Weekly Reflections: Martial law as a Theological issue

Rev. Luna L. Dingayan

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, where you were slaves. Worship no God but me.” – Exodus 20:2-3

Martial Law

On September 21, 1972, then Pres. Ferdinand E. Marcos declared martial law in our country in the guise “to save the republic and reform society.” However, what happened in more than a decade of Marcos Rule was the very opposite of what the regime had claimed to do. Our country was plunged into long dark nights of fascist rule, where crying and weeping of widows and orphans were heard all over the land amidst the sarcastic laughter and merriment of the powers-that-be, feasting lavishly on the riches and beauty of our motherland.

Through people’s power, Pres. Marcos was not only kicked out of office but to the life beyond, yet the not-so-friendly ghost of martial law continues to haunt us to this very day. As a matter of fact, there is currently Martial Law in Mindanao declared by President Duterte, and the poor Lumads are the primary victims. Presidential decrees and laws enacted under Marcos’ martial law are still intact and have become part of the laws of our land. But worst of all, those responsible for the Marcos’ martial law regime, instead of being punished for their crimes against the people, are even rewarded with lucrative government positions. A “creeping martial law”, a “Marcosian martial law without Marcos,” a “fascist regime pretending to be democratic”, a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”: these are all descriptions of what have been happening in the country since then.

Rampant political killings, extra-judicial as well as judicial killings, involuntary disappearances, and other human rights violations, which are distinctive marks of a fascist martial law regime, continue to show us their ugly heads, despite all the lofty claims to democracy. The brutal killings of more than a hundred media people and church people as well since the supposed lifting of martial law in our country are startling indicators of a people’s continuing struggle and yearning for genuine freedom and quest for truth. The fact that people would assemble and organize for the redress of their grievances does not mean that genuine freedom is already present. It would only mean that in spite of state terrorism, people continue to assert their rights to be truly human. For since when have we really attained genuine freedom and democracy as a people?

Theological Issue

Our struggle for genuine freedom and democracy is a continuing struggle. A martial law regime or fascist government pretending to be democratic is not only a political issue; it is first and foremost a theological issue, because it concerns the use or misuse of power which is God’s gift for us. In this particular historical context, the theological issue is not atheism or the lack of belief in God. Rather, the issue is idolatry or the belief in a false God. A fascist ruler could be very religious, yet serving a false God.

The nature and characteristics of the God we worship is reflected in our own character as worshippers. On one hand, a true God is one who liberates the people. The Israelites worshipped a true God, because they struggled for freedom from slavery. God said to the Israelites through Moses, “I am the LORD your God who brought you out of Egypt, where you were slaves. Worship no other God but me” (Ex. 20:2-3). On the other hand, a false God is one who oppresses the people. The Egyptians worshipped a false God, because they enslaved the Israelites.

And so, the character of the worshippers would reflect the kind of God they worship. A fake leader worships a fake God; a genuine leader worships a genuine God. As Martin Luther one time said, “Where your heart is, there your God is also.” Hence, those who worship a true God work for liberation or genuine change; while those who worship a false God prevent liberation or genuine change to happen.

Political Idolatry

Political idolatry happens when rulers or leaders lord it over the people; when they arrogate unto themselves the power that belongs only to God; when they have false claims for themselves and demand ultimate obedience and loyalty from the people. In short, political idolatry happens when rulers or leaders worship no other god, but themselves. It is in the context of repressive regimes that political idolatry usually becomes a reality.

The political killings in our country are expressions of political idolatry. Those responsible for these killings are playing gods and goddesses as they claim the lives of innocent people in order to perpetuate themselves in power, as if they are the creators and owners of people’s lives. They are false gods and goddesses, because they have false claims for themselves. Their power is more apparent than real.

Living Hope

Our living hope, however, lies in the fact that God cannot be mocked and will “tolerate no rivals” (cf. Ex. 20:5). Political idols throughout history have all met their own tragic ends, respectively. There would come a time when God would unmask their pretensions and would deal with them accordingly. Everything will come to an end. Everything will be changed. Only God is eternal.

As the Song of Mary says, “(God) has brought down mighty kings from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away with empty hands” (Lk.1:52-53).

Therefore, it is our living hope and fervent prayer that in God’s own time and in God’s own way, God will make His Kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven (cf. Mt. 6:10).# nordis.net


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