Find us on Google+

Monday, 29 October 2007

State and Religion

Article 8:

  1. Zambia is a secular State without a state religion.
  2. State and religion are separate.

-Mung’omba Draft Constitution

Article 8 is probably the most explicit reason why the Mung’omba Draft Constitution may never be adopted in full. Nearly every Zambian I have spoken to has highlighted Mung’omba’s tactical error in including Article 8 in the constitution. In the words of one friend “Mung’omba seems to have sunk the whole draft constitution over one paragraph”. May be not the whole constitution, for there’s much good in it as we'll explore over the next few weeks, but certainly much doubt remains over the wisdom of including Article 8. Incidentally it has also highlighted the usual charge, that Zambians constantly borrow ideas from abroad without thinking them through on whether they make sense domestically.

In fairness, its not clear which brand of national secularism Mung'omba wanted Zambia to emulate. Is it the American or the Turkish? It’s also not clear what problems he was seeking to solving within the current declaration of 'Zambia as a Christian'. Changes for changes sake are not useful, unless we have seen flaws in the existing system that necessitates the revision. But these uncertainties should not detain us from exploring where Article 8 would take us. In particular, three questions seem immediately relevant. First, What exactly is a secular state? Secondly, what would Article 8 mean in terms of our approach to development? Third, is there a third way?

A secular state is a society that dispenses with religion and the supernatural. It can be seen either in a descriptive sense or a militant world view.

As a descriptive term, it portrays a society whose focus is this world rather than other-worldly. Values, meanings, concerns, morals and all aspects of community life are seen in terms of the material world as understood by contemporary science. Nothing is based on belief in God or any life other than this one. Most western nations are said to be secular in this sense, even though the large majority of their populations would claim to have religious beliefs. In France, for example, whose constitution is secular, over 80% of the population claim to be religious, but the impact of their beliefs on French life as a whole is very small.

Seen as a militant world-view, a secular state is a state that is geared towards destroying the influence of religion in all areas of public life. Highly militant secular states tend to be dominated by atheistic thinkers who clearly have a vision of a religion free society, and work towards abolishing religion forcibly. Militant secular states would accept that religion can be a private belief and way of life. What they cannot accept is that it should have any impact on society, politics, moral, education or any other aspects of public life. All should be based on the secular world view rather than any religious world view. The rationale given for this approach is that secularism is based on reason and science while religious world view is based on ignorance on ignorance and superstition. Building society on reason and science, it is argued, will make society more secure, happy, peaceful, strong or in others more developed. This is contrasted to societies built on religious beliefs, which are necessary superstitious intolerant and divisive.

There are a number of countries around the world that have inserted various “secular” clauses in their constitutions. The map below provides a picture – green nations are secular - grey nations are non-secular. A full list can be found
here. Interesting to see that most African nations are non-secular.

In line with anti-Sakism, the fact that other nations have gone down or have not gone down that path is useful and relevant information, but it provides no convincing reason for adopting any particular path. The question is what path is good for Zambia. I believe that Zambia's path lies in rejecting the Mung'omba draft and maintaining its current status for a number of reasons:

First, to assert “secularism” is not a neutral proposition. As we have set out above, a secular position is not a “neutral” position. To say you believe in a secular state with secular values and identity is simply to acknowledge that you have a way of life that you follow – and therefore in its own way, a form of religious worship. By declaring itself a secular state, Zambia is therefore making a positive assertion about its beliefs and identity, not a neutral one. We must acknowledge that both secular and Christian declarations are non-neutral propositions.
Second, it is undeniable that Zambia’s “mode” or “mean” identity is distinctly Christian. That is not to say every Zambian is a Christian or indeed there’s agreement what the term ‘Christian’ means to each Zambian, but it is undeniable that the majority of Zambians profess the Christian faith (something like 96%). If that is true, then we must also accept that adopting a secular identity is a direct denial of who we are as people.

Third, identity and culture is crucial for development. If we accept that Zambia’s identity is profoundly Christian in outlook, the logical question is – does it matter for development? Unquestionably yes! There are those that think that development is about economic growth, consumerism and more choice. The other view is that development is about the freedom to live your way of life to its full potential. Government policy should focus on increasing these ‘freedoms’. Culture, religious and traditions define who we are as people and therefore shape the importance we place on certain “freedoms”.

To illustrate: If you asked me, which is better - a society full of high economic growth, but with no moral basis or do a highly moralised society with mediocre growth? My answer to that question will depend on what “freedoms” I value most. Is it freedom to live in a society where everyone can be trusted and talks to their neighbour, or a society in which I can drive any car I want? These are the questions that are intrinsically personal, but they demonstrate why identity and culture are vital to meeting people’s aspirations for development. This is why development needs to be a local concept, because different local societies value different freedoms. It is also the reason why we must not abandon who we are in the quest for economic numbers and acceptance from secular states and institutions that run the world system.

