Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Religious Liberty

Rorate Caeli has a post on the question of religious freedom arguing that some recent comments by the Pope favor their (and, frankly, my) favored interpretation to Vatican II's alleged "turn around" on this question: namely, that this was simply a prudential question of changing the pastoral/diplomatic approach to the issue based on the practical contingencies of our age and it's political situation, not a renunciation of any theoretical theological principles or of the possibility that the policies of a more hegemony-enforced Christendom were right in their own time and situation (a prudential judgment on which Catholics may legitimately disagree).

However, I find this claim a bit disingenuous. They spin the Pope's comments as meaning that:
the foundation for the conciliar position on Religious Freedom is anthropological - that is, its foundation is essentially not theological. It is pragmatic and practical, a response to what in French would be termed "les contingences du moment", the contingencies of the moment ("aware of the developments in culture and society") - and perfectly compatible with the Traditional doctrine of the Church, in order to protect true liberty of worship (see Libertas, 30, including a "moral obligation to seek the truth") and the full liberty of action of the Church.
However, this seems to be naive. I'm certain that the Pope's use of "anthropology" in this context refers to a branch of theology ("theological-anthropology") dealing with the question of human nature, not merely to the social science called "anthropology." As such, I think he probably does view the Council's teaching as in some sense "theological." If religious assent cannot, by nature, be coerced (and it can't), then there is a real question about whether the freedom of assent is diminished in a situation where forms of dissent are coercively repressed.

And I admit that even though I do personally believe that, under certain circumstances, for the good of the civil community, something like heresy could be punished or repressed by the State as a form of treason (and certainly the crime of spreading/advocating it). I think we moderns underestimate how much of a threat dissent posed to even the temporal order in Christendom. All societies are just networks of relationship, after all, and if one lives in a society of relationships based in the context of Church and Christ (as we think all relationships should be!)...things that threaten the fiber of this relational-fabric could obviously be seen as a threat to proper order, security, and peace.

Though I'm also very wary of immanentist attitudes; His Kingdom is not of this world, not even in the visible Church which is a human institution subject to the same institutional flaws as any temporal organization (and yet is also Divine; a tension I've been thinking about a lot lately).

But this is not even my real point in bringing up this post; quite the opposite actually. My real point is how myopic some of these crazy authoritarian trads are when considering this question. From the self-absorbed perspective of Westerners who can take their own religious freedom for granted, they seem to imagine that the Conciliar and post-Conciliar emphasis on religious liberty is directed at this past history in Christendom. That it is intended as a renunciation of Christian States in the European past or something like that.

I think this is incredibly naive and that their obsession with this question shows just what a fantasy world these people are living in. To me, it seems rather obvious that the declarations on religious freedom were/are directed at the situation of Christians facing repression in places like the Middle East and China!

The debate over this question by both trads and liberals in the West shows just how wrapped-up in their own little worlds and ideologies they are, when I'm pretty sure the Council first and foremost emphasized this to confront the situation of Christians under Communism (and yet, trads always insult the Council for "not condemning communism"). Today, the situation exists in both Red China and Muslim countries. Of course, demanding our freedom in these places would seem to require, practically at least, a reciprocity of religious or ideological tolerance in our own countries.

But basically, I have to say to people in the West who angst over this question in either a trad or a liberal manner: this wasn't about you.

I think it is delusional (on the part of both trads and liberals) to think of the recent advocacy for "religious freedom" as primarily about some sort of surrender to liberal-democratic secularist/pluralist values and renunciation of our own past teaching and history in light of these values.

There is, no doubt, a very troubling attitude these days ("What is really sacred is democracy, human rights, property, my rights as a (religious) consumer, and so on. That is the real religion, and we all follow it.")
of treating liberal-democracy and secularism/pluralism as if they constitute some sort of meta-value with reference to which even the Church's own values can be judged (instead of, as it should be, the other way around), and by which we (who have made all this "progress") can look down self-righteously, in our perverse decadence, on the "barbaric" Christian past of "evil intolerance." But I simply don't think that's what the talk of religious liberty is about. If it was meant as came 200 years too late!

Really, I'm pretty sure it's about speaking up for our persecuted Christian brothers and sisters in partibus infidelium. And, especially, those who are the very victims of Leftist regimes.

This idea held by trads (and liberals, I'll add) that, in making these pronouncements about "religious freedom," the bishops and Pope had or have in mind condemning the abstract hypothetical of a Christendom that hasn't existed for centuries and which is just completely impossible in our world today...strikes me as insane. That sort of historical recreationism and creative anachronism may be the fantasy thought-world of the trads (and, on the other hand, getting the Church to admit it was "wrong" in the past and surrender to liberal democratic secularist/pluralist values seems to be the self-justifying agenda of the liberals)...but really I think the Pope's thoughts on the matter were and are with his spiritual children bravely suffering in the Second and Third worlds, not with his neurotic spoiled teenagers in the First.


Mark of the Vineyard said...

"And I admit that even though I do personally believe that, under certain circumstances, for the good of the civil community, something like heresy could be punished or repressed by the State as a form of treason (and certainly the crime of spreading/advocating it). I think we moderns underestimate how much of a threat dissent posed to even the temporal order in Christendom."

This is one of the reasons why we moderns "don't get" the Inquisition or the Albigensian Crusade, for example.

Who Am I said...

Depends who you're calling a modern. The history of Western Nations isn't as hegemonic as people make it out to be.

Likewise, it isn't fair to say EVERYTHING that occurred during the Era of The Inquisition was exactly orthodox. Coerced conversions for one do A LOT more damage than people think they do.

One needs to unpack what they mean by that. Likewise, wouldn't blasphemy laws in places like say, Pakistan be a remnant of that ? It becomes QUITE the dangerous game, hence why I agree with what is contained herein. It ultimately becomes a means for preserving the lives of those Christians in lands where they're persecuted. That being said, what exactly was the policy before ? I'm thinking historically concerning The Church in North Africa and The Levant. Wasn't martyrdom the expected response ? Wouldn't that give hints to why Islam rose as it did in these territories ?

St.Gregory The Great wrote about CERTAIN religious communities that COULD be tolerated in Christian nations. That hasn't always been followed through. On that note, how exactly does The Encounter Era figure into what is appropriate when evangelizing a group. When people choose not to convert, burn them at the stake ? When people fight to defend THEIR land, enslave them ? There is A LOT of unpacking of that theme that needs to be done.

Lastly, talking about The Crusades, what exactly was its purpose ? I know the answer to that, but I'm PURPOSELY asking this question as it relates to a particular ideology that is rampant in said region. Is it possible that that particular ideology like blasphemy laws is a remnant of a bygone era ? Perhaps THAT is what most people don't understand about it.