BIA Benedict XVI Institute for Africa
Agbaw Ebai

Agbaw Ebai Ashley

Catholicism and the Political Order

When Joseph Aloysius Ratzinger was invited to address the Bundestag, the German Parliament, history was in the making. It was the first time in the history of the German nation that a Supreme Pontiff mounted the rostrum of the Reichstag Building in Berlin. What will Ratzinger say to these elected officials, comprised of mostly Catholics and Lutherans, on Thursday, 22nd of September, 2011? What will the Bishop of Rome say to this Assembly that has had a deep cultural and I dare say political skepticism towards Rome? My argument is that what Benedict said to the German parliament is useful, vital and crucial to Catholic politicians in Cameroon as well, and the world over.

The political icon of Pope Ratzinger’s address was the legendary king, Solomon, as encountered in the Old Testament. The Pope grounded his address on the foundations of a free state of law. As Cameroonians look forward, perhaps, without much hope in the present political futuristic system, it is possible to begin to imagine what the future of Cameroon as a free democracy and a state of law could be. Ratzinger gives the following realistic suggestions based on the narrative of King Solomon. The fundamental question, the underlining presupposition that should mark the discerning and inquiring mind of the politicians of Cameroon find a compelling inspiration in this story of King Solomon, Ratzinger would argue.

In the First Book of the Kings, God invited the young King, on his accession to the throne, to make a request. Will the young Solomon ask for wealth, for success, for an unending political reign, or for the destruction of his enemies? Solomon asked for a listening heart so that he may govern God’s people, and discern between good and evil (cf. 1 Kg 3:9). Benedict deduces the following arguments and lessons for the political order from this request of Solomon.

To begin with, the Pope points out that to serve right and to fight against the dominion of wrong are and remains the fundamental task of the politician. At a moment in history when many Cameroonians do not feel a sense of nationhood; when the dream of every politician seems to be to amass as much wealth as possible for self-serving ends; at a time in Cameroon when corruption is the de-facto culture for many, both in state functions and even within the Church, how do we recognize what is right? How can we discern between good and evil, between what is truly right and what may appear right? Ratzinger argues that even now in Cameroon and many parts of the world, Solomon’s request remains the decisive issue facing politicians and politics today.

Another lesson from Benedict’s arguments at the Bundestag is that majority rule is not a sufficient criterion, helpful as it might be in the resolution of matters before the elected assembly. Elsewhere, in his On the Global Task of the Christian Faith, Ratzinger maintains that even majorities can be blind or unjust. History demonstrates this all too clearly. Thus the majority principle still leaves open the question of the ethical foundations of the law, the question of whether something exists that can never become law and, therefore, something that always remains wrong or right in itself, prior to any majority vote, and must be respected by it. Catholic politicians must personally seek out the criteria to be followed when framing laws. The early Christians provide us with an excellent example of resistance, of conscientious objections. If a law were to contradict divine law or the law of God, the Christian politician is bound to oppose it, even if the majority of the elected assembly were in favour of such a law. Polygamy, abortion, homosexuality, unscrupulous economic deals with multinational companies, neo-colonialism, unbridled capitalism, the limiting of religious freedom to freedom of worship, marginalization and a throw-away culture, the rejection of the grammar of creative biological givens, are all neo-liberal legislations that warrant conscientious objections by Catholics and Catholic politicians, though not without persecutions in the world of today.

Benedict rightly points out that Christianity has never proposed a revealed law to the State and to society, that is to say a juridical order derived from revelation. Instead, it has pointed to nature and reason as the true sources of law, and to the harmony of objective and subjective reason, which naturally presupposes that both spheres are rooted in the creative reason of God. Christian theologians aligned themselves with a philosophical and juridical movement that began to take shape in the second century B.C. At the central nexus of this third part of Ratzinger’s argument is his summons for an ecology of the human being, that humans have a nature which they must respect and which is not open to manipulation. Nature therefore becomes an important prelude to natural law.

In précis,  the desire to distinguish what is right from what is wrong and to always act rightly; the insufficiency or inadequacy of a blind majority argument; and the fundamental place of nature and reason; are important and crucial sources of discernment for a free and just democratic Cameroon. In the final analysis, the basic question which every Catholic politician in Cameroon faces is that of what is actually good for Cameroon, especially in our given context, and why one must do that which is actually good, even to one’s own detriment. It is about asking, like Solomon, for the wisdom to discern and to act rightly.