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Does PNG need a ‘Christian country’ declaration?

"The government has to recognise that declaring PNG a Christian country can prove detrimental to national unity"

| My Land, My Country

LAE - The Papua New Guinea government has begun a survey to draw public views on a proposal to change the constitution to declare PNG a Christian country.

The Constitutional Law Reform Commission is taking carriage of the task.

Social media blasts followed the initial announcement and teams have been travelling to the provinces to speak to various groups.

The glaring questions on the minds of many people is this: Do we really need to spend that kind of money for a survey on a constitutional change to accommodate a religion? Is it really needed at this point in time?

As a country, we have so many highly divisive issues that we have to contend with.

PNG has spent the last 50 years trying to work through its cultural differences and we have managed to achieve some semblance of co-existence.

It’s not perfect and there are problems seething beneath the surface. We are still a very tribal nation. Allegiance, for a vast majority of people, is to tribe first, then to country.

The Westminster system, imported and implanted with the view of giving every one fair representation, continues to clash with those affiliations.

Politics and religion are human constructs created for the purpose of keeping order in society. Each comes with its own deities and followers.

Our politics has always been sexist and divisive. The discrimination against women candidates is glaringly obvious during elections. The voice of women is silent in this parliament.

There are multiple versions of Christianity.

Sometimes those differences erupt into physical confrontation among street preachers.

We still have long way to go in terms of religious tolerance within the confines of Christianity itself.

Muslims, despite being here as a community for over 40 years, continue to face discrimination.

Members of the Baha’i faith, who have been active participants in the development of PNG since 1954, face similar levels misunderstanding.

Unlike other countries in the region which have more than 150 years of cross cultural exchange, many PNG communities began to experience these only in the last 50 years.

When our founders drafted Section 45 of the Constitution, in their wisdom they foresaw the complications that would come about if they wrote in a specific declaration making PNG a Christian country.

How does one unify 800 nations with their own spiritual beliefs and various adopted denominations of Christianity? By allowing freedom of conscience, thought, religion and beliefs.

Section 45 cautions against forcing people to subscribe to a religion. However, religious education can be given to a child with the consent of the child’s parents.

The government has to recognise that declaring PNG a Christian country can prove detrimental to national unity.

Do we really need that?

There is a relatively large demographic of people who will readily listen to so called Christian leaders who preach that other world religions are ungodly and unwelcome. 

A constitutional amendment could give rise to our own version religious extremism.

It will alter the course of party politics and foster religious intolerance.

The question we should ask is: Who are the faceless supporters of this proposal?


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Peter Kranz

The administrators of British New Guinea had to keep the denominations apart by carving the territory into spheres of influence to stop the London Missionary Society, Catholics and Anglicans from fighting amongst themselves for the right to save souls.

The Germans tried much the same thing in German New Guinea. Neither attempt worked.

So which version of Christianity is it to be, Mr Marape? As a Seventh Day Adventist I am sure you are familiar with their belief, held in common with many other Evangelicals, that the Catholic Church is "the mother of all harlots" mentioned in Revelation.

I have seen fights amongst PNG street preachers claiming their version is the truth and everyone else is wrong and bound for eternal damnation because they worship on a different day of the week. Not a good start.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Whatever his reasons the outcome of Marape's quest to make PNG a Christian country will be dragging it backwards into something like the Middle Ages.

This medieval period culminated in lots of difficulties and calamities, including famine, plague, and war, which significantly diminished the population of Europe.

Controversy, heresy, and the schism within the Catholic Church paralleled the conflict, civil strife, and peasant revolts that occurred.

Seems like Marape has got his finger exactly on the world's pulse.

Chips Mackellar

On the other hand, Mr Marape might well consider what the Americans considered way back in 1791 when they changed their Constitution with its First Amendment which begins "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

Chris Overland

The long and appalling history of religious influence on politics is so well documented that it is startling that James Marape should even contemplate writing a particular religion into the constitution.

A key axiom of any modern state should be that there is a clear separation between church and state.

Those states which have an official state religion are not democratic in nature, mostly being either outright theocracies like Iran, Saudi Arabia and several other countries in the Middle East or very authoritarian in nature like Egypt or Jordan.

The Christian church has an especially awful history in Europe, having spawned numerous wars and many atrocities, notably the systemic and systematic persecution of the Jews, which reached its apotheosis in the Holocaust (which the Jews call the Shoah) perpetrated by the Nazis.

Of more recent times, the intolerance and violence of various Islamic fascist groups has caused enormous suffering and harm.

Religion is, of its very nature, irrational, illogical, mystical and, very frequently, violently intolerant of dissent. These are qualities that have been a disastrous influence across history and certainly have no place in the governance of any country.

As others have pointed out, the Christian faith is riven with sectarianism and theological and philosophical disputation. This is very much the case for all of the mono-theistic religions, although religions like Hinduism and Buddhism also are prone to it as well.

Christian influence is waning across much of the developed world due to various reasons, notably the impact of higher education and an associated realisation that science is infinitely more successful in explaining the world than is religion.

Mainstream Christianity is most affected by this decline, while the more extreme and radical evangelical and Episcopalian movements are still growing.

