Religious Symbols Empower Social Activism: Reflection on Luke 3:10-18

By Nestor Ravilas

John Rawls’ second principle of justice says, in effect, that the increase in wealth of the rich is justified as long as there is a commensurate increase in the life of the poor. Commendable theoretical innovation, defective on many points, however. Firstly, it was an ugly admittance that equality for all is impossible to achieve. Secondly, it is a cowardly solution trying not to antagonize anyone, And lastly, wishing the poor to increase their economic condition, while keeping a status quo on the rich’s drive to accumulate more will only suck the earth down to its bottom of all its natural resources. John Rawls hopes through this he might inspire cooperation among humans, only to put everything in jeopardy by hastening environmental collapse.

The quest for convincing reason why we have to abandon interiority in favour of sociality has become an unrelenting quest for both liberal and religious thinkers. Why giving up one of your two shirts to relieve the “other” of the cold of the night when keeping them both will actually warm you better? Why desist from taxing people more than what the law requires, or for the police from extorting money when earning more will minimize your vulnerability and thus secure your existence? Insisting on those things, however, the Baptist perceives them integral to humanity’s survival. But why it has to be enforced? If taking care of the needy, refusing to extract undue tax, and declining to use police power to extort are integral in promoting a well-ordered society, why we need to be coerced? Why threaten us with torture of unquenchable fire to do what is supposedly right things to do?

Biblical social theory, supposing there is, presupposes that humans’ journey towards community building must be mediated with force. It does not agree with the libertarians’ assumption that humans, once left on their own, through the assistance of the “invisible hand,” will naturally work together for the benefit of every member of community. It agrees rather on the dismal assumption that human will be on each other’s neck when left unmediated. Upon entering Canaan, their claimed promise land, God saddled the Israelites with laws and regulation to usher them towards social integration. This is obviously to thwart self-interest from trampling upon the rights of other people. Self-interest that libertarians has failed to account its virulent power properly on their discourse that consequently invalidate their notion of “invisible hand”. Biblical drama on its part was able to comprehend and address it from the very beginning that each genealogy of power is seen skewed towards the conflicting interest of each individual.

The promulgation of laws is an attempt to grapple the problem in terms of secular language. Although its legitimation remains divine, the responsibility on punishing the offenders is given to the monarchs. Overtime, this develops into complete disavowal of divine grounding of secular governance. Although it remains operating within the logic of punishment and reward, the basis shifted from divine to liberal democratic ideals. But the recent acquittal of former Sen. Bong Revilla, added to the mounting shenanigans of this government, thrusts against the question of social thinkers like Mark Lilla on the grounding of public authority on religious narrative. Now that an alleged democratic government is trampling on secular laws it has enshrined over and against divine authorization, where do we supposed to go for help now? Where do we proceed when everything liberal democracy has installed, here and abroad, is gradually collapsing right in front of us?

In this alleged social collapse, John the Baptist exclaimed, “But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” Could it be apropos for us to turn now for help to religious symbols, particularly apocalyptic ones, to ignite and empower our fight against the looming social and political evil?