When Poland was under the Soviets, Trade Unionist Lech Walesa used to greet his fellow Solidarity members with rosary beads in his hands. It wasn’t simply a religious act. It was an act of rebellion. The Soviets had taken all freedoms from the people of this vastly Catholic country including freedom of worship. The Poles were up in arms and the Catholic church was by their side. Rightly so.

Freedom of worship is a fundamental human right and a society that tramples upon it can never claim it’s a democracy.

Unlike the “forced atheism” of the Soviets, Malta is today witnessing a wave of secularism. Believers and non-believers are coming to the rational agreement that freedom of worship should be accompanied by the freedom not to worship. That, within the remit of the law, everyone is free to practice his religion but not to impose it on others.

This change was particularly marked by the divorce referendum, where 53% of the voters, a substantial amount of whom must be Catholics, agreed that if a marriage is over, one should call a spade a spade and declare it over. Whether the former spouse decides to have a new relationship and even get married again or not, is up to him. If he considers that a sin because his Catholic beliefs, he has every right to remain single.

Like always, this created a backlash from fundamentalist Catholics who consider imposing their beliefs a human right. They are even uniting on Facebook in a group they call “The Catholic Vote”. Discussing the usual issues: Divorce, same-sex marriage, abortion, euthanasia, IVF and occasionally even drug legalization. Needless to say, compassion, forgiveness or, horror of horrors, turning the other cheek don’t feature anywhere in the discussions.

I won’t enter the merits of the issues but rather the tactics used to achieve their goals. One of them is lumping all issues together and threatening that if say, a legislation regulating same-sex relations is passed this will pave way for the much more frowned upon abortion. When truth is that there is absolutely nothing in common with these issues except for the fact that the Catholic church opposes them both.

Another tactic is implying that everyone who disagrees with them is a sleazy hedonist, who wants to cheat on his wife and most probably takes drugs!

Then there is the ultimate tactic: Playing the victims. The terms “harassing Christians” and “Christianophobia” are regularly used. Yes, for these fundamentalists, daring to disagree with them is considered as harassment, even hatred.

There will be no mincing of words on this. Unlike Lech Valesa, you don’t have a case. No one is going to take away your religion. Stop playing the victim, grow up and get over it.

Christianophobia may be a reality in Nigeria and Egypt where attending mass might get you bombed but not in Catholic majority Malta. The “secularists” and “humanists” you hate so much, would be the first to defend you if someone tries to forcibly take religion from you.

But it’s not the case. And you know it.

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One of the most ridiculous arguments against introducing divorce in Malta is that “man cannot divide what God has united”. This is obviously fallacious for the simple reason that in a civil marriage a couple isn’t “united” through God in the first place.

 

However, let’s say hypothetically that this is true. Doesn’t the Catholic church also teach that “God knows everything”?  What do the prohibitionists want? Deceive Him?

 

If God knows everything, doesn’t He also know that divorced or not that particular couple aren’t together? Doesn’t he know that they don’t live with each other anymore, probably don’t talk to each other anymore and very likely have a new partner?

 

Do these people honestly believe that God can be fooled that easily? By refusing to sign a piece of paper that does nothing more than recognize reality – that that particular marriage is over.

One of the anti-divorce arguments is that “what God has joined together can’t be undone by man”. Keeping in mind that the pro-divorce movement is only asking for a divorce in the case of civil marriages not faith ones, this argument goes directly against the principle of a secular country.

However, even worse than that, I find this outright offensive and discriminatory towards those thousands of Maltese citizens who are either atheist or agnostic. Offensive not only towards the civil right to divorce, but also a more basic right – getting married.

How could “God” unite two people when at least one of them does not even believe that God exists? Should these person/s deny their lack of belief and pretend they believe in God in order to be ‘awarded’ the right to get married?

Unfortunately, as to how much secular a country should be there seems to be quite a controversy. However there is nearly a consensus that everyone can practice whatever religion s/he wants unless it breaks the country’s criminal laws. Yet, while not believing in God and getting married are not criminal offenses, this argument that only God joins people in marriage is a grave denial rights towards the largest religious minority in our country.

A common argument against introducing divorce in Malta is that it is not compatible with our culture, or as many claim our predominant religion – Catholicism. I disagree. True, Catholicism plays a strong part in this mentality. However other countries which are strongly Catholics like Northern Ireland and Poland do have divorce. I do think what makes us different from these countries is our culture, but it hasn’t got anything to do with religion.

