co-operating with the British government in providing our children, in Catholic schools, with access to abortion; and everyone concerned by Archbishop Vincent Nichols's support for the last government's anti-life, anti-family sex and relationship legislation, fortunately defeated by the pro-life lobby, and by his recent statements on gay unions.The ideologies that produced the dehumanising regimes of Nazism and Communism are still with us today, only this time they are more subtle, kinder, media friendly, and operate under the guise of tolerance. We know that Nazism sought credibility in a warped and manipulated Christianity, which was a stepping stone towards the real goal of Nazism: the destruction of Christianity and the establishment of neo-paganism. Communism was explicitly atheistic. What unites Nazism, Communism and modern day atheistic secularism, is the desire to live automomously from God i.e. man is his own master. This was the point Pope Benedict XVI made in his opening address on his recent papal visit to the United Kingdom.
In trying to construct a society autonomous from God and His truth, we find ourselves in a situation in which the systematic killing of unborn children is the "foundational injustice" upon which this secular atheistic society is being built.
This was the message of Archbishop Charles Chaput in his address to the 15th symposium of the Canon Law Society meeting last month in Slovakia, a country that has known the meaning of suppression under totalitarian regimes that rejected God. Catholicism in Europe has lived under wars, revolutions and totalitarianism.
The first lie
In speaking of Christians under totalitarian regimes, Chaput said:
“They know the real cost of Christian witness from bitter experience—and also, unfortunately, the cost of cowardice, collaboration and self-delusion in the face of evil. Many Catholics in Western Europe today simply don’t understand those costs. Nor do they seem to care. As a result, many are indifferent to the process in our countries that social scientists like to call 'secularization' but which, in practice, involves repudiating the Christian roots and soul of our civilization.’Chaput calls this the first big lie: that Europe can be understood without Christianity:
"The unique genius and meaning of Western civilization cannot be understood without the 20 centuries of Christian context in which they developed. A people who do not know their history, do not know themselves. They are a people doomed to repeat the mistakes of their past because they cannot see what the present, which always flowers out of the past, requires of them."Religion is being systematically reduced to a private lifestyle choice that does not have the right to a voice in the public square. Why? Because Christianity, specifically Catholicism, has a voice that speaks of God, of truth, of the sanctity of human life from conception:
"Efforts have been made to discourage or criminalize the expression of certain Catholic beliefs as 'hate speech'. Our courts and legislatures now routinely take actions that undermine marriage and family life, and seek to scrub our public life of Christian symbolism and signs of influence."In Europe, such hostility is marked by its open contempt for Christianity. Ths state has become an absolute, an idol. Freedom of worship is very important, but still leaves Christianity to be marginalised and privatised. What Chaput is calling for is both freedom to worship and for religious freedom, which ensures Christianity has a voice in public debate.
Chaput notes that this secularism can sometimes be promoted with good intentions. After all, some would say we live in a pluralistic multi-faith, multi-ethnic and culturally diverse continent. English Dominican theologian Aidan Nichols OP has labelled this pluralism “communitarianism by non-religious elites.” This seems to imply a deliberate attempt at social engineering rather than the results of history and circumstance.
However, it is also being promoted to marginalise and to neutralise the voice of Christians in society. The daily lived experience of Christians testifies to this injustice.
“To be European is to be the heir of a profound Christian synthesis of Greek philosophy and art, Roman Law and biblical truth”Chaput says, echoing Pope Benedict’s own thought. Chaput goes on to quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
“The unity of the West is not an idea but a historical reality, of which the sole foundation is Christ.”Chaput tells us that we, as Europeans, cannot dispense with our history. Superficial concern about not offending our fellow non-Christians does not justify the silencing of Europe’s Chrisitan heritage. Despite what the "new atheists" claim, Christianity is not imposed upon anyone. The only confessional states in the world today are those ruled by Islamist or atheistic dictatorships:
“regimes that have rejected the Christian West’s belief in individual rights and the balance of powers.”The second lie
Chaput tells that there is a second big lie at the heart of this autonomous society:
"the lie that there is no unchanging truth".This is particularly pertinent in the moral discourse of today. Relativism has now become the civil religion and public religion in modern society. Objective truth is rejected as a dangerous idea. Relativism is proposed as a means of keeping peace, eqaulity and tolerance.
