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Can the wolf and lamb ever lie down together?

Sunday, 05 December 2010 00:00

A mother was in a quandary as to what to serve her children for dinner. The eldest demanded, “As an animal activist I refuse to eat meat. Haven’t you seen how they mercilessly slaughter cows, pigs and chickens? It’s obviously immoral to eat meat! And any rational person can see that.”

But the other son protested, “I don’t care about the feelings and rights of chickens. As a body builder, I need all the protein I can get and so I expect meat to be served in this house.”

Then a daughter interjected, “And I will only eat organic food products. Don’t you all realize how harmful fertilizers are to the earth and to our bodies?”

The youngest daughter asserted, “But most of those organic foods are imported and expensive. As a nationalist, I will eat only what has been produced locally.”

We all yearn for the peaceable kingdom where wolf and lamb, leopard and kid, calf and young lion lie down together. In a pluralistic society of Catholics, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and many others, we desire to be protected by the State and to co-exist harmoniously.

With regard the RH Bill controversy, I am gladdened that so many Catholic groups are raising their voices, expressing their moral convictions. But I am afraid that many of us Catholics have difficulty navigating, on the one hand, being faithful to our religious beliefs, and, on the other hand, living in a pluralistic democracy.

Various religious communities in our society have varying moral compasses. While the Catholic Church disallows the use of artificial contraceptives, which I do affirm, we must reckon with the fact that mainstream Protestant communities, such as the Methodists and Episcopalians, leave it up to married couples to decide whether to use artificial contraceptives or not. Such Christian communities uphold the conscience decision of married couples among their flock.

On the other hand many Evangelical Protestant communities forbid the use of artificial contraceptives. Like the official Catholic stance, their position is that the prevention of conception when possible is immoral.

But there are many other moral issues that divide us. The dietary customs of Muslims forbid them from eating pork, which may seem trivial to Filipino Catholics who will never give-up on lechon and crispy pata. However, for devout Muslims and Jews, maintaining interior purity by avoiding anything deemed unclean, food particularly, is a serious moral issue.

As a final illustration of our religious differences regarding moral issues, Seventh Day Adventists, popularly known as Sabadistas, consider the practice of blood transfusion immoral. Many Sabadistas will refuse blood transfusion for their child suffering from dengue fever, even though the child’s platelet count drops to a critical level — out of religious and moral convictions.

What happens when we all impose our moral convictions on the State, on Congress particularly, to legislate laws that are in accord with our respective moral frameworks? What if Muslims Filipinos demand Congress to illegalize the sale and consumption of pork? What if Seventh Day Adventists pressure Congress to illegalize blood transfusions? Living in a religiously and culturally pluralistic society demands respect of the other from each and everyone.

On the other hand, does the recognition of the diversity of religious and moral views imply tolerance of any and all actions? Are we to embrace relativism and turn a blind eye to what is morally offensive to us in order to live peaceably with the other? Or does our Constitution as a nation enshrine common ground, such as the inviolability of human life? In this regard, no major religious tradition condones abortion; neither does our Constitution. Hence, the issue is to certify that the sale and use of medically ascertained abortifacients be declared illegal.

The bigger problem has to do with moral issues beyond the scope of our common ground, such as the use of artificial contraceptives by married couples. Whose voice is heard or ignored? Who dominates the public deliberation? Who imposes its moral stance on the State or Congress? On the part of the State, whose moral position is it to favor? The majority’s? The most influential religious group’s? How is the State to serve all its citizens of varying religious persuasions? How is the State to uphold the separation of Church and State?

As Catholics, we still yet have to learn to negotiate living in a religiously-diverse and democratic society. Each of us desires that what we deem immoral be legislated as illegal, so that the laws of the nation prove consistent with our moral principles. Easier said than done, for various communities within the nation, each with rights and obligations to the State and other citizens, have certain common non-negotiables, but also varying and conflicting moral positions.

To end, this does not imply resignation to religious and moral differences among ourselves. Rather, we are all called to know, appropriate and live out the moral teachings of our respective faith communities. Second, our religio-moral convictions compel us to articulate and defend them, which includes denouncing State laws that are contrary to ours. Third, but we will also have to grant others the same right to live out and defend their religious and moral convictions. Fourth, through deliberations with other religious communities and the State, we ideally arrive at common moral principles. Nonetheless, there will always be areas of conflict and difference. Lasltly regarding our differences, the challenge pertains to remaining true to ourselves, while allowing others to similarly remain faithful to their own religious convictions; that is, proclaiming and witnessing to our faith convictions without coercing or imposing on others.

Published: The Philippine Star

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