By Chola Mukanga
The Preamble of the draft Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) Bill[i] states:
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 well meaning commentators have criticised this part of the Preamble 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[ii] . Let me say early on that I reject these alternatives as intellectually flawed. Many proponents of such a position throw one liners without much coherent explanation of their reasoning. This is not good enough when a lot is at stake for our country. If we are to move Zambia positively forward we must seek a robust intellectual position for our assertions not mere hearsay or empty punch lines.
I hold that we should maintain the current wording in the draft 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. 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 other words more “developed”. This is contrasted to societies built on religious beliefs, which are necessary superstitious intolerant and divisive – so they allege.
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. It is also worth pointing out the blindingly obvious – no serious philosopher believes in inherent “neutrality”. There’s nothing like a neutral view of life or any position. All reasoning is inherently non-neutral because it is circular. We all have “priors” which affects how we draw logical deductions and those priors are non-neutral because they are not supported by external validation.
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”.
To illustrate: If you asked me, which is better - a society full of high economic growth, but with no moral basis or 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. I shall not be labour this except to note that Sen and others have gone a long way to show us this obvious proposition 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 writes in his recent book, To Change The World[iii], “law infers a moral judgement. Policy implies a world-view”. It is simply intellectual folly to assume that we can have a Constitution devoid of any world view. The question for our people is not whether the draft constitution 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.
Chola Mukanga is an economist and founder of the Zambian Economist which provides independent economic perspectives on Zambia's progress towards meaningful development for her people
Copyright: Zambian Economist, 2013