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The unChristianity of becoming a Christian state

Secularity v christianityROBIN OGE
| DevPolicy Blog

PORT MORESBY - In a recent article, Dr Eugene Ezebilo of the Papua New Guinea National Research Institute asserts that “PNG’s Constitution does not recognise Christianity as the country’s religion”.

He proposes that if PNG wants to be a Christian state, Section 45 of the Constitution should be amended to specifically recognise Christianity as the state religion and a state church be established.

Following this, the PNG National Executive Council recently approved a proposal to formally declare PNG a Christian country under the Constitution.

While this may seem logical for a country like PNG where 97% of its people identify as Christians, the framers of the Constitution understood that it would result in religious authoritarianism, a pernicious consequence.

The PNG Constitution finds its origins in God. It protects every man, woman and child and gives them certain unalienable rights while simultaneously conferring upon them certain obligations and duties towards fellow humans.

One could certainly argue, and indeed I would, that the PNG Constitution is founded on objective moral laws, values and duties, and the idea that God is the source of objective moral laws, values and duties, and, therefore, that God is the source of the Constitution of PNG.

The Preamble to the Constitution states in no uncertain terms that this nation was established under the “guiding hand of God” and pledges to pass on to future generations the “Christian principles that are ours now”.

Beyond these references in the Preamble, however, Dr Ezebilo is correct that Christianity or God is not explicitly part of the PNG Constitution.

Section 45 deals with freedom of conscience, thought and religion, and makes no reference to Christianity. This omission is intentional.

First, an explicit preference for a particular religion in Section 45 would be a direct contradiction of that very clause.

Second, Section 45 emanates from rich Christian concepts that find their origins in God.

The freedom to choose was given by God so that humans can decide to love and obey Him freely, for without the freedom to choose a person cannot truly love.

It ultimately follows that a person can decide to not love and obey his fellow humans and God. Therefore, Section 45 when referring to the human right of freedom of conscience, thought and religion is not in contradiction with Christian principles and teaching. It is consistent with them.

The case of Somare v Zurenuoc 2016, regarding the removal of sculptures from the National Parliament, hinged on the National Court’s interpretation of Section 45 of the Constitution.

The court’s interpretation was as follows: that everyone has the right to practice, manifest and propagate their religion and beliefs.

However, they are subject to a number of restrictions including not interfering with the freedom of others, not intervening in an unsolicited way into the religious affairs of other persons who have different beliefs, and, finally, not forcing their religion on other persons.

This interpretation is in harmony with Christianity.

The unification of the church and state would present several significant problems. Throughout history, it has resulted in states usurping power by claiming divine authority for political use.

The inquisitions throughout Europe at the beginning of the twelfth century are evidence of states managed by tyrannical clergies and evil politicians.

Second, the separation prevents undue influence on the church by the state. Every government measure is compelled by the use of force, which stands in direct contradiction to the principles of the Christian church.

The union of the church and state would result in the latter corrupting the former. History is replete with the desecration of churches by the state, such as the infiltration and corruption of the early Christian church by the Roman government.

Third, which church would actually be selected as the state church? PNG is home to a number of thriving and in some ways competing denominations.

The American legislator Thomas Jefferson recognised the importance of the separation of church and state.

Thanks to his and others’ efforts, the First Amendment to the US Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

This ensures both that the government does not show preference to a certain religion and that the government does not take away an individual’s ability to exercise religion.

In other words, the church should not rule over the state, and the state cannot rule over the church. With the separation of church and state, the freedom of religion and conscience is assured, conflict becomes less likely and cooperation for the common good is much more likely.

Robin OgeChristianity contains the foundational principles that permeate the Constitution of PNG. A lack of preference for Christianity and establishment of any official religion in the PNG Constitution is crucial for the sustenance of order and harmony in PNG.

It would be unchristian to amend the Constitution to give preference to Christianity.

Robin Oge is a medical doctor and public health scientist at the Port Moresby General Hospital


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Philip Kai Morre

The PNG Constitution is one of the best in the world because it was drafted by the learned people of that time.

Fr John Momis who was in effective charge of the constitutional planning committee consulted his professor of canon law at Bomana Catholic Seminary to assist with the draft with the help of seminarians.

They had a theological background but had no bias towards other religions of the world and were fair in embracing other religions. Freedom of religion is a universal ethic and we should not be prejudiced and think that ours is the best.

The constitution itself has a Christian foundation and there is no need to amend it or declare PNG a Christian state.

What value is there in another declaration of Christianity when we don't practise what is meant to be a Christian.

Even the imported King James Version of the Bible meant to transform parliament has had no effect.

Lindsay F Bond

In my earlier comment, please accept an item of errata, an intended verb "is" in place of an unintended pronoun 'it'.
Thus to read: With hindsight of just 45 years of PNG Constitution and its issue of governance, beware what is pointed to by politicians in words that are intentionally misleading or hopelessly unachievable.

Chris Overland

Robin Oge puts forward a compelling theological argument for not altering the PNG constitution to require it to be a Christian country.

History strongly supports his view that religion can be easily hijacked by authoritarians and fanatics and transformed into an instrument of oppression. In fact, this is the history of religion in a nutshell, especially the so-called religions of the book.

Monotheism is peculiarly incapable of either accepting or even tolerating contrary views. History is riddled with examples of grotesque injustices and bloody warfare that originated in religious disputation.

Put simply, it is only when religion is firmly and unequivocally separated from the state that a truly tolerant society can begin to be constructed.

I would argue that many of the USA's current social divisions are often exacerbated by religious extremism in various forms.

This is especially true where a political leader like Donald Trump, a man spectacularly devoid of any authentic religious belief, consciously uses religious symbology for his own entirely self interested purposes.

While I would not suggest that James Marape is anything remotely like Donald Trump, his own strong religious opinions may lead him into grave error in relation to this matter.

The warning from history is clear enough: do not nominate any particular religion to be the state religion, lest you sentence the country to sectarian conflict that can last generations and cause enormous suffering and harm.

Philip Fitzpatrick

And of course it's entirely possible to follow the sorts of better ethical norms of a Christian life without the necessity of coercion from either the state or the established religious organisations.

You don't have to be a Christian to be a good person. Sometimes being a Christian can be a bad thing in itself.

You don't have to be a Christian nation to be a good country. To wit, many so-called Christian nations are run by evil people.

The existence of a supreme being is purely speculation on the part of human beings. There is no proof that any gods exist.

Tying a nation to a speculative theory with no scientific basis is tantamount to stupidity.

Michael Lorenz

"The freedom to choose was given by God so that humans can decide to love and obey Him freely, for without the freedom to choose a person cannot truly love."

That's right.
Besides, the idea of a state having a particular religion is a bit weird really. States are a human construct, "made by hands" so to speak, utterly unable to possess any awareness of a creator, or the guidance of the prophets, or a spirit that sustains us. They are as dumb as a rock. :-)

Lindsay F Bond

Robin, your presentation is commendable, yet bear with my unease at the word 'preference'.

To make more manifest such 'preference' would likely evolve aspects more robust than mere 'preference', as is a fundament in the word 'establish', as is a primary of proselytizing, as is key to performance data for those with intent on simplistic metrics.

As stated in your presentation "Christian principles that are ours now". Perhaps what is yet to be fulfilled is the sufficiency in servitude as a gifting of self (that ought materialize as love) by each to all neighbours. As some might say, that is a tough gig.

With hindsight of just 45 years of PNG Constitution and its issue of governance, beware what it pointed to by politicians in words that are intentionally misleading or hopelessly unachievable.

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