I am happy to have signed on to a statement on religious freedom (mostly in the global sense) that was presented yesterday in person to the Trump and Clinton campaigns. Here is the press release, in which is embedded the group’s recommendations. One of its implications is that religious freedom is something that everyone, religious or not, can get behind.
A reigning view in modern liberal philosophy — and Western elite culture at large — is that the rise of freedom in the modern world required the decline of Christianity, or at least its marginalization from public life. John Rawls and Mark Lilla make the argument and laud this marginalization; philosophers like Pierre Manent make the argument and lament it.
A new pair of volumes from Cambridge University Press assembles a host of blue-chip scholars to argue that the thesis is wrong. (I am the author of one of the chapters but it is not I but the likes of Robert Wilken, John Rist, and Remi Brague who are the blue-chippers.) Historically, and around the world today, Christianity has been an incubator and driver of freedom. Not always, of course: Christianity has inflicted its share of unfreedom. But if the collective claim of the volume is right, then many of our present free institutions have Christianity to thank for their origins. And in authoritarian settings around the world, Christians are fighting for freedom.
Recently, Elizabeth Sperber, a political scientist starting her career at the University of Denver and a talented scholar of religion and politics, along with her colleague Matt Herman, published a piece on the Washington Post‘s “Monkey Cage” on the fraught elections taking place in Zambia and the challenge of finding impartial observers. The country turned to . . . its Christian churches. It’s a fascinating case where religion is making a positive difference in politics. Still, unresolved questions remain concerning the fairness of the elections.
Here in Toronto, a minor news storm has been made of a father lobbying the public school board to exempt his son from music lessons, on the grounds of religious freedom and the parental right to education. Doug Saunders, our Globe and Mail foreign affairs columnist, and a somewhat ardent secularist, had harsh words in the weekends edition. I responded on the Cardus blog, but I think it’s fair to say that while Saunders tone leaves a lot to be desired, his message is not falling on deaf ears.
Hardly the sun sets in the West these days without some new attempt at what Jean Jacques Rousseau might have mistily called “forcing folks to be free.”
Doug Saunders in the weekend’s Globe and Mail calls for public prejudice for the greater good, but the idea isn’t new with him, and we’ll see a lot more of it in the days ahead.
The reasons aren’t new. “Reasonable accommodation” has a long history even in a young Canada (see Fighting over God), but the fuel of public fury is building: Brexits, Trumpers, all in a pyre of anxiety over just how much diversity our Western societies can handle.
Saunders’ incredulity over Mohammad Nouman Dasu, lobbying to exempt his children from music classes, has the smell of that fire. When spirituality, he writes, “infringes on the working of the legal, educational or medical systems, we have a problem—even if we don’t notice at first.” It is yet another “incursion of religious practice”, and with justifiable “public prejudice” we must fight back. In case precious few of us can be roused to the defense of Bach’s Magnificat, he raises the issue to one of literal life and death: spiritualist anti-vaxxer types infecting our children; your children. Something must be done.
The argument borders on alarmism, its logic sometimes a little too slippery on why, for example, parents might choose (as is their right) an alternative education system. He lumps legal, pedagogical, and medicinal fields together as systems which must be protected from religious incursion—which is a bit rich, considering these professions in the West were established out of, hardly in spite of, religious communities. Saunders’own brand of religious freedom can often run a bit indulgent on curious, personal affectations (you don’t eat pork? whatever) but zero tolerance on public manifestation (marriage between husband and wife? Keep it to yourself). That’s a kind of religious freedom, certainly, but not quite approaching what even Taylor and Bouchard called reasonable accommodation.
What Saunders calls public prejudice—a phrase one presumes is just enough on the nose to drive some clicks—others have simply called strong public principles. Saunders is importantly right in this respect: the deep diversity of Canadian society is straining our cultural and legal systems, plus we’ve more or less lost the shared moral vocabulary to talk about it. Can we renew, in the words of Yuval Levin, our social contract in the age of individualism? We feel trapped in the crumbling house of liberalism, but Burke’s little platoons are in trouble, too. No help is coming.
I used to find Saunders’ brand of secularity distasteful. I’m certain I still disagree, but I am starting to gain appreciation for his dilemma. In a world where other-regarding institutions are increasingly religious (especially globally), yet where religion is always a public bad, there is a hard, dark reality that the coercive arm of the state may not be enough to save secular-liberalism. If I was that kind of secularist, I would find Mr. Dasu not just alarming, I would find him a threat to civilization. And if I thought there were a lot more Mr. Dasu’s out there, I’d start overclocking public power to enforce conformity. I would tell people that if they won’t choose to be free, we’ll need to force them. I’d celebrate public prejudice.
I can’t think of a better picture of our social, existential anxiety. It’s not going away. I’m not convinced stronger public prejudice is the answer (though it may be part of it), but from ‘muscular liberalism’ to a ‘Charter of Quebec Values’ I would say Rousseau is yet to have his day.
