More on Space to Discuss Contentious Issues

In a previous essay I wrote about the need to provide ourselves space in society for discussion of contentious issues. My conviction is: both as rational human beings and as persons of faith, even of diverse faiths, we can live in harmony with and respect for one another, even if we do not always agree. If we create the space for rational discussion based on a love for truth, or, if you will, the truth in love, we need not take up arms against one another in defense of our truth, nor condemn each other to hell in faux-imitation of the wrath of God.

I suggested the special space of academic freedom, guaranteed both by the Constitution of the Philippines and the Apostolic Constitution on Catholic Universities, might be that space. But the special space need not necessarily be higher academe. It can be on a special soapbox in Luneta, or in the rarified rice terraces of Banaue.

Contentious issues will always be there. In the heat and passion of debate, there will always be the temptation to damn another in self-righteous indignation. Or, even go to war against each other. Where we wish to lead society out of the dark ages of coerced religion, superstition, witch craft, witch hunting, ideological straightjackets, wars of religions, and cold war, we have to learn not only to tolerate one another in diversity, but to talk to one another despite diversity, and find a way in diversity to pursue a common good.

Marx felt that the bane of human society was private property or private interest. Like the private interest that tramples on the dignity of human laborers for maximized private gain. He felt that this must be overcome in “human human society” or communism. The laborers themselves would rise against the cruelty of private property. Easy. Eliminate “the socially offensive private” – selfishness – and we will have a happy world! Even if to do so, they must take to the hills and take up arms against those who disagree!

But in the communist state, selfishness is never overcome. When the State takes over the means of production and determines the distribution of wealth, the wielders of state power are immune neither from error nor from selfishness. Catastrophic arbitrariness and private privilege have notoriously accompanied the most stringent leaders of communist regimes. In their defense, war against the foreign enemy is turned against treacherous critics from within. Protesters are not wrong; they are insane.

In our society, which enjoys political freedom and freedom of religion, we must still battle against the “socially-offensive private.” Sophisticated companies and the genial, educated minds that drive them, are organized for private profit. But there is little reflection on the difference between profits necessary to keep these companies in the service of society, and maximized profits that rob their laborers of rightful income or human dignity. There is little reflection on when natural resources, ordained in Natural Law or in Constitutional Law for all, may be exploited through free enterprise in such manner that they serve all, or may not be exploited because the “free enterprise” deprives all of their rightful benefit from the natural resources. Private enterprise, we know, can provide society with celfons, tablets, and electricity; it can also willy-nilly deprive societies of clean air, fresh water, arable lands, marine resources, and bio-diversity. So when must the drive for private gain in exploiting natural resources bow to the shared right of all for a healthy environment? When people protest against mining enterprises of foreigners in Mindanao in defense of the environment for all, is it not that the Philippine army is sent to protect the private weal of the miners?

If one group, like the communists, defends its concept of the social good with arms, and another group, like the capitalists, defends its counter-concept with arms, the result is war. The irony is that both justify war in terms of “the human, social good.”

In self-righteous defense of each of our notions of the social good we end up killing – or worse – just hating one another. Communists can go to war in the name of the final establishment of “the human human society”, and Christians can go to war in defense of the Motherland that God blessed them with exclusively.

But if the notion of the “the social good,” or “the good of society,” or “the common good” can bring societies to violence and war, the pursuit of “God’s will,” “the defense of God’s Truth,” the “defense of faith” against the “faithless,” the defense of the Believer against the Infidel, has also brought wars. In looking at the Inquisitions, the Crusades, the Holy Wars, it is chilling how much blood has been spilled in the Name of the God who is universally known to be compassionate. This includes wars between Christians and Protestants, Muslims and Christians, Buddhists and Muslims. Christianity is a religion of love. Islam is a religion of peace. Buddhism is a religion of Enlightenment.

For Jesus, faith was required. But he allowed his followers to grow in the faith. His closest followers, his apostles, did not understand him. They questioned him. But he did not excommunicate them. He allowed their love to grow, even when they betrayed him and ran from him scared. Knowing Peter’s betrayal, he did not respond with, “Be gone you disloyal, treacherous, good-for-nothing nincompoop!” Instead, he looked him in the eye with compassion. That’s when Peter wept.

In the academic freedom of a Catholic University, it is possible for Catholics, wise and otherwise, to come together with Muslims and Jews and atheists and agnostics. It is possible for even convinced and educated Catholics to learn through such encounters of peace, hope, humanitarians, and intellectual honesty. It is possible too that those from whom they learn may be edified by their convictions about love, life, community and the Trinitarian God. It is even possible that Catholics learn from other Catholics, some more learned than they, others whom many dismiss as being in grave error. Their “error” may be conditioned by lack of conviction as to the veracity of Church teaching, lack of insight into the meaning of human life, lack of understanding of the workings of their bodies. Their error may not be invincible, and so subject to correction. Their error may also be based on deep human experience and convictions, yet un-encountered by their judges, a surprising source of deeper insight for Catholics into the meaning of their faith. Catholics in error are not excommunicated; even if they were, they are not excluded from dialogue. After all, it is Jesus who eats and speaks with sinners. And the Father who loves this hard-necked, imperfect, sinful people so much, he does not cease to dialogue with them in Love, even though some in Truth find this scandalous, especially in a Catholic University.

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About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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3 Responses to More on Space to Discuss Contentious Issues

  1. Rose Gaid says:

    Father I like the way you explained the compassion of Jesus to Peter, it’s time for people to grow and own their choices and not just to follow because it was said so. It is more mature to start dealing with the truths with faith in Jesus and study to educate oneself and learn more how God dealt with His people. It’s time to learn what history had done to God’s teachings.

  2. Jun Emblile, SJ says:

    Thanks, Joel, for your insights on being able to express our agreement and disagreement without fear. Your article reminds me of the gospel teaching that God allows the sun to shine on the “good and the bad”, allows the wheat and the weeds to grow together, and Father will be the final arbiter and judge based on his compassion.

  3. tonycsantos says:

    hmm, perhaps we should post this to the other two burning issues posted earlier on RH bill and the Celdran issue. haha… Good job, Fr Tabora.

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