Addressing the first session of the 15th symposium for the Canon Law Association of Slovakia on Tuesday, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver called for Catholics in America and Europe to oppose the rise of a “state-encouraged atheism” which reduces religion to “an individual lifestyle accessory” incapable of influencing the world. The archbishop exhorted Christians to respond to these trends by rediscovering their historic faith as the only sound basis for a just society.
Recalling the historical experience of the Slovakian Church under Communism, Archbishop Chaput told the assembly of Central European bishops and canon lawyers that Christians are being called today to defend the Church's own rights, and the rights of all people, against the “civil religion” of relativism.
Like Communism, he explained, today's secularist ideology envisions “a society apart from God” where “men and women might live wholly sufficient unto themselves,” sharing no higher guiding principle than “satisfying their needs and desires.”
This seemingly benign vision, he warned, leaves no place for the Church's work of evangelism, teaching, and activism.
The Denver archbishop also underscored the difference between “freedom of worship” and the “freedom of religion,” noting that the former is a “much smaller and more restrictive idea” in which religion has a place “but only as an individual lifestyle accessory.” On the other hand, “freedom of religion” includes “the right to preach, teach, assemble, organize, and to engage society and its issues publicly, both as individuals and joined together as communities of faith.”
Citing legislation and court decisions in America and Europe, the archbishop detailed an ongoing shift in western societies, from a non-sectarian public policy of broad religious tolerance, to an overtly anti-religious form of government which attacks religion in the name of tolerance.
A comprehensive attack on religious freedom, and specifically upon Christianity, the archbishop explained, has already begun. He told the Slovakian audience that this attack promotes an “aggressively secular political vision and a consumerist economic model.” Its end goal, he said, is to replace God and the Church with technology and social engineering.
According to Archbishop Chaput, one example of this increasing official hostility against the Church could be seen in the June 2010 raid on the Palace of the Archbishop of Brussels, in which bishops were detained without due process and tombs belonging to two cardinals were desecrated.
In light of such events, he warned, “the Church's religious liberty is under assault today in ways not seen since the Nazi and Communist eras.”
The cornerstone of a Catholic and Christian response to these assaults should begin with personally trusting in Christ, he advised. “A Catholicism of resistance,” he added, “must be based on trust in Christ's words: 'The truth will make you free'.”
Trust in the power of truth gave many Eastern European dissidents their unique “insight into the nature of totalitarian regimes,” he reminded his listeners, drawing special attention to the words of the Czech leader Vaclav Havel, who maintained the key to resistance was in “living in the truth.”
When it comes to how Catholics today should view their “discipleship and mission,” the Denver prelate said they should see it precisely as 'Living in the truth.'
A truthful way of life, according to Archbishop Chaput, rejects attempts to hide unacceptable realities behind acceptable words: “Living within the truth also means telling the truth and calling things by their right names.” It also requires Christians to expose falsehoods foisted upon the public, “exposing the lies by which some men try to force others to live.”
The greatest falsehood of contemporary times, the archbishop argued, is that civilization can exist on a completely autonomous, agnostic basis, “as if God does not matter and as if the Son of God never walked this earth.”
Forms of humanism which exclude God from public life, he asserted, cannot protect the dignity of human beings. “Our most cherished values cannot be defended by reason alone, or simply for their own sake.”
He explained that human dignity and rights must be understood as God-given personal attributes, according to the dictates of Christian revelation. Otherwise, human rights become merely the “arbitrary conventions of men and women,” which the state can take away at will.
In this context, Archbishop Chaput explained, the legality of abortion can be understood as an indicator of secular society's deepest contradictions. What began as an unassuming philosophy of “live and let live” becomes warped into a license to kill: “The will to power of the strong is given the force of law to kill the weak.”
Such contradictions, according to the archbishop, display “a kind of 'inner logic' that leads relativism to repression.” “The dogma of tolerance,” he explained, “cannot tolerate the Church's belief that some ideas and behaviors should not be tolerated.”
Archbishop Chaput warned that when societies forbid the public proclamation and active expression of religious truths, they inevitably end up exalting the power of the state. “A society where faith is prevented from vigorous public expression,” he said, “is a society that has fashioned the state into an idol. And when the state becomes an idol, men and women become the sacrificial offering.”
Drawing his words to a close, Archbishop Chaput told his Slovak listeners, only a “believing community of resistance” can present and defend the truth in a world of enforced public nihlism.
“We are ambassadors of the living God to a world that is on the verge of forgetting him,” the archbishop recalled. “Our work is to make God real; to be the face of his love; to propose once more to the men and women of our day, the dialogue of salvation.”
Archbishop Chaput's full talk can be read at: http://www.archden.org/index.cfm/ID/4396.