Mother Teresa, canonized today, will always be remembered for her untiring service of the destitute, marginalized and abandoned. Becky Samuel Shah (in her article mentioned below) highlights Mother Teresa’s profound understanding of the spiritual and material aspects of human poverty and human need. In the words of Pope Francis, Mother Teresa “bowed down before those who were spent, left to die on the side of the road, seeing in them their God-given dignity”. In doing so, she taught us the essence of dignity, charity and justice and offered precious insights into the nature of integral human development.
The other aspect of Mother Teresa’s life that was celebrated today was her prophetic courage in speaking truth to power. As further noted today by Pope Francis, Mother Teresa “made her voice heard before the powers of this world, so that they might recognize their guilt for the crime – the crimes! – of poverty they created.” Her fight against poverty was coupled to her fight for peace. In an account shared this week via the Under Caesar’s Sword facebook page, a priest friend of Mother Teresa recalls her concern over the long term suffering and destabilizing impact of war:
“Working at her side as the West prepared for war with Saddam Hussein, I saw her dread as she glimpsed the future of Middle Eastern Christianity… She understood the immediate urgency of the present situation, but she also had a dreadful fear, and a premonition about how the Middle East was to unravel over the next 25 years and fall into chaos.”
Mother Teresa’s concern led her to undertake concrete actions and advocacy on behalf of the most vulnerable. Today is a good day to examine our consciences and ask ourselves what we have learned over the past quarter of a century. Have those who advocated for invading Iraq – ignoring the pleas of Mother Teresa on the eve of the Gulf War and those of John Paul II in 2003 – ever admitted and taken responsibility for the direct and indirect consequences of those decisions? What about their successors in positions of influence? Do we do enough to assist persecuted Christian and other minorities? In our own communities, have we considered seriously Mother Teresa’s message about the biggest threat to world peace? In the face of so much injustice, persecution and innocent suffering, what “small things with great love” would Mother Teresa be doing if she were still alive today?
My dear friend Becky Samuel Shah reflects on the mission of Mother Theresa, in which material and spiritual needs were inseparable. Christianity Today features it on its homepage today. Shah considers Mother Theresa, who is set to be canonized by the Catholic Church this coming Sunday, September 4, 2016, in light of Shah’s own research on the essential role of spiritual resources for escaping poverty. Here is a passage:
On the surface, it might seem that Mother Teresa was solely preoccupied with the physical and material needs of the marginalized. She spent most of her life caring for the sick, feeding the hungry, and rescuing the homeless. Yet even as she set up institutions to resolve world hunger, she talked of people’s hunger for God and their inalienable value as creatures made in his image. Material needs, she insisted, can be easily satisfied, but caring for a person’s spiritual needs is more important. In fact, she regarded it as her primary calling.
Inspired by Mother Teresa’s example, I have worked in India for the last 10 years with Dalits, also known as “outcasts” or “untouchables.” As I’ve studied and served among them, I’ve come to realize the simple truth of her vision. The poor on the streets of “Kolkata” and places all over the world are deprived of basic human necessities like food, clothing, housing, and healthcare. (Most standard poverty measures assess wellbeing solely in terms of “neutral” social indicators, like calorific intake or years of schooling, and many development practitioners and scholars assume these are the only real aspects of poverty.) However, as Mother Teresa understood, poverty is not always reducible to material factors, and it often involves deprivation of dignity and self-worth.
Religious persecution, like slavery, is not a thing of the past. It is very present and must be addressed. This essay is a call to take the problem seriously. To continue to ignore this problem is to become part of it.
Regarding Religious Freedom: Why Now? Noah Feldman, Harvard University Bemis Professor of Law, explains:
Rich in theory and practical wisdom, this collaborative, landmark work deepens the traditional arguments for religious freedom and articulates a strategy for pursuing religious freedom internationally. Its central claim – that religious freedom is a good in itself, but will also reduce violence and terror – is especially timely in the current political situation in the Middle East, when Western policymakers might be tempted to support repressive regimes in the name of stability. It will be valuable to policymakers, scholars, religious leaders, and anyone interested in the relation between religion and public life.
Resulting from the collaboration of “experts from the fields of psychology, sociology, law, philosophy, theology, political science, and international relations,” Religious Freedom: Why Now? “offers a robust consideration of religious freedom’s present condition and the prospects for its future.” The lead author is Dr. Timothy Shah, Senior Advisor at the Religious Freedom Institute.
Last April, a conference took place in Rome, sponsored by Pax Christi, that called the Catholic Church to replace its traditional just war theory with a peace doctrine. We covered it earlier in ArcU. My colleague at Notre Dame and ArcU contributor, Gerard F. Powers, was interviewed on the conference by Our Sunday Visitor. Read here his case that the Church should not abolish the just war theory but rather ought to develop the “just peace,” or “peacebuilding” doctrine latent in its social teaching.
