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NewsReligion, politics – the debate - Ray Azzopardi

Religion, politics – the debate – Ray Azzopardi

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When commenting on the latest survey which showed that the Nationalist Party has not performed well, Alan Abela-Wadge, the president of the PN College of Local Councillors, remarked: “We need to stop being the Church’s loudspeaker. A political party can’t be in sync with the Church in all its beliefs.” 

He went on to say: “secularism is extremely important and that will help the party evolve”.

Abela-Wedge seems to imply that one of the main reasons why the PN has not made great strides is because it is yet tied to the Church’s teaching. For Abela-Wedge, once our society is secular, religion should not play a prominent role in politics.  Such reasoning is shared by many who back secularism. 

Today most western democracies, including ours, embrace secularism and, therefore, many argue that religion should not form part of the equation of the political agenda.

To conclude that once our society is secular, because there exists separation of powers between the Church and State, religion should not have place in politics does not hold water. Religion is an important component of our human make-up. When dealing with the human person, we need to consider him in his totality – both materially and spiritually.

The funeral service of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, is clear proof that there are more than material aspirations in man. A commentator on BBC remarked that St George’s chapel, where the service was held, was “the spiritual home of the monarchy” and that the service reflected “the unshakable Christian faith of the duke”.

Both the Church and the state agree on the separation of powers. But this does not mean that the Church has no voice in a secular society. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI emphasised in his address to the US Bishops on the ad limina visit in 2012: “The legitimate separation of Church and state cannot be taken to mean that the Church must be silent on certain issues, nor that the state may choose not to engage, or be engaged by, the voices of committed believers in determining the values which will shape the future of the nation.”

In a democratic society like ours, it is expected that all voices and opinions are heard and considered when debates on important issues that affect the human person are being discussed. Brendon Sweetman, professor of philosophy at Rockhurst University in the US, when discussing ‘Secularism and Religion in Modern Democracies’ (2010), affirms: “In a free society, any type of restriction or suppression of a view before a public debate is held violates the basic principles of democracy and freedom.”

Precisely because we live in a secular and pluralistic society, we need to listen to the voice of the Church

The Church speaks because she “cannot be indifferent to all that is chosen, produced and lived in society in regard to morality, that is, all that is human and humanising in social life” (Catholic Social Teaching).

A political party that heeds to the social teaching of the Church is more humane and inclusive because her social teaching is based on two main principles:  the dignity of the human person and the common good.

Christian Democratic parties are still relevant today because “the Church’s social teaching argues on the basis of reason and natural law, namely, on the basis of what is in accord with the nature of every human being” (Deus Caritas Est).

Religion should be considered as the moral compass of democracy. It enlightens politicians in their deliberations and it helps them reach conclusions that are beneficial to society at large.

In the Council of Europe draft entitled ‘Recommendations on Religion and Democracy (1998), it is stated: “Democracy and religion need not be incompatible, quite the opposite. Democracy has proved to be the best framework for freedom of conscience, the exercise of faith and religious pluralism. For its part, religion, through its moral and ethical commitment, the values it upholds, its critical approach and its cultural expression can be a valid partner of a democratic society.”

The Church as an institution is open and inclusive.  Precisely because we live in a secular and pluralistic society, we need to listen to the voice of the Church. This in no way means that we don’t embrace other views. Exclusion should never be the way forward.

Through dialogue and goodwill, the state and the Church can work hand in hand without interfering with each other’s authority, for the good of society at large.

As we move forward as a democratic, secular society we need to ask what Sweetman queries: “How do modern democracies solve or, at least,  contain the problem of pluralism without resorting to the suppression of some values, without producing too many disgruntled citizens, without abusing political power and without slipping into moral and political relativism?”

Ray Azzopardi, former headmaster 

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