Faced with this situtation, how do we rescue Article 8? It seems to me the best way forward is to recognise that Zambia indeed is a Christian nation, but to ensure that State and religion are kept separate and the religious beliefs of non-Christians are preserved. Indeed this is where we are at the moment. There’s no reason why Zambia cannot continue to acknowledge her cultural and religious identity, without necessary absolving religion within state functions.
It requires no Article 8 to achieve this.

10 comments:

  1. Article 8:

    1. Zambia is a secular State without a state religion.
    2. State and religion are separate.


    Sounds very reasonable and Republican to me. Why should there be a state religion, when so many people practice different religions?

    Why would the constitution state that Zambia is a Christian nation? What about the non-Christians (and not just the secularists).

    A secular state is a society that dispenses with religion and the supernatural. It can be seen either in a descriptive sense or a militant world view.

    Or a state where everyone is free to practice whatever religion they choose.

    There doesn't seem to be any coersion inherent in these two lines.

    Third, identity and culture is crucial for development. If we accept that Zambia’s identity is profoundly Christian in outlook, the logical question is – does it matter for development?

    Apart from the influence of the churches (which could/should be considerable) in mobilizing for development, I doubt it.

    The CIA Factbook states the following on religion in Zambia:
    Christian 50%-75%
    Muslim and Hindu 24%-49%
    indigenous beliefs 1%

    https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/za.html

    Personally, I don't see any problem with declaring Zambia a secular state, that should separate church and state - and by doing so, guarantee freedom of religion.

    ReplyDelete
  2. MrK,

    "Sounds very reasonable and Republican to me."

    I think you meant reasonable and liberal :)

    "Why would the constitution state that Zambia is a Christian nation? What about the non-Christians (and not just the secularists)."

    You question is a valid one, but it ignores the central issue. The point is that if the constitution stated that Zambia is non-religious that is still discriminatory against those that hold a religious view of the world. Incidentally it would also be a lie to sate that Zambia is a secular nation. It clearly isnt.
    You are supporting an extreme position simple to avoid what you perceive as flaws in declaring Zambia as a Christian nation. Of course you may be right, but that does not mean that the opposite is true or indeed cost free!

    "Or a state where everyone is free to practice whatever religion they choose.

    If the Constitution said that Zambia has no state religion - that would address your point. But Mung'omba clearly says it is A SECULAR STATE. He is making a positive statement about Zambia's identity. As I have said, secularism as understood by all scholars in noth its militant and descriptive sense dispenses with the supernatural and makes the natural the focus of society.

    "The CIA Factbook states the following on religion in Zambia:
    Christian 50%-75%
    Muslim and Hindu 24%-49%
    indigenous beliefs 1%"


    A simple sense check on those numbers reveals something wrong. 1% indigenous? c'mon! surely much more. Crucially even the Muslic Council accepts that Muslims are less than 2% of Zambia's population based on the last census.

    "Personally, I don't see any problem with declaring Zambia a secular state, that should separate church and state - and by doing so, guarantee freedom of religion"

    Not really.
    Just look at China. Militant secularism does not guarantee freedom of religion, on the contrary it restricts religion.

    The only way to guarantee religious freedom is to recognise religion as part of society and place it in the hands of a non-militant faith.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Ok, I'm just playing devil's advocate (probably a poor choice of words considering the topic), but I think the whole "Zambia is a Christian nation" statement in the constitution is more about politics to begin with. Does it have any positive consequences, for instance in policy?

    "Sounds very reasonable and Republican to me."

    I think you meant reasonable and liberal :)


    I was thinking of the French Republic - Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.

    Even today, there are prohibitions against religious symbols in France's government/state institutions, including schools, and they are certainly a very Catholic country.

    Not really. Just look at China. Militant secularism does not guarantee freedom of religion, on the contrary it restricts religion.

    They are not as much secular, as they are Communist, which can be a religion in it's own right, complete with icons. Or at least a secular philosophy with strong religious overtones and symbolism (blood red flags, the hammer and sickle as symbols, iconic photographs of Uncle Joe Stalin, etc.) - which probably came about in rivalry with Russian Orthodox Christianity.

    I was thinking more of a state that is a-religious, rather than one that pursues secular philosophies.

    A simple sense check on those numbers reveals something wrong. 1% indigenous? c'mon! surely much more. Crucially even the Muslic Council accepts that Muslims are less than 2% of Zambia's population based on the last census.

    I'm sure there is some problem with those numbers, regardless of the source. But my point is - what about the non-Christians? Or for that matter, churches that syncretise different beliefs?

    And what to make of the constant charges that this or that politician is a freemason (for instance)? Why would it be anyone's business what association they belong to?

    The only way to guarantee religious freedom is to recognise religion as part of society and place it in the hands of a non-militant faith.

