Monday, January 10, 2011

Freedom of Religion

The Pope has been very concerned with freedom of religion lately. Part of it is related to the massacres of Christians going to church in various Muslim countries. But even before those incidents happened he used very strong language when speaking to the curia. He said we need certain basic principles as a foundation for democracy. Historically we have had that because all the people in democracies have been basically Christian. He saw that breaking down in England. Here is a quote:
Alexis de Tocqueville, in his day, observed that democracy in America had become possible and had worked because there existed a fundamental moral consensus which, transcending individual denominations, united everyone. Only if there is such a consensus on the essentials can constitutions and law function. This fundamental consensus derived from the Christian heritage is at risk wherever its place, the place of moral reasoning is taken by the purely instrumental rationality of which I spoke earlier. In reality, this makes reason blind to what is essential. To resist this eclipse of reason and to preserve its capacity for seeing the essential, for seeing God and man, for seeing what is good and what is true, is the common interest that must unite all people of good will. The very future of the world is at stake.
 The trouble is the basic principle required is not that easily arrived at. One needs to see the value of human beings even when you know their world and life view to be seriously in error. Catholicism teaches this. That you can never impose the faith but only propose it. People always have the right to say No. God does not force Himself on anyone and we should not force God on anyone either. What is more, we need to value what they say about God. Despite their errors we can still learn a lot about God from them. So we need to welcome them into conversations about public policy and even engage in charitable dialogue over matters of faith.

The trouble is many other belief systems don't end up there. Catholics struggle mightily to live out their own teaching because it is hard. Our pride tempts us to dismiss "all those people who are just all wrong anyway." So if we have trouble embracing this teaching we should not be surprised that many other belief systems simply reject it. Here is one comment about the Koran:
But the Qur'an (or Koran) itself, the holy book of Islam, contains over 100 verses calling for violence against Christians and Jews. To give just one example, Sura 9:5 says, "Slay the idolaters wherever you find them."
This kind of thinking has  a long history in Christianity as well. The only reason it didn't find it's way into authoritative Catholic teaching is by the grace of God. Islam is not protected by God from error in the same way so we do see this sentiment strongly reflected in the Koran and there is just no way to get it out of there. There is no authority to definitively tell Muslims how these verses should be interpreted. Remember the impulse to attack those who are different is sinful but very strong. So the fact that it is easy to find verses to justify such behavior makes it even more difficult to control.

Then you have the secularists. They seem to embrace exactly what the pope is thinking about here. In fact, many of the moderate Muslims who don't support violence are moderate precisely because of the influence of western secularism. Secularism has tolerance and respect for all views as a basic tenet. So where is the problem?

The trouble is they try and often fail to be fair to all views. They tend to respect fashionable views. They tend to disrespect Christian views. So, for example, they will exalt the gay agenda and praise it as something pure and good and right and holy. They will despise the Christian view as backwards and narrow minded and bigoted. They will do this in the name of equality and fairness. They really cannot see that they are imposing their view as the correct one and condemning another view simply because they don't agree with it.

Both secularist and Muslims lack a principle that requires them to listen seriously to dissenting opinions. They believe the other side has nothing to offer. They are simply wrong. So marginalizing them and shutting them out of public debate is very tempting. But that kind of thinking leads to the breakdown of democratic institutions. This is why the pope says the future of the world is at stake. If a country like England cannot have a functional democracy in the post-Christian Europe then where can democracy survive?

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