Thursday, October 27, 2005

Stella Says…Keep the Church and State Forever Separate

(Originally published in the Kaieteur News on 27 Oct 2005)

I am not as “religious” as I use to be. I was brought up to believe in a God and although I often questioned the existence of such a being, I held close to these teachings for most of my life. In fact, I used to devoutly teach scripture to others.

I won’t bore you with the circumstances that caused me to shift my thinking to a more humanistic approach to life, and I don’t want to make everyone worry about the status of my soul, because I believe life is a journey and everyday reveals new enlightenment.

However, the past five years forced me to address certain issues head-on and the outcome was unexpected. When Bush took office in 2000, I was a person content to live the rest of my life by the teachings I had been taught for years. It was 9/11 and the subsequent events that propelled me into a whole new dimension of self-evaluation that I had never before dared to venture.

The death of so many on 9/11 in the name of holy war was heart wrenching for me. And Bush’s unwarranted invasion of Iraq and the resulting deaths of even more thousands of people turned my broken heart into an indignant cynic. After all, isn’t Bush supposed to be a Christian?

So much blood has been spilt in the last five years for no justifiable reason. In the process, my cynicism for religion has grown. I won’t go into the clinching factors that finally caused me to reject religion altogether, but I find myself today in a place that acknowledges a Supreme Being, though how that being is defined is still undetermined.

I do not wish to participate in the teachings of my youth and after an extensive search, I have yet to find a religion that satisfies my conscience. Though there are many faiths that reject the type of violence that caused me such turmoil that I gladly walked away from my former beliefs, I have yet to find one that can reconcile my conscience and my brain.

However, I am not dissuaded in my quest – though I must admit I’m in no great hurry to resolve this issue either. It has sat months without much thought, and for good reason. I believe it best to pick this up at a later date when my cynicism has cooled and I am ready to once again consider my spiritual journey with a pure heart.

This whole process has reinforced my long-held beliefs that one’s spiritual walk is ongoing and progressive. Each of us is allowed to define for ourselves what we choose to believe about a deity and the guidelines by which that deity is defined.

Further, the Constitution guarantees our freedom to practice our faith in the manner we deem most appropriate. Guyana is a beautiful example of the harmonious co-existence of multiple religions. It is heartening to observe the tolerance and respect each faith bestows on another.

However, a recent statement by the new Third Force has perked my interest. In listing their “Core Values,” the belief in a Supreme Being is noted. I found it to be quite disturbing that a political entity would make such a statement. I’m sure this declaration was primarily made to rally the “religious-minded” to the party’s cause, but this is absolutely dangerous ground on which to tread.

I am a staunch advocate of the separation of Church and State. The inception of this notion was initially intended to protect the Church from the influence of the State. That is, the State cannot impose a universal religion or set of beliefs on the Church.

However, this concept also protects the Church from the influence of the State in that the adherence of one leader or party’s religion cannot be imposed on the nation as a whole. This was practiced for thousands of years. Consider the mandatory conversion of Rome to Christianity under the rule of Constantine or the absolute rule of the Catholic Church in Europe during the Dark and Middle Ages.

The PPP’s communist stance, which has been totally void of religious persecution, has benefited the nation in at least this regard; they have not imposed – or even so much as introduced – the notion of mixing religion and government. This is exactly how it should remain in Guyana. To relinquish the act of governing to any party that infuses Church and State could threaten the one aspect that has yet to create a volatile situation for the nation – religion.

Why mess with success? Right now Guyana’s various religions contentedly thrive and the statement of religious proclamation by a political party could invoke questions of religious affiliation and create a wedge between the people that has not existed to date. Further, it could generate feelings that have so far have only been obvious on a small scale, such as religious arrogance and intolerance for other faiths.

A spiritual journey is a personal and private matter to be worked out between an individual and their God, not in public arenas. The statement of one’s faith, or a party’s faith, should not be made a matter of political gain or public scrutiny. This is one area that is best left untouched by Guyanese politics, lest we add yet one more source of contention and division among the people.

Though I no longer hold to my former religious beliefs, I do consider a spiritual pursuit to be a noble endeavour that should not be tainted by injecting the unpleasantness of politics into the venture. Let’s keep religion holy by keeping it separate from politics. As Ulysses S. Grant said, “Keep the Church and State forever separate.”

Read Roy Paul's comments on this column

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