BY GANJIKI D WAYNE
AS DEBATE ON reforms to our sex laws and other moral questions intensify, conversation often flows to Christianity and its application to our national legislative programs and social engineering projects.
Why should its precepts and principles be applied in shaping our society? Why should it have prominence over other religious or irreligious opinions? Why do we even call Papua New Guinea a “Christian country”?
Increasingly people question the merits of calling PNG a “Christian country”. Christian leaders often say our constitution declares PNG a “Christian country” so we must therefore adhere to Christian principles.
They are mistaken. Our constitution does not make such a declaration. However it does subscribe explicitly to Christian principles.
I’d like to put forward the following argument in light of the preamble to the constitution—our “Declaration of Independence”. What does it really say?
The preamble contains the “spirit” of the constitution and, by extension, the nation. In law, the spirit of a document is a significant aid to interpretation.
Without the letter the spirit is ineffective and dead; but without the spirit the letter is without ultimate meaning, without coherence and is vulnerable to abusive interpretation.
Whilst many argue on the “letter” of the constitution, few really understand its spirit.
Our founding fathers and the drafters of the constitution—after nationwide consultation and affirmation from the people—put into the preamble a pronouncement of certain fundamental beliefs and values that as a nation we would (or should) live by.
These foundations provide a coherent ethos for our nation. Such an ethos is necessary for our society to maintain some coherence and, dare I say, order.
Some of those principles include: the declaration of being “united as one nation”; the memory of our ancestors; the people-power basis for our democracy; the prominence of the dignity of the human being and community; the rejection of violence and encouragement of peaceful consensus; and hard work and equitable sharing of benefits for all.
These are but few of the foundation pillars set for our country. Among them, the preamble declares—in fact it pledges!—to “guard and pass on to those who come after us our noble traditions and the Christian principles that are ours now”.
The writers included Christianity as a major facet for our national society. This has, through ignorance of the real wording of the preamble, been taken to mean that the constitution declares PNG to be a “Christian country”.
Perhaps it’s only a matter of argument whether it’s a declaration or not. But for me it’s quite clear. Our declaration lays down a pledge to do two things for the Christian worldview in PNG: to guard it and to pass it on.
Christian principles form part of the fundamental philosophical makeup of our nation, meant to permeate not only the private lives of us the citizens but every objective strategy we think up for progress as a nation.
As a people we are called by the supreme document of our land, to guard those Christian principles we had wisely adopted. So when challenged by philosophies and ideologies directly contradictory to those Christian principles, the Christian principles be given prominent consideration. That is our duty under the constitution.
And if our first basic social obligation (under that same preamble by the way) is anything to go by, we are called to “respect and act” in the spirit of the constitution. Notice it does not say we must respect and act according to the “letter” of the constitution.
Our writers knew the fallacy of leaning on the letter alone. We must be guided by that “spirit”—and therefore by extension the Christian principles.
For those naysayers who insist we are not a nation built on Christian principles, our constitution leaves no doubt (unlike the American declaration of independence which is not as explicit) that it is indeed part and parcel of our pillars.
And further reading of the writings of John Momis, Sir Michael Somare and the late Bernard Narakobi will confirm this explicit subscription to the Gospel of Christ. And to say otherwise would be to disagree with the spirit of the constitution...the same one that gives us the right to argue one way or the other.
Where there is a need for coherence in our society where shall we get it? Should we spin a bottle on every separate issue and apply that worldview to which it points; regardless of the contradiction and incoherence in society?
I contend that we need no such exercise. Our preamble—the spirit of our nation—provides such a coherence, it defines us sufficiently.
If we should look everywhere but there we may end up sufficiently confused, frustrated, without direction and without identity. And even if we gain so much ground yet we may effectively get nowhere.
God Bless Papua New Guinea.