Rendering to God the things that are Caesar's

State Support for Religion

By: Randy David
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Today in Western Europe, fewer and fewer people go to church. Yet, many modern states in that part of the world continue to collect religion’s share of public taxes. Citizens are asked to indicate to which religious group they belong, and, on this basis, a percentage of the tax collected from them is turned over to their church. If a taxpayer signifies that he has no religious affiliation, the corresponding religious tax is not collected. This valuable tax support has, however, not been enough to keep many centuries-old cathedrals and monuments from languishing in neglect and disrepair. This situation has often forced governments to take full responsibility for their rehabilitation and maintenance in recognition of their historic and cultural significance.

In contrast, religious communities in our country are left on their own to collect contributions from their members in order to sustain themselves. They cannot and do not expect the government to do this for them, consistent with our interpretation of the principle of Church-State separation. Still, religious practice remains fervent here, and churches retain a considerable influence in the public sphere that is seldom seen in modern secular societies.

State support for religion has a long history in Europe. In pre-modern times, the promotion of a religious faith was regarded as a primary duty of the state. Political power was routinely used to suppress other religions. Rulers needed religion to strengthen their legitimacy, and religion needed rulers to defend the one true faith. The gradual differentiation of politics from religion gave rise to the modern state and ended this institutional coupling.

But even in modern societies, such differentiation has not entailed a total break from religion. Governments continue to recognize the positive value of religion to society as a source of moral orientation and as a force for social integration. I learned from a German friend that in his country, at least until the 1950s, religious instruction was offered in public schools, which pupils had the option to skip if their parents did not think they needed it. The state paid the salaries of these teachers.

Modern governments have been equally mindful of the religious content of what is regarded as the cultural heritage of the nation. If one visits any of Europe’s majestic churches today, one is likely to find more tourists than religious devotees staring at their vaulted ceilings, a fact that may suggest that state support for these monuments has more to do with commerce than with religion. But, even socialist Cuba, which is explicitly atheistic, finds it important to preserve its colonial cathedrals as part of the nation’s rich architectural heritage instead of seeing them crumble into ruins.

Again, in contrast to Europe, our resolve to keep Church and State separate from one another is sometimes interpreted so dogmatically that it would outlaw any kind of support for religion, beyond giving churches tax-free privileges. Many fail to see that what the Constitution prohibits is not state support for religion per se but the establishment or preferential treatment by the state of a particular religion.

But, irony of all ironies, this situation has not prevented public officials from showering religious clerics with gifts and favors. The recent revelations made by the new administration of the Philippine Charity and Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) of the disbursement of funds earmarked for charity to some bishops in the form of personal vehicles attest to the existence of this practice. It appears to have reached its peak during the time of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Records show that Arroyo treated the PCSO as her own personal bank for dispensing largesse. A favorite defender of her presidency within the Catholic hierarchy, Butuan Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos, wrote her a letter in March 2009 asking for a car as birthday gift. She promptly endorsed this ridiculous request to the PCSO “for appropriate action, please.” Three months later, the PCSO sent a check for P1.7 million to the Butuan diocese, care of Bishop Pueblos. What is one to make of this?

It seems to me that what is being violated here is not so much the principle of Church-State separation or the specific prohibition against using public funds in support of a particular religion. What we have here is plain and simple corruption—the appropriation of public funds for private purposes. The gift to Bishop Pueblos has less to do with advancing the cause of any church or religion than with rewarding him as an individual for his past and future political services. From the way he has conducted himself, it is clear that the bishop is no less a politician than the patron who showers him with gifts. He is as much a liability to religion as he is a problem to politics.

Although I do not regard myself as religious, I am nonetheless cognizant of the function of religious communication in even the most modern society. I believe it is crucial for every society to have a standpoint from which to measure and interrogate its notion of development. One such standpoint is that of perfection. It is not to say that only religion can fulfill this function, but the most potent standpoints of perfection have come from religion.

