Sunday, May 09, 2010

The Chilean Model: Is God Involved in Government and Politics?

What recent developments point us to the hand of God working to convince people of His involvement in their affairs? What specific global events will clearly show us that His eternal plan is the ultimate plan for all humans, whether we believe it or live by it or not?

We need not go far to see that calamities occur more often now than before with such disastrous effects that explaining them away as mere glitches of Nature makes us belittle historical proofs of divine power at work from creation to revelation. Only atheists and cynics take out God from the equation and end up factoring in “chance” -- that indeterminate (read that: illogical and baseless) value -- as the only reason for such disasters to occur.

Two contrasting events in the near past seem to stand out and to show us that neither God nor chance plays mindlessly with the lives (or deaths) of people: the recent earthquakes in Haiti and Chile. (There is as much purpose for the geophysical design and processes of the Earth as for the birth and death of a person.) Haiti suffered a magnitude 7.0 earthquake in January 2010 with more than 250,000 casualties while Chile had it at magnitude 8.5 in February 2010 with more than 700 deaths. Geologists and engineers would easily explain the difference in death toll to dissimilarities in the geologic foundations of the two countries and differences in structural designs and strengths of the buildings and houses that were damaged. Sociologists, economists and politicians would also explain the great difference in how the global community responded to both countries in terms of the two nations’ contrasting political, economic and social conditions. Many of us, however, do not concern ourselves with how both countries may have prepared for such a calamity, intentionally or unintentionally, knowingly or unknowingly. But there are clear and valuable lessons we can derive from seeing those disasters from afar.

No one knows when disasters strike. We can only prepare so much for a cyclone or a volcanic eruption, for instance. But these two nations provide us models, not just in disaster preparedness but in overall national preparedness against all kinds of major problems that may arise.

Haiti has been known for its adherence to a form of religion (Vodou) that includes Catholic prayers and hymns, ritual food preparations, invoking family spirits and the possession of certain individuals by those spirits. The Haitian form of this religion originated in Africa and is characteristically conservative and decentralized. Many observers blamed Vodou for the dire economic underdevelopment of this country which was exposed to the world in the aftermath of the earthquake. Scenes of people losing homes and loved ones brought tears to many viewers on TV. The great outpouring of aid and relief for the Haitians revived a similar global response for the hapless people of Africa two decades earlier. The inevitable conclusion for many Christians -- as “tactlessly” expressed by Pat Robertson -- was that Haiti had forgotten God and in her pursuit of other gods, reaped judgment.

Perhaps, it was a harsh indictment or judgment. Maybe, the quake was a mere admonition for people to wake up. Judgment -- if God were to do it now, I guess -- would involve annihilating whole cities or nations, as He did with Sodom and Gomorrah. Or the whole world when He sent the Great Flood. Sparing some to live somehow tells us that He is out to renew the land and to give people a chance to return to Him. Alright, some people are judged and given the death sentence. But the question asked is: Why include the children?

That is a tough one to answer, one that only God can answer. And so, we leave that hanging in Heaven. Let us deal with people of our own size and sinful nature. We boast of ourselves as intelligent beings, even as gods, sometimes. All we can do is to ponder upon our own vulnerability as we walk through the carnage and among the broken bodies.

On the other hand is Chile. After the earthquake, the country mobilized its own disaster relief and rescue operations with great efficiency. The Chilean government emphasized their desire to help its own people and did not seek foreign aid or assistance. In contrast to Haiti, Chile faced its calamity with mature resolve and political strength. (Not even the US showed such firmness during Hurricane Katrina.) We can only admire such qualities in a nation and its leaders.

What many people do not realize is that Chile is a strong Christian nation which went through a Pentecostal or Charismatic renewal in the early 1900’s. Although it is a traditionally Catholic country, it boasts of at least 20% (as of 2002) or more Pentecostal-Evangelical Christian population. Through almost a century, Chile has transformed itself from being just another “banana republic” to an economically and politically stable nation. While we fervently sing a hymn calling for aid to Haiti victims, why not sing a song of praise for Chile for its political and moral maturity?

