Thursday, May 31, 2007

I can agree with the diagnosis - but the remedy?


Thanks to Dave Justus for this, leading to The Anchoress (who I do not read often...) writing on a speech given by Charles J Chaput to a student seminar in New York.

The diagnosis?

But the problem is that much of American culture right now is built on an adolescent fiction. The fiction is that life is all about you as an individual—your ideas, your appetites, and your needs. Believe me: It isn’t. The main interest big companies have in your wants and mine is how to turn them into a profit. Part of being an adult is the ability to separate marketing from reality; hype from fact. The fact is, the world is a big and complicated place. It doesn’t care about your appetites. It has too many of its own needs, and it won’t leave you alone.


The world needs the gifts he gave you. Adulthood brings power. Power brings responsibility. And the meaning of your life will hinge on a simple, basic choice. Will you engage the world with your heart and brains and faith, and work to make it a better place—not just for yourself and the people you love but also for people you don’t even know whose survival depends on your service to the common good? Or will you wrap yourself in a blanket of noise and toys and consumer junk, and stay a child?

God gave you a free will. How you use that gift is your choice—but it’s a choice you won’t be able to avoid. And that choice has consequences.


Here’s my point. People who take the question of human truth, freedom and meaning seriously will never remain silent about it. They can’t. They’ll always act on what they believe, even at the cost of their reputations and lives. That’s the way it should be. Religious faith is always personal, but it’s never private. It always has social consequences, or it isn’t real. And this is why any definition of “tolerance” that tries to turn religious faith into a private idiosyncrasy, or a set of personal opinions that we can have at home but that we need to be quiet about in public, is doomed to fail.

The mentality of suspicion toward religion is becoming its own form of intolerance. I have seen a kind of secular intolerance develop in our own country over the past two decades. The modern secular view of the world assumes that religion is superstitious and false; that it creates division and conflict; and that real freedom can only be ensured by keeping God out of the public square.

But if we remove God from public discourse, we also remove the only authority higher than political authority, and the only authority that guarantees the sanctity of the individual. If the twentieth century taught us anything, it’s that modern states tend to eat their own people, and the only thing stopping this is a resistance based in the human spirit but anchored in a higher authority—which almost always means religious witness.

That last pair of paras were also quoted by Dave Justus. It is the point of separation for the two of us, I acknowledge that and I do not want him to think that I am picking at his points.
Of course, the issue of religious tolerance isn’t simply a question of religion’s relationship with the state. It can also be a matter of different religious communities competing for the same souls in the same space. That creates a different set of problems. At their best, religious believers will understand that they have an obligation to treat people of other faiths, or no faith, with justice and charity. The same God created both the faithful and unbelievers, and the same God guarantees the rights and dignity of both. But at their worst, believers have seen unbelievers or different believers as enemies who need to be punished.

Now this is more in the line that I wish to follow because it connects directly with events in NZ over the past few days.

In large part it starts with the release of the following "Draft National Statement on Religious Diversity"
The following statement provides a framework for the recognition of New Zealand's diverse faith communities and their harmonious interaction with each other, with government and with other groups in society:

1. The State and Religion

The State seeks to treat all faith communities and those who profess no religion equally before the law. New Zealand has no state religion.

2. The Right to Religion

New Zealand upholds the right to freedom of religion and belief and the right to freedom from discrimination on the grounds of religious or other belief.

3. The Right to Safety

Faith communities and their members have a right to safety and security of their person and property.

4. The Right of Freedom of Expression

The right to freedom of expression and freedom of the media are vital for democracy, but should be exercised with responsibility.

5 Recognition and Accommodation

Reasonable steps shall be taken in educational and work environments and in the delivery of public services to recognise and accommodate diverse religious beliefs and practices.

6. Education

Schools should teach an understanding of the diversity of religious and spiritual traditions in a manner that reflects the community of which the school is a part.

7. Religious Differences

Debate and disagreement about religious beliefs within faith communities and beyond will occur and should be exercised within the rule of law and without resort to violence.

8. Cooperation and understanding

Government and faith communities have a responsibility to build and maintain positive relationships with each other, and promote mutual respect and understanding.

As if to immediately fulfil the predictions in the last para I quoted from Chaput, who should spit himself onto the scene than me old mate Self Appointed Bishop of Destiny Brian Tamaki.
Bishop Tamaki said New Zealand's heritage was Christian and it should stand up for its beliefs rather than promoting "diversity".

"I believe we are at a point where Christian-based nations must not be afraid to declare their religious allegiance, not to the exclusion of other religions, but to ensure that future generations can enjoy the moral traditions, values, safety and freedoms that Christianity affords," he said. "This would mean that alternative or foreign religions would not be afforded equal status to the established national religion, therefore restrictions on those religions would need to apply."

