There are many “contentious issues” in our society. Urgently, we have to learn how to be able to talk about contentious issues without condemning one another to hell.
One such contentious issue is the recently passed Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act (RA 10354). There were those who were for it. They judged it would protect the reproductive health especially of women in our society in distress. There were others who opposed it. They said it embodied a “contraceptive mentality” that would inevitably lead to abortion and murder. Clashing in sundry fora, in the media, and in the halls of Congress, they contended to convince the other of the veracity of their claims. One side used the freedom of the streets to advance their position; the other side used the sanctity of the pulpit to disseminate the truth of theirs. One of the sides virtually claimed the fullness of objectivity and truth; the other side claimed the fullness of compassion and experience. As it turned out, Congress passed the reproductive health bill. But not without its opponents, many of whom official leaders of the Church, practically excommunicating the bill’s supporters and warning them of the fires of hell.
Recently there was a forum in my university that included a group of Catholics who had been supportive of RA 10354; the forum discussed this bill and its implication for Philippine society today. Among its participants were teachers of the Faculty of Theology of the University. In the wake of that event, its organizer was chided by “Defenders of the Faith” for holding the forum in a Catholic University with such people who “gravely err” against the teaching of the Church. The “Defenders of the Faith” have their right to express their convictions. But would they similarly proscribe university discussions with politicians whose neglect and greed caused the death of thousands of people during Typhoon Pablo? or interaction with the washed, well made-up and the established whose wealth comes from the denudation of the forests of Mindanao? or socializing with clergymen who have sullied the name of the Church in their sexual misbehavior and in their corrupt ways?
We live in a plural society. The days are gone where “the defenders” of one Catholic faith proclaimed the divine right of kings, and the chilling right of kings to host vicious Inquisitions against those who “gravely err” against the sacred teaching of the Church, to burn heretics at the stake, and to convince themselves in torturing “the truth” out of others or in “forcing” allegiance to the faith they do the will of God. The days are gone also when a King Philip II of Aragon and an Queen Isabela of Castile could expel the whole Muslim population from Spain simply because they refused to be “freely” converted to the one, holy, apostolic Catholic faith. We have gone beyond those days, I pray. We have come to understand that even though God speaks to us in truth, we understand his Word but partially – as my Muslim friends would say, without the full luminescence of God’s truth – so that every human being has the right to worship and seek for deeper truth in freedom. Difference in society should therefore no longer be cause for scandal, but an opportunity for achieving deeper social unity.
There is room even for “the defenders of the faith” to listen. And to be humble. That is what His Eminence Chito Cardinal Tagle so refreshingly suggested upon becoming a Prince of the Church. Unless these recover the ability to listen, they forfeit the right to be listened to. For it is not their rings, robes and tassles that make them credible, nor even their ability to quote deftly from encyclicals or threaten with the fires of hell, but their ability to convince people that they understand people. And that they care. I fear, this is a message that “the defenders” have not been able to communicate. Listening to them then, many complain, has been like hell.
The truth should lead to unity. Part of the reason why those who espouse it cause deeper disunity is because it is proposed in arrogance, rather than in humility. The “defenders of the faith” have the whole truth, and those who disagree with this belong necessarily to the murky darkness beyond truth. This is why it is so easy for such people to defend their truth with the sword, to force people away from the abyss, to defend them against the shameless demons whose godless ideas would deliver them to darkness. Trouble is this arrogance calls forth a counter position with similarly absolute claims. And if for you it is not enough that you accept truth on the threat of damnation, then accept truth in the righteousness of my sacred sword, or in the holiness of my war, or in the holocaust that I will offer God in your flesh and in your blood.
So, pray tell, is there any space in our society where in differing with one another in truth, we do not need to end up condemning one another to hell, or in waging holy war against each other? Is there any space where we can allow reason to help us find faith, or faith to help us find reason – even in discussing such as mining and environment, corruption and politics, gay and lesbian culture, gay marriage and civil divorce? Is there any space where discussion and deliberation can be rigorous, but where the outcome is not spilled blood, nor abused honor, but deeper insight into reasons for difference, deeper human understanding, and deeper love? Unless we find this space, we will end up a nation of mutually-excommunicated devotees in hatred, wallowing in self-righteousness, not profound but silly.
Perhaps the “defenders of the faith” might consider the academic freedom of the Catholic University such space. It is space guaranteed by the Church, which the bishops are called upon to defend in faith. No Catholic university needs to apologize for discussing contentious issues with controversial people. This, because of a deep conviction “from the heart of the Church” that there is no contradiction in principle between human reason and faith. In time, truth outs. Not by force of coercion. But by the argument of love.