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What purpose does the state serve and who does it serve?

by Milan Poli *

Thursday 10 May 2007

In issue number 1710 of the Catholic newspaper Glas Koncila (The Voice of the Council), theology professor Anton Tamarut says in an interview:

“When you speak of the cross being removed from public spaces – from state institutions, schools and other public places… I suppose that you primarily have in mind the situation in the Republic of Croatia where, according to the 2001 census, nearly 88% of the population declared themselves as Catholics. The total number of Christians was even higher. Therefore, it is, in the least, a curious thing, if not confusing and worrying, that the crucifixes should be removed from public places in the name of state secularism and its alleged religious neutrality and worldly stance. Rightfully, we poise the question what purpose does the state serve and who does it serve? To whom are state and public institutions and services supposed to cater? You ask me who objects to the crucifix. I would like to believe that for a Christian, for a member of Christ’s Church, it could by no means present any disturbance. Although, by casting a look back in time, to Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians, in which he deplores the community he founded in Philippi and probably other ones, because they live ‘as enemies of the Cross’, it becomes clear that it is a long-standing issue. “They are the enemies of the cross of Christ whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame—who set their mind on earthly things (Phil. 3, 18-19 [NKJV]). I find it difficult to blame the removal of the crucifix from public institutions in the Republic of Croatia, as some do, on ‘the aggressive agnostic and atheist’ minority. Perhaps we should turn to the Christians and question the responsibility of those among them who have become intolerant and unreceptive to Christ’s Cross.”

Thank you, doctor Tamarut, for not blaming us, “as some do, ‘the aggressive agnostic and atheist’ minority,” which, by the way, is not quite true – for the removal of the cross from public spaces. It is because of the 88% Catholic majority that a symbol that does not belong to the public sphere has been removed from it. Let me, in turn, pose the same question to doctor Tamarut, ‘what purpose should the state serve? At whose disposal should the state and public services be?’

On March 27, 2007 in the popular Jutarnji list (Morning Paper), Inoslav Be_ker, a lecturer at the University of Rome La Sapienza, wonders, “is the Church prepared for a dialogue?” The question is, what kind of dialogue could those who believe they are in possession of the eternal, final, and absolute truth be prepared for? A sincere dialogue is only possible when the parties are ready to negotiate an agreement on a common truth, while withholding differences in opinion as their own separate and unbinding truths. Therefore, who should this state serve and for what purpose? It follows from Professor Taramut’s authoritarian views that everyone ought to be in favor of his religion and his Church to which, according to a census conducted five years ago, 88% of Croatian citizens pleaded allegiance. Does only the statistical majority have the right to exhibit their symbols in public spaces or should minorities be granted the same liberties? What, after all, is the rationale for elections and how does Professor Tamarut envisage the democratic state? Is this supposed to mean that, perhaps, following the next census, the state will have to serve someone else? Is the Church prepared to engage in a dialogue? When could it possibly be expected to be ready for that? This may happen once it ceases to regard its beliefs as absolute knowledge and when it comes to accept that common truth never belongs exclusively to one person in the dialogue. It remains to be seen whether this can happen within the Church.

One can read more on Church views of democracy in the article by Inoslav Be_ker “The pressure of the Church on Parliament concerning the Law on Couples.” The manipulation of statistical data by the Church is magnificently exposed by Davor Butkovi_ in his article “The Majority Myth.”

The Pope above the Constitution

In his article “The Pope above the Constitution,” Inoslav Be_ker states the following: “ The Pope, not only on behalf of the Church, but also on behalf of God Almighty and of His self-sacrificed Son in communion, declares before the legislators that He is above all the constitution and above democracy, according to what the Church calls the natural law” (Be_ker, Jutarnji list, 16th March 2007, p.19).

The next day there was a reaction from _ivko Krsti_, a highly influential ultraconservative Catholic publicist and an unofficial spokesman of the Catholic Church in Croatia. “It is not the Pope who is above the Constitution, but fundamental human rights that cannot be put to vote before the Assembly. We have experienced what happens when, for example, the parliament in a Nazi state deprives citizens of another race of their basic human rights in an outburst of racism” (Kusti_, Jutarnji list, 17th March 2007, p. 22).

Indeed, _ivko Kusti_ is right; a parliament is no guarantee against evil nor are the Assembly’s decisions good by definition. It is not only the wrongdoing of the fascist and Nazi eras that casts a shadow over the parliamentary practices.

However, the intention of the Church to assume a position above secular authorities and the constitution can be discerned from a rather dated article by _ivko Kusti_ himself:

“In Poland, the Pope, among others, fiercely attacked ‘the erroneous ideology of freedom.’ What did he mean by that? Is the Catholic Church once again beginning to fear the freedom which has been made accessible to us by Christ, according to Apostle Paul’s Epistle. Additionally, concern has lately been growing among Catholic thinkers that democracy could also be unacceptable, in spite of the fact that the Pope has never refrained from voicing his approval of the democratic order. The erroneous ideology of freedom, when it comes to the society and the state, is actually a distorted democracy where the people, i.e. the parliament in the name of the people, make all the decisions, including discrimination between good and evil. The Christians will say now that the people have been endowed this authority by God and confer this authority on those who are to exercise power until the next elections. God’s power is theocracy, and when the people are in power, it is democracy. According to the Biblical picture of Eden, paradise on earth, God gave man power over everything He created, except discernment between good and evil, which remains in God’s power. Man is the free master of the world as long as he accepts these objective ethics. Therefore, there are issues that cannot be resolved by ballot or referendum. No matter how much support a law has—for example the law on racial discrimination, as was the case in The Third Reich—holocaust is still a crime. Human dignity and the rights of every individual have to be the foundation of all legislation. Objective ethics, which is not subject to a vote, but accepted, can be called natural. Believers say that it comes from God. It is difficult to find a different foundation that would bind each individual by conscience. Freedom depends on the ethical principles that are more important than any earthly authority. Democracy in this sense includes theocracy.” (Kusti_, Jutarnji list August 31, 2002, P. 10).

In conclusion, what is the essence of Kusti_’s conclusion, once it has been distilled from its Sophist rhetoric? It is very simple:

1. Above all human laws are objective ethics.

2. These objective ethics are God-given.

3. The Church is exclusively authorized to interpret God’s will and God’s words.

4. What the Church proclaims to be ethical principles are the manifestation of God’s will, above all people’s laws. In other words, people’s laws have to comply with the proclamations of the Church.

Or, as Kusti_ quite openly admits, “in this sense, democracy also includes theocracy.”

Nevertheless, the truth is that all the wrongdoings inflicted by various parliaments are a far cry from those committed under the auspices of the Church, or encouraged by the Church, with its assent, tacit approval or, at least, with its undecided distancing. Furthermore, Kusti_ does not venture any discussion of whether democracy comprises theocracy only when God’s words are interpreted by the Catholic clerics, or when this is done by the leaders of religions that outnumber the Pope’s followers at least fourfold and who are not prone to adopt the Catholic perspective of the world (for example, their views on marriage), let alone the irreligious.

Therefore, no one is to be feared more than those who try to impose on us their principles of life disguised as an absolute, divine will, i.e. those who put forward their own interest as God’s commandments. They are not interested in discussing or negotiating matters. Their only objective is blind obedience. Clericalism is at work once more.

*President of Protagora, an association for the protection of irreligious people in Croatia