Have you discovered this website yet: The Catholic Thing? The short snappy and to-the-point articles are written by reputable chaps and a few chappesses. They’ve been going since June this year, but I have only just picked up on them, thanks to cross advertising with the First Things site.
Anyway, Fr James Schall of Ignatius Press fame has posted an entry on “The First Freedom”, ie. religious freedom and its relation to the state. Since we have been discussing the topic here, I thought I would link it. Note very carefully that he discusses the matter in relation to the situation of Christians living under the Islamic religious states. He writes:
Christians leaving Muslim states is a direct consequence of a reverse position on religious freedom. Here state and religion are one. Freedom of religion does not mean freedom of “false” religion.
Somewhat ironical when we get some commentators on this blog arguing that “true Catholicism” teaches that “error has no rights”. It is true that some Catholics – even some popes – once taught that. Nowadays, as Fr Schall points out,
“Popes state that teh first freedom, that of religion, is the basic freedom. Other freedoms depend on it. Civil law does not “make” this freedom, but recognizes it as inherent in the human person, whose origin and destiny are not political.”
So, okay, if you want to be picky – or exact – we still teach that “error has no rights” before God. When you front up before your Lord and Maker on Judgement day, and he tells you you have been an unrepentant idolator all your life, you cannot plead “religious freedom” as an excuse.
BUT the doctrine of the right to freedom of conscience in matters of religion is not about a “right” before God, but a “right” before Man. No individual human being or collective body of human beings has the right to impose or forbid religious faith or practice upon another human being individually or collectively. There are, of course, grey areas, such as whether a person can be prohibited from offering live animal sacrifices in their back yard, or whether a person can be prosecuted for religious vilification.
This is where the all important – and very modern – doctrine of reciprocity comes into the discussion. It was all very well for Catholics to endorse laws which required all people living in a Catholic kingdom to adhere to the Catholic religion – but the boot was suddenly on the other foot when the Catholics were living in a Muslim or Communist regime.
There is a saying about walking a mile in another man’s shoes. This saying is very pertinent to the interreligious encounter.
But Fr Schall takes the discussion in another direction. Perhaps, saith he, the problem for the Church is not those places where the Catholics are persecuted and denied religious freedom, but those places where they are not. Far from the Catholic ideal being a Catholic Confessional State aligned to the Church, the ideal may very well be as Chaldean Archbishop Ramzi Garmou of Teheran put it at the Synod on the Word:
“The whole Bible…tells us that faithfulness to the Word of God leads to persecution…. According to the Gospel, persecution is considered as the most eloquent sign of faithfulness to the Word of God.”
Calls for a “Catholic Confessional State” seem to me to be almost parallel to Muslim ideas about the relationships between the religious and the political. Thus, Islam divides the world into two halves, the dar-al-Islam (house of Islam) and the dar-al-Harb (house of war). The aim, in this world view, is to make the whole dar-al-Harb into part of the dar-al-Islam.
No Christian – certainly not Catholics – can buy into a Christianised version of this scheme without selling their birthright. “Here we have no abiding city, but we are looking for the city that is to come” (Heb 13:14). Contrary to Dan Schutte et aliter, we are not “Building the City of God” here on earth. For us, the world will always be the dar-al-harb, although with the crucial difference that we will always be “more warred against than warring”.
So Fr Schall concludes:
The only way we will be able to spot real Christians is if they are persecuted. “Non-persecuted” Christians ally themselves with the modern state or are converted to the dominant religion. They do not maintain enough Christian doctrine or practice to be threats either to the modern state or to other dominant religions.
I like that idea. Rather than commandeering the State into the service of the Church (“a Catholic Confessional State”) the true context for the Christian Church is that which she occupied in the first three centuries of her existence, and that which she has continued to occupy in the majority of places throughout the world ever since: persecution.