We find ourselves living in a society where killing and corruption have become normal. People don’t even consider these as sin. What is happening can be described as the “culture of death” – a term used by Pope John II in his encyclical “Evangelium Vitae.” It simply means a way of life, of behaving, acting and thinking that does not put value on human life – where it is easy to kill. Madali lang ang pagpatay, sanayan lang ang pagpatay. It is a culture that produces and normalizes death – that kills. It begins in the womb – abortion – the mass murder of the unborn.
This is manifested in murder carried out by criminals and also by the police and death squads and by the military – through extrajudicial killings. This is also being carried out by armed groups fighting the government. War is another manifestation of the culture of death. Death penalty or capital punishment is part of the culture of death. Euthanasia is another form of the culture of death.
What is not obvious is the destruction of the environment – logging, mining, the coal-fired power plant. It is not just the murder committed by assassins on the environmentalists and protesters. It is also the effect of these that poisons the environment and the climate change that will lead to the destruction of our common home that will kill us all. Poverty can also be the breeding ground of the culture of death because it can kill, sometimes bloodlessly, at times with blood. The victims of the War on Drugs are the poor, many of users of shabu are poor.
Corruption is also part of the culture of death. Corrupt government officials, policemen, military men resort to murder to enrich themselves. The corrupt officials enable drugs to pass through customs, continue the destruction of the environment, construct substandard bridges and buildings. All this contribute to death. Thus, the culture of death is so pervasive.
Pope John Paul II associates the culture of death with what he calls “veritable structures of sin,” or in other words, social sin. Sin is not just a personal act, it also has a social dimension. Sinful acts or behavior such as killing, stealing, lying, adultery are personal acts with social consequences and even origin. They may begin within the hearts and minds of individuals – rooted in selfishness, greed, avarice, etc. But they are also embedded in the systems and structures of society – political, economic, social, cultural, etc. Economic systems such as capitalism and neoliberalism are based on selfishness and greed – maximizing profits and exploiting workers and the environments. Authoritarian, dictatorial political systems are based on the greed for power and violation of human rights. It is maintained through blind obedience.
Corruption can also be part of the political culture (patronage politics). It is called social or structural sin because these structures induce people to commit sin – to steal, lie, kill, etc. An honest person can become corrupt within a bureaucracy infected by a culture of corruption. A pious police officer can become a murderer when the PNP becomes involved in extrajudicial killings, etc. Nurses and doctors may become complicit in the murder of the unborn in a country where abortion is legalized.
When sin becomes embedded in the political, economic, social, and cultural systems and structures, it leads to suffering and death. It is a system where sin and evil rules, where there is darkness. It produces a society and environment that is lacking in mercy and compassion. It is a system when ordinary people lose their sense of right and wrong, when they lose their conscience.
What can we do amidst the culture of death and the sinful structures and systems in society? As Christians, we are called to exercise a prophetic role. This requires denouncing the culture of death and social sin. and announcing and proclaiming the Gospel of life.
We cannot remain silent amidst the culture of death and the sinful structures and systems that prevail in our society. We must denounce the manifestation of these: Whether human rights violation, EJK, corruption, ecological destruction, abortion, capital punishment, war and violence, etc. We should act as conscience of society. We also should call people to conversion.
We should also proclaim the Gospel of Life. According to Pope John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae – this is part of our prophetic role – of evangelization. We need to proclaim that life is sacred. Life is sacred because God our Creator is the source of life. All of us were made in the image and likeness of God. This is the source of human dignity and equality.
This is the source and foundation of our human rights. The basic and fundamental of all rights is the right to life. This is a right guaranteed to all – no matter how sinful (including addicts and convicted criminals). Life is sacred – from the moment of conception to its natural end. This is reinforced by God’s commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.” Jesus also proclaimed “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
Pope John Paul II reminds us to promote a culture of life amidst the culture of death.
This means promoting a culture that values life, compassion, mercy and peace. This also means promoting consistent ethic of life. We are called to be pro-life. This means fighting against all form and manifestation of the culture of death: abortion, drug addiction, EJK, war, violence, death penalty, corruption, environmental destruction. Our advocacy should be holistic and broad: defense of human rights and rule of law, Respect for life – the right to life, poverty alleviation (instead of population control), peace (instead of war and armed struggle), defense of the environment and good governance.
As Christians, we are called upon to struggle against sin that is within each one of us – in our hearts and minds. But we also need to struggle against sin and evil in our midst – in society and the policies, structures and systems that are sinful and that breed sin. This is a task that is not just exclusive to the clergy and religious. Lay people are called to actively participate in this mission. This is not just for adults but also for young people; a task that they should become more aware of especially during this Year of the Youth.