Perpetuating The Myth of Religious Intolerance


Denver Archbishop Charles_J._Chaput recently gave a 12 page address to the Canon Law Association of Slovakia titled "Living within the Truth - Religious liberty and Catholic mission in the new order of the world". Basically, Chaput tries to establish the idea that Christians in the US and Europe are victims of intolerance, but I'm still not seeing it. To me it seems like a lengthy whine about not having as much political power and influence as he would like, with his only real argument for why any religious group should be involved in politics at all in the US is that the US (and Europe and presumably anywhere else that's western, proper, predominantly white and Christian) is based on Christan values and indeed owes its very success and ability to flourish to Christianity.

Right. Well, I obviously disagree.

One part of the address specifically caught my attention:

Downplaying the West’s Christian past is sometimes done with the best intentions, from a desire to promote peaceful co-existence in a pluralistic society. But more frequently it’s done to marginalize Christians and to neutralize the Church’s public witness.

The Church needs to name and fight this lie. To be a European or an American is to be heir to a profound Christian synthesis of Greek philosophy and art, Roman law, and biblical truth. This synthesis gave rise to the Christian humanism that undergirds all of Western civilization.

On this point, we might remember the German Lutheran scholar and pastor, Dietrich
Bonhoeffer. He wrote these words in the months leading up to his arrest by the Gestapo in 1943: “The unity of the West is not an idea but a historical reality, of which the sole foundation is Christ.”5

Our societies in the West are Christian by birth, and their survival depends on the
endurance of Christian values. Our core principles and political institutions are based, in large measure, on the morality of the Gospel and the Christian vision of man and
government. We are talking here not only about Christian theology or religious ideas. We are talking about the moorings of our societies -- representative government and the separation of powers; freedom of religion and conscience; and most importantly, the dignity of the human person.

This truth about the essential unity of the West has a corollary, as Bonhoeffer also
observed: Take away Christ and you remove the only reliable foundation for our values, institutions and way of life.

That means we cannot dispense with our history out of some superficial concern over
offending our non-Christian neighbors. Notwithstanding the chatter of the “new atheists,” there is no risk that Christianity will ever be forced upon people anywhere in the West. The only “confessional states” in the world today are those ruled by Islamist or atheist dictatorships -- regimes that have rejected the Christian West’s belief in individual rights and the balance of powers.

Just a few comments - though so much more can be said.

Claiming that there is no risk that Christianity will ever be forced on anyone in the West is not only a shockingly naive statement, it's blatantly untrue. The only way this statement might be valid is if you were to reduce what would be considered "forcing Christianity" enough to make any given example of Christianity being forced on people not count.

Even if you disregard the seemingly constant issues that are popping up all over the US with prayer in city council meetings and school board meetings and religious displays on government property - an obviously unconstitutional act that I personally would consider examples of low level government officials trying to force religion onto people in a subtle, non physical way - there are even more blatant examples of Christians forcing Christianity on people to be found. A recent situation that pops to mind is the Christian concert that was put on in Virginia where soldiers had the "choice" of either attending the concert or going back to their bunks and cleaning for hours. I'm curious as to how that might be considered not forcing Christianity on someone? Is it because there was technically a choice involved?

Also, are there really atheist dictators alive and kicking today, forcing godlessness on their people? Where are they? What are they doing in the name of atheism that is so terrible? Why have I not heard of this before from the literally hundreds of theists I've debated in the past few years? I'm not saying they don't exist, but it is suspicious to me that this is the first time I've heard of them and that no specific examples of these dictators were given.

Last, I find it interesting that the author feels comfortable claiming that both regions are based off of Christianity - or rather "profound Christian synthesis of Greek philosophy and art, Roman law, and biblical truth." He seems to be fine with admitting that our society is not a direct product of one influence, but rather a kind of synthesis of three different influences. Again, this seems short sighted to me. Why only go back that far? What about those influences that helped shape Rome and Greece? Seemingly the only reason that those influences are less important is because the time when Greece, Rome, and the rise of Christianity intercept one another is about how far back Chaput had to go in order to make his point, but if we're going to reach back to the ancient romans to establish what our modern societies are founded in, what's to stop anyone from going back even further than that? Can't I equally claim that US and Europe was built on a foundation that began with Hammurbi's code? Or the Code of Ur-Nammu? Citing the point in history where Christian and Roman ideologies began to intertwine as the foundation of western civilization seems more like convenient historical cherry picking in order to perpetuate an agenda than anything.

I don't mean to downplay the influence Christianity has had in western civilization, it obviously has influenced our societies quite a bit. However, at least in countries where there is some kind of provision for church/state separation, that does not in any way stand as justification for allowing religious groups - Catholic or anyone else - to politicize their religion.

It would seem Chaput's main point is that we somehow owe Christianity for a lot of good things, therefore not allowing Christianity to have a position of political influence and power is tantamount to religious intolerance.

I just don't agree with that sentiment at all.

(thanks to Religion Clause for the link)