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Saturday, 1 January 2011

Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) Bill 2010 : The Preamble

We, the People of Zambia
ACKNOWLEDGE the supremacy of God Almighty;
DECLARE the Republic a Christian nation, while upholding the right of every person to enjoy that person’s freedom of conscience or religion;
A number of commentators have criticised this part of  the Preamble of the draft constitution and pushed for two alternative options : a) delete the wording altogether, or b) explicitly state that Zambia is a “secular State” in line with the Mung’omba Draft Constitution. Let me say early on that I reject these alternatives as intellectually flawed. Many proponents of such position throw one line without coherent explanation of their reasoning. It is simply not good enough when a lot is at stake.

I hold that we should maintain the current wording in the Bill based on four basic propositions.

Proposition 1 Not to declare Zambia a Christian nation is to declare Zambia a non-Christian nation (or secular). The central issue is not whether we should have a declaration or not, but whether we should be explicit in acknowledging what we believe. To many Christians not standing up openly for something is the same as being complicit. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act". Whether we write “non-Secular” or simply remove the current wording is of little relevance. What is clear is that without a positive affirmation of Zambia as a Christian nation, we are affirming the contrary, especially given preceding debate.

Proposition 2 : Secularism is not neutral. There are some that believe that declaring Zambia a secular state is a “neutral” proposition. This is an error in thought process. To demonstrate why we must first take a step back and understand what secularism is.

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. 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.

Whichever brand of secularism one would have Zambia hold, it is clear that 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 would therefore be 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. [Incidentally, no serious philosopher believes in “neutrality”. There’s nothing like a neutral view – all reasoning is circular]

Proposition 3  : 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 in one way or another. If that is true, then we must also accept that adopting a secular identity is a direct denial of who we are as a people.

Proposition 4 : 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 merely about economic growth and consumerism. 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’ be they economic, social or political. Culture, religious and traditions define who we are as a people and therefore shape the importance we place on certain  “freedoms”. Sen and others have gone a long way to show us this obvious point and it demands no further text.

In light of this, it therefore seems right to me that the Preamble is maintained. What is needed is that we ensure that State and religion are kept separate and the religious beliefs of non-Christians are preserved. I believe the current wording fulfils these goals. There’s no reason why Zambia cannot continue to acknowledge her cultural and religious identity, without necessary absolving religion within state functions.

I end by noting the parallel importance of Article 144 of Part VII:
The State shall direct the policies and laws towards securing and promoting Christian values, beliefs, ethics and morals consistent with this Constitution, and shall prohibit any religious practices that de-humanise or are injurious to the physical and mental well-being of a human being.
Retaining this clause is vitally important as it goes some way to answering the question raised by opponents of the Preamble. Namely, how can we continue to claim to be a nation when we pursue policies that contradict these values? Granted, critics have failed to grasp that Christian values, beliefs and morals though absolute are dynamic and throughout history have benefited from debate as scientific and theological consensus is brought to bear. In short, holding Christian values does not mean we will have a common view on the death penalty, but it does anchor our world view. This is important, as James Hunter notes in To Change The World “law infers a moral judgement. Policy implies a world-view”. It is simply folly to assume that we can have a Constitution devoid of any world view. The question for our people is not whether the Bill has a worldview but whose worldview are we espousing? I believe the NCC was right to make it clear that Zambia’s world view in 2011 is of a Judeo-Christian nature as balanced with other aspects of our culture. May be this may change in 2100, but for now it is right and proper.

Next Stop : Part 1
All posts in this ongoing review can be found at the Constitution of Zambia page.

5 comments:

  1. A few problems with this:
    1. Nations cannot be christian. Only people can.
    2. Legislating religion does not work. "Love your neighbor" is not a law that can be enforced. Religion should be freely and voluntarily practised. The constitution should create and maintain that freedom.
    3. There are conflicts between some churches beliefs and parts of the constitution (Gender equality for example is not accepted by most churches) and therefore they would best be kept seperate.
    4. It would definately require removing the death penalty. (Revenge is not a christian principle)
    5. There are many people who's professed faith conflicts with their every day lives (eg corrupt polititians who go to church every week)
    so I expect it would be no different for a government. So far declaration of Zambia as a christian nation has not stopped unjust budget allocations or misuse and mismanagement of public funds. Good enforcement of good laws might help and that is what we need. Putting real practising christians into positions where they can make a difference would also help. That however is the voters job not the constitution.

