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01 November, 2007

Conflict between Religion and Politics

IF religious institutions and political organizations recognize the limits of their respective spheres and remain within them, there will be no conflict between them.

This essentially means that the political party must confine itself to politics and the religious institution must stay within the bounds of religion. On both sides, there are many who accept this principle. However, not all of them are able to observe the principle in practice. There are religious establishments and political outfits who do not accept the principle at all. They believe that everything under the sun comes within their purview. When they compete with each other for men’s minds, conflict becomes inevitable. As a matter of tactics, they may maintain friendly pretences. There can be no true friendship between them so long as they believe that their realms have no boundaries.

Basically the realm of religion is the relationship between the individual and his god. If a person is able to act according to the dictates of his religious mentors in matters of religion and the directives of his political masters in matters of politics, he can maintain good relations with both without any difficulty. But many religious institutions and parties demand the right to have the last word on all matters. The former does this in the name of god and the latter in the name of ideology. That throws the hapless individual in a quandary. Reflections of this state can be seen in Kerala, where tussle is on between the Catholic Church and the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

Such problems have risen in many parts of the world in the past and intelligent people have found solutions for them. Anti-Communist sentiments are strongest in the Catholic Church. Yet the largest Communist parties of Europe are to be found in Italy and France, the two countries of the continent with the most Catholics. And there you don’t see the spectacle of spear-wielding party secretaries tilting at priests who utter holy lies. Of the countries that came under Communist rule after World War II, only one, Poland had a Catholic majority. For four decades the Church and the Polish Workers Party maintained the pretence of friendliness. The Solidarity movement, which successfully challenged the party, was backed by the Church.

The Soviet Union restricted the activities of the Church for seven decades. After the collapse of the Soviet regime, the generation that grew up under Communist domination started going to church to demonstrate its faith in public. In 1988, while visiting an old Buddhist temple in Shanghai, this writer saw a woman lighting a lamp and offering prayers in front of the Buddha idol. By incorporating in the party constitution an amendment that recognizes religion, the Communist Party of China has come to terms with a reality.

The other day Dr. T. M. Thomas Isaac, a member of the Central Committee of the CPI (M) and Finance Minister of Kerala, recalled Jesus’ advice to give unto Caesar what is his and unto God what is His. Those words are certainly as relevant today as when they were first uttered. But who is today's Caesar? Party secretary is Caesar only to party members.
Based on an opinion piece written for Veekshanam, Malayalam daily

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