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On the Uses (and Abuses) of Religion in the Public Square by Public Officials –

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I am not quite a Rawlsian when it comes to the use of religion in the public square. I tend to be a mixture of the Hauerwasian and the Habermasian in these things. 

So it piqued my interest when, three days after the NTC “killed” analog ABS-CBN, I read House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano ‘s statement crucifying Sol Gen Calida for his alleged “constitutional meddling” in a matter that belongs to the legislature’s “sphere sovereignty”, to use that very Protestant concept. 

I know Sol Gen Calida knows his Bible very well — not too long ago I read his published testimony about how the Lord Jesus Christ transformed his heart from his younger womanizing ways into a dedicated husband. 

I wonder what his reaction will be when he reads the long note from his fellow avid Bible reader, Speaker Cayetano, which starts with prophetic warning from the ancient Jewish prophet Jeremiah: “But you, LORD, know all their plots to kill me. Do not forgive their crimes or blot out their sins from your sight. Let them be overthrown before you; deal with them in the time of your anger.”(Jeremiah 18:23, NIV)

Any plain reading of the biblical text deployed here would give the impression that, per Speaker Cayetano, Sol Gen Calida :

1. Has been plotting to “kill” the Speaker (at the very least, figuratively);
2. It is sinful of Sol Gen Calida to do so;
3. Sol Gen Calida, a self-confessed born again Christian like Speaker Cayetano, is a sinner who does not deserve forgiveness;
4. God will overthrow Sol Gen Calida for his sins against Speaker Cayetano;
5. And God will do so in the time of God’s anger.

These are powerful statements, perhaps, as powerful as the one attributed to Pilate by the gospel writers –

‘When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”‘ (Matthew 27:24, NIV)

PS – apologies to my Reformed Protestant friends; like Speaker Cayetano, I use the NIV out of evangelical habits, though for deeper study, I tend to use my old red Oxford Revised Standard Bible (that standard liberal text!).

Written by Romel

May 8, 2020 at 4:02 am

When Filipino evangelical christians invoke Romans 13 like a magical incantation….

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For the German Calvinist jurist Johannes Althusius (1557-1638), the biblical call to obey divinely-ordained rulers presupposes, to begin with, that they are legitimate representatives of God. 

However, when they offend God and defy true religion, they cease to be God’s servants and become tyrannous. As tyrants, they lose their political offices and return to private life; they then become subject to the natural rights of self-defense. 

Althusius was the first thinker – Protestant or Catholic – to offer a systematic account of political and communal life (probably outside of Thomas Aquinas). 

This he made in his famous work Politica Methodice Digesta, Atque Exemplis Sacris et Profanis Illustrata (1610), which is often invoked as the political theoretical basis of federated states today as well as of the Protestant political principle of” sphere sovereignty.

Althusius, according to the American legal scholar John Witte in his 2007 book Reformation of Rights, is distinguished for his idea that tyranny is essentially a “constitutional violation.” 

By this, he means “a violation of the political covenant by which the polity itself was constituted, a violation of the constitutional duties of the rulers and the fundamental rights of the people as set out in this political covenant, and even more fundamentally a violation of the natural law and natural rights that undergird and empower all constitutions and covenants.” 

Witte explains further:

‘For Althusius, a tyrant was a magistrate who acted “illegally and unnaturally” (contra legem et naturam) in breach of the contractual and covenantal duties that he or she swore to God and to the people. Any “egregious,” “chronic,” “persistent,” “pervasive,” “willful,” “intentional,” and “widespread” breach of a ruler’s constitutional duties, abuse of his constitutional powers, neglect of his constitutional offices, usurpation of another’s constitutional office, or violation of the people’s constitutional rights and liberties was, for Althusius, a prima facie case of tyranny. ‘

Here, the jurist of Emden was merely following the logic of John Calvin’s commentary on Romans 13. Here, Calvin writes for instance that:



Magistrates may hence learn what their vocation is, for they are not to rule for their own interest, but for the public good; nor are they endued with unbridled power, but what is restricted to the wellbeing of their subjects; in short, they are responsible to God and to men in the exercise of their power. For as they are deputed by God and do his business, they must give an account to him: and then the ministration which God has committed to them has a regard to the subjects, they are therefore debtors also to them. And private men are reminded, that it is through the divine goodness that they are defended by the sword of princes against injuries done by the wicked (emphasis supplied).

Althusius, says Witte, also considered as prima facie tyrannical violations of due process the following, especially if done systematically

“false arrests, accusations, indictments, and sentences of innocent parties, false imprisonment or protracted pre-trial incarceration, torture, starvation, or enslavement of prisoners, use of anonymous indictments and untested evidence, denial of rights to defend oneself, to have counsel, to examine hostile witness, to introduce exculpatory evidence, or even to have one’s day in court following prescribed procedures, imposition of extraor- dinary tribunals or ex post facto laws, use of biased, bribed, or incompetent judges, imposition of unjust, inequitable, or widely variant punishments, failure to grant appeals of motions, judgments, or sentences, excessive fines, cruel punishments, and more.”

For Althusius, these systematic abuses require a systematic constitutional response.

