Thursday, August 18, 2011

Chaput on Religious Freedom.

Archbishop Chaput (almost of Philadelphia!) has been urging the youth in Madrid to holiness in all sorts of venues. You've got to love this blurb from his address in the Madrid stadium during the “Noche de Alegría” (Night of Joy):

“Ultimately, it will not be how you feel that will determine how genuine and profound your encounter with Jesus is,” he told pilgrims.

“Instead, it will be determined by how much you are transformed into Him and how much you burn in the desire to bring Him to others, by announcing the Gospel, by serving the poor and the needy, by defending the unborn, by securing a culture that is not hostile to the growth of Christian families,” he said.

The address that really struck me, however, was on religious freedom. Ever since Health and Human Services mandated contraceptive coverage from healthcare providers, I've been chewing on the concept. What is religious freedom, anyway? Can it be that we've reached a point in American history when the very idea of religious freedom no longer has any real meaning? It's a bothersome thought, and I was feeling rather reactionary. I'm no extreme Tea Partier (I prefer coffee. Wah-waaaah.). I wear pants. I don't mind women wearing the hijab around the park (Miriam thinks they're all nuns).

But I just can't shake the nagging feeling that, in the West, our freedom to profess and practice our faith in public ain't what it could be. Or what we like to imagine it is. Chaput said:

"Religious freedom means being able to worship as we choose."

Unfortunately, I think most of us tend to stop there. But Chaput goes on:

"It’s also the liberty to preach, teach, and practice our faith openly and without fear. But it involves even more than that. Religious freedom includes the right of religious believers, leaders, and communities to take part vigorously in a nation’s public life."

He then distinguishes two premises that underlie our Western belief in the freedom of religion: First, we assume that, because human beings are free, we are free to believe or not believe in God. Second, we assume "
that questions about God, eternity and the purpose of human life really do have vital importance for human happiness. And therefore people should have the freedom to pursue and to live out the answers they find to those basic questions without government interference."

He's saying that if either one of these two premises is absent, so is the basis for our defense of the freedom of religion. I'm not so sure that the West in general believes in either premise any longer.

He continues:

"Freedom of religion cannot coexist with freedom from religion. Forcing religious faith out of a nation’s public square and out of a country’s public debates does not serve democracy. It doesn’t serve real tolerance or pluralism. What it does do is impose a kind of unofficial state atheism. To put it another way, if we ban Christian Churches or other religious communities from taking an active role in our nation’s civic life, we’re really just enforcing a new kind of state-sponsored intolerance—a religion without God."

He then presents a sort of survey of the state of religious freedom world-wide. You'll want to read the whole thing.

And if the whole thing leaves you a little morose, or even (heaven forbid) nostalgic, then remember this: This has all happened before. The Church has never taught that the world is progressing ever-forward; nor do we believe that "it's all going to pot." GK Chesterton offers some solace:

"Today this is the way the world is going, if there is any such thing. But in fact there is no such thing. A Catholic perhaps should have seen it from the first; but many a Catholic has only seen it in a flash at the last. There is no way the world is going. There never was. The world is not going anywhere, in the sense of the old optimist progressives, or even of the old pessimist reactionaries. It is not going to the Brave New World... any more that to the New Utopia. The world is what the saints and the prophets saw it was; it is not merely getting better or merely getting worse.... [It] wobbles.

"Now that is fundamentally what the Church has always said.... [She says] that we must not we must not count on the certainty even of comforts becoming more common or cruelties more rare.... We must not hate humanity, or despise humanity, or refuse to help humanity; but we must not trust humanity.... 'Put not your trust in princes or in any child of man.'" ~The Well and the Shallows

And so it is. The world is not our home, and so the betrayals and disappointments we suffer should drive us neither to despair nor to self-deception. We don't need to pretend that religious freedom is alive and well. We don't need to bemoan our fate for living "in such times." We only need, as Chaput concludes, one, total act of submission. But not to the world:

"We can’t change the direction of the world by ourselves or on our own. But that’s not our job. Our job—and especially your job as young leaders—is to let God change us, and then through us, God will change others and the world. We win the world by winning one soul at a time for Jesus Christ and his Church, starting with ourselves. We win the future by beginning right here, right now, in this time we have together.

"Ignorance of the world is a luxury we can’t afford. Being uninformed about the world and its problems and issues is a sin against our vocation as disciples. Love Jesus Christ as your brother and Lord. Love the Church as your mother. Know your faith, know the world and its struggles—and then open your hearts. Let God use you to bring others to the salvation that God intends for all of us."

1 comment:

LP said...

wow, he is AWEWSOME! Thank you - I needed to read that. So liberating - no pun intended :)