Monday, September 26, 2011

Zambia, America, and Two Millennia of Weaseling

Zambia has a new president, Michael Sata. He won by a 43%-36% margin. I'm cautiously optimistic about Zambia's new leader, but not because
  • His title is President
  • He promised to "support the church"
I've put links to news about President-elect Sata under - what else? "In the news," near the end of this post. President Sata, a Catholic, may turn out to be the best thing Zambia has seen since their independence. Or, not.1

Titles, Leaders, and Morality

Titles like "president" and "prime minister" have been quite popular for the last few generations: partly, I think, because they lend an air of respectability to whatever warlord shot his way into the Presidential Palace this time. Which isn't what happened in Zambia. Other parts of Africa haven't had it so good, and that's another topic.

A president could be a good national leader. I think the same is true when the leader's title is prime minister, king, or anything else. It's how the leader behaves, not the title, that makes a different.2

Morality in government? I think America is ready for public officials who care about something besides getting re-elected:
We've tried leaders with "personal" beliefs that didn't interfere with their public behavior.

Saying "although personally opposed ... I don't think I have the right to force my views on anyone else" sounds open-minded. Until you substitute "slavery" for the missing word. Like I've said before, morality isn't just about "morality."3 Yet more topics.

Politics, Religion, and Getting a Grip

I have some sympathy with establishment4 types who go crazy when someone with religious beliefs starts talking. I read the news, and know what can happen when "religious beliefs" go bad:
  • Bogus 'End Times' predicitons
  • Burning
    • Books
    • Crosses
  • Genocide
And, once, an art critic with a crowbar.

There's more to faith than the flakes, and more to environmental concerns than the coming ice age ozone holes global warming climate change. More topics.5

Then there are folks who confuse personal preferences and cultural habits with religious belief. Add passionate political views to that mix, and you can get a sort of 'Jesus is an American/Palestinian/whatever' attitude.6 And I'm wandering off-topic. Again.

The Decalogue as a Nation's Law: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

I think the Decalogue is important. More to the point, the Catholic Church says the Ten Commandments are important. (Catechism, 2052-2082)

So why am I only cautiously optimistic about this statement by Zambia's new president?
"...'This government will be governed on the Ten Commandments,' pledged Sata. 'For the first time this country has a Catholic president, and our government will support the Church.'..."
(Catholic World News Brief)
I know European history, particularly what happened after kings started nationalizing churches. President Sata probably isn't planning to set up an old-style state church in Zambia. At least, I hope not.

My hope is that his pledge to "support the Church" means taking what Zambia's bishops say seriously: not doing what put Henry VIII on top of the British heap.

Europe isn't the only place that's had state religions. Iran's Ayatollahs are a current example, and that's another topic, for another blog.7

Freedom of from Religion?

When I was growing up, America's freedom of religion was presented as a strength of this country.

These days, it seems like we're supposed to have 'freedom from religion,' and that's yet another topic.8

I think some of America's fears of 'religion in politics' are rooted in cultural fallout from Europe's state churches and fed by today's zealots. Chauvinist varieties of America's Protestant beliefs haven't helped.

Then there's 'the media.'

Print and televised news focus on news: people and events who aren't routine and ordinary.

Not all Muslims are terrorists; not all Christians put burning crosses in their neighbor's yard: but those are the folks we see and read about. Someone living in a secularized subculture could get a disturbing image of 'those religious people.'

State Churches and Me

My family history doesn't encourage enthusiasm for a state religion. One of my ancestors had trouble getting out of her homeland because she didn't exist, officially: she belonged to the 'wrong' church, and so didn't have a birth certificate. Another root of my family tree is planted in Irish soil: enough said.

But not wanting a state church is not the same as feeling that religion is a strictly private matter, with no place in public life.

The Catholic Church, Public Life, and Two Millennia of Weaseling

I'm a practicing Catholic, so I have to believe that moral principles apply in public life. I also have to believe that religious freedom is necessary. (Catechism, 2104-2109) For everybody. (Catechism, 2106) Again, "morality" isn't limited to sexual ethics.

The Catholic Church has learned quite a lot over the last two millennia, including how the two rules in Matthew 22:36-40 make a difference in public life. Or should.

I think one of the reasons the Church developed so many detailed rules and long explanations of simple principles is that folks kept trying to weasel out of the basic 'love God, love your neighbor' thing. After a couple thousand years, that can add up.

Here's a short selection of what I believe, and where it says I have to:
  • Should
    • Citizens
      • Be concerned about social justice?
      • Submit to legitimate civil authorities?
        • Yes
        • When ordered to perform immoral/unethical acts?
          • No
    • Civil authorities
      • "Exercise authority ... as a service?"
        • Yes
      • "Respect the fundamental rights of the human person?"
        • Yes
    • The Church
      • "Pass moral judgments even in matters related to politics?"
        • Yes, "whenever the fundamental rights of man or the salvation of souls requires it"
      • 'Get involved in politics?'
        • No, not as part of the political community
        • Yes, as a guide and "safeguard of the transcendent character of the human person"
      • Respect Religious Freedom?
  • What about
Those last two items, liberation theology and armed resistance to civil authority, may need need a little clarification.

