Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Manila?s battle with the church

I think it's easy to forget that the US is not the only nation to have to deal with religious opposition to what many would consider sensible public policy.

In a previous post, I've made my stance clear that religion should be allowed to have a voice when policy is being made but not the sole voice or an important voice but a voice pushing a narrow interests. Same for any other group. In a pluralistic and diverse society, they ought not to be allowed any kind of special privilleges simply because they claim to speak for a recognised religion.

After all if someone from the Rastafarian faith (it's an actual religion) tried to push his drug policy anywhere in the world, he would probably continue the rest of his campaign in a straightsjacket in a rubber room. They believe that alcohol and tobacco are the white men's drug to weaken them and that Ganja (marijuanna) is holy because it brings them closer in communion with the gods. Before you think that's crazy, alot of the older religions use hallucinogens to induce such trances in their religious ceremonys. A Church in New Mexico got into trouble because of such particular tea.

Okay, Philippines, lovely country with some really kick-ass (scary) debaters, predominantly Roman Catholic, socio-economic inequalities with wealth particularly concentrated in the Chinois (Landed Filipina Chinese) of whom count President Arroyo as one of them.

The Church is seriously powerful. Cardinal Sin has been known to be called a king (or queen) maker. When he speaks, people listen and will go out to the streets. He has already disposed of two presidents directly through people's power and it's not inconceivable that he could indirectly influence the ballot box during election time.

Anyway, traditional circular problem of poor country with burgeoning birth rate but low death rate generally due to better medical attention and facilities particularly in the cities. Or as a World Bank official once memoriably put it: "The world got larger not because people started breeding like bunnies but stopped dropping like flies".

Please note, the following is heavily simplified and I fear over simplified at times. For much greater detail on issues like hunger and education and policies to deal with those please refer to my policy debate 'sutra' Global Problems, Global Solutions edited by Bjorn Lomborg (he of skeptical environmentalist fame) which came out of the Copenhagen Consensus.

So traditional literature says that the economy is put under strain from the additional populace it has to support (5000 per day) simply because there's really only so much you can water the soup and scramble the eggs. But this problem is execerbated by the simple fact that most of the populace is poor and generally poorly educate with little economic future. They in turn are the ones that generally have more children (often an issue of being unable to get access to contraceptives or early marriage). These children in turn tend to be born pre-maturely and grow up malnourished which in turn affects their educational and economic future.

Often, population control has been an effective measure. In the bad old days, it was war. Now we use contraceptives and abortions. The reason behind this is not simply greater resources. Yes, better health facilties and care, educational opportunities and jobs feed into a virtuous cycle that economic students might recognise as 'economic take-off'.

However, that could similarly be achieved by a greater amount of aid but it often goes with population control. One argument is that it provides the ability of women to determine their reproductive health and often that comes hand in hand with a greater ability to make more of their lives. Early marriages and particularly birth takes alot out of a young mother and keeps her stuck in the rut. The need to take care of the child greatly diminishes her capacity to improve her educational or job status. This is even more so when the lack of contraceptions and the highly inaccurate rythem method contribute to regular births. It aggravates an already bad situation. And when you add AIDS into the stew, you have a molotov cocktail ready to blow.

This is the pattern we see certain nations break out of. This is the pattern that exists in certain Latin American countries now. But the difference is that the Church does wield the same extent of power and influence that we see in Philippines (a legacy of the dictatorial era). And also it would appear that they are not as doctrinally strict or rigid (Catholicism in Latin America is kinda like what Chinese Religion is to Buddhism in Singapore).

So while I personally don't have great hope, maybe things will change with the new pope



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