In practice, however, we see that without a belief in fixed moral principles and transcendent truths, our political institutions and language become instruments in the service of a new barbarism. In the name of tolerance we come to tolerate the cruellest intolerance; respect for other cultures comes to dictate disparagement of our own; the teaching of “live and let live” justifies the strong living at the expense of the weak.
To summarise so far: Chaput has traced out the historical epochs of Europe, particularly the totalitarianism of the last 50 years, and the ideologies that fuelled them. Chaput then suggests two lies that society is being constructed on: Europe without its Christian context and content, and relativism. With this analysis Chaput writes:
“This diagnosis helps us understand one of the foundational injustice in the West today—the crime of abortion.”Chaput calls this the "the crucial issue of our age".
The foundational injustice: abortion
The right to life is the foundation of every other human right. If that right is not inviolate, then no right can be guaranteed. Indeed, the defence of life from conception is an intergral and central part of Catholic indentity since apostolic times. Sacred Scripture testifies to the sanctity of human life. The first century Didache clearly speaks of the sanctity of life and the evil of abortion,
"Homicide is homicide, no matter how small the victim."In the face of abortion, euthanasia, embryonic research and eugenics in our own day, this aspect of discipleship becomes even more important.
"My point in mentioning abortion is this: Its widespread acceptance in the West shows us that without a grounding in God or a higher truth, our democratic institutions can very easily become weapons against our own human dignity.
"If human rights are separated from objective truth and their relationship to God, they devolve to the arbitrary conventions of men and women. The state is there to recognise and protect these fundemental rights, not arbitarily bestow them or take them away. In doing this, the state becomes totalitarian."This explains the paradox of how Western societies can preach tolerance and diversity while aggressively undermining and penalizing the Catholic voice in public discourse:
"The dogma of tolerance cannot tolerate the Church’s belief that some ideas and behaviors should not be tolerated because they dehumanize us. The dogma that all truths are relative cannot allow the thought that some truths might not be."The rejection of objective truth in favour of relativism also explains the paradox of tolerance and equality, at the same time resulting in the systematic kiling of unborn children. Abortion is the example of intolerance, inequality and disregard for human rights. It is an act of atrocious violence, not a path to peace.
"The Catholic beliefs that most deeply irritate the orthodoxies of the West are those concerning abortion, sexuality and the marriage of man and woman. These truths are subversive in a world that would have us believe that God is not necessary and that human life has no inherent nature or purpose. Thus the Church must be punished because, despite all the sins and weaknesses of her people, she is still the bride of Jesus Christ; still a source of beauty, meaning and hope that refuses to die -- and still the most compelling and dangerous heretic of the world’s new order."
A temptation for the Church
We must put God first, and the obligations of political authroity second. An excellent example of this is seen in the life of St. Thomas More, who was tried and condemned to death in Westminster Hall, where Pope Benedict XVI recently gave his address to civil society on the right relationship between religion and the state. According to Chaput, throughout the ages, it has been a temptation for the Church in its relationship to the civil powers and the state to try and get along with Ceasar, to the point that the Church accommodates ideas and practices that are inimiciable to the Christian faith. The Scriptures remind us that we should pray for our civil leaders, and love our country (1 Timonthy 2:1-7). However,
"We cannot collaborate with evil without gradually becoming evil ourselves. It’s foolish to expect gratitude or even respect from our governing and cultural leadership classes today. Naïve imprudence is not an evangelical virtue."
A Catholicism of resistance
Chaput calls for a "Catholicism of resistance" based on trust in Christ’s words: "The truth will make you free." Chaput called this "believing that the truths of the Creed are worth suffering and dying for".
"We live in a time when the Church is called to be a believing community of resistance. We need to call things by their true names. We need to fight the evils we see. And most importantly, we must not delude ourselves into thinking that by going along with the voices of secularism and de-Christianization we can somehow mitigate or change things. Only the Truth can set men free. We need to be apostles of Jesus Christ and the Truth he incarnates."Chaput continues:
"Let us preach Jesus Christ with all the energy of our lives. And let us support each other—whatever the cost—so that when we make our accounting to the Lord, we will be numbered among the faithful and courageous, and not the cowardly or the evasive, or those who compromised until there was nothing left of their convictions; or those who were silent when they should have spoken the right word at the right time."If the Church is the most compelling and dangerous heretic of the world’s new order, the Gospel of Life must be its sacred book, and the dignity of human life one of its key doctrines.
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