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When democracy oversteps

By Fr. ROY CIMAGALA, roycimagala@gmail.com
March 7, 2016

DEMOCRACY, of course, is the best form of government because it allows the people to have a voice of how they ought to be governed.

Yes, while the Church traditionally maintains that no form of government is imposed on man by God, it somehow values the democratic system precisely because “it ensures the participation of citizens in making political choices, guarantees to the governed the possibility both of electing and holding accountable those who govern them, and of replacing them through peaceful means when appropriate.”

This was expressed explicitly in St. John Paul II’s 1991 encyclical “Centesimus annus” (46) that also went on to say that the Church “cannot encourage the formation of narrow ruling groups which usurp the power of the State for individual interests or for ideological ends.”

As to the requirements for democracy to work properly, it articulated the following conditions: “Authentic democracy is possible only in a State ruled by law, and on the basis of a correct conception of the human person.

“It requires that the necessary condition be present for the advancement both of the individual through education and formation in the true ideals, and of the ‘subjectivity’ of society through the creation of structures of participation and shared responsibility.”

We need to go through these words slowly to understand them well and discern the many practical implications they contain. Nowadays, these implications are important because some sectors are distorting the true face of democracy.

Among the more notorious misconceptions brought about by the misreading of the implications of democracy is that democracy should be completely devoid of any religious favoritism, or that religion or God should have no part in it, or that because of the so-called Church-state separation, democracy should avoid religious issues and stand completely neutral.

Right from the beginning, such understanding of democracy is already wrong, for how can it be democratic if the religious sentiments of the people or of some people at least, are silenced, when they feel that their religious beliefs should be respected in the way they are governed?

Of course, in a democracy, those who have no religion, who are non-believers, also have a voice and they deserve to be heard. But we should not silence those who would like to voice out their religious sentiments and beliefs when they feel these are relevant in the way a society is government.

We have to understand democracy as a means not an end, a forum or an arena where all the opinions, preferences, and even beliefs and faiths of the people are given due attention hopefully in civil dialogues and exchanges.

This implication of democracy is somehow highlighted these days when a candidate, who is supposed to be Catholic, openly goes against Catholic teaching on same-sex marriage because, according to the candidate, in a democracy “we should not favor any religion.”

While it’s true that we should not favor any religion, we expect candidates to be true and faithful to their religious beliefs or, at least, their religious affiliation, and defend them in a democratic way when issues touching on their beliefs come their way.

Democracy should not be an excuse for them to betray their religious beliefs just because it may be the more practical, convenient or popular thing to do. Such betrayal can only mean that the candidate is only Catholic by name, or is one who claims that it is also Catholic to betray one’s Catholic beliefs, an absurdity that is somehow also gaining traction these days.

Of course, there can be other possible ways to describe this phenomenon. One could be merely a coward not to stand up for his faith, or he is simply Machiavellian willing to sacrifice some eternal truths or the long-held sacred traditions of the people, etc, just to pander on a passing popular sentiment and thereby gain power, wealth, popularity.

Or one could simply be so blinded by some distorted sense of loyalty to a candidate or to an ideology, etc., that he is willing to go against his religion when certain aspects of that religion become a contentious and unpopular part of a political issue.

In a democracy, every participant is expected to be clear about his positions, his views and preferences, and enter into some dialogue and exchange with civility, willing to listen to others, including those with the opposite views, while articulating and defending his in a civil manner.

Part of a healthy democracy is to be humble enough to modify one’s position when more inputs get to be known, and to graciously accept, at least for the meantime, a setback even if the struggle to push undeniable religious truths continues.

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