Actualizado: sep 17
Although in liberal democracies of our time we assume that there are three branches of public authority (legislative, judicial and executive), it has been accepted for some time and it is known —at times without wanting to do anything about it— that there are other powers that operate over our social structure and one way or another end up determining or, at least, influencing the decisions, thoughts and behavior of people.
We are talking, of course, of the so called True powers, among which we find mass media or, what we are dealing with in this article: religion, ecclesiastic power.
“Marta Lucia Ramírez
Today we consecrate our country to our Lady of Fatima offering prayers for Colombia to help us stop the spread of this pandemic and for God to ease the suffering of the sick, the pain of those that have lost loved ones and allow us to revive our economy to generate millions of jobs in order to eliminate poverty.”
Well, it’s a fact that one of the proposals of western liberal democracy is founded on the intention that power controls power and that’s why public authority is divided into branches that, in an ideal world, would control one another and prevent, in this way, excesses and abuses of authority. Naïve maybe is the supposition that the courts, parliament and the government are enough in order to have democratic balance that allows citizens to exercise their rights efficiently. Not knowing the range of religious power, we blind ourselves to the fact that persons —or groups of people— act according to their religious convictions and use public assets to promote them.
The different historic events of our country —and in the world— have made it so that, in Colombia, there is an overwhelming majority of believers that, if not everyone blindly obeys the guidelines of their spiritual leaders nor allow themselves to be manipulated by believer politicians, a non-critical mass of people emerge to whom it’s enough only to mention a belief in God to justify the most atrocious crimes.
In the quest to create a society where religious beliefs are not used as an excuse to commit abuses against others or as a trigger for violent conflict, humanity conceived the Lay State and therefore ascribing a neutral character to public authorities in order to protect those that believe in the virgin Mary as much as those that believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Of this, of course, the majority of theist traditions are not aware since they think that religious freedom consists in believing in whatever religion/ God, as long as there is belief in one. For them the possibility of not believing in deities does not exist. But, returning to the Lay State, this does not only guarantee that everyone can practice a religion, or not have one, but also it promises to not promote a particular religion/ belief precisely because not all citizens believe in the same things.
It becomes scandalous or, at least, worthy of mockery, that a president —who should safeguard the security of all citizens— instead of focusing on finding solutions for the health, economy and social crisis due to COVID-19, is using State resources as a platform to fund the cult of the Virgin of Chiquinquirá. Obviously, it’s easy to explain the situation if we remember that we don’t have a president but a guy doing an internship in the Casa de Nariño where ecclesiastical power can squash him as if he were a mosquito.
But, what we can count on, at least, is a vice-president. This authority figure has opted not to make do with the Virgin of Chiquinquirá, probably because local talent doesn’t mean much to her, and has dedicated herself to evoke international powers like Our Lady of Fatima who, sporting a sky-blue background next to the presidential logo, has committed herself to do what her daddy Jehovah or his son baby Jesus couldn’t: eliminate the coronavirus from the face of Colombia.
It’s needless to say that neither of these two virgins bothered themselves to solve this little problem that troubles us, but forced the Ministry of the Interior to convene a day of prayer, this time, without specifying a deity, who knows why, because evoking all gods would generate the desired effect. Something, probably, like the combined efforts of the Avengers of theism.
The senator John Milton Rodríguez, from the party that most likely sympathizes with the extreme right but believes it’s a defender of morality, applauded the effort as an opportunity to “join together to praise the name of the Lord” and, in his announcement, mentioned problems such as violence in the home or depression to which, according to him, only god can bring peace. It would be great if all of this were true, and being so, on the 16 of May all mental health problems in Colombia and unfortunate situations such as child abuse in the heart of our homes would evaporate. But, as God has shown throughout the centuries, the only thing he troubles himself with is that gays don’t marry and that his image is reproduced as a white man with blue eyes.
The question stands to how this senator, his church or other types of believers would have reacted if the presidency or the ministers would have consecrated the nation to Buda, Ganesh or Ala. Would they continue thinking that it’s great to use state space and time to promote particular beliefs? Probably not. It would be them then generating a type of opposition or anti-establishment movement against this apparently institutionalized religion. What is representative of Christianism today is an abusive power that carries on believing that, while it’s not said that it’s “obligatory” to believe in the anointed son of Joseph and Mary, it’s enough to comply with the requirement of being Lay.
Any promotion, whatsoever, of religion by the government is a blatant violation of the lay nature of the State insomuch as it excludes minority believers and non-believers that expect public servants to devote themselves to look out for all citizens, and not misspend public resources improving their image openly promoting the causes of a majority religion to check out if this will solve the problem of their unpopularity. Maintaining the lay character of the State doesn’t imply abandoning the beliefs one has, but assures that one is not interfering with the task of serving all the population independently whether they practice a belief or not.
Written by Sauron James. Sociologist in training.
Translated by Edward Duigenan.