“Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.”
The quote of this Stoic philosopher perfectly illustrates the nature of religion in politics. Depending of the setting, religion can become a light or can lead to catastrophic events. Religion per se is not a destabilizing factor. It’s faith that leads to irrational decisions.
The founding fathers of the United States were openly atheist, yet they perceived religion as holding society together. But they also realized the danger of ruling based on a book written thousands of years earlier (in very suspicious ways). They were wise rulers.
In the US, religion has become a contentious issue where elections can be won (or loss). The Christian right is credited with electing Bush. Now McCain chose as vice-president, probably, one of the few people the same Christian constituency would admire.
Nowadays, it seems the electorate were woken up by the American nightmare and appear decided to choose “change”. Perhaps, it’s too late since the Supreme Court has become more conservative. Bush as a common ruler? Obviously very catastrophic eight years.
The rulers in Colombia, the nine wealthy families with assets valued at over USD 1 billion, resemble more the wise rulers. What about the political rulers? Uribe appears to be very religious, if his latest call for the Holy Spirit to illuminate the economists in the Colombian central bank is anything to go by. Uribe, being an expert demagogue, knows too well how to inspire trust among the majority of Catholics.
It is well noted that when we don’t know about a particular subject we would be convinced by the person that more resembles our culture, way of thinking, idiosyncrasies etc. When voting for president this is not farther from the truth, especially in a country where economic and political matters fair down the list of important issues after football, el cartel de los sapos, beauty contests and the daily gossip involving the latest bimbo.
Catholicism might seem a very pacifist dogmatic religion when compare to Islam and even to some other Christian sects. However, something else emerges when historical events are analyzed. Lately the life of Pius XII became the talking point after the current Pope declared the desire to canonize him. Piux XII, after all, is the Pope that presided over the Holocaust without openly criticizing the Nazis. Even after the war ended no public apology was uttered. A chilling event when taking into account that he was regarded as infallible in matters of faith and morals.
How does Uribe fair in Seneca’s description of religion? This is an important question with no soothing answer since he appears to be the common ruler to the common people, but the wise ruler to the nine families. Understandably the richest families openly called for his re-election. The rest of the common people perceive him as a messiah and are content in finding the virgin in burnt arepas.
Author Sebastian Castaneda is Colombian studies psychology and political economy at the University of Hong Kong