US-BASED law Professor Muna Ndulo has called for the sustenance of religious freedom in the country.
Presenting a paper during a conference on Freedom of Religion at Justo Mwale Theological University in Lusaka recently, Prof Ndulo warned against religious fundamentalism which had plunged many nations into chaos.
The paper, titled Freedom of Religion – Lessons From History, highlighted various situations that people could be learnt from.
“We need no reminding that the concept of a state is secular. Religion does not need a secular project to sustain it. There are several questions of modernity which we face in this age. Indeed many thinkers have asserted that there are several modernities. What this means is that the 21st century is a century of plurality,” he argued. “It is the new age of multi-culturalism. Equally, one can argue that it is an age where states which were considered hitherto insignificant have gradually acquired the capacity to resist coercive assimilation. Communities are now more conscious of their identities and are quite willing to do so much in preservation of their identities.”
Prof Ndulo cited several historical examples of how the state and religion could not mix, but always resulted in conflicts.
“Constantine Emperor of Rome (312 – 370 AD) is known to have played a significant role in the fusion of religion and state in the Roman Empire. That fusion historically has been argued to be a marriage of convenience since secular Rome was in decline and needed the support of the expanding Christian population to maintain a grip on power,” Prof Ndulo stated.
“The Christian church on its part needed the protection of the Emperor against the persecutions of the early Christians. This union was overall to lead to problems in the future. Thus, gradually but consistently the distinction between church and state disappeared and with it the glory and gilded flourish of state authorities corrupted the church. Indeed, this was to culminate in a zealous protection of the powers of the Holy See and the use of the power to impose excommunication, ostracism and even declaration of holy war in the medieval times. Those who dissented were subjected to inquisition and made to recant their beliefs and thinking. It was therefore deemed permissible to kill in defence of faith and so, the Crusades declared by Pope Urban II (Pope 1088 – 1099AD).”
He further argued that freedom of religion was a phenomenon and right that remained endangered and at the center of many conflicts in the world today.
Prof Ndulo stated that it remained to be seen how some societies would deal with the increasing multicultural and multi-religious nature of the globalised world.
“In 399 BC as recorded in the history of Western Philosophy, Socrates, the renowned Greek philosophy of classical times, was tried, convicted and forced to drink hemlock to his death. Distillable from the trial of Socrates is the fact that freedom of conscience and religion is a critical factor in society,” stated Prof Ndulo.
“It is also clear that, that freedom also includes the freedom to teach what does not seem orthodox or indeed question the orthodoxy of the day. This was therefore to presage what will happen in subsequent history regarding religious persecution and executions for ideas and religious affiliations deemed to go contrary to the prevailing orthodoxy.”