The World

Democracy and religion in dialogue at the World Congress of Law

The theme Democracy, Constitution and freedom will be the focus of the World Congress of Law, to be held in Madrid this February, convened by the World Jurist Association. The social role of religion will also be discussed.

Omnes-February 8, 2019-Reading time: 4 minutes

-TEXT Carlos de la Mata Gorostizaga
Lawyer, General Secr. of the Madrid Vivo Foundation

There are many moments in history when attempts have been made to remove, even eradicate, the role of religion in public life. Examples range from the French Revolution, to its persecution during all kinds of war conflicts, through the communist regime of the former USSR, Nazi Germany or Mao Tse Tung's China. In all of them, there are numerous cases in which religions have been persecuted and ostracized, or even disappeared. But in the 21st century, there should be no room for a lack of dialogue with different religions in a framework of coexistence and fraternity. As Pope Francis said in his recent address to the Diplomatic Corps in Rome, "the particularities [of different religions] are not an obstacle to dialogue, but the sap that nourishes it with the common desire to know truth and justice". Both questions, truth and justice, are intrinsic to the human person, and have been treated and analyzed throughout history by philosophers from Plato, with "his idea of the good" to Hegel. But although these ideas of truth and justice may have a certain idealistic character, experience throughout history has shown us that it is in democracy that the concepts of truth and justice have been best embodied, because it is in this political system, as we understand it, that men can express themselves freely.
Dialogue and mutual understanding is the best way to work on differences, and in a democratic state there must be room for all religions, and therefore, we must work with them. Spain is a clear example of how, after such a painful conflict as a civil war and 40 years of dictatorship, it has been possible to establish a solid democracy, under the protection of a constitution that guarantees full freedom of religious practice, as indicated in Article 16, "the ideological, religious and worship freedom of individuals and communities is guaranteed without any limitation, in its manifestations, other than that necessary for the maintenance of public order protected by law.". Numerous international organizations that promote democratic values contemplate religious freedom as one of their pillars. From the European Convention of Human Rights of the Council of Europe, in its article 9, to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of the United Nations, in paragraphs 1 and 2 of its article 18.
We live in a society in which the "liquid modernity" coined by Zygmunt Bauman is becoming more and more prevalent. It is an individualistic, hedonistic society in which there is no room for community values and, therefore, individual selfishness prevails over the common good of society, and in which the lack of moral convictions and the absence of values seem to be more successful than giving oneself to others. The 21st century fears and abjures the concept of neighbor. President Macron himself stressed that in societies such as the French one "weigh" not only the effects of the economic crisis, but also relativism and nihilism, agreeing with Pope Benedict XVI.
The question of Democracy and Religion, in many occasions, especially in Europe, has been expressed as something opposed to each other; and this has been historically seen in a very different way in societies such as the North American one, which has always considered the religious fact as something positive. There, religious freedom has always been the first freedom. And it continues to be the first freedom enshrined in the First Amendment of the American Constitution. Undoubtedly another example of how democracy and religion can and should be compatible.
Undoubtedly, in today's hyperconnected society, in which the immediacy of social networks allows us to access all kinds of news in a matter of minutes, the lie of a lifetime, the so-called "post-truth", has become reality and belief for many people at the click of a button.
That is why a democracy and a constitution are so necessary in modern society, not only to guarantee the rights of individuals, but also to guarantee the fulfillment of duties that provide a framework of coexistence for all.
As President Macron recently recalled, "the Church [let us extrapolate this to all religions], which tried to disengage itself from temporal questions would not respond to the end of its vocation". Because the common good of society also requires the commitment of all religions to it. Whatever the belief of the individual.
The role of the denominations and their commitment to democracy in Spain is beyond doubt. The solution to many of our current problems lies in men and women and in their commitment, as individuals, to society and the democracy that protects us. On many occasions, the attack on the different religions and their role in society has been masked with the defense of secularity, and therefore, the discrimination of many people for the mere fact of being Catholics, Muslims, Jews, etc.
If we were to understand that the defense of secularism means that men and women who practice a religious confession cannot participate in public life, we would be falling into, and therefore justifying, the numerous cases of dictatorships that in the name of the "people" have persecuted, imprisoned and murdered millions of people throughout history.
As Macron said, when he spoke of the death of Colonel Beltrame during a terrorist attack, "Some saw in this gesture the acceptance of the sacrifice rooted in his military vocation [...] and others, especially his wife, interpreted this act as the translation of his ardent Catholic faith prepared for the supreme test of death [...] Some may consider this gesture to be in conflict with secularism [...]. [...] Some may consider his intentions to be in conflict with secularism. [...] Secularism does not have as its function to deny the spiritual in the name of the temporal, nor to uproot from our societies the sacred part that nourishes so many of our fellow citizens.".
Undoubtedly this space for dialogue that the Fundación Madrid Vivo intends to provide during the World Congress of Law, we believe that it is ideal to demonstrate that the union between democracy and religion is not only intrinsic to the human person, but is increasingly necessary to provide values to a society that is increasingly lacking in them.

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