Culture & Religion World Politics & Affairs

A Colombian Bishop Planned a “Helicopter Exorcism” To Rid a City of Violence. Should Religion Influence Politics?

Rival factions and criminal groups fight for control over the poorest areas of Buenaventura. For decades, Colombia’s main Pacific port, an imperative gateway to the commerce of the Pacific, is plagued with a perpetual terrorism brought upon by waring gangs. Acting as a major route for drug trafficking, parts of the city exist under a governance of dual responsibility, piloted by gangs, as well as the Colombian government; areas where private investors are planning large infrastructure projects, forcing the city into a state of uncertainty regarding its violent disposition and its opposing potential future in tourism.

In 2014, Juan Manuel Santos, the president of Colombia, sent in troops to stabilize the city, lowering the murder rate to below the national average, however maintaining the prominence of governing drug gangs and the corresponding cloak of violence surrounding the city. In an effort similar to that of Santos, Monsignor Rubén Darío Jaramillo Montoya, a Catholic Bishop ordained by Pope Francais, had planned a helicopter exorcism of the city beset by violence, drug smuggling, and poverty. Motivated by the torture and murder of a ten year old girl, Montoya planned a prayer, followed by the gradual release of holy water from a helicopter provided to him by the Colombian military. Stemming from a unique social and political climate of violence, the distrust in traditional authorities to govern and to police, created a religious basis from which to enact this deed of desperation. 

Religion as a facet of influence within politics is divisive. Often used as a basis of action, religion exists within a sphere of uncertainty. Frequently debated on the emphasis of antiquated scripture, religious doctrine is contested as unfit and inappropriately employed as a foundation of ethics from which to facilitate political policy. Often, faith is defined as a fundamental facet within equality and human rights, unable to be extricated from the aforementioned subjects of political policy. However, faith within religion and faith within legislation are frequently dissimilar in affairs of basic principles, as well as governmental composure. Political Islam, for example, is belligerent and hostile. In its Iranian presence, a Shia theocracy, and in Saudi Arabia, a Sunni Wahhabi kingdom, perpetually at odds, motivated by differences in faith and its subsequent political influence. China, as well, maintains its own repugnant religious ambitions. Masking religious persecution as “vocational training”, the Chinese government is detaining Uighur Muslims in the western Xinjiang region, where they are said to be undergoing “re-education” programs. Given the context of Montoya’s helicopter exorcism, faith serves as an unfocused guideline for societal well being; a desperate and indirect attempt to solve a problem of reality with assumed divine intervention. Maintaining these circumstances of a degenerative religious influence upon politics, the involvement of religious professionals corrupts both good governance, as well as religious integrity. 

Yet faith is often depended upon for issues larger than what governance can achieve; collective action is a direct result of a devout audience. The social structure provided through a shared faith facilitate and emphasize the foundational truths of a given religion. Placed upon the reality of a situation or circumstance, the inevitable infiltration of religious principles unto secular life act as abiding truths, directing conclusions through personal and dogmatic scrutiny. Religion, after all, is a basis of moral recognition, a doctrine of ethical facilitation unto greater society. Maintaining this, political policy often overlaps with religious commitments. With core issues of policy being those of religious emphasis, religion seems to be inherently interconnected with politics and legislation, designating itself as an essential asset towards societal maintenance and prolongation. Christian Aid and Islamic Relief Worldwide are two examples of expansive, far reaching, religiously founded organizations of social work and support. The secular facet of religion, often indistinguishable from religion’s basis of doctrinal emphasis, extends and impacts beyond those who are loyal to theology. Emphasising humanity and community, religion acts as a means of maintaining accountability on politicians for failing to create and to attend to a distinguished and equitable society. In an environment of persistent violence, with a populace indifferent to the gangs in control of their city, basic principles of human behavior substitute for formal governance. Montoya illustrates this phenomena, through his reaction to, and navigation of, such seemingly perpetual violence as is seen in Buenaventura. Although unconventional in his execution, faith, combined with universal religious values, act as a natural grounds from which to establish restorational legislation and culturally regenerative administrative policy; as the Colombian government seeks to accomplish such an immensely transformative task, confidence is placed upon trusted religious bodies. 

Although divisive in its mere presence within issues of political policy, religion maintains an objective role as a basis for all of societal function, influencing the movements and motivations of those involved within governance. Montoya, a career bishop, understands this truth to an immense extent, moving to solve a systemic issue of violence and political mismanagement through a movement of religious showmanship. Expressing the problematic capabilities of religious influence in modern politics, Montoya illustrates the humanity often lost, however imperative, to political policy. This humanity is found within the basic principles of religious doctrine, and exists on a spectrum within politics: either minute or extreme in agency. Montoya’s plan for a helicopter exorcism, is an extreme of religious influence on politics, and serves to distract from the issue rather than activly seek to solve it, articulating the inherent issue of a religious presence in political policy: who is to say what is too much, or too little involvement of religion in politics?

When policy cannot suffice, in issues of human interaction and societal harmony, foundational instincts serve as a basis for direct action. Universal teachings of basic morality serve as the most basic foundations facilitating religious thought, instruction, and education. Without thorough dictation, religious teachings of ethics and morality support the most basic yet intrinsic aspects of human society and interaction. The definition of society includes  political parties and systems occupying positions of immense power and predominant ability. When the abstruse webs of power involved within modern systems of governance fail to ensure the prosperity of a given populace, basic principles of ethics and humanity serve to salvage what has been lost or mismanaged. However, religious influence can be destructive, and degenerative of good governanance and policy when it is unregulated by the populace under it. Forcing religion into a perpetual state of flux as an aspect of governance, doctrine contiunes to be both depended upon, as well as debated, as a facet of robust society. 

By Molly Alexander

I am a student currently in Los Angeles, California, interested in politics, law, journalism, and the humanities.

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