2cornucopias

Living within the Truth – Part I

In 03 Archbishop Charles Chaput on 2011/09/02 at 1:11 AM

With permission, I am reprinting the address given in Slovakia by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, Colorado because it is so very relevant to us today. I am dividing the “Living Within the Truth: Religious Liberty and Catholic Mission in the New Order of the World,” into three parts where it can be separated logical because of the length of the article.

Tertullian once famously said that the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church. History has proven that to be true. And Slovakia is the perfect place for us to revisit his words today. Here, and throughout Central and Eastern Europe, Catholics suffered through 50 years of Nazi and Soviet murder regimes. So they know the real cost of Christian witness from bitter experience,…  and also, unfortunately, the cost of cowardice, collaboration and self-delusion in the face of evil.

I want to begin by suggesting that many Catholics in the United States and Western Europe today simply don’t understand those costs. Nor do they seem to care. As a result, many are indifferent to the process in our countries that social scientists like to call “secularization” — but which, in practice, involves repudiating the Christian roots and soul of our civilization.

American Catholics have no experience of the systematic repression so familiar to your Churches. It’s true that anti-Catholic prejudice has always played a role in American life. This bigotry came first from my country’s dominant Protestant culture, and now from its “post-Christian” leadership classes. But this is quite different from deliberate persecution. In general, Catholics have thrived in the United States. The reason is simple. America has always had a broadly Christian and religion-friendly moral foundation, and our public institutions were established as non-sectarian, not anti-religious.

At the heart of the American experience is an instinctive “biblical realism.” From our Protestant inheritance we have always — at least until now — understood two things at a deep level. First, sin is real, and men and women can be corrupted by power and prosperity. Second, the “city of God” is something very distinct from the “city of man.” And we are wary of ever confusing the two.

Alexis de Tocqueville, in his Democracy in America, wrote: “Despotism can do without faith, but liberty cannot … ” Therefore, “What is to be done with a people that is its own master, if it is not obedient to God?”

America’s founders were a diverse group of practicing Christians and Enlightenment deists. But nearly all were friendly to religious faith. They believed a free people cannot remain free without religious faith and the virtues that it fosters. They sought to keep Church and state separate and autonomous. But their motives were very different from the revolutionary agenda in Europe. The American founders did not confuse the state with civil society. They had no desire for a radically secularized public life. They had no intent to lock religion away from public affairs. On the contrary, they wanted to guarantee citizens the freedom to live their faith publicly and vigorously, and to bring their religious convictions to bear on the building of a just society.

Obviously, we need to remember that other big differences do exist between the American and European experiences. Europe has suffered some of the worst wars and violent regimes in human history. The United States has not seen a war on its soil in 150 years. Americans have no experience of bombed-out cities or social collapse, and little experience of poverty, ideological politics or hunger. As a result, the past has left many Europeans with a worldliness and a pessimism that seem very different from the optimism that marks American society. But these differences don’t change the fact that our paths into the future are now converging. Today, in an era of global interconnection, the challenges that confront Catholics in America are much the same as in Europe: We face an aggressively secular political vision and a consumerist economic model that result — in practice, if not in explicit intent — in a new kind of state-encouraged atheism.

To put it another way: The Enlightenment-derived worldview that gave rise to the great murder ideologies of the last century remains very much alive. Its language is softer, its intentions seem kinder, and its face is friendlier. But its underlying impulse hasn’t changed — i.e., the dream of building a society apart from God; a world where men and women might live wholly sufficient unto themselves, satisfying their needs and desires through their own ingenuity.

This vision presumes a frankly “post-Christian” world ruled by rationality, technology and good social engineering. Religion has a place in this worldview, but only as an individual lifestyle accessory. 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.

Now, at first hearing, this might sound like a reasonable way to organize a modern society that includes a wide range of ethnic, religious and cultural traditions, different philosophies of life and approaches to living.

But we’re immediately struck by two unpleasant details.

First, “freedom of worship” is not at all the same thing as “freedom of religion.” 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.

Second, how does 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. Church leaders have been reviled in the media and even in the courts for simply expressing Catholic teaching. Some years ago, as many of you may recall, one of the leading Catholic politicians of our generation, Rocco Buttiglione, was denied a leadership post in the European Union because of his Catholic beliefs.

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 the 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.

Today’s secularizers have learned from the past. They 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.

Cardinal Henri de Lubac once wrote that “It is not true … that man cannot organize the world without God. What is true, is that without God, [man] can ultimately only organize it against man. Exclusive humanism is inhuman humanism.”

The West is now steadily moving in the direction of that new “inhuman humanism.” And if the Church is to respond faithfully, we need to draw upon the lessons that your Churches learned under totalitarianism.

A Catholicism of resistance must be based on trust in Christ’s words: “The truth will make you free.” This trust gave you insight into the nature of totalitarian regimes. It helped you articulate new ways of discipleship. Rereading the words of the Czech leader Václav Havel to prepare for this talk, I was struck by the profound Christian humanism of his idea of “living within the truth.” Catholics today need to see their discipleship and mission as precisely that: “living within the truth.”

Living within the truth means living according to Jesus Christ and God’s Word in Sacred Scripture. It means proclaiming the truth of the Christian Gospel, not only by our words but by our example. It means living every day and every moment from the unshakeable conviction that God lives, and that his love is the motive force of human history and the engine of every authentic human life. It means believing that the truths of the Creed are worth suffering and dying for.

Living within the truth also means telling the truth and calling things by their right names. And that means exposing the lies by which some men try to force others to live.

Two of the biggest lies in the world today are these: first, that Christianity was of relatively minor importance in the development of the West; and second, that Western values and institutions can be sustained without a grounding in Christian moral principles.

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