venture into the hostile world”.
These, and many other self-searching questions are indicative of our present day situation, whereby the fairly total serene of self assurance which had long characterized the church has been shaken; that there is unrest and unease among the faithful and the clergy. One is therefore tempted to believe that, if the prospect of integrating faith and present experience is to be successful, it must sufficiently be radical by getting to the root cause of the human problems. To do so, it calls for a theology of liberation.
It is evident that liberation from social, political and economic injustice is something willed by God; the present Church, and everyone has, therefore, the right and the duty to take part in it in one way or another.
At one time the ancient church was so much influenced by the Neo-Platonic philosophy [which discarded anything material] to the point that she [the church] herself came to consider anything material ungodly. Those who lived in poverty were applauded as true Christians. This attitude inflamed a negative approach towards the war against poverty, oppression and injustices [social and political], racism and the like.
Therefore, until recently, the Church took quite literally the biblical statement that “the poor are with you always”. We accepted that poverty and injustice were permanent, unchangeable aspects of human situation, and the role of the Church became that of ministering charity to those who found themselves at the bottom of the socio-economic pyramid, and to point people’s eyes beyond this vale of tears to the joy and peace promised to the faithful in heaven.
Today, we know that the poor need not be with us always. We have learned from the developing social sciences, especially economics and sociology. Thus the Church cannot preach with sincerity salvation through the mass and holy Eucharist, celebrations when listeners to the sermons were oppressed, hungry and poor. We are therefore convinced that, the Church can do something to attack not only the results but also the causes of all these social ills. And since there is no politics without economics, the Church cannot excuse itself from participating in the liberation of the oppressed of the land. And to do so it has to venture into politics.
As Vatican II declares in Gaudium et Spes: “If the demands of justice and equity are to be satisfied, vigorous efforts must be made, without violence to the rights of persons or to the natural characteristics of each country, to remove as quickly as possible the immense economic inequalities which now exist. In many cases, these are worsening and are connected with individual and group discrimination” [No. 66].
The aim of politics, as of all else, is the good life. But the good life is something which cannot be comprehended in some phrases or formula about any political or social order; and even if it could be so comprehended, it could not be brought about, in the main, by political means. One may contend that the most a politician can do is to ensure that some, and these by no means are the most important, conditions in which the good life can exist are present, and, more important still, to prevent knaves from setting up conditions which make any approach to the good life impossible except for solitaries and anchorites.
A depressing creed? A negative creed? Not a Holy Gospel! All the evils of our time have come from men who mock and exploit human misery by pretending that good government, that is government according to their way of thinking, could offer Utopia.
For this is the generation of the big lie, the mass delusion. Or rather it is a generation in which the infinite variety of error, large and small, is endlessly displayed in a multitude of different guises and combinations. Only the obvious seems not worth saying; only the truth remains in want of publicity. The fantastic is lauded as beautiful, the perverse as orthodox; only the good is despised as sinful, corrupt or irresponsibility; and every kind of evil is permitted to parade under the name of virtue.
One would think that, there is no hope for secular society unless it be based upon a fundamental recognition of God, and in turn I for one, believe that religion owes to secular society the debt of recognizing that, without the stability of the social order, a full religious life becomes impossible except in the hermit’s cell or in the monastery. I do not regard religion or the Church as a private fad. I do not think the secular organization of the community in the state is self-sufficient; and I do not think too that a wise secular government can hope for the permanence of its institutions by adopting an attitude of indifference to religious truth.
The necessity of religion in a secular society is to me demonstrated by three interdependent prepositions:
First: Religion, that is the recognition of the spiritual brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God, is the sole philosophical justification for any sort of morality between man and man. The denial of fatherhood of God is the root from which spring quite naturally the various heresies which have afflicted the species in our time, the doctrine of race and class, the worship of the state, or the less popular creeds of “Get-rich-quick”.
Second: Religion provides the moral basis of culture without which man is unable to live at peace with his neighbour.
Third: Religion is the great governing wheel on the engine of human passion without which no passion, no love, no moral or political principle is valid or legitimate.
Therefore, it would be the greatest of mistakes to view the role of religion or the Church as primarily negative, or more valuable in opposition.
The Lord God brought about a revolution, an unrestricted love in a world of egotism and avarice. His kingdom was centred on the good of man. He proclaimed that the eschatological reality is being realized “hic et nunc”.
All this should inspire the Church to carry this noble mission of championing the cause of the less-fortunate of this world. It has the duty to see to it that they are liberated from the oppressive conditions of society, inspite of speculations that such mission may lead directly into controversy.
This suggests that, people who are afraid of controversy should not get involved in social engagement. In fact, they should not get involved in the Church at all, for the Church is a highly controversial organization. After all, didn’t the Lord say “I have come to bring a sword among you”? [Matt. 10:34].
Did he not die because of challenging the Pharisees and the Sadducees to rise from the quagmire of human oppression, sufferings and injustices? What type of political harmony or stability is this, when the less fortunate in Society are rendered strangers in their own land and live as captives at the will of the “haves”?.
The cry of the Psalmist in the Old Testament is firm and apt to our times: “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange Land?”.