Religion, culture and democracy (2/2)

Religious freedom

It seems relevant for us to quote a very enlightening extract from the Declaration on Religious Freedom, promulgated by the Second Vatican Council on December 7, 1965, and known as DIGNITATIS HUMANAE :

“This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.

The council further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself. This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right.

It is in accordance with their dignity as persons-that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore privileged to bear personal responsibility-that all men should be at once impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth, once it is known, and to order their whole lives in accord with the demands of truth. However, men cannot discharge these obligations in a manner in keeping with their own nature unless they enjoy immunity from external coercion as well as psychological freedom. Therefore the right to religious freedom has its foundation not in the subjective disposition of the person, but in his very nature. In consequence, the right to this immunity continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it and the exercise of this right is not to be impeded, provided that just public order be observed.” 

Later on, however, the text specifies that :

“The right to religious freedom is exercised in human society: hence its exercise is subject to certain regulatory norms. In the use of all freedoms, the moral principle of personal and social responsibility is to be observed. In the exercise of their rights, individual men and social groups are bound by the moral law to have respect both for the rights of others and for their own duties toward others, and for the common welfare of all. Men are to deal with their fellows in justice and civility.

Furthermore, society has the right to defend itself against possible abuses committed on the pretext of freedom of religion. It is the special duty of the government to provide this protection. However, the government is not to act in an arbitrary fashion or in an unfair spirit of partisanship. Its action is to be controlled by juridical norms which are in conformity with the objective moral order. These norms arise out of the need for the effective safeguard of the rights of all citizens and for the peaceful settlement of conflicts of rights, also out of the need for adequate care of genuine public peace, which comes about when men live together in good order and in true justice, and finally out of the need for a proper guardianship of public morality.

These matters constitute the basic component of the common welfare: they are what is meant by public order. For the rest, the usages of society are to be the usages of freedom in their full range: that is, the freedom of man is to be respected as far as possible and is not to be curtailed except when and insofar as necessary. ” 

In light of this Vatican II declaration, we believe that the principle of separation between religions and the state does not abolish the citizenship of religions in a democratic and pluralistic society. It is, however, necessary to mark the public expression of religious fact in a way that is both respectful of the fundamental principle of religious freedom and of the right to freedom of religion. Freedom of religion, freedom of conscience, and freedom of expression, while fully honoring the principle of secularism of the State.

It is essential to preserve, within public institutions, respect for the religious convictions of the individuals who work, frequent, or call upon their services, as well as the possibility for these people to be able to live in accordance with their religious precepts – when this, obviously, does not contradict the mission of these institutions. This respect must therefore be weighed against the rights of the other persons concerned, the rights recognized as fundamental in our society, and the institutional purposes. In this respect, state support and resources are needed to accompany the managers who, in the majority of cases, carry the entire burden of the responsibility for discernment and decisions.

In addition, it is important to promote the education of youth and citizens to a better understanding of religious phenomena to promote living together. The proposed programs must be designed in such a way that is respectful of religious traditions, but not denominational.

Another way of thinking the religious

Democratic pluralism, therefore, takes seriously the irreducible plurality of religious beliefs and rejects both the Christian path of “common ground” and the anti-religious path of militant secularism. Pragmatically, it accepts the possibility of a public expression of religious freedom, of a recognition of the contribution of religions to the common normative model, if this allows for better integration and greater equality of treatment of citizens, whether religious or not. Above all, it is more lucid in recognizing the impossibility of neutrality and ultimate reconciliation between the values and world views defended by the various religions.

Three aspects of this intellectual revolution have consequences for a pluralistic treatment of religion.

First of all, religious belonging, like cultural belonging, takes on a new dignity because the human level par excellence which is now privileged is that of “contexts of meaning, ” of “communities of justification“, which combine belonging to a group and individual choices endowed with meaning. The recognition and enhancement of religious belonging that has been overshadowed by three centuries of abstract rationalism and triumphant universalism represent considerable intellectual and political victories in terms of respect for the human condition, even if they give rise to new difficulties.

Secondly, respect for religious affiliation extends to the communities themselves. The humiliation and contempt to which they can be subjected generate a new kind of social suffering which is at the heart of the concerns of a truly democratic society. Commitments that identify the person and his or her customs and beliefs, traditions, and ways of life are devalued, even condemned, when the group, history, or lifestyles to which the person belongs are humiliated. In order to regain dignity in their own eyes, immigrants will have to change their identity and adopt a borrowed identity, to assimilate. A “decent” democratic society, as Avishai Margalit puts it, must seek to prevent this alienation and minimize the humiliation of its most vulnerable citizens.