PNG's ancient religious beliefs were animistic in nature while Christianity is a colonial imposition. I cannot imagine a worse idea than deciding to embed a foreign religion in the country's constitution.

It will be a licence for the religious to interfere in the political system and history shows us that this invariably leads to bad outcomes.

PNG's founders got it right in the first instance and James Marape and his colleagues should leave well enough alone.

Paul Oates

If there is one thing PNG really needs, its a unifying influence for the nation in the face of innumerable factors that tend to pull it apart. Claiming Christianity is not surprising, as there has been a number of various Christian influences imported and installed in PNG for over two centuries. Yet as Phil points out, exactly which branch of Christianity will be promoted and how will this be enacted?

If PNG looks to the history of European Christianity, it can hardly have many good examples to follow. Four hundred years ago, people were burnt at the stake for believing the Pope was not infallible. More recently, the belt buckle of German soldiers read ‘Got mit uns’ meaning ‘God is with us’ as they attacked fellow Christians during two world wars who incidentally also believed the Christian God was with them.

If one was to look at the situation in countries like Ireland, claiming a different variety of Christian faith has not been a unifying factor but quite the reverse.

So exactly what is behind this new initiative? Is there an obvious desire to create a common bond that transcends tribalism? Is this a genuine wish to improve the lives of PNG’s people? If so, how will this actually help?

It’s really hard to believe this is just another attempt at ‘smoke and mirrors’ to deflect any critical look at what is really happening? As has been pointed out, if there was a genuine desire to move to Christian values and standards, are these the ones exemplified in the New Testament before a huge number of people then modified these ideas and concepts to suit themselves and then to maintain the ‘status quo’ that had developed?

The relatively modern evolution of the Westminster system, where government decisions are eventually resolved after adversarial debate, is hardly a recipe for achieving common ground? If those who designed the PNG Constitution had consulted the few Kiaps and other ‘outside’ people who actually worked with the vast majority of PNG people, there may well have been a better solution that might have been achieved. But that would have required enough time to properly consult and listen to all that PNG people who had at the time, very clear views about the issues of nationhood.

It is therefore very hard to believe this initiative is anything more than an attempt at introducing a vague, imaginary and benign influence while at the same time, the real intention is to deceive those who thirst for a better deal from those who are following an entirely different set of rules and personal agendas and objectives.

Speaking of objectives, if this initiative is genuine, why not specifically spell out what is behind the concept and then be held accountable for its implementation? Is there a specific timeline for implementation and who will audit any achievements? Will those who claim to be undertaking this concept be prepared to be taken to task if the funds spent on this initiative don’t produce a better result in the health and welfare of the PNG nation not to mention government decisions? Who will be the judge and jury? Will a PNG Council of Churches be effectively funded by the PNG government to provide effective health and education services when government services are not fully funded and fail?

Come to think of it. When was the last time anyone saw fairies at the end of the garden?

Philip Fitzpatrick

Scott Waide reiterates the oft repeated observation that the Westminster system of government bequeathed to Papua New Guinea by Australia is ill fitting.

“We are still a very tribal nation. Allegiance, for a vast majority of people, is to tribe first, then to country.

“The Westminster system, imported and implanted with the view of giving every one fair representation, continues to clash with those affiliations.”

Creating a unity of purpose among the disparate groups in Papua New Guinea was always going to be a hard task and there are plenty of other examples in the world where it has failed.

Be it religious differences, such as the Shiites and Sunnis in the Middle East, or tribal differences, such as the Tutsi and Hutu in Rwanda, those differences make governance extremely difficult.

Australia was predisposed to introducing a Westminster system into Papua New Guinea for the simple reason that it was a system it used itself and which it thought was the pinnacle of representative democracy.

If it had seriously considered the situation it might have logically come to the conclusion that something approaching socialism might have been a better option.

Such a system would have better represented traditional Melanesian forms of governance and would have been easier for people to understand.

Instead of becoming the first prime minister, Michael Somare could have become the chief bikman, or president.

That, of course, would have been anathema to the Australian government and didn’t happen.

What has happened instead is that the Westminster system in Papua New Guinea has become subverted into a sort of bastardised form of governance where the members of parliament follow tribal allegiances rather than a national allegiance.

Finding a common thread to overcome the inherent differences in Papua New Guinean society might be what James Marape has in mind with his push for a constitutional change to make the nation a Christian entity.

However, just as the Westminster system has been subverted into a quasi-democratic form of governance, a binding Christian affiliation could very well lead to something resembling a theocracy.

If Marape is successful much power will accrue to the Christian churches and there will undoubtedly be much jockeying for position in the same manner as say Protestants and Catholics vied for supremacy in Ireland.

It would be a retrograde step and would certainly not be consistent with Melanesian forms of governance.

Hopefully, enough people in Papua New Guinea will see this and reject the proposal.

Maybe then Marape might seriously consider how the current Westminster system can be formally modified to cater for Melanesian aspirations.

Martin Roy

With respect to other religious groups - no. How can you call yourself Christian country when MPs and businessmen alike have more than one wife; corruption; tribal fights; and the list goes on. Maybe after the next 50 years.

B J Gough

Scott - The question we also need to ask is, 'Who are the faceless opposers of this proposal?'

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