The Changing Nature of Human Beings: a Journey to Find Right and Wrong

This story occurred last week when I was just came back home after attending a weekly mass in a nearby church. Upon arrival, I had a short yet deep conversation with one of my friends. He firstly asked me where I was from and the conversation ended up talking about the recent issue engulfing Catholic religion.

In short, he criticized Catholic priests who are involved in sexual scandal. He argued that this might be caused by the fact that Catholic priests are not allowed to get married. Although he did not say that allowing the priests to get married will completely eliminate the case, he went on to say that such a change in policy will probably reduce the sexual scandal case. “After all, we are all human beings who are made from flesh and thus also prone to any temptation. I just feel such a change in policy might help to reduce the sexual scandal in the Catholic church.”

At that time, I said that I do not agree with his standpoint. In short, I argued that as a Catholic priest, you have to devote all your life to the church. It is as if you have decided to take the church as your eternal wife. Although it is true that human beings are made from flesh and prone to temptations, it just indicates that becoming a Catholic priest is not an easy matter and requires high degree of discipline.

However, what is more interesting about the conversation was not about the discussion of Catholic priests and their sexual scandal. It is more about the aftermath of the conversation. My friend went on to say that, “Well, above all of this, despite your disagreement, I would just want to highlight that we are only human beings who are prone to make any mistake. So, later on you need not to be surprised if it is your priest who will be implicated with such a scandal. We are just human beings and our mind can easily swift from one position to another. Maybe at that time, your priest think that this is the right thing that he would like to do. And probably, the Catholic church itself may see it as the right thing”

Human beings and change: between right and wrong

It is a fact that long time ago, Catholic priests were allowed to get married before the celibacy policy were universally applied to all Catholic priests. This policy itself has actually demonstrated the dynamic nature of what is right and wrong within the Catholic church itself. Thus, even a huge religious institution like a Catholic church should admit the necessity of change. This then somehow triggers us to ask: is there anything that is absolutely right and wrong if our simple conversation just revealed that even religious institution does not immune to change its standpoint?

In this regard, I said to him that my position is yes: there must be an absolute right and wrong. However, I am more in line with what Plato teaches us. This right and wrong are actually an ideal that I think cannot be completely realized in this mundane world. From my perspective, human beings are always like the people chained in the Plato’s cave. We can never fully grasp the idea of right and wrong despite the fact that the idea does actually exist. Even if someone might come to us and say that they have actually grasped the ideal and want to share it with us, we are still reluctant to accept the idea. Then, does it mean that we are actually indifferent towards what is right and wring? This is the point where we actually have to play our role as human beings.

The dynamic nature of human beings is actually a blessing that should be effectively utilized. In this case, such a dynamic nature should be able to lead human beings to be better, including a better person who is able to differentiate what is right and wrong. It is more like what Hegel teaches us: when a thesis meets an antitheses, synthesis is formed. This is actually the nature of change. We cannot infinitely hold on to one theses. Since once we have found its antitheses, a synthesis must form and its degree should be above both the theses and antitheses. This dialectic process must then lead human beings to be better and get closer to the ideal world of right and wrong. And this is why communicative action and deliberation process are essential for human beings because only by doing so, we can get closer to the ideal condition of right and wrong, even though, from my perspective, we won’t be able to reach it since our nature that continuously changes.

Then a question related to my previous conversation might be asked: why then a religious institution does not immune for such a thing? This type of question does actually makes sense since religious institutions always deal with something that transcends us, namely God and it is often argued that the nature of God is absolute. The answer for such question is indeed very simple and straightforward: because such an institution is comprised of human beings as well. As what my friend clearly noted from our conversation, regardless of our status, we are all human beings who are made from flesh. Thus, as long as the human beings status is still with us, we really have to change and so does the religious institution. In regard of this, there must be a limitation on to what extent the religious institution should change since it not only deals with this mundane world but also to the world that transcends our nature. But, it is definitely out of my scope to talk about to what extent religious institutions should change. The only thing that I can underline, however, is to encourage any religious institutions to keep open-minded and maintain dialogue between religions and even towards unbeliever. Because only by such communicative actions do we able to be better human beings.

So, won’t I then be surprised if later on Catholic church changes its policy and allows their priests to get married? As long as it has been rationally deliberated from different perspectives, I might not be then surprised. After all, neither Catholic church, any religious institutions, and ourselves are perfect. We are just pure human beings who are prone to make any mistakes and are always constantly exposed to the dynamic nature of the world. But as long as human beings do not deny this condition, they are actually constantly marching towards the better and more ideal condition.

Debate on “Merry Christmas” Greeting: When Society’s Dynamic is Sustained

There is always one thing interesting occurring in Indonesia just when Christmas is getting closer: the debate about whether or not Moslems are allowed to give “Merry Christmas” greeting to their friends. It is actually a classic debate and is always repeated every year with more or less predicted result: they are not allowed. However this one is actually unique and its uniqueness is actually rendered due to its repetition.

At first, it does seem very clear that announcement made by Indonesia Ulama Council is made as a prevention for those who are not yet aware and as a reminder if someone has just forgotten about it. If the society wholly believes the MUI then a question arises: why does some people still then eager to have debate on this matter? The answers may vary. Someone may say that such a thing is undoubtedly unnecessary since MUI has no right to judge the degree of someone’s devoutness. Religion is a private matter that actually has something to do between God and thy people. This argument is then countered by the opposite one saying that this announcement is necessary since MUI has a right to determine which one is right and wrong to give a guideline for the Moslem people.

In respect to this matter, I have no right to determine which one is right and wrong since I am not a Moslem. However, this condition just lights Indonesians that the dynamic of this society regarding religion is still there. People still want to debate about the role of MUI in determining the “Merry Christmas” despite the fact that quite obvious result is always expected. This condition is actually important because through discussion and debate they can give arguments to back their claims and perhaps gaining some knowledge from others’ position. As always suggested by Jurgen Habermas: because it is public arena, everyone can raise their position backed by rational argument as long as it does make sense.

Perhaps, it may sound very utopia but only through this way can a society sustain its dynamic and prevent arbitrariness of others to get absolute power. Changing arguments can one day lead others to shift their position even though it is very difficult. It may take long time to achieve unanimous opinion in this matter. But the more important thing is they can have better argument each year and perhaps to rethink about their position later on next year and possibly to reach an agreement someday.

This kind of dynamic is actually needed. The thing that should be emphasized is violence is not permitted whatever the reasons behind them. And one thing that is quite important: since this is the case of Moslem people, it is better for the Christians to not intervene in the process unless they feel that they have sufficient degree of knowledge to enter the debate. Joining the debate without sufficient knowledge will only give negative impact. Because in this case, a reflective question may be risen: how important is it actually to be greeted “Merry Christmas” from other if they are not sincere in doing that? In my opinion, it is not that important as long as we respect each other.