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Forcing Folks to be Free
2
Learning from a great humanitarian…
3
The Mission of Mother Theresa
4
Religious Freedom: Why Now? Audio
5
Should Just War Be Abolished?
6
Holy Mary in a Bikini? #BurkiniBan
7
Religious Freedom, An American Export
8
Should the German Government Regulate Language of Religious Rites?
9
Fr. Hamel’s Martyrdom – Or Is It?
10
More on Muslims at Mass

Forcing Folks to be Free

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.

Learning from a great humanitarian…

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?

The Mission of Mother Theresa

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 Freedom: Why Now? Audio

 

Religious Freedom: Why Now? Defending an Embattled Human Right is available now in audio. Stream or download for free at Soundcloud.

Audiobook promoShaykh Hamza Yusuf of Zaytuna College implores,

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.

In addition to listening to this new audio version, you can read the original text version of Religious Freedom: Why Now? at Scribd.

Should Just War Be Abolished?

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.

 

 

Holy Mary in a Bikini? #BurkiniBan

I hereby bestow The Most Incongruous Tweet of the Day Award on Ambassador Gérard Araud, French Ambassador to the U.S.

Today Ambassador Araud tweeted with strong approval a video of St. Mary fully, modestly clad right in the midst of his pro-burkini-ban Tweetstorm today. (His tweets are captured in screenshots here.)

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.

Notre Dame de la Garde in Marseille, France

Notre Dame de la Garde in Marseille, France

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.”

Araud_Tweets

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.

Religious Freedom, An American Export

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!

Should the German Government Regulate Language of Religious Rites?

In a recent position paper, the Bavarian center-right German political party Christian-Social Union (CSU) asserts that in mosques in Germany, “sermons should be given mostly in German or be otherwise understandable.” Ironically they demand this “in order to foster integration.” I say “ironically” because the reality of German society is that other religious communities hold their services in a wide variety of languages, so it does not make sense that strict adherence to German in religious services would help Muslim immigrants in Germany “integrate” into a society in which religious freedom allows variety.

Perhaps even stranger is that the CSU position paper notes, as if with alarm, that at present Germany does not have “one Islam, rather Islamic currents in various forms.” Newsflash: has the CSU ever heard of the Reformation? Perhaps the Thirty Years War? How about the Peace of Westphalia? Germany has not had “one Christianity” for centuries. Today Christian communities in Germany include, among others, Catholic, mainstream Protestant/Lutheran, Reformed, Evangelical, and Orthodox. Even just among the Orthodox Christians in Germany, some are Greek, some Serb, others Russian, etc. Just within the Catholic Church in Germany, there are far more various theological “currents” than I have space to begin to enumerate here.

On Facebook German journalist Ali Mete, Editor-in-Chief at the online journal IslamIQ, questioned,

If one considers the consequences of the CSU demand for making German mandatory in mosques, does this then also mean that the Russian-Orthodox services should be held in German? What about Polish services in Catholic churches? And what about [other] Christian services in the languages of worshipers’ countries of origin?

When I lived in Nuremberg Germany a few years ago, my church had services in both German and Arabic. Almost every major city in Germany has church services in English.

And then there are the Jewish, Buddhist, and other religious communities in Germany. Would it really be an appropriate use of state power for the German government to (try to) regulate the language used in these and other religious services?

As for the demand “sermons should be given mostly in German or be otherwise understandable,” the CSU has not explained what “otherwise understandable” means, i.e. they left their demand for “understandable” ununderstandable. And why stop at just the sermons? Would this mean that priests celebrating Mass in Latin would be required to articulate their speech rather than mumble so that these rich texts are “understandable”? (Gosh, I might support this! Well, not really, but I admit this would be a silver lining to such an awful intrusion of the state.)

In addition, I can’t help but note that the CSU paper fails to question whether having sermons be understandable is actually desirable. After all, my Muslim friends complain almost as much as my Catholic Christian friends about bad sermons. When I asked an American Catholic friend how he avoids getting depressed by bad sermons, he told me, “I sometimes go Mass in Spanish. This way I don’t understand the sermon, so I don’t get depressed!”

But on a more serious note, the decline in Germans’ interest in religious freedom and their own constitution is alarming. The party platform of Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party calls for limiting religious freedom for Muslims, and now comes this call from the CSU for the German government to regulate language in Muslims’ Friday communal prayer. One can only hope that German Muslims who have petitioned for religious freedom and respect for Germany’s constitution, and Christian leaders such as Cardinal Woelki, Archbishop of Cologne, who have voiced support for religious freedom, will not become lone voices crying in a German wilderness of waning religious freedom.

Fr. Hamel’s Martyrdom – Or Is It?

The recent killing of Fr. Jacques Hamel by two Muslim extremists has provoked a debate in Europe that has synthesized the question of Islam with the meaning of martyrdom.  New York Times columnist Ross Douthat considers the debate in his column of this morning.

He reports two dueling interpretations among Catholics.  Here is the conservative one:

To many conservative Catholics, Father Hamel is an archetypal Christian martyr — killed in a sacred space by men motivated by hatred of his faith, dying with the words, “Go away, Satan!” on his lips. To cultural conservatives more broadly, he’s a potent symbol of the jihadi threat to Europe’s peace.

But there is a different interpretation:

But within Catholicism there is also strong resistance to this interpretation. It starts at the very top, with Pope Francis, who has deliberately steered clear of the language of martyrdom — first describing the priest’s murder as “absurd,” and then using one of his in-flight press conferences to suggest that the killers were no more religiously-motivated than a random Catholic murderer in Italy.

 Meanwhile, amid calls of “Santo subito!” — “Sainthood now!” – two of the pope’s biographers, Austen Ivereigh and (in these pages) Paul Vallely, wrote essays warning against doing anything that might inflame interreligious tensions or otherwise play into the Islamic State’s bloodied hands.
In this narrative, which is also the narrative that many secular Europeans reached for, Father Hamel’s murder belongs not to the old iconography of a church militant under siege by unbelievers, but to the modern vision of a multicultural, multireligious society threatened primarily by ignorance and fear. So the appropriate response is to reassert the importance of religious tolerance, to highlight commonalities between French Muslims and their Catholic neighbors, to create a broad category of “peaceful religion” and cast jihadists outside it.

These interpretations, says Douthat, need not be mutually exclusive:

In theory, it should be possible (for a pope, especially!) to plainly call Father Hamel’s death a martyrdom while also rejecting sweeping narratives about Islamic violence or religious war.

Yet, Douthat ends up questioning the optimism of a certain post-Vatican II liberalism in whose eyes Fr. Hamel’s murder was never supposed to happen.

© Daniel Philpott The views expressed in this forum are those of the individual contributors and do not necessarily represent those of Daniel Philpott, CCHR, or the University of Notre Dame.