Diversity and Freedom of Religion

[Introductory Discussion, Pakighinabi, 21 June 2017]

While the country may have celebrated independence from Spain 119 years ago, our struggle today must also be for independence from religious extremism and intolerance.  This comes from an irreligious position which as a consequence of its claims that there is only one God, that there is only one legitimate religion, and that they are the only true worshippers of God, rejects the concept of diversity of religions and anything like freedom of religion.  Any person who challenges this notion can be attacked, assaulted, tortured or killed.  Through such means, coercion towards religious assent is legitimate.  Persons can be forced by torture or threat of death to embrace “the true religion.”  But the contradiction between the claim to be a religion, which functions in relationship with the compassionate God, and the imperative to kill, to maim, and to devastate those who do not agree with them, disqualifies them as a religion and reduces them to a mere conceptual ideology that has no moorings in a real God of compassion.

Pope Francis describes the world situation of today as “a world war being fought piecemeal” in explosions of terror and packages of violence throughout the globe.  Bombs explode and blood is shed in a football stadium or in a rock concert, targeting not armored combatants but innocent children.  Human lives are taken not only by grenade launchers and missiles, but by speeding trucks and murderous vans.  In London, a van mowed down Muslims leaving the Finsbury mosque day before yesterday; one man died, eight were injured.  On June 3, a terror attack by a man driving a van on the London bridge killed 8 and terrorized many others. On May 22, 2017 in Manchester during the Ariane Grande concert , a suicide bomber killed 22 people and injured 59..

Here Pope Francis says, “it needs to be clearly stated that no civilized society can be built without repudiating every ideology of evil, violence and extremism that presumes to suppress others and to annihilate diversity by manipulating and profaning the Sacred Name of God.”

There is religious diversity.

We Filipinos, Catholics and Muslims, but also Buddhists, Protestants, Aglipayans, Iglesya ni Cristo, Born-Again Evangelicals, must understand and repudiate this ideology, this fabricated set of ideas, that is not religion.  It does not connect us to God, whom all religions recognize as a God of compassion.  Instead it manipulates and profanes the Sacred Name of God, who is a source and guarantor of life and love.  It manipulates: it uses “God” to carry out the evil designs of some human beings.  It profanes:  it drags the Sacred Name of God in the bloodied mud of human politics and conflict.

In this context, Pope Francis states further:  All of us have the duty to teach coming generations that God, the Creator of heaven and earth, does not need to be protected by men; indeed, it is he who protects them.  He never desires the death of his children, but rather their life and happiness.  He can neither demand nor justify violence; indeed, he detests and rejects violence (“God… hates the lover of violence”: Ps 11:5).  The true God calls to unconditional love, gratuitous pardon, mercy, absolute respect for every life, and fraternity among his children, believers and nonbelievers alike.”

It is not we who protect God from evil, but God who delivers us from evil.  The “God” therefore who “commands” or “wills” violence, destruction and death, especially of children, be they Christian or Muslim, theists or atheists, is a false God, a fabrication of evil and irreverent minds, who have yet in God’s mercy to encounter the true God.  

Speaking to leaders of differing religions, Pope Francis says, “It is our duty to proclaim together that history does not forgive those who preach justice, but then practice injustice.  History does not forgive those who talk about equality, but then discard those who are different.  It is our duty to unmask the peddlers of illusions about the afterlife, those who preach hatred in order to rob the simple of their present life and their right to live with dignity, and who exploit others by taking away their ability to choose freely and to believe responsibly.  It is our duty to dismantle deadly ideas and extremist ideologies, while upholding the incompatibility of true faith and violence, of God and acts of murder.”

As God, in his unfathomable wisdom, created us diverse, so did he create us with religious freedom.

More than 52 years ago, the Vatican Council, the highest teaching body of the Catholic Church, proclaimed the right to religious freedom on the basis of the dignity of the human person:

“This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.

“The council further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself. This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right.

“It is in accordance with their dignity as persons-that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore privileged to bear personal responsibility-that all men should be at once impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth, once it is known, and to order their whole lives in accord with the demands of truth. However, men cannot discharge these obligations in a manner in keeping with their own nature unless they enjoy immunity from external coercion as well as psychological freedom. Therefore the right to religious freedom has its foundation not in the subjective disposition of the person, but in his very nature. In consequence, the right to this immunity continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it and the exercise of this right is not to be impeded, provided that just public order be observed.

“Wherefore every man has the duty, and therefore the right, to seek the truth in matters religious in order that he may with prudence form for himself right and true judgments of conscience, under use of all suitable means”  (Dignitatis Humanae, 2).

It may also be in this spirit that Muslim religious scholars are waging an “ideological war” against extremist groups.  The official website of the ARMM* reports as follows:

Basilan (June 12, 2017) – Ulama, or Muslim religious scholars, are waging an ideological war against the spread of radicalism and extremism through a holistic approach in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

“We are engaging all sectors to address the spread of religious extremism and radicalism in the country,” said Abdulmuhmin Alyakanie Mujahid, the executive director of the Darul Ifta, or the Fatwa Council of the ARMM.

On Thursday, June 8, Islamic scholars in the island province of Basilan forged several agreements with the regional and provincial governments, as well as with line agencies, to carry-out “multi approaches” to deny the spread of extremist ideology in their area.

The effort, Muhajid said, is an offshoot of the Ulama Summit that was held in Cotabato City in early May. During the summit, the Ulama issued a declaration against terrorism, saying that “It is Haram (forbidden and unlawful) to use Islam to justify or legitimize violent extremism and terrorism.”

The Ulama also challenged themselves “to reeducate (their) constituents to rediscover Islamic faith for justice, compassion, harmony and peace.”

“It is imperative upon us all to cooperate and collaborate with the stakeholders in preventing and countering violent extremism and terrorism in its many forms and manifestations,” the declaration said. Mujahid said they are now proactively engaging all stakeholders to overcome the challenges of extremism as what is happening in Marawi City.

“These extremist groups are using the creed of Islam. As a matter of fact, they are using the so-called 13 doctrines of Islam and citing verses of the Holy Quran in justifying their criminal and inhumane acts. We can’t allow that and we will not allow that,” he said. “Our call is to fight against violent extremism and terrorism,” Mujahid underscored.

In the diversity of our religions that path to unity is not in killing the other to eliminate the diversity, but in living the religious relationship with the compassionate God with true radicality so that we may re-discover together the human dignity that God in his compassion cherishes.




* https://armm.gov.ph/muslim-religious-scholars-wage-ideological-war-extremist-groups/


About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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