Many Maltese have a belief that they have a fundamental right (or even a duty) to interfere in the lives of others. Be it for religious, social, cultural or whatever purpose, we want to have control on anyone who dares to be different. Or in the case of divorce, needs to be different.

We take the notion of ‘when in Rome do what the Roman’s do’ to the extreme that one has to conform to the standard Maltese stereotype if he walks on this island. Religion is a case in point. For example during the crucifix issue that originated in Italy but caused a frenzy in Malta I frequently read comments such as ‘if you don’t like it, go back to where you came from’. What? With what arrogance are these people assuming that there are no Maltese people who have a different religion, or no religion at all? Will a person lose his ‘Malteseness’ if he is atheist, agnostic, Muslim or Buddhist?

I do not think introducing divorce in Malta goes against the Catholic faith. Whether divorce is condemned in the Bible or not is not the point. The main issue is the fact that the Bible does not put any obligation on anyone not to allow other persons not to sin (assuming the divorce is a sin). In other words, the most Catholic of our politicians are free to vote for the introduction of divorce without risking losing their souls.

Because something that according to a politician’s belief is a sin, it doesn’t mean he is morally responsible if he doesn’t use his authority to restrict it for others. If that was the case, why not criminalize condoms while were at it?

In this article I will be not be criticizing the Catholic church. I did when I felt so, but on the issues presented below this would be highly unfair. I’ve accused the Catholic church (as an institution) on many things, including for being oppressive such as when it comes to the attitude towards homosexuals. However something it does not deserve to be called is inconsistent.

This does not mean that a substantial number of so called Catholics are not inconsistent and hypocritical.

Lately two rights related things have been at the forefront of local news – the right to divorce and the right to seek asylum for refugees or potential refugees. The institution of the church is against the first but in favour of the second.

I think the church is consistent in the sense that in its interpretation of the Bible and the words of Christ it feels divorce should not be a right, and that the right to life (of asylum seekers in this case) is sacred.

However, as one can see on most local media, the right to life not being respected by many so called Catholics, the same ones who vehemently oppose divorce and the rights of homosexuals. The variety of these hypocrites is wide ranging – from high ranking politicians up to nauseating fanatics posting comments on online newspapers.

A couple of days ago 55 Somali nationals were saved by the armed forces. 28 were kept in Malta (a democratic country that has signed the 1951 Geneva convention) while another 27 were sent to Libya where human rights are anything but respected. However, when were told they left voluntarily this raised eyebrows to those who believe in human rights and organisations such as the UNHCR and JRS (the latter being a part of the Catholic institution itself). Rightly so. The lucky migrants who were on the same boat and made it to Malta denied their friends went voluntarily in Libya. A little knowledge about Libya as well as common sense, proves them right.

Apart from the extreme (and violent) racism many Libyans have against black people, immigrants are also denied their rights by the government and Libyan institutions. Many people were arrested without charge and tortured in Libyan prisons, which have nothing to do with our prisons. Neither do the Courts of Law. Getting out of prison hasn’t anything to do with being innocent. One can only get out by escaping or bribing officials. The amount of people rotting in Libyan jails, tortured or murdered will never be known. Libya is not accountable to anyone.
Yet, what do we get from most of the same Catholics who not only oppose divorce and rights towards homosexuals, but also go berserk if a Christian symbol such as the crucifix might not be visible in public spaces? Silence.

Where is Dr Adrian Vassallo who is ready to riot to save Catholic values? Is he only concerned with the evil of pornography? Isn’t the life of human beings on his agenda? Doesn’t allowing people to be kept in inhumane conditions come into conflict with his Catholic values?

Ok, let’s leave the freak alone. Where are the pseudo-Catholic politicians who are vehemently against divorce because of their faith? Those who solidly supported the Italian government’s appeal for the right to keep crucifixes in public places? Why are they silent on an issue that can be of life and death for some people?

Above all, why is the Prime Minister denying all claims by the UNHCR and JRS and stubbornly refusing to open an inquiry on what really happened at sea, so that maybe such abuses will not take place again?

Is this what Christianity has become in our country? Waving flags to the pope (who condemned such deportation of asylum seekers himself), flaunting the crucifix and hating homosexuals? Only to put it aside when it’s not convenient?

I am one of the pro-divorce lobbyists but unlike some who try to portray us as enemies of the family I can assure you that I believe divorce should be legal, but avoided, especially through prevention.

