The new amendment to Samoa’s Constitution making Christianity the national religion reeks of a double-edged sapelu (machete). It reminds me of a Shakespearean aphorism in Macbeth about an “innocent flower but ... a serpent under it,” (puns intended) which basically means something that’s seemingly innocuous and innocent on the outside and yet has something else that is gruesome and hideously repulsive underneath.
The words “state religion” “state church” “national religion” “Christian state”, etc., today, should send shivers up the spine of any average educated and spiritually-informed person. At the very least, the idea of a state religion flies in the face of the separation of church and state, a key tenet and fundamental of Democracy. The amendment is one of exclusivity which is hostile to every mission, goal or proper role of a modern democratic government. It can also be a hindrance to any programs and reforms. Though the change is religious-based, its tentacles will inevitably slither and intrude into the social, political and economic fabrics of Samoan society.
Time will reveal the possible and real fallouts of the amendment. Because of the present homogeneous composition of the country, the typical ramifications of such a daring and ostensibly discriminatory move may not be immediate. In the long run, however, the effects and consequences will surely come, especially when the country becomes more pluralistic. The government should not be in the business of passing or enacting laws that encourage division and segregation among its citizens, at the very least on the basis of religion. While unity in/of faith has its place, diversity, in the context of today’s sectarian world, engenders tolerance, love, charity, patience, understanding, etc.
Samoa also needs to learn from history - past and contemporary. Governments that promote and establish a national religion tend to become more authoritarian, autocratic and absolutist. They are direct results of centralized power. In turn, their citizens are more likely to become insular, intolerant and territorial and will tend to treat and consider other non-conforming members of society as infidels and/or second-class citizens.
The Samoa Christian churches, understandably, welcome and embrace the dictum, but again there’s hidden venom underneath it. The government can actually become the proverbial camel that will slowly but surely encroach and eventually take control of the tent (or Church). If the government can pass a law to nationalize a particular religion, what stops it from regulating that religion? The demarcation between church and state has become more indistinct and obscure as a result. The irony is that churches now think that they are rightfully and deservedly sanctioned and are given a mandate by the government and yet, at the same time, they are unknowingly ceding to the government some of their autonomy and supposed authority and independence. Therefore, churches/denominations better be ready and not be surprised when - not if - their ecclesiastical appointments, policies and practices will be infringed upon, if not dictated, by the government down the road. The government now has a vested interest in its religion nemesis. The camel is in.
Moreover, this would likely mean that the government for its employment opportunities, as one example, can now legally state: “Must be Christian to apply”. Though the claim is made that the amendment does not affect or compromise individual freedom of religion, it does however beg the obvious question of which one has priority. The latter seems more feigned and nominal now and therefore trivial and inconsequential. The law presently, in essence, says, in jest at least: “You have the freedom/right to your own religion as long as you don’t impose it on us, Christians. But we, Christians, can impose ours on you.” This notion is now more real and authoritative than before. The most alarming thing however is that the amendment now gives the government, and others, the license and legal right to discriminate based on religion. And all of that has the makings of “Un-Christianity”.
And while some may argue prejudicially that Christianity, hence the country, benefit greatly from the government’s patronage and support, there will certainly be times in which rifts will occur in this arranged marriage. A perfect example of late is the issue with the government planning to get the ministers to pay taxes, much to the indignation and displeasure of the churches and ministers/pastors. And when push comes to shove, the ultimate arbiter will have to be the courts which will hopefully invoke the biblical separation of God’s and Caesar’s domains, or church and state respectively. But more consequential rifts are possible within and among the member churches of the Christian clique. A recent example happened in the stigmata issue where tensions arose between some churches. And this can also give rise to the premonition involving a legal and unambiguous definition of Christianity - and/or who is Christian and who is not - considering its riotous and boisterous history. Also, in any or all of these rifts between church and government where they may resort to arbitration, legal or otherwise, we now know who prevails - the government.
Contextually speaking, being a true Christian is shown more by deed than creed. This is clearly the notion in the parables of the Good Samaritan and the Ten Lepers where Christ extols the second-class/no-class Samaritans for being truer disciples in action over their elitist and seemingly more pious yet hypocritical counterparts. So as Samoans, let’s not keep busy professing and lauding our Christian commonality via a contrived statute, and risk compromising our entrenched values and noble deeds through alienation and marginalization of our other brothers and sisters. In fact, aren’t we all - Christian and non-Christian alike - children of God?
The advancement and promotion of Christianity to a de jure status and acceptance, on the surface, seems innocuous, good and virtuous, supported obviously by majority will/rule. But a fair caution is that the amendment can also, in and of itself, sow seeds of extremism, zealotry and fanaticism. In other words, even virtue, when taken to extreme, can sometimes become a vice. Consider the roots of the so-called seven deadly sins (vices). They all begin with simple virtues. For example, enjoyment of a nice meal ( a virtue), when done in excess/extremity, leads to gluttony (vice). Likewise, Christianity - or any other religion for that matter - taken to the extreme as being the only government-sanctioned religion, can promote villainous attitudes like arrogance, intolerance, bigotry, prejudice, dogmatism, sexism, racism, etc. Simply stated, in a continuum of extremities, Christian begets Un-Christian.
And, yes, the prototypical flower of Christianity can be angelic and innocent, but still beware of that serpent hiding under it. This should be an important and indubitable caveat.