By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
While addressing the first session of the 15th symposium for the Canon Law Association of Slovakia this week, Denver’s Archbishop Charles Chaput called upon Christians to fight against the “civil religion” of relativism and the rise of a “state-encouraged atheism” that seeks to reduce religion to “an individual lifestyle accessory.”
In his speech, Archbishop Chaput warned about the encroachment of the so-called “post-Christian” world which is ruled by rationality, technology and good social engineering.
“Religion has a place in this worldview, but only as an individual lifestyle accessory,” he said. “People are free to worship and believe whatever they want, so long as they keep their beliefs to themselves and do not presume to intrude their religious idiosyncrasies on the workings of government, the economy, or culture.”
While this might sound like a reasonable way to organize the kind of diverse societies as we have today, this worldview contains “two unpleasant details” that will have a serious effect on the life of the believer.
“First, ‘freedom of worship’ is not at all the same thing as ‘freedom of religion’,” the Archbishop explains. “Religious freedom includes the right to preach, teach, assemble, organize, and to engage society and its issues publicly, both as individuals and joined together as communities of faith. This is the classic understanding of a citizen’s right to the ‘free exercise’ of his or her religion in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It’s also clearly implied in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“In contrast, freedom of worship is a much smaller and more restrictive idea” in which religion has a place, but only as kind of “lifestyle accessory.”
The second detail is how the rhetoric of enlightened, secular tolerance square with the actual experience of faithful Catholics in Europe and North America in recent years?
“In the United States, a nation that is still 80 percent Christian with a high degree of religious practice, government agencies now increasingly seek to dictate how Church ministries should operate, and to force them into practices that would destroy their Catholic identity. Efforts have been made to discourage or criminalize the expression of certain Catholic beliefs as “hate speech.” Our courts and legislatures now routinely take actions that undermine marriage and family life, and seek to scrub our public life of Christian symbolism and signs of influence.
“In Europe, we see similar trends, although marked by a more open contempt for Christianity.”
He outlined recent legislation and court decisions in America and Europe that reveal an ongoing shift in western societies from a non-sectarian public policy of broad religious tolerance, to an overtly anti-religious form of government which attacks religion in the name of tolerance. This has resulted in a comprehensive attack on religious freedom, particularly Christianity, with an end goal to replace God and the Church with technology and social engineering.
He cited as an example the recent raiding of the home of the Archbishop of Brussels in which bishops were detained for hours without due process and tombs belonging to two prelates were desecrated.
“Earlier this summer we witnessed the kind of vindictive thuggery not seen on this continent since the days of Nazi and Soviet police methods: the Archbishop’s palace in Brussels raided by agents; bishops detained and interrogated for nine hours without due process; their private computers, cell phones, and files seized. Even the graves of the Church’s dead were violated in the raid. For most Americans, this sort of calculated, public humiliation of religious leaders would be an outrage and an abuse of state power. And this is not because of the virtues or the sins of any specific religious leaders involved, since we all have a duty to obey just laws. Rather, it’s an outrage because the civil authority, by its harshness, shows contempt for the beliefs and the believers whom the leaders represent.
“My point is this: These are not the actions of governments that see the Catholic Church as a valued partner in their plans for the 21st century. Quite the opposite. These events suggest an emerging, systematic discrimination against the Church that now seems inevitable. ”
He warned that today’s secularizers “are more adroit in their bigotry; more elegant in their public relations; more intelligent in their work to exclude the Church and individual believers from influencing the moral life of society. Over the next several decades, Christianity will become a faith that can speak in the public square less and less freely. A society where faith is prevented from vigorous public expression is a society that has fashioned the state into an idol. And when the state becomes an idol, men and women become the sacrificial offering.”
The faithful must resist these assaults with what he calls “a Catholicism of resistance” which “must be based on trust in Christ’s words: ‘The truth will make you free’.”
The Archbishop explained that a truthful way of life means rejecting attempts to hide unacceptable realities behind acceptable words: “Living within the truth also means telling the truth and calling things by their right names.” It also requires Christians to expose falsehoods foisted upon the public, “exposing the lies by which some men try to force others to live.”
He identified as “two of the biggest lies in the world today” as the idea that Christianity was only of minor importance in the development of the West, and that Western values and institutions can be sustained without being grounded in Christian moral principles.
He concluded by inviting the faithful to join a “believing community of resistance” that presents and defends the truth to a world of “enforced public nihilism.”
“We are ambassadors of the living God to a world that is on the verge of forgetting him,” he said. “Our work is to make God real; to be the face of his love; to propose once more to the men and women of our day, the dialogue of salvation.”
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