Armed resistance?

Now and then I've run into folks who apparently think that America is doomed, unless someone overthrows the government. That would be illegal. It's also, in my considered opinion, not necessary. We're nowhere near having it so bad that armed resistance is a reasonable option.9

Liberation theology?

I've run into serious misconceptions about the Catholic Church, including how 'dangerous' the Church is to civil authorities.

Have some revolutions involved Catholics, even priests? Yes. Some priests and a few bishops have violated Church rules. That's nothing new. The pedophile priests hoo-ha wasn't the first case of priests behaving badly, and I'm quite certain it won't be the last.

The Gnostic heresy, liberation theology, and whatever gets thrown at the Church in the 38th century, won't change the sort of authority my Lord gave the successors of Peter. Or His promise. (Matthew 16:17-19)

Gnostics? Liberation theology? 38th century?? Yet again another topic. Topics.

Related posts:
In the news:
  • "United States"
    The World Factbook, CIA (last updated August 31, 2011)
  • "Zambia"
    The World Factbook, CIA, (last updated August 23, 2011)
  • "Zambia"
    People on the Move N° 109 (Suppl.), Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People (April 2009)

1 Zambia's President Michael"King Cobra" Sata isn't perfect. I'd be much more concerned about Zambia's immediate future, if the Western press had nothing but praise for him: and that's yet another topic.

Excerpts from BBC News:
"...Many Zambians see him as a man who gets things done, from his time as a minister in the governments of two former presidents - Kenneth Kaunda and the late Frederick Chiluba.

"His nickname conjures up two views on him - ready to strike or slippery and dangerous....

"...Some recall that when he was local government minister, the country's roads were clean and the councils worked properly.

"He later served in the health ministry, where he once more shook things up...."

"...But others associate him with political thuggery after his days as minister without portfolio, a position the man himself admitted at the time 'was the ministry for the MMD [ruling party]'.

"The gravelly voiced veteran has an abrasive style, unsuited to the refined diplomacy of international politics, his critics say...."

"...He is known to be hostile to Chinese investors and has in the past threatened to deport them, along with Indians and Lebanese accused of mistreating Zambian workers...."

"...Analysts say Mr Sata has a poor relationship with another neighbouring leader, Malawi's President Bingu wa Mutharika.

"In 2007, Malawi detained and deported Mr Sata after he tried to enter the country.

"His deportation followed allegations - which he strongly denied - that he was plotting a coup in Malawi, where he had close ties with ex-President Bakili Muluzi.

"A Catholic married to a doctor, Mr Sata was born and brought up in Zambia's Mpika, Northern Province...."
(BBC News (September 23, 2011))
2 I think that what a leader does is more important than if the title is president, king, or something else: and that there isn't one 'correct' form of government. Or economic system, for that matter. Which isn't the same as feeling that anything will do:
In another blog, I gave examples of how 'nice' titles and adequate leadership aren't necessarily connected:
"...No, I don't really think so, but look at this:
  • Government by Religious Leaders
    Example: Afghanistan under the Taliban
    Result: Terrorism
  • Government by Monarch
    Example: Saudi Arabia
    Result: Terrorists
    • (15/19 of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudis)
  • Government by Elected Leaders
    Example: Somalia
    Result: Terrorists - and pirates
  • Government by Military Ruler
    Example: Guinea
    • Assuming that the elections were as well-managed as critics claim
    Result: No terrorism (and no pirates, either)
You see?! That 'proves' that military rule is superior to old-fashioned monarchies, theocracies, and constitutional democracies...."
(Guinea, Military Rule, and Terrorism: Beware Hasty Judgment," Another War-on-Terror Blog (December 29, 2008))
3 I use "ethics" as a label for these posts, because that word means pretty much the same thing as "morality." I'd use "morality," but too many Americans seem to think that morality refers only to ethical sexual behavior:
4 Back in the '60s, the establishment was somewhat conservative, mostly male, and pretty much all white. Today, not so much:
5 I doubt that any large group could be entirely free of crackpots. Maybe it's part of that Job 5:7 thing. America's current establishment may realize that the CIA didn't blow up New York City's World Trade Center - and that not all liberals believe they did. When it comes to Christians, and particularly the Catholic Church, the folks in charge seem a bit more shaky:
6 I've posted about parochial views and living in a big world before, including this set:
7 I don't think Iran's leadership is wrong because they're Muslims. But I don't think the way they're using Islam is a good idea, either:
8 Being part of a religious minority isn't the only reason I think freedom of religion is important. As a Catholic, I have to support freedom of religion. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2104) For everybody. (Catechism, 2106) More of my take on freedom and faith:
9 I'm looking forward to getting some new nitwits in Congress after next year's election, and maybe a new president. I don't think America is experiencing a post-WWII-style 'happy days' economy. But I do not think we're doomed, and have said so. Fairly often:

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Background:Posts in this blog: In the news:

What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.