Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Catholic things

As an interested non-Catholic observer, I note the incisive USCCB response to the "unfortunate" Catholic lawmakers’ statement I reported here. I think the bishops get the better of the exchange, both on the religious merits, as I understand them, and on the constitutional/political merits (where I am on more solid ground).

The other piece to which I wish to call attention doesn’t begin in an especially Catholic way, celebrating (as it does) Catholics and non-Catholics alike. It is what amounts to a kind of commencement address by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, speaking, as he says, "as a private Catholic citizen." This passage in particular is powerful:

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.

But wait, there’s more:

The word religion comes from the Latin word religare—to bind. Religious believers bind themselves to a set of beliefs. They submit themselves to a community of faith with shared convictions and hopes. A community of believers has a common history. It also has a shared purpose and future that are much bigger than any political authority. And that has implications. Individuals pose no threat to any state. They can be lied to, bullied, arrested, or killed. But communities of faith do pose a threat. Religious witness does have power, and communities of faith are much harder to silence or kill.


This is why active religious faith has always been so distrusted and feared by every one of the big modern ideologies—whether it’s Marxism, or fascism, or the cult of selfishness and comfortable atheism that we see in Europe and the United States today. What we believe about God shapes what we believe about the human person. And what we believe about the human person has consequences—social, economic, and political consequences.

He goes on to speak about the serious limits of toleration as a hallmark for the interaction between religious believers, believers in the true religion, and non-believers. Toleration, he says, is "not a Christian virtue." To understand his alternative, you’ll have to read the whole thing.    

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