Religion and politics
By Fr. Tirso Villaverde
St. Thomas of Canterbury, Chicago
Religion and politics. In virtually every part of the world, people say that these are two topics that should never be mixed together to avoid any unpleasant conflict. In the recent elections in the Philippines and in the current race here in the USA, the issue of the proper role between religion and politics has been in the forefront. There are those who argue the principal of the separation of church and state which is a policy both here and in the Philippines. There are those who criticize religious leaders for getting too involved in political matters arguing that they should have nothing to do with that aspect of society. But, are religion and politics necessarily opposed to one another?
Before answering this, let us consider this scenario. I admit that much of it will sound farfetched but bear with me. Let us imagine a school full of young minds being formed by teachers and administrators. Let us imagine those teachers and administrators teaching the children things like 2+2=22, the world is flat, and babies truly are delivered by storks. Again, I know that this is extremely ridiculous but again, bear with me. Let us imagine that the school insists on these things to being true that the children begin to believe them.
“Religion and politics are not necessarily opposed to one another.”
Let us now imagine that the parents of these children know that these things are being taught but do nothing. Their reasoning is, "They are the teachers. They know better. I have nothing to do with what they are teaching." The children continue on to higher levels of education but end up failing badly and becoming the laughingstock of the school. The parents do not understand how this can be the case when their children did so well in their former school. But, what would have happened if the parents actually got involved and pointed out to the teachers and administrators that what they were teaching the children was not good and they were not doing a good job in forming young minds? Should the parents have remained silent and uninvolved?
Something similar is true when it comes to religion and politics. The two are not necessarily opposed to one another since they both share a common goal, that is, the ultimate wellbeing of the society in which they exist. For Christians and for believers, it is their faith that must guide every action. It is their faith that must direct every choice and decision they make both in the area of civic matters as well as outside of it. If we are to be truly followers of our respective faiths, our religious beliefs cannot be separated from any aspect of our lives.
In terms of religious leaders, no matter what the denomination, they are considered to be like "parents" to the flocks they serve. This is true from the most ordinary minister right up to the highest authority in whatever religion may be in question. If they as "parents" do not speak when they know that their "children" are being led astray especially by those who have been endowed with a specific role, what would be the consequences? So, yes, religious leaders must speak when civil leaders may be leading people down a very dangerous path. In the Christian tradition, this is exactly what Jesus did and it was partially because of this that he was put to death.
At the same time, parents are not infallible. They can make mistakes. Likewise, religious leaders must also be reminded that their authority to teach and to speak must also be guided by the very principles they claim to be the foundation of their lives. Just as the example of parents become the primary guide for their children, so it is with religious leaders. If theirs lives are not a good reflection of the teachings of their respective religions, where is their credibility?
To put it simply, religion and politics are not necessarily opposed to one another. They ought to be partners since, again, they share the common goal of providing for the wellbeing of the people they serve. The problem comes when any authority is used to control people or force people into submission. The authority of both must be rooted in love. Politics seek to develop a love of nation. Religion seeks to root that love in the love God has for us and the love we have for God and the love God wants us to have for one another.