Read also: Do away with "Inappropriate Exchange of Generosity" by The Windchime


Facebook Divorce Stats: Couples 'Be Wise,' Experts Say

By Michael Foust

Surveys that show Facebook being cited more and more in divorce cases should make spouses think twice before "friending" someone of the opposite sex, experts say.

A 2010 survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers showed that 81 percent of "the nation's top divorce attorneys" reported an increase in social networking websites being used as evidence in divorce cases. Facebook is the leader, being cited in 66 percent of cases that involve online evidence.

"We're coming across it more and more," clinical psychologist Steven Kimmons of Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Ill., said in a news release. "One spouse connects online with someone they knew from high school. The person is emotionally available and they start communicating through Facebook. Within a short amount of time, the sharing of personal stories can lead to a deepened sense of intimacy, which in turn can point the couple in the direction of physical contact."

The Facebook-divorce link has been discussed widely in the social media realm lately thanks to a survey from the United Kingdom supposedly showing Facebook being at least partially blamed for one in five of all divorces. The data is from a U.K. online divorce service that found the word "Facebook" appearing in 989 of the company's 5,000 divorce petitions, all of which were uncontested, The Wall Street Journal reported. The company's managing director called the survey "unscientific."

Whether or not Facebook is a reason for one in five divorces, it is becoming an increasing problem in marriages, Kimmons and other marriage experts say.

Couples should take common sense safeguards on Facebook, said Michael Martin, vice president for academic affairs and professor of New Testament studies at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif.

"People need to manage the beginning of the relationship," Martin told Baptist Press. "If somebody contacts you from your past and wants to strike up a friendship -- somebody that you dated once or somebody that you knew in high school or college, there's nothing necessarily wrong with entering into that relationship. Just do it along with your spouse. Include your spouse into the conversation. If you're willing to do that openly, then it's likely there's nothing at all wrong with the Facebook relationship. If you are being invited into a conversation that you are uncomfortable including your spouse in, then you should not start the relationship."

There "absolutely" are times when a husband or wife should decline a Facebook friend invitation from someone of the opposite sex, Martin said.

Thomas White, vice president for student services and communications at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, said "unhealthy marriages, unguarded partners and fallen humanity" -- not technology -- are the problem. White, who also is an associate professor of theology, offered four tips for spouses who are on Facebook:

-- Give your spouse the password and the "freedom to check your Facebook at any time."

-- Disable Facebook's chat function. "It provides a way to communicate without any record and can lead to a false sense of safety similar to the woman in Proverbs 7 whose husband was away," White said.

-- Set all Facebook messages to forward to someone else's email address who can serve as an accountability partner. An additional layer of accountability, White said, would be to have the messages forwarded to your spouse's email. White said his messages are forwarded to his work e-mail which his assistants view.

-- Don't accept a past romantic interest's friend request -- or send a request -- until discussing it with your spouse.

"Facebook is not evil, but as with all forms of technology, we have to be wise in how we use them," White said.

Ease of communication has opened the door to all sorts of possibilities -- good and bad -- White and Martin said. Prior to the Internet and Facebook, a person would have had to spend days, weeks or even months to try to find someone they knew years ago.

"An out-of-the-blue phone call would have been a much bolder action," White said.

Now, though, a person can do that in seconds, "simply by just going on Facebook or any other social networking site and doing a search for that person," Martin said.

"It can almost be done on a whim, and that's part of the problem," Martin said. "A thing done on a whim can evolve into a secret relationship that evolves into an emotional attachment that then leads to a divorce. There are some early warning signs that a person should note in order to avoid that kind of thing happening."

Facebook relationships, Martin said, are "real relationships."

"It's not a game. It's not a fantasy. These are real relationships.... People can form powerful, genuinely emotional attachments as a result of an exchange that is initially nothing more than an online exchange," Martin said. "Because these relationships are real and relationships shape our lives, we need to manage the beginning of a relationship with an eye toward the possible outcomes of that relationship. In other words, you don't toy with a dangerous animal. If there is something that a person would not do in terms of a face-to-face relationship -- an intimate discussion or a private discussion -- they should not do it on Facebook. Otherwise, they are starting down a path which can have extremely negative consequences."