Some might say that this is already taking place particularly due to ‘Ta Kana’ courses. I’m sure these people are doing a good job, especially by helping couples question whether they really want to be together with all difficulties involved, before they take the decision to marry. Unfortunately however there are phenomena that are beyond any good willing NGO’s capability to prevent. I think the major one is the cost of living especially the rising price of housing, food and fuel, all of which are necessities.

The ‘story’ I’ll describe here might look like a worst case scenario. However these scenarios are on the increase and it is not far from the brutal reality.

Tom and Kate are deeply in love. They have been together for more than three years now and invested their energy on building a healthy relationship with the appropriate dialogue, mutual respect not only between them but with each other’s parents, the other niceties, as well as the occasional argument. Thus they decide to marry; dreaming of a happy life together, hopefully with kids, in sickness and in health till death sets them apart.

They choose the house of their dreams, modest, but sweet and comfortable. Just what they needed. The loan they will have to pay is not so exciting though. Till the age of 65 they need to continue paying this debt, based on their income. But love conquers all and they buy the place.

The young couple set a date for the wedding. Been quite a hassle but in the end worthwhile. Kate was over the world on that day, while Tom, realised she is actually even prettier that he had ever thought. Nothing could break them apart. Two weeks around Europe await them. Two free birds, deeply in love discovering new places, knowing that when they come back they will live together as they always dreamt they would.

Back to their new home, and obviously their old jobs. Both meet attractive people but they barely notice this. No one of them is better than her husband or his wife.

Unaccustomed to married life, they now have to do the cooking, cleaning and other house chores. They get tired, but once again love conquers all. They still find time for dialogue, making love or just having simple plain fun.

The first shock comes on the receipt after their first visit to the supermarket in their married life. Next time we’ll buy only the real necessities they say as Kate kisses her husband before driving to their home, their paradise.

The devil sends his gift with an unaware postman. The bill shows that a third of Tom’s wage is to go for electricity and water, another third already going for the house loan. There must be some mistake, this is too much. Unfortunately there isn’t. They feel stressed, but still deeply in love they decide to waste less. Which they do. However the President of the USA says some nasty words towards the Iranian government, and the next bill is even higher.

They are stressed and not knowing how to cope but they are still sure – love conquers all.

They talk seriously about having kids. Decision taken, if they can, they will. How could financial strain keep back two graduates from having kid. Their wish was granted. With tears in his eyes Tom wondered which was his happiest moment in life – holding his daughter for the first time, or getting married.

8 month old Angela is crawling around the house, just watching her is the ultimate pleasure her parents can get, even though they are physically burnt out. Kate was on reduced hours, Tom had to find part time work, they had to take care of the baby while Children’s Allowance is meagre. But they are happy. Love conquers all.

Barely 2 years have passed. Kate had to start working full time again, and apart from the part-time, Tom is also doing a lot of overtime. The house chores are only up to Kate since most of the time Tom comes home he just showers and sleeps. Actually they always shower together, but this time not for the sheer pleasure of it. It’s because otherwise they have nearly no time together.

The dialogue has turned much into shouting at each other, though deep down they know how much in love they still are. The cause is only sleep deprivation and worrying about coping financially.

An advert on TV spoils one of those few days they both took leave. It was about life insurance. Their parents had tried to help them financially recently but they were all pensioners, could hardly cope themselves. And now they have to face another reality, when old there will probably no pension. More worry. A life insurance each. Less money, less time more stress, less dialogue, less sex, more shouting.

Both are worried why their partner had changed so much, ignoring the fact that it was neither one’s fault. Family therapy? Helped a lot, but even finding time to meet the therapist was a hardship taken from the much needed sleep.

Anyone familiar with this scenario?

Before you point your fingers at us, AD activists who believe that after trying everything, literally everything not only family therapy divorce might be necessary could you hear our pleas?

Could you start seriously investing in alternative energy so that no President, Iran, Iraq or Saudi could keep on destroying our families? Could the culprits of keeping the 53,000 apartments empty be heavily taxed so that housing prices stop skyrocketing at the expense of our well meaning couples? Could you stop spoiling our environment, for which most tourists come to our country? Could you stop being selfish in trying to attract only the rich tourists who like golf, and leave their profits only for the filthy rich? Need I go on?

Divorce or not, may I plead you give our families a chance to enjoy their marriages and bring up their children healthily. There are too many Toms, Kates and Angelas amongst us.