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Friday, December 9, 2011

Teddy Locsin: Politics without religion is just power

It is about believing

CONGRESS ended its session with birth control hanging fire, or rather hanging high and dry. It won’t be taken up until next year.

That is a pity. In my last term, when the bill was introduced, I wanted the bill brought to the floor where it could be saved or slain. The sooner dealt with the better. The House leadership thought it was best to give it the Mona Lisa treatment, and just let it lie there, and die there.

It did not. It slept like a snake. Now it is awake, dragging irreligion in its wake.

Advocates of birth control say the issue is politics and not religion, a private and not a public affair.

Why, that’s just like sex and government have no more place in a bedroom than in a chapel.

Advocates insist that religion has no place in politics, especially democratic politics, which mandates the separation of church and state. It does that, indeed, but so as to keep the state away from religion and a life informed by religion, as much religion from the way the state is run. The separation was meant, in the first place, to keep the state out of a man’s conscience, though never human conscience out of matters of state.

That was the soul of the highly religious New England polity that became the United States. Protestants fled old for New England to establish theocracies, where men were free to live strictly Protestants—or flee deeper into the wilderness to live as they pleased.

The intensely religious character of the American republic explains why it is so natural for Americans to argue so intensely about schoolroom prayer and why, despite their bias for the 1 percent who own 95 percent of the country’s wealth, conservatives win election after election in a country of mostly poor Americans.

Indeed, no religion may use the state to impose its beliefs but neither may the state impose a notion of progress—such as that the fewer Filipinos the better all around; the less life is born, the better the life of those already around—on those who do not believe it. Some things cannot be legislated, even by a Congress representing the vast majority of citizens. In the Bill of Rights, paramount is freedom of religious conscience.

Politics without religion is just power. Government without conscience is just organized crime. Public administration without morals is stealing. And politics without faith will use people for politics, like Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union.

Religion is the core of the person. It tells her what she is, alive, and alive is better than not.

Religion tells him where he stands in this life; political geography just tells him where he can vote.

Religion tells people where they are going. If religion did not step into the anti-Marcos struggle and the Snap Election campaign, no case could be made for the importance of that struggle, for its merit as a subject of international interest and diplomatic action, and we would still be marching around in circles against the same government. Marcos would have been buried in state and his widow or a crony or the Army would be ruling us today. The Arab Spring in Egypt has returned the military nakedly to the helm of state.

Religion stepped into Edsa because our religion, in particular, dictates that the kind of society we live in shapes the kind of person we become, whether deserving of salvation or not. It is a Catholic as much as Muslim imperative to demand a society that respects the tenets of the dominant faith even if it should tolerate a diversity of other beliefs. For religion is the road we take through this life to the bridge that crosses over to the next—which may be hot or heavenly, depending on how seriously we lived our faith. Even secularism has its roots in religion, sprouting from the Reformation, which was not a revolution but its founders claimed a restoration of the original Christian faith.

The debates in the House missed this key point. Birth control is a thing of religious conscience and not of naked choice.

The issue is freedom, not of choice, but of belief.

The inviolable belief that the government cannot increase or reduce life, propagate or eradicate it, even if ardently held by just one citizen, should be enough, by itself, to stop the government, which may not violate her religious conscience by stepping across the line between what the government can do and what the people believe.

The debates also miss the point that belief is nothing if it does not go along with action because even just to think is already to act. Ours is a government of limited powers delegated by the people, who may not themselves venture into matters of faith, not just doctrine but ways of life informed by particular religions.

This is why we are enjoined to oppose eugenics, which is the state policy of propagating the smart and eradicating the stupid, even if we need such a policy desperately right now.

A policy that imposes condom or pill as the only alternatives is not choice but dictation. It is mental dishonesty to say a third choice is provided, for which nothing shall be paid: the nonpractice of birth control by conservative Catholics through the rhythm method or the morally superior route of sexual restraint. Not choosing one or the other, condom or pill, is not itself a choice if that choice costs nothing to the government.

It is wrong to think that the Catholic Church has never seriously thought about or practiced birth control. As early as the 10th century, churchmen worried over the souls of children born into poverty who will not get the religious instruction to be saved. Celibacy was one answer, which kept down the birthrate while achieving, through the monastic life of prayer and study, the ideal outcome of a proliferating race without increasing its numbers: The preservation of the best of what human mind has thought and human hands have wrought so that further advances in thinking and doing might be built on them. (The uniqueness of individual DNA may have eroded this argument; every child not born is another potentially new and freshly creative permutation destroyed.)

If the government believes in choice, it should hand out pesos not pills. Let people decide what to do with the money.

Only the ignorant still think that population control will be achieved by covering one organ rather than by opening another, the eyes. It was telenovelas showing small families in a flattering light that dropped the birthrate radically in Brazil, which never adopted birth control in deference to the Catholic Church, say the authors of Poor Economics.

Seeing is believing and Brazilians in the favelas watched television and believed what they saw: Life is easier, not to say elegant, when there are fewer in a family. The stylish have one child, the others have hordes of children.

You see, it is not about rubbers but rumination, which is to say thinking. It is not about choosing but believing.

Believe it is better to be fewer, and a man and a woman will find, on their own, a way to keep their family small.

Which may be a catastrophe for the few children born because statistics show that after China successfully adopted the One-Child Policy, Chinese couples spent less on their child or children than on saving up for their retirement when they would, most likely, be left to themselves in their vulnerable old age.

1 comment:

  1. well said! keep the torch lighted. NO TO RH BILL!