The so-called intelligence of a group depends in part on the ignorance of its members. When the soil nourishing the roots of our knowledge goes untilled—when our collective wisdom goes undiscussed, uninvestigated, and uncriticized—it may be our intelligence that stands in the way of our own flourishing.
I write these words with the intention of sparking a much-needed public discourse about the potential positive and negative influences and impacts of a belief widely shared in Colombia: God’s will.
We can better deal with human rights abuses, crimes against humanity, forced displacement, economic disparities, political exclusion, impunity, corruption, violence against women and children, and so on, if the lens we use to interpret these problems and to create strategies to ameliorate them is more effective and realistic.
It is important to note from the start that I do not hold this belief in God’s will to be the primary source of the problems hindering our development and attainment of security, wealth, health, and freedom. It is, however, an important variable creating specific complications that impede our ability to resolve these issues. I propose we dissect and question such a widely accepted mantra (accepted mostly on faith) if we, as a society, really want to move forward.
Let us begin by asking an almost absurd question: Is Colombia a theocratic state?
When some think of states highly connected to or influenced by a religion, images may surface of the Vatican City or Israel or the Islamic Republic of Iran. And, of course, there are states with theocratic associations, like Saudi Arabia. However, though Colombia is not considered a theocratic state and does not share Saudi Arabia’s theocratic overtones, almost every action in politics and everyday life in Colombia is essentially buried deep in the belief in God—more specifically a Catholic God—and that God’s will.
In practice, regardless of what the country’s constitution or its politicians may claim, Colombia, sadly, looks more and more like a state run and ruled by God’s will, while hustling politicians and a largely religious citizenry simply play the role of puppets for the puppeteer.
For starters, more than 90% of Colombia is Roman Catholic and fights strongly to keep things that way. You step out of line, you are Othered, you are looked down upon, you are sinful, you are unethical, immoral, soul-less, unworthy, dirty, uncultured, uneducated, savage, hell-bound, etc. Remember the charge against Antanas Mockus during the most recent presidential election campaign that he was an atheist? This was an attack because being an atheist—i.e., not believing in God’s will—was one of the worst things one could be.
In the Colombian home and outside its doors, the atmosphere has never been conducive for unearthing the roots of our beliefs.
It is no surprise it is difficult to break from the Colombian pressure to love some imaginary friend (God). Everywhere the pressure looks at you straight in the eye. Ride a bus, for example, and it will be difficult to not find Catholic paraphernalia or prayers plastered as propaganda on some surface.
Though, directly, there is no gun held to our heads to believe X or Y, the society itself acts as a social control mechanism that limits our own ability to finally be able to think for ourselves without being marginalized, guilt-tripped, or scared to toe the line of a theistic religion that most Colombians do not follow in action. If we evaluate religiosity not on whether a people say they believe but through their daily habits and practices, most Colombians are religious only in their adherence to the party line and the theistic apathy that comes from a belief in God’s divine plan for the nation and its people.
This social control mechanism—which pushes such an indoctrination of blind faith and acceptance, that Others those who differ in opinions and beliefs, that has ultimately yielded intolerance and stunted the flourishing of analytic and critical thinking—is disheartening, to say the least.
I see this as one of the major roadblocks and hurdles Colombia faces today.
How can a society flourish, be tolerant and accepting of others, develop, and manifest its passions, dreams, and desires, if the very individuals in said society, by and large, either do not, cannot, or are too afraid to question and pursue such curiosities without being stigmatized or told they are going to burn in hell and eternally tortured if they step out of line? It begins with the indoctrination of the children and continues thereafter.
This leads me to ask the main question that guides this piece: How can a people deal with its problems—as in, the armed conflict—if a significant portion of both victims and victimizers tightly hold to the blind belief that what they have done or what others have done to them is the will of God?
During research on Colombia’s armed conflict, I have been shocked to find this to be a widely held belief: women who have been raped or sexually violated, peasants forcefully removed from their lands, parents whose children have died in the crossfire of bullets and bombs, and paramilitary warlords who have enacted horrendous violence, for example, believe that everything that occurred was part of God’s master plan, that it was God’s will.
Such a prevalent disposition should be a red flag that calls for further study and reflection.
Colombia is not destined to be in an armed conflict. Half of Colombians are not destined to be poor and a larger majority are not destined to be exploited. A small percentage of citizens are not destined to own most of the country’s wealth. Colombians are not destined to be displaced. The poor are not destined to partake in the Colombian armed forces while the rich can simply buy a military card so their children do not have to partake in the country’s so-called “mandatory” military conscription program.
It is not God’s will for you to be violated, raped, chopped up into pieces and thrown into a river, for you to be buried in a mass grave, have your home or land taken from you, and so on. Not every Colombian accepts and is guided by the “it was God’s will” mantra, but enough do to make it troublesome for the sake of justice, conflict resolution, reparations, and peace.
When the victims of the armed conflict believe the crimes committed against them were God’s will, that they must have deserved the injustices committed against them, that they were punished by God for something they have previously done, then we have a major social problem.
Social change and progressive transformation is difficult if the most vulnerable members of civil society have accepted crimes against humanity as part of God’s plan, if the victims themselves see themselves as the victimizers.
Colombians are a people of action. We are known for our entrepreneurship and our willingness to take up arms for things we believe in. However, when it comes to sincerely dissecting one of the major seeds of our country’s problems, we are rather inactive. The God’s will attitude has created an apathetic citizenry in certain respects. This situation matters, especially when we deal with conflict resolution and issues of rights and justice. But things do not have to be the way they are and have been.
Colombians need to re-evaluate beliefs, practices, and traditions—our foundational pillars—if, as individuals and as a collective, we are to manifest our potential.
So, is Colombia a theocratic state? No, not by conventional definitions. But is it run by God? You better believe it is; and this rule, in this author’s humble opinion, keeps the country on its knees.
Julián Esteban Torres López is an editor, writer, researcher, and educator with nearly two decades’ experience working with publications, historical societies, and cultural and research institutions, and has held leadership positions in the academe, the arts, journals, the business sector, and history museums. You can follow him on Twitter.