Then, Eli S. McCarthy of Georgetown University responds to Powers on behalf of the Rome conference, which he attended, calling for a more radical revision of the Church’s teaching in the direction of non-violence. See here.
I hereby bestow The Most Incongruous Tweet of the Day Award on Ambassador Gérard Araud, French Ambassador to the U.S.
In honor of the Feast of the Assumption today he tweeted a video of a statue of St. Mary from the Basilica Notre Dame de la Garde (“Our Lady of the Guard”) in Marseille, France, a pilgrimage site for many on this important Catholic feast day.
In nearly the very same moment he followed his tweet of Notre Dame de la Garde with a tweet asserting, “A burqa is not a neutral attire. It conveys an conception of the woman as a object of lust, a subject and not an agent of history.”
In this statue of St. Mary the Ambassador so honored, she is dressed very modestly, in a loose fitting robe covering her entire body, except her head, which is covered in part by a crown.
This leads me to several questions for you, Ambassador Araud.
Is St. Mary’s gown in this statue “not a neutral attire,” thus requiring that the French government should demand the Catholic Church create a new statue, and with her being at the sea, see to it that she be dressed only in a bikini? After all, according to you Mr. Ambassador, “It is to the state to protect women from cultural oppression” (by which I understand you to mean that the state should protect women from their own personal choice to dress modestly).
Does St. Mary’s body being covered make her de facto an “object of lust”? (St. Mary, really??)
Does St. Mary’s body being covered make her — St. Mary of all women — de facto “not an agent of history”?
Ambassador Araud, I would like to know: If St. Mary did indeed have her body covered, instead of wearing a bikini, as one might presume she did when the Angel Gabriel appeared to her, does this nullify St. Mary’s agency in her great “Fiat!” unto the Lord?
And Ambassador Araud, you have not yet answered Daniel Stublen’s question to you, “@GerardAraud what about nuns’ habits?”
In the event you or any of your staff in Washington, DC would be interested in discussing Islam and religious freedom sometime, I assure you the modestly dressed women who work at the Center for Islam and Religious Freedom (CIRF) would greatly welcome such an opportunity. And with their degrees from Princeton University, the University of Chicago, Stanford University, and Yale University and their leadership in founding CIRF, I can assure it would likely be apparent that modest attire and women’s agency are no contradiction of terms.
It was a pleasure to review Anna Su’s book on religious freedom in American foreign policy, Exporting Freedom: Religious Liberty and American Power, for The Immanent Frame. Su adopts a middle ground in recent debates.
The United States is unique among nations in claiming a heritage of religious freedom and a mission to spread it overseas. This is difficult to dispute. What has become hotly disputed is how this is to be regarded.
An “orthodox” view holds that the United States has played a special role—a providential part, as some would have it—in carrying a universal message of religious freedom to the world. First, American colonies were havens for religious refugees; then the American founding was a milestone for constitutional norms of religious freedom; then, over the subsequent two centuries, the United States became a haven for religious people unwelcome elsewhere: Baptists, Mormons, Mennonites, Muslims, Amish, Catholics, Seventh-Day Adventists, Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and others.
So convinced Americans have been of their ingenious experiment in religious liberty that they have sought to spread it overseas. As Anna Su tells the story in her new book, Exporting Freedom: Religious Liberty and American Power, the U.S. extended religious freedom through its colonial occupation of the Philippines in the early twentieth century; its advocacy of the League of Nations after World War I; its efforts to shape international norms in the United Nations system and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the aftermath of the Second World War; its occupation of Japan after the same war; its formulation of a human rights policy in the 1970s; its International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), passed by the U.S. Congress in 1998; and its occupation of Iraq after its war there in 2003. In the orthodox view, all of these episodes were a straightforward promotion of American principles.
In recent years, this view has come to be challenged by a “revisionist” view held by scholars who, as Su puts it, “have begun to question the right’s claim to timelessness, universality and neutrality” (for my own review of this school, see here). Led by political scientist Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, anthropologist Saba Mahmood, and legal scholar Peter Danchin, this school of critics holds that religious freedom and the view of religion on which it is based is not universal but rather particular to the West and its history of Reformation and Enlightenment. Following the late French philosopher, Michel Foucault, they portray the United States’ promotion of these principles as little more than a neo-imperialist “project” that manifests American power. Proponents of this view make up the lion’s share of statements in aforum hosted here at The Immanent Frame.
One can imagine a middle ground that eludes both the orthodox view’s idealism and the revisionist view’s reduction of religious freedom to power. Call it “power plus purpose.” In this view, the United States promotes religious freedom through its “preponderance of power,” to borrow the title of a prominent work in U.S. diplomatic history, and promotes religious freedom selectively according to the contours of this power, but does not promote religious freedom simply as a tool of its power. It is broadly in this middle zone that Su’s “complementary . . . new vantage point” is located.
The book’s greatest value, though, in my view, is its tracing of the cause of religious freedom through the history of American foreign policy. Recommended!