Now dear Filipino Protestant evangelical christians, please apply that to our current political quandary.

Seerveld on Psalm 19

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The below should have gone online in January last year, but for some reason, it got stuck in my drafts. So I am publishing it now.

The Revised Common Lectionary Psalm Reading for this Sunday (January 27) is Psalm 19.

I am reminded of these thoughts by reformational scholar Cal Seerveld on this chapter of the Psalms:

While we as God’s people necessarily go first to the Bible (Ephesians 6:4) for the Lord’s disciplining and setting our consciousness straight: while we search the gospels, proverbs, Psalm 19, the prophets and epistles to be convicted in depth of the reality of creation, the historicity of sin, the lordship of Yahweh revealed in Jesus Christ and the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit among his people until the Lord finally returns: that is, while we go first of all to Holy Scripture to get biblical eyesight, biblical insight, and to receive the fear of the Lord which is the headstart of wisdom, then we who become adopted children of God and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit must needs go search creation for drafting our fallible, christian solutions to the problems facing us in our sin-cursed world and society-which still belongs to the Lord and us!

That’s nothing new. But I’m saying with the authority of God’s written Word, Psalm 19, that no follower of Jesus Christ need be uneasy about whether study of biology, psychology or aesthetics is full-time kingdom service for the Lord.

We must not succumb to the temptation to use the Bible as an answer sheet to check out our biological taxonomy, as a chart of personality types, or like a Ouija board to determine “what now is art and music?” That would be a cheap misuse of the Bible and express an illegitimate, Immature desire for a ready-made, instant christian culture that shoves off on god what he entrusts us to do historically, generations mindful of the generations still to come. What we need is a richer grasp of creation in our christian philosophy and evangelical theology, and a new, urgent sense of doing scholarship as a community of saints, so that we can live with the spill-over of Christ’s promise in John 14-17 that the Holy Spirit will indeed lead us who are faithful to the end in the way of Truth (of. especially 16:12-15).

I’d like to add that Psalm 19 also speaks eloquently of the creational and creaturely ways in which all of creation has been constituted by God, for human flourishing. That is what we mean when we speak of creation – including our bodies, and the family as a natural community — as an ordered reality.  We deny that only at own peril.

Written by Romel

April 1, 2020 at 7:32 am

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Disclosure in the global economic crunch

While we were away, stock markets the world over crashed. And the story is greed getting the best of them writ large. The trouble is, when the high and the mighty are humbled, the rest of the world suffers. It seemed only a matter of time, following the collapse of the American sub-prime mortgage market, for the domino-like effect to finally make its presence felt in the world market. The integration of many economies into a multi-layered world market only made an economic catastrophe so much easier to happen. Now it seems inevitable that we’re headed for a frightening global recession.

Once again, the private is no longer so private. Deregulation in the name of the primordial interest of private capital is exposed as untenable. Thus we see the private becoming a legitimate public interest as well. Or, as the Dutch philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd would put it, the private sphere has enkaptic interlacements with the public sphere. The market activities of huge transnational corporations left to their own devices have public ramifications. Governments ought to respect the internal integrity of the market; that is, give it space to function as it should. But it doesn’t mean that governments give everything up in the name of deregulation. In other words, it is not deregulation for its own sake. Some oversight is still needed, to make sure that the market does not overstep public legal bounds.

The current global economic crunch somehow demonstrates that the realms of both the transnational and the international have an integrated public sphere on which private transactions rest. It cannot be otherwise. States and transnational corporations cannot be allowed to run like Hobbesian monads with no other consideration but their own interests. This process of “disclosure” — of the differentiation and integration of the world into a global economy, highlights the fact of such things as the global commons, of public goods that are a concern of everyone in the place, precisely because what happens to them affects everyone else, as well as of an inevitable interdependence that cannot be founded on the interest of only one state.

……………………..

Two books just off the press!

The annual book fair came and went with a nary a comment on this page. In fact, I should have, because I have two important reasons for it. But first, a disclosure that in more than one way, I have a personal stake in these two important reasons. In the case of the first, Dr. Jonathan V. Exiomo’s book Interpreting the Text: Towards a Filipino Biblical Hermeneutics from a Ricouerian Perspective, I served as an editor. In the case of the second, Roderick G. Galam’s The Promise of the Nation: Gender, History and Nationalism in Contemporary Ilocano Literature, I was a conspirator in some way (well, when I was an editor of the Philippine Law Journal, I published in the journal in article form what is now a chapter in the book. I was also the author’s sounding board when he was completing the book). Both works break new ground in their respective author’s chosen fields. The first book is published under the auspices of the Alliance Graduate School, the second, of the Ateneo University Press. And both authors are friends of mine. Mr. Galam and I go a long way; we had been friends since our college days and in fact, were residents of that infamous and late lamented Narra Residence Hall at the University of the Philippines in Diliman and fellow members of the now defunct Narra Christian Fellowship (NCF). Dr. Exiomo, president of the Alliance Graduate School, is a fellow founding member of the Alliance Book Club, a small group of like-minded friends who like to discuss ideas and their relevance to the contemporary world.

I promise to post an extended review of the two books soon.

Written by Romel

October 7, 2008 at 4:27 am

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