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  2. Ruth,

    Happy New Year!

    Thanks for coming back on this. Your points of course do not address the specific propositions, but let me deal with the issues you have raised.

    Nations cannot be Christian. Only people can.

    I am not sure what you mean by that. Nations can enter into covenants with God. Also nations can hold onto a “Christian culture”. Also the biblical mandate of creation includes the pursuit of righteousness and judgement within governments. So we need more precise definition of what you mean. If you mean that they won’t go to heaven that is right. But that is not what the issue here is. We are talking about whether Zambia should explicitly declare that its world view is Christian.

    I think there’s confusion to many people on the nature of the declaration. I think what is important is the nature of the declaration and what is intended. I don't think there's anything biblically wrong with the nation coming together and declaring that they will be guided by scriptural principles, under democratic means!

    I believe this requires further explanation. We need more debate and clarity and this is why I thoughts its worth opening the Bill up!!

    “Legislating religion does not work. "Love your neighbor" is not a law that can be enforced.”

    Again that is not what is being proposed. What is being declared is that Zambia’s world view is Christian and it will be driven by that.
    ”Religion should be freely and voluntarily practised. The constitution should create and maintain that freedom.”

    The constitution does that. I don’t see anywhere where it seeks to limit freedom of worship or force atheists to become Christians.

    ”There are conflicts between some churches beliefs and parts of the constitution (Gender equality for example is not accepted by most churches) and therefore they would best be kept separate”.

    Again, I don’t see what this has to do with the declaration. Gender equality is a Christian principle. But as I have noted Christian is not a static concept, it is dynamic.

    ”It would definately require removing the death penalty. (Revenge is not a christian principle)”

    This is a theological view. There are many Christians who have the opposite view. Many believe it is supported by scripture. But I respect your view and the under the new constitution you will be able to argue before the Constitutional Court that the death penalty does not accord with Article 144 of Part VII. Its for that reason I regard that provision as critical.

    ”There are many people who's professed faith conflicts with their every day lives (eg corrupt polititians who go to church every week) so I expect it would be no different for a government. So far declaration of Zambia as a christian nation has not stopped unjust budget allocations or misuse and mismanagement of public funds.”

    Again, the declaration is not meant to turn unbelievers into saints. It is a declaration of our intent to guided by a certain world view. But I share your views on our corrupt politicians though I don’t think a secular world view provides a superior solution! But I am open to persuasion.

    Good enforcement of good laws might help and that is what we need. Putting real practising christians into positions where they can make a difference would also help. That however is the voters job not the constitution.

    I see your point. But remember “good” is not a neutral word. For you to say “good laws” as James Hunter notes it depends on your world view. Surely that is the point here? Unless we have a declaration of intent we wont even know what we are pushing society to!

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  3. Hi Cho,

    Happy new year. I hope it will be a prosperous one.

    Hi Ruth, the same to you, and everyone here.

    1. Nations cannot be christian. Only people can.

    There are Muslim nations and one Jewish nation. You can argue whether Zambia is one nation or several nations.

    The question is whether it is desirable. I think it is political grandstanding coming from a very corrupt party, that would rather give people religion than give up any real power. Which I think is very cynical.

    4. It would definitely require removing the death penalty. (Revenge is not a christian principle)

    Odd how these 'Christians' are so for the death penalty. Didn't they learn anything from the crucifixion?

    In the words of comedian Bill Hicks, maybe that's why Jesus hasn't come back yet - his followers are still wearing crosses.

    5. There are many people who's professed faith conflicts with their every day lives (eg corrupt politicians who go to church every week)

    This is the same party that laughed at the notion of the right to food and shelter. I'm sure that's not the kind of 'Christianity' Jesus had in mind.

    Bill Hicks - Religion

    Just a little humour for the new year.

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  4. Your arguments require that you define what a christian culture or christian world view is. This would be so controversial I doubt you could get any consensus on it.
    To me christian principles require that we eliminate the death penalty and the army, ban guns for any purpose other than hunting, provide adequate food education and health services for all, fairly tax the mines, and so on. You probably would disagree with some of these issues.

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  5. Ruth,

    I don't think that defining it precisely is vital. There are basic things every Christian believes e.g. the trinity, historicity of Christ, the authority of scripture. I don't actually think it is that difficult.

    But this definitional point is equally challenging to those who wish to adopt a secularist view because they would need to define that AND deal with its philosophical inconsistencies.

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