Experts on religious liberty cautioned participants at a weekend conference in Rome that discrimination and persecution against Christians is growing in many regions of the world.
Paul Marshall, a senior fellow at the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute, spoke about the causes underlying current global anti-Christian persecution.
“Western secularism has been growing in the last few decades,” Marshall told CNA in a Dec. 13 interview. “I want to emphasize that the patterns we're talking about are not like those in the remaining Communist world or the Middle East. It's not persecution in that sense, but it's getting very worrying.”
“There are very ominous trends and I think we need to be aware of them, in terms of job discrimination, of the ability to speak out your mind, the ability to live out your faith. Things are really worsening in the West,” he explained.
He pointed to several recent examples of this discrimination, including “German home-schooling families applying for asylum in the United States; people being fired from their jobs for holding Christian symbols.”
“These things are new, and then the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, a major center on religion statistics, says its measures of religious hostility in Western Europe are now as high as they are in the Middle East.”
Such situations arise from an underlying mentality, noted Marshall. “You've had patterns, very strongly in the educational system, of the assumption that a secular society is a society where religion has no place. It can be private, within your home, within your church, but it has no place in society at large.”
Rather than a traditional notion, “this is a new and very unusual view,” which is further tied to the “idea that a society cannot really be open if religion is present.”
“Instead of a generally open society where secular people are free, Christians are free, (and) Hindus are free,” the more novel view of secular society is one “where the State holds to a particular ideology and demands that everybody succumb to it.”
Marshall described the change in understanding as “a shift from a plural society to an ideologically secular society.”
“And that’s worrying,” he stressed.
Marshall spoke at the “Christianity and Freedom: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives” conference, held Dec. 13-14 at the Pontifical Urbaniana University in Rome. The conference is a project of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs.
Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, secretary for the Holy See's Relations with States, also addressed the conference on Dec. 13, focusing on “discrediting the erroneous and outdated notion that Christianity is the enemy of personal freedom and conscience, and that its claim to truth surely leads to violence and oppression.”
“Nothing could be historically less accurate than statements such as these,” he said.
The Archbishop emphasized the crucial link between Christianity and freedom, noting that “it has its roots in the teaching of Christ himself.”
“Freedom is intrinsic to Christianity, for it was, as (St.) Paul says, for freedom that Christ set us free.”
Although the apostle was referring primarily to “interior freedom,” explained Archbishop Mamberti, “this interior freedom naturally also has consequences for society.”
When human beings fail to value religious freedom, the results for wider society can be quite damaging, he cautioned.
“Indeed, whenever human beings cannot be open to the infinite according to their conscience, truth yields to a mendacious relativism and justice to the oppression of the prevailing ideology, whether it be atheistic, agnostic, or even overtly religious.”
The modern notion of freedom tends to be understood as “mere caprice” or “in a purely negative sense as the absence of constraint,” he said.
Yet the more traditional and Christian idea of freedom is “not dominated by fear, but rather by the joy of that truth which sets us free,” the archbishop clarified.
Such a vision, he said, “provides a bulwark against both relativism and against those forms of religious fundamentalism which, like relativism, see in religious freedom a threat to their own ideological dominance.”