For example, he said, MPs and others involved in civic occasions should continue to swear allegiance on the Bible, the parliamentary prayer should continue to refer to "the Christian god Jesus Christ", and Christian values should be reflected in the education and justice systems and "our social arrangements". He said the proposed diversity statement was "the first step, and a big step, to opening the door to a diversity of religions, dismantling our own Christian heritage".

He warned that New Zealand should learn from Britain and France, where large-scale immigration had been permitted and "mosques are allowed to flourish".

"This nation must have the right to be able to discuss and to talk about whether we are going to establish and affirm and accept our religious identity as a country, or whether we are going to walk away and let that be lost, perhaps forever, and to allow foreign religions and foreign beliefs and other philosophies to proliferate into our country and begin to defile the very soil of this land,"

Yes, talk all you want Mr Tamaki. I have no difficulty with that at all. Your fine words and smooth salesman's pitch is so much hot air as far as I am concerned.

I can agree that Aotearoa has a deep affinity with Christianity in both religious and cultural senses. I was born to a family with a strong Anglo-Saxon, Christian ethic. That I no longer follow the religion (by my own choice) is of little import.

That does not in any way give the government, or the Destiny Church, the right to determine one faith as the religion of the State.

To close I want to return to the speech given by Chaput. Compare the following with the Statement on Religious Diversity.
First, every human person has an inviolable dignity and inalienable rights as a child of God made in his image. No other person or outside power has the authority to violate those rights.

Second, we should sincerely respect every element of truth and beauty embodied in other religious communities. We have an obvious family bond with other Christians and a special reverence for the Jewish people as our elder brothers in the faith. We should also seek to build mutual respect with Muslims, who claim their own descent from Abraham. But our goodwill should extend to every sincere expression of humanity’s search for God, including especially the great religious traditions of the East, Buddhism and Hinduism.

Third—and we should never, ever try to diminish this fact—while all religions have some elements of truth, all religions are not equal. Only Jesus Christ is Lord. Only Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one is saved except through him—even if other people don’t know or accept him by name. No other way to the Father exists, except through Jesus Christ.

Fourth, only the Catholic Church is the Church of Jesus Christ in its fullness, and therefore the Catholic Church teaches with his authority.

Fifth, the Church has the duty to preach Jesus Christ and propose the truth of God’s revelation. But she can’t coerce anyone to believe the truth without violating the rights of the individual person and betraying the message of the gospel. In other words, every person is free to accept or reject the message of salvation.

Sixth and finally, every person has a right to freedom of conscience and the serious duty to follow his or her conscience. But conscience never develops in a vacuum. Conscience is never just an exercise of personal opinion or preference. Every person has the obligation to form his or her conscience in the light of God’s truth. And for all men and women, in every age and every culture, the truth about God and the human person is taught in a complete way only by the Catholic faith.

And Tamaki has the gall to call himself a Christian...


Al said...

It appears that you favor Chaput. From that, I suppose I do to, since at least he's not calling for a state church, but I don't know if I'd want him to stay over for a long weekend.
I liked the Draft, generally - though, a couple of those statements have loopholes you could drive a large vehicle (provide your favorite make and model - your metaphors are always more picturesque than mine). I'd even be sanguine with our Democrats pushing through something of the same sort here.

And God bless you in your recovery.

The probligo said...

Certainly Chaput's diagnosis is truth (see the next post for continuation of that theme). I also credit him with the honesty of promoting "his" church, as he must given his position.

The difference between him and Tamaki is that the latter makes his statement political - by far the worst kind of parallel I would want...

You have not indicated which, but I guess that 5 and 6 are the most likely to include the loopholes to which you refer.

"Accomodation of religious differences" (5) has already been both recognised and debated with acceptance (for example) of Koran and Torah as "vehicles" for the swearing of oaths. I don't think that "my grandmother's grave" would qualify but there is sure to be some fool (like me) to try it. Bear in mind that this specific instance has a final legal, statutory, "out" in the form of an affirmation that the statement is true ("I make this statement in the belief that the statement is both true and correct to the best of my knowledge and belief".)

Like the US, the teaching of "religion" in schools in NZ has for many years been problematical. The first hint I had of it was when I was about 10 and the school I attended was arguing about the right of the parents of some 10 or 12 kids to "pull" their children from religious classes. Why? Because the families were Exclusive Bretheren. They overcame the "problem" by missing the school bus every second Wednesday.

There is debate at present about the validity of the prayer read in Parliament to begin each day's sitting. Apparently (I have not sought this out specifically) the first three pages of Hansard (the official record of the proceedings of the House) are taken up with debate on this point - that was in 1857.