How thin a line between Church and State?

March 27, 2009

Catholic churchgoers in Kerala will soon receive, in addition to the communion, an appeal to not vote for atheists.

The Kerala Catholic Bishops Council has issued a pastoral letter to be read out in Catholic churches from Sunday, urging parishioners to vote for those who uphold secularism and fight terrorism, according to a report in the Indian Express paper.

The church is also keen that people vote for politicians who will fight against euthanasia and abortion, a direct response to the Left-ruled state’s law reforms commission, which favours legalising euthanasia and floating a public trust to run church properties.

The communists have long been at loggerheads with the Catholic church on matters related to religion and education, including how church-run educational institutions — mostly profitable — should be run.

Kerala’s Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil, head of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India, an association of Catholic bishops, went one step further, reportedly calling the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party the “lesser evil” to the state’s Marxists.

Critics of the church say it has no business meddling in affairs of the state — or telling people whom they should vote for — and that the issue is really about money and diverting attention from its own troubles.

Supporters of the church — and the outspoken cardinal — say Christians in India are under attack and it is only fair that the church look out for itself and its people.

No doubt, the rhetoric — and not just from the Catholics — will rise in the runup to the election.  But will the outcome settle the debate on the line between the Church and the state?

12 comments

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Church should confine self to religion and steer clear from politics. There are suitable ways to register protest against a regulation if it is suppressing any right guaranteed to it by Constitution. People go to Church to pray to God and Church should facilitate the prayer. Issuing diktats to Church goers as to how to exercise vote is a clear violation of constitution as it tries to influence vote on lines of religion.

Posted by Rohit | Report as abusive

if hindus, sikhs and muslims can do it, why shouldn’t christians in india?
but by so doing they would be only harming their long term interests.
christian schools run by the missionaries in india have always been looked at as progressive and more human with a positive modernistic outlook.
this step will club them together with fundamentalist groups of other religious faiths

Brij, Hindu religion does not have organizational structure. Hindu practices religion according to his wish and ease. Islam and Christianity do have proper organization, organizational structure and constraints (Going once a week) in place. And yes, doing a wrong and then pointing that wrong was done because of existing incidence does not make wrong a right

Posted by Rohit | Report as abusive

Many of you will find these two posts and the discussion thought-provoking…The first one talks about the elections in Mizoram and the second one is about Kerala:

http://satyameva-jayate.org/2009/01/15/e lections-in-mizoram/

AND

http://satyameva-jayate.org/2009/03/16/a fter-mizoram-kerala/

Rohit is very much correct in his words…
religion is for faith, to prey to God, a way of practicing life to achieve moksha..or anything you can say… being a muslim, i can say Islam never encouraged to mix-up religion with business or politics(if some did or do, that is against its rules…)…

the article says that the chucrh is “urging parishners to vote…” and not “forcing…”. The church would never ‘dictate’ to its people such things. These are guidelines or suggestions if you may, (what has been mentioned in the article) to tell people to THINK before they cast their vote.

But of course, its upto the people to decide who they vote for, in the end.

luther summarised it best: “i would rather be governed by a wise turk than a foolish christian.”

Posted by jd | Report as abusive

Very same Minorities from Kerala enjoyed & were when communist in the name of Ethism sytematically attacked Hinduism. CPIM has been instrumental for decline of Hinduism in Kerala. This move will harm christianity in long term. They should have opposed CPIM when hinduism was targeted insted of aligning with CPIM. CPIM is the communal party ehich devided in line of castiesm.

Posted by Ramakrishna | Report as abusive

Marx famously wrote that when Hegel said history repeats itself, he forgot to mention it would first be as tragedy and second as farce.

The 1957-59 tragedy of the battle between the Communist party and the Catholic church in Kerala has become the farce of 2006-09.

Put another way, fifty years ago the sad tragedy for India was the defeat of an anti-imperialist front. Today, both the Communist Party and their neo-colonial rivals have become Orwell’s pigs and farmers — it is hard to tell the difference.

Where did it go wrong?

The Communists in 1957 formed the first ever government of Kerala, the first popularly elected Communist government in the world (apart from the tiny principality of San Marino in Italy) and the first non-Congress state government in India.

Its opponents were a motley crew of communal groups,
including the church and the Hindu casteist Nair Service Society (NSS), the landed classes, the Congress party and, best of all, the American CIA.

Each had their own agenda and the church’s attacks on the Kerala Left has to be seen in that perspective.

Within Kerala, the land-holding classes were concerned about land reforms that limited holdings and handed over land to the peasants.

The chuch and the NSS ran schools and colleges, and the Communist government’s education reforms meant a loss of control over these institutions. Times were changing.

The Congress party saw the Communists’ victory as the first cracks in the system that ruled the bulk of the country, a system they had had a virtual monopoly on until then.

Don’t forget, it was also the age of the Cold War. Throughout the Third World, the United States seated and unseated presidents and shahs and emirs, staged coups, overthrew governments, and forged alliances with conservative and religious groups materially and spiritually opposed to communism.

The Communists had mass appeal in Kerala to the millions of peasants and workers at the bottom of the heap. The ruling elite banded together behind an anti-Communist banner to preserve priveleges they held for centuries.