Finally, the relationship between reason and religion is transformed. Linked to the critique of monological reason and the recognition of the pluralism of values, religious belonging makes sense and is no longer equally frightening. It is no longer unthinkable, even if it remains difficult to understand. Habermas’s critique of monological reason, Rawls’s critique of amoral and “neutral” political consensus, and Charles Taylor’s critique of the cultural homogeneity necessary for democracy played a key role in understanding how religious communities could be part of a “reasonable” consensus.

Collective identity

In this regard, it may be enlightening to think of our collective identity as a great river flowing through the territory of our history. This river, which has a source upstream, is fed by a diversity of tributaries along its route. Without ever losing its bed, it drains an entire river system that integrates into its own course. It draws its power from this to advance and maintain itself in its channel. This plurality of inputs contributes to the quality of its waters and the strength of its current, which is impossible to stop, let alone flow back.

As this allegory evokes, it seems to us that the growing diversity of origins and the pluralism of social, cultural, and religious horizons are constitutive, in principle and in fact, of the world’s identity. Better still, they nourish it and maintain it in its course which, in a way, moves out irreversibly to the sea.

However, interculturalism, when it is reduced to a knowledge of the other and to mutual contributions, is insufficient. Integration also requires a process of defining a common membership of the company, as well as the implementation of the conditions for common real participation of all people in this collective life. Responses allowing to enrich the interculturalism model have been made, over the years, particularly through the notions of common public culture and citizenship.

Collectively, we have a responsibility to foster participation active of all in the citizen space. The effective realization of the principle of equality requires a constant commitment of the state and social actors to genuine social democracy. This challenge, therefore, requires a special effort on the part of our public institutions and the political will to intervene in relation to what is likely to marginalize individuals and groups. This challenge also requires our society as a whole to remain vigilant in its fight against all forms of discrimination and stigmatization – in particular those that are related to these phenomena, which are referred to as “heterophobia.”

Democracy and multiculturalism

For Pizzorno (1986: 368), the relationship between democracy and multiculturalism derives from the fact that

“There is a value that only democracy can to achieve: it is not freedom of political choice, but freedom to participate in collective identification processes; and the rights of the latter not to be subjected to any form of discrimination not be destroyed or determined solely by the power of the national state.”

However, if it is true, as Raz (1994: 64) puts it:

“multiculturalism is a problem today and for the foreseeable future – a problem for politics and the ethics of politics,”

Multiculturalism as a social and political phenomenon is not new. The whole history of democratic construction is based on the struggle between groups with different identities, values, and allegiances. But the interest of this problem is, it seems to me, the fact that contemporary theories of democracy seem to be inadequate when it comes to laying down a normative basis for the sustainable (and legitimate) institutional practices, designed to regulate this new social constraint. The theoretical impasses, which are the debate between liberals and communitarians clearly express the uncertainty that prevails in this area (Gianni 1994).

The set of normative positions, ranging from the liberal thesis of “open borders” (Carens 1987), to the communitarian valorization of the virtue of patriotism (MacIntyre 1992), is intimately linked to the issue of multiculturalism and citizenship. Although reaching very different conclusions, all of them aim to resolve the problem of establishing a common identity reference point in a culturally divided society.

You can follow Professor Mohamed Chtatou on Twitter: @Ayurin

About the Author
Dr. Mohamed Chtatou is a Professor of “MENA region area studies” at Université Internationale de Rabat -UIR- and of “Education” at Université Mohammed V in Rabat, as well. Besides, he is currently a political analyst with Moroccan, American, Gulf, French, Italian and British media on politics and culture in the Middle East, Islamism and religious terrorism. He is, also, a specialist on political Islam in the MENA region with interest in the roots of terrorism and religious extremism. During 2015 he worked as Program Director with the USAID/CHEMONICS educational project entitled: “Reading for Success: A Small Scale Experimentation” in cooperation with the Moroccan Ministry of National Education and Vocational Training (MENFP). He recently taught cultural studies to Semester abroad students with AMIDEAST, IES and CIEE study abroad programs in Morocco insuring such courses as: “Introduction to Moroccan Culture,” “Contemporary North African History,” “Arab Spring,” “Amazigh Culture,” “Moroccan Jewish Legacy,” “Community-Based Learning” (internship with civil society organizations). He is, also, currently teaching “Communication Skills” and “Translation and Interpreting” to master students at The Institute for Leadership and Communication Studies –ILCS- in Rabat, Morocco and supervising several Fulbright students in areas of religion and culture in Morocco. He has taught in the past some courses in universities in the USA, Spain, France, Italy, England and Greece.
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