Our country, a predominantly Catholic nation with a population of about 13 % Protestant or Evangelical Christians, has not fared well against the forces of Nature, and much less against economic, political and social problems. A nation that has faith and yet does not show it in its governance and overall national discipline has much to learn from Chile. We had our 7.7 Magnitude earthquake in 1990, our Pinatubo in 1991 and our Ondoy last year. But we have not arisen from our disciplinary experiences. We continue to be a poor and corrupt nation.

Unlike the Confucian nations around us, we are still incapable of applying high ethical and moral principles in social, economic and political administration. Surprisingly, the similarities between Chile’s military regime under Pinochet and that of ours under Marcos, make our countries twins in socio-economic-political experiences. We also had a Pentecostal-Charismatic-Evangelical revival in the early seventies which has resulted in the establishment of many mega-churches that minister to executives, business-people and young professionals. Even the Catholic Church has her charismatic renewal and marriage-encounter movements. This religious ferment, however, still has to produce bountiful moral fruits in business and governance. The State and Media show perfunctory, if not hypocritical, tribute to Christ’s teachings. Our politics, sad to say, has remained the longest-running and most pernicious disaster of all.

Disasters then, as we can see, have two basic purposes: admonition and testing. Moral or not, a nation is constantly reminded to remain true or turn back to the call of Heaven. Obedient or not, people are tested in order to prove their faith and character and to make them stronger through perseverance. As such, we must accept disasters as they come. And they will.

God is present during hard times. Even in the midst of disasters. He is in the center of every storm. He is in the middle of every volcanic eruption. He speaks in every thunderstorm and hailstorm. He created everything to obey His command. He even created humans in His likeness. And yet, we are the least willing among all creatures to hear and obey God.

For better or for worse, God is in our politics. He waits patiently for us to see Him and what He is doing.

When a person seeks to call upon Filipinos, whether Christians of not, to heed God’s desire to choose a God-fearing leader to sit as president, many do not listen. Why? Because they believe that God is not in the middle of our elections. Sure, He is not, if the people themselves drive Him away from its exercise. But if God is at the center of Nature and all its forces, why should He not be the focus of our political affairs and in our presidential elections? God is everywhere and every place we want Him to be, including our hearts and our lives. He can be the Spirit behind our national government.

I chose to hold up for Filipinos to see the Chilean Model to remind them that God is not asleep. He is awakening us to His very presence now and in the years ahead. Perhaps, it is us who have been sleeping and not hearing and seeing what God has been doing. Earthquakes occur not to bring fear into our lives but to bring faith in our hearts and to lead us to trust in the God Who has the power to save and to give us life.

Politics is God’s way for people to create order in society. The people He chooses to rule often may not be perfect in our sight but, in His plans, those people He chooses serve His perfect will. Within democratic governments, God seeks to show all people -- whether ruler or follower -- that His will is for us to learn to apply His principles which alone can make us perfect subjects and followers of His plan.

Socrates, Confucius and other great teachers like Augustine, Luther and Jose Rizal taught people to attain moral perfection. Their visions of the perfect society have remained clear and valid for all times. We need modern leaders who can encapsulate the ideals of these moral pioneers in our families and communities.

Choosing a leader does not merely require us to consider a candidate’s qualifications but what God wants to do with the would-be leader and with the people whom he will lead. A president then is not just charged with administering a nation’s policies but, more importantly, giving people opportunity to participate in the eternal plan of God. No, we must not merely elect a true believer to become a president but a man of tested faith to assure that our nation will remain true to our calling as a people of God.

The lessons of other nations show us that God is at work. The big question is: Are we working with and for God?

(Photo above: As early as the 70's, we were singing: Ibon mang may layang lumipad, kulungin mo at umiiyak; Bayan pa kayang sakdal dilag ang 'di magnasang makaalpas. . . . If even a bird that is free to fly, cries in its cage; much more would an enslaved nation of supreme beauty also yearn to overcome.)