The Communists, not Congress, had unseated the autocratic Dewan of Travancore who wanted to turn the province into an independent country with an an independent “American model” system of laissez-faire capitalism.

Things moved so far that Kerala was compared by an American scholar to the Chinese province of Yenan, from where Mao Tse Tung started the final phase of the Chinese revolution.

American anxiety at the Kerala victory, therefore, was not surprising, they would hardly want a third major Marxist state.

The church thundered against the Communists, refused them burial on consecrated grounds, excommunicated party members and forbade the faithful from contact with them.

It sent the religious on the path of the “liberation
struggle,” lobbied with the Congress government in New Delhi, and funneled CIA money to fund the movement.

In the end, that battle was won by the anti-communist camp. In 1959, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru dismissed the Kerala government on the shaky grounds the state was becoming ungovernable. Nehru invoked the constitution to do so, but the political motives were barely disguised.

AND THE FARCE

Fast forward fifty years, the battle between the church and the Left Democratic Front (LDF) has moved from ideology to hard cash and privileges.

As Marx would have called it, the “farce” began with the previous Congress-led United Democratic Front government’s decision to open up the higher education sector to private players.

In the subsequent free-for-all, a rash of colleges welled up, many of them run by the church and various Hindu caste associations, all flying in the face of state-set regulatory standards on admissions. Bluntly, they used bribes as the benchmark rather than test scores.

They were no doubt emboldened by a government headed by Oommen Chandy, which turned a blind eye to the scandal. Of Chandy, it was said, he was guided by three Ms: Manorama (the media group), Muthoot (the business house, into which Chandy married into) and Methran (the bishops).

A collision was inevitable when the LDF came to power, with private colleges refusing to follow state-set standards for admissions, fees and reservations.

The years that followed saw strikes by the CPI(M)-backed Students Federation of India, lawsuits by colleges and abuses exchanged between the church eminences and the party apparatchick.

Among other things, it led to the Stalinist state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan calling the bishop of Tamarasherry “a wretched creature and a liar.”

It also sparked a pastoral letter by the acerbic archbishop of Thrissur on the perils of atheism, rationalism and how godless communists were trying to destroy the nation’s spiritual core.

The war-of-words had the normally sensible Cardinal Varkey Vithayatil to say he preferred the BJP to the godless communists, even as Hindu fascists raped and murdered Christians in the country.

Vithayathil, the chief of the Catholic bishops’s conference, was seen as a moderate, and had earlier made conciliatory comments towards the Communists.

As in 1957, the state fight between the Congress and the Left was sharpened during these years. Once again, the United States’ imperialistic agenda was challenged by the Left, and only the Left, for whatever it was worth.

But unlike in 1957, the Left is no longer the same as the old Communist Party. The party rivals the church as the state’s largest entrepeneur, siphoning off public money, and running amusement parks.

It has embraced capitalism, special economic zones and as Pinarayi once said, has determined that revolution was passe.

“zahan to vahi hai lekin dil / ham aahak nahi hai ab” — “the bodies are the same but the hearts / do not beat the same.”

Posted by Cheri | Report as abusive

Cheri,

Spare a beedi, have a match-stick to light?

Posted by Madhu | Report as abusive

All things must not come to an end, they must reinvent themselves; that goes for the church and the comrades. Both have their history to preserve and despite their desperation to protect themselves, they have both contributed their bit to the development of the Kerala society.

However, the Communist party leaders, like the rest of the nation’s political community, have forgotten what grassroot working means; they love the air-conditioned rooms; they can spot designer clothes from a good distance and now have reached a stage where they are not sure what course of action will be relevant and will take them where.

The church in Kerala has thrived on using money and business might to keep its flock together; The few who have tried to reach to people from their hearts have often, like in Communist parties, have found themselves marginalised.

This election may also see the beginning of the end of the all-encompassing politician; the time has come for people to start wondering about the relevance of these unique creatures.

Posted by anand | Report as abusive

[...] blogs.reuters.comKERALA, INDIA, March 27, 2009: Catholic churchgoers in Kerala receive, in addition to the communion, [...]

[...] blogs.reuters.comKERALA, INDIA, March 27, 2009: Catholic churchgoers in Kerala receive, in addition to the communion, an appeal on their political choices.The Kerala Catholic Bishops Council has issued a pastoral letter to be read out in Catholic churches, urging parishioners to vote for those who uphold secularism and fight terrorism, according to a report in the Indian Express paper. The church is also keen that people vote for politicians who will fight against euthanasia and abortion, a direct response to the Marxist-ruled stateճ law reforms commission.br /br /Keralaճ Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil, head of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India, an association of Catholic bishops, went one step further, reportedly calling the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party the Ҭesser evilӠto the stateճ Marxists./phr / [...]

Religion should not dictate Politics. Religion is nothing but a discipline and should be a path of living. Going to a religious institute like Church/Mosque/Temple.. should bring in an inner peace rather than a agitating and provoke thought of hatred violence. If every religion condemns hatred and killing..why is that people who go to the religious institute still live around with the feeling of hatred. This is very simple the minds of people are corrupted with hatred and really makes no difference if you go or don’t go to any religious institutions.

Posted by Avinash | Report as abusive