    Hmmm... :) Christianity is non-militant? I don't think there is such a religion. Even Buddhism had it's violent adherents. And certain American Protestant types are very active in recruiting people all over the world - including Daniel Ortega, former communist/Sandinista.

    And I have to say that as far as religion goes, I can see the benefits of a more socially responsible, leftish protestantism. But I wouldn't want to see it as the state religion. But I wouldn't pass judgment on other religions.

    ReplyDelete
  4. ”I think the whole "Zambia is a Christian nation" statement in the constitution is more about politics to begin with. Does it have any positive consequences, for instance in policy?”
    The quick answer to your question is that you cannot also prove that it does not have. We just don’t know. Crucially you cannot prove that it has had any NEGATIVE consequences. So if it is not broken, why fix it?
    Of course, my actual answer is more positive. I think to develop you need a clear vision of your identity. Zambia is predominantly Christian and there’s therefore a strong argument that our elusive quest for development would be less elusive once we defined that development. And as I keep banging on you cannot have development without a strong view of your cultural and religious identity, because development is inherently personal.

    ”I was thinking of the French Republic - Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. “

    Why do we have to be like the French? Why cant Zambia just find its own way of doing thing. This is what I meant on the other post about finding a unique philosophical and economic consensus. Zambia (Africa in general) will never develop as long as we look to others for inspiration. True development comes from developing a clear and philosophical understanding of who you are as a nation, not from borrowing ideas and transporting them back to Zambia. That approach is paved with failures. It will never work. I am glad economists are now realizing this and abandoning their models in favor for a more local idea of development.


    ”They are not as much secular, as they are Communist, which can be a religion in it's own right, complete with icons. Or at least a secular philosophy with strong religious overtones and symbolism (blood red flags, the hammer and sickle as symbols, iconic photographs of Uncle Joe Stalin, etc.) - which probably came about in rivalry with Russian Orthodox Christianity. “

    We are splitting hairs here. China is secular and the most militant version of it. Liberals always try and deny this. But their positive signs. Recently China has accepted that it will allow religion to be taught in certain areas. But ultimately MrK the issue is the principle of neutrality. When you adopt a secular position, you automatically reject all non-secular thought and hence you are making a positive confession about your world view. Why should Zambia deny its identity? What do we gain beyond the present from doing so?

    ”I was thinking more of a state that is a-religious, rather than one that pursues secular philosophies. “

    You mean multi-religious? There’s no such thing as non-religious, non-secular world view. But I think what you are hinting at is a descriptive form of secularism that is actually less militant. I doubt whether that is sustainable in the long term. Militantism is central to long term survival of secularism. Secularism once started is irreversible and permeates all of society, unless overturned by extreme religious fanaticism like the Iranian Revolution, which could be worse of course. To be fair, Iran was not really secular prior to the revolution, but my central point is that overturning secularism is challenging.

    ”I'm sure there is some problem with those numbers, regardless of the source. But my point is - what about the non-Christians? Or for that matter, churches that syncretise different beliefs? “

    These would be protected by other laws. This is the case at present.

    ”Christianity is non-militant? I don't think there is such a religion” .

    Good point, but it’s like my primary teacher used to say, “we are all mad, but some are more mad than others” :)

    ReplyDelete
  5. The quick answer to your question is that you cannot also prove that it does not have. We just don’t know.

    Then the reply to that would be - why have it in the constitution at all?

    Why do we have to be like the French? Why cant Zambia just find its own way of doing thing.

    We don't have to be like the French (at all), but that I think is the place to visit when it comes to individual liberty. Also, they made a transition from a society that was ruled by aristocracy, to one that was secular and made some very good administrative advances.

    If you look at 'traditional' cultures in Indonesia, the Philippines they are all syncretic. They take what is the best of it's day, and incorporate it into their culture. In Indonesia, you see influences of Hinduism from India, Buddhism from China, Islam from Arabia, etc.

    I think if traditional institutions can be translated into modern institutions, I think it should take into account the essense of what made them work (if that doesn't sound too vague).

    ReplyDelete
  6. "Then the reply to that would be - why have it in the constitution at all?"

    Now you get the idea!

    Its not necessary to enshrine these things in the constitution. Infact Britain has no constitution and it gets along fine.

    Incidentally, Britain has no separation between Church and state :)

    "We don't have to be like the French (at all), but that I think is the place to visit when it comes to individual liberty"

    Without questioning why "individual liberty" is paramount, I would just say that France is hardly an oasis of liberty. The French have previously banned people from wearing religious symbols for example clearly contravening individual freedoms. Again illustrating that secularism is not a neutral proposition.

    "I think if traditional institutions can be translated into modern institutions, I think it should take into account the essense of what made them work (if that doesn't sound too vague)."

