In their two hundred years of existence, the Chilean armed forces have had a close relationship with the Catholic faith, especially with a local version of the Virgin Mary (Virgen del Carmen), who is held as the patroness of the military. After its greatest tragedy in peacetime, when 44 soldiers—half of them Christian evangelicals—died buried in the snows of the Antuco volcano, the army and other branches of the military felt compelled to add Protestant chaplaincies to their repertoire of religious assistance, hitherto reserved for Catholics. This has been understood as a move towards a more egalitarian and inclusive understanding of religious freedom, but also as opposing exclusivist versions of liberal neutrality, in which the state fulfils its duty by taking religion out of the public sphere altogether. According to the times’ intellectual climate, the Chilean authorities have been framing these developments—not only in the military, but elsewhere—as the embodiment of a post-secular strategy, in which religion (all religion) should be welcomed back into public life and state institutions. This article presents five concerns with this chosen strategy: (a) whether inclusive secularism is a practical impossibility, since there is no way to accommodate all religious and non-religious expressions; (b) whether a post-secular narrative is adequate for states that that have not gone through the previous (secular) phase; (c) whether post-secular institutional arrangements—which entail welcoming religion in the public sphere—are adequate in countries without religious pluralism; (d) whether post-secular institutional arrangements—which entail welcoming religion in the public sphere—are not actually disparaging for non-religious people; (e) whether sponsored religious expressions and practices within public institutions put undue pressure on dissenters. This way, I offer the case of the Chilean armed forces as a proxy to illuminate the normative problems that an incipient process of growing religious pluralism and a move towards religious egalitarianism, framed as a post-secular discourse, faces in hegemonically Catholic countries.
- Church and state
- Latin America