Political authority ought to ensure the respect for human dignity and values
To some people politics is absolutely secular and ungodly. Is it? Would Political authority be sensibly divorced from God, who created the human person to live in society at whose service it is? Or do we choose to ignore the conscious of divine in the exercise of political authority evident not only among Israelites but also in traditional societies?
Political authority among Israelites
Israel was under a system of rule called theocracy –the rule of God –though mediated by a human person who acted as God’s representative. And in the New Testament, Jesus acknowledges the need to be loyal to earthly rulers but cautions against passing the temporal authorities for God. In fact, the exhortation “Give to God what belongs to God and to Caesar what belongs to Caesar” precisely calls for recognising God as supreme authority. Similarly, St Paul exhorts Christians to be obedient to the authority and to pray for them.
Political authority at the service of human person
However, the political community has to bear in mind, as affirmed in Gaudium et Spes, that the human person is the foundation and purpose of political life (GS 25), hence, its role is to organise and ensure unity among people. And Pope Pius XII, in his Christmas radio message of 1944, gives an interesting detail: “A people does not mean a shapeless multitude, an inert mass to be manipulated and exploited…” but a people that is able to form and express its own opinion on public matters.
For ordered community life and protection of common good
Hence, the foundation of Political authority lies in that living with others demands some authority to direct all people towards the common good. “Political authority must guarantee an ordered and upright community life without usurping the free activity of individuals and groups but disciplining and orienting this freedom by respecting and defending the independence of the individual and social subject, for the attainment of the common good” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church 394). When the political authority leads the society to aspirations that are morally good people must obey it. And God is the ultimate source and end of such moral order since authority is not a power determined by criterion of a solely sociological or historical nature (cf. CSDC 396).
For safeguarding human and moral values
The political authority must safeguard the fundamental human and moral values that flow from the very dignity of the human person. These values “no individual, no majority and no state can ever create, modify or destroy” (John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae 71). Thus, arbitrary fiddling with such basic human moral laws, risks wrecking the entire society to its foundation. So, the political authority has the obligation to enact laws that conform to the dignity of the human person; and a law is truly human to the extent that it measures up to God’s will. Consequently, when the political authority makes laws against the human dignity it defeats its own purpose of existing and renders itself illegitimate.
Human person is not a toy of political authority
In such case, people have the right to conscientious objection since “Citizens are not obligated in conscience to follow the prescriptions of civil authorities if their precepts are contrary to the demands of the normal order, to the fundamental rights of person or to the teachings of the Gospel” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2242). People are free to boycott laws that are contrary to the precepts of God, not just as a moral duty but also a right that civil law should recognise and protect. This is why the church values the democratic system that allows people participation in the affairs of their society, free expression and passing of information. This demands a truly independent media and not mere tool for government propaganda.
Besides, the political community must leave the civil society from any manipulation, especially of hijacking persons whereby even access to jobs and services is conditioned by embracing such ideology or belonging to a party in power (cf. CSDC 47). The people should retain “the prerogatives to assert this sovereignty in evaluating the work of those charged with governing and also in replacing them when they do not fulfil their functions satisfactorily…” (CSDC 395). Nevertheless, the elected leaders need enough freedom to do their job.
True Democracy as consensus on human values
However, democracy should never be reduced to majority whims, rather, there should be consensus on the values such as dignity of human person and democracy should be at the service of those values. “A democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism. Democracy is fundamentally a system and as such is a means not and end. Its moral value is not automatic, but depends on conformity to the moral law to which, it, like every other form of human behaviour, must be subject…” (CSDC 407).
Therefore, the vocation of the political community is to lead the human persons in society towards realising their aspirations that are truly human. However, its authority is not ultimate for it owes obedience and submission to God.
As Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Ratzinger, rightly put it “….the state must receive from outside itself the essential measure of knowledge and truth with regard to that which is good.”