    I agree that traditional authorities should advance with time and that should render them even more relevant to the times. Unfortunately for that to happen first requires a commitment towards these institutions and then a clear framework for how they relate to other parts of society.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Cho,

    As always you make a cogent and well presented case for your position. Unfortunately I am in the throes of getting a restaurant open, so I haven't the time to properly research much of anything, but I came across this article reprinted from The Times of Zambia. I am curious as to your opinion on the anecdotal evidence therein with regard to desirable or undesirable cross-overs between the pulpit and the political podium?

    Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Yakima,

    I hope it is progressing well...(and on budget!)...perhaps in time you can offer New Zambia readers a discount :)

    Now on the very interesting article you forwarded..

    Well there are two issues here...one the validity of the Bishop's comments and the other is the more substantial question - what is the appropriate role of the church in economic and political life of the nation...

    On the first, I find the Bishop's position inconsistent. It seems to me that given the political nature of our system of Government, any support for the Executive is support for the party.It need not be that way of course, and that is why need constitutional reform. The Bishop is therefore wrong to castigate others for supporting opposition parties, while he offers unqualified support to the party in government.

    Now on the substantial question of the church's role in national life. There are probably two subquestions here.

    First, should the church be involved in the life of nation at all?

    Secondly, if yes, how should that happen, or rather where can it be more useful?

    The answer to the first must be yes. Philosophically, the church is part of the nation and therefore has every full right to take part in affairs as it so choses. Restricting the church to religious affairs is inconsistent with full nationhood.

    As I have articulated on the blog, development by nature is person. It follows that it must reflect the cultural aspects of individuals, including religious ones. The church therefore cannot be viewed as outsiders to the debate.

    The question is therefore how does the Church engage. There are a number of areas:

    1. Knowledge creation - the church can help to advance economic and philosophical thought in Zambia. The JCTR is an example where they collect information on the "food basket" etc. JCTR has become influential as a think tank and was partly responsible for the Mung'omba Draft's inclusion of economic and social rights in the constitution, something we will touch on down the line.

    2. Public Debate - I think the Church has a critical role to play in shaping national debate. And this debate need not necessarily be non-partisan. There's nothing wrong with Clergy deciding that they favour policies for example that promote pro-life than hinder life. Credibility is built from convictions. The Clergy should feel free to back political parties that reflect their convictions.

    3. NGOs - this is their natural realm. But it strikes me that charitable acts naturally thrusts them to the centre of debate. What I always say is that its pointless to help the poor unless you can guarantee their welfare in the long term. That requires long term activism both economic and political. So if the church is really to achieve its aims it would have to lobby politicians and even go as far as encouraging members of the Church to hold political offices.

    Just three of the ways in which the Church can engage, but I am sure there are more. The challenge of course is one of "doing too much". Specialisation arguments might well point to the fact that it would be good if the Church concentrated on one thing! But that is another discussion....

    ReplyDelete
  9. why even smart people think the state is the country ?

    a secular state doesn't in any way imply that citizen stop being religious.
    and actually religious freedoms are usually better protected in secular states.

    ReplyDelete
  10. The fact that many religions in Zambia have international affiliations and interests would indicate that involving religion with the government in any way at all is a threat to the sovereignty of Zambia as these interests from outside the country may have an undue influence whether or not the Zambian people agree. An example is abortion-legal in Zambia yet Churches oppose it and those ideologies originate outside Zambia, funding comes from outside Zambia, the leadership more often than not is not Zambian either. As a result these organisations take stands on very important issues without being accountable to the people. To state that we are a Christian nation is to imply that we are guided by religious principles (which may be wonderful) and also to imply that representatives of those principles, such as religious bodies, have a say in government policy because they are the authority on the Christian values guiding the nation. The people would no longer be the only source of legitimacy for the government as divine blessing would then enter the political dictionary, perhaps it has already (what with Mwanawasa's claim of being divinely appointed, rather than elected). It would then appear that the government would be able to ignore the demands of the people, who own their government, in the name of pursuing some higher power's agenda-isn't that lack of accountability something that Zambains wanted to end in 1964 and 1991?

    So, while being a Christian nation may not mean that we will become a fundamentalist regime such as Iran or be influenced by religious groups to the extent that the US is, it is dangerous to give any opening to a doctrine that is generally antithetical to a republican democracy . If we want to be a Christian nation we should appoint a committee of religious figures to run the country, somewhat like UNIP's central committee.
    Galilee Pawpaw

    ReplyDelete

All contributors should follow the basic principles of a productive dialogue: communicate their perspective, ask, comment, respond,and share information and knowledge, but do all this with a positive approach.

This is a friendly website. However, if you feel compelled to comment 'anonymously', you are strongly encouraged to state your location / adopt a unique nick name so that other commentators/readers do not confuse your comments with other individuals also commenting anonymously.