Author - Daniel Philpott

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Report Out On Christian Responses to Persecution: “Some Things Are Worth Standing For”
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Under the Shogun’s Sword
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Religious Freedom: All For One, One For All
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Winning Clean
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Arguing More With the New Critics of Religious Freedom
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Intervening in our Culture War Over Islam
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The Abortion Paradox
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Democrats Need to Get Religion
9
Apology for Rwandan Genocide Comes from Catholic Church
10
Good News for Religious Freedom Act

Report Out On Christian Responses to Persecution: “Some Things Are Worth Standing For”

Last week, the Under Caesar’s Sword project released a major report on Christian responses to persecution around the world at a symposium at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The report is being translated into four languages and will be distributed around the world. Here is the press release for the report. Several media stories have appeared; here is one representative piece. Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. kicked off the symposium with a convicting keynote address: “Some things are worth standing for,” he repeated.

The report profiles Christian responses to persecution on over 25 countries, presents eight findings, and makes a whole slew of recommendations for actions for various sectors. Is there an overarching finding?

Overall, the report finds that Christian responses to persecution embody a creative pragmatism dominated by short-term efforts to provide security, build strength through social ties, and sometimes strategically oppose the persecution levied against them. The fact that these efforts are pragmatic should not obscure that they often are conducted with deep faith as well as creativity, courage, nimbleness, theological conviction, and hope for a future day of freedom.

See also our documentary film. This summer, curricula for schools and churches will be posted.

Under the Shogun’s Sword

One of my great frustrations is not having yet seen the movie Silence, Martin Scorcese’s film about Jesuit missionaries in 17th century Japan based on Shusaku Endo’s great novel by the same name. Up until its release, the film was much ballyhooed, even being called the greatest religious film and the like, but then flopped at the box office. I still want very badly to see the movie, convinced that the film is far better than the reception it got. Scorcese, one of the great filmmakers of the past century, worked on it for some 25 years and held it close to his heart as his life’s work.

I also want to see the film in order to compare it with some of the commentary that touted it. (An excellent review of this commentary is written by my friend Margaret McCarthy, who is on the faculty of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute in Washington, D.C.) One of the themes of the commentary was that the film is about how difficult it is to plant a “European” faith in non-European soil. In the novel, one of the Japanese officials says as much to one of the Jesuits. This is rather suspicious. In fact, the missionaries arrive in a Japan where there had once been Christian communities in the hundreds of thousands. Now Christians are hiding in small enclaves, where they crave the sacraments. The reason for this has nothing to do with the difficulty of cultural adaption, though. The reason is that the Christian community has been and is being brutally persecuted by the government. The novel tells of Christians who died the death of martyrs rather than renounce their faith. It is in this context that the main plot unfolds, where one of the missionaries, Fr. Sebastian, is brought to apostatize under questioning.

I’m interested in this story, too, on the basis of the ongoing project on persecution that I co-direct, Under Caesar’s Sword, which is precisely about how Christians respond to persecution.

Sounding the note of persecution just right is a review of the film by Thomas Hibbs, an homme de lettres at Baylor University, where he is Dean of the Honors College.

“The commentary has tended to ignore a more striking issue and perhaps one more relevant to our own time: namely, what happens to religious faith in a totalitarian political environment that actively and violently repudiates any religion that is not perfectly consonant with the dictates of the political regime,” Hibbs writes.  He describes the persecution thus:

Sixteenth-century Jesuit missionaries to Japan were for a time welcomed and had enormous success. Political changes in the country led to growing suspicion of foreign influences and to a fear that the allegiance of the Japanese people would be ssplit between nationalism and the new religion. The governmental response was ruthless and systematic. By the use of bribery and threats, it set ordinary citizens against one another and especially against any priests remaining in the country. The centerpiece of the elimination project was a very public form of repudiation of the faith: the so-called fumi-e (literally, “to step on a picture”), the stepping, and in some cases spitting, on an image of Christ or the Virgin Mary.

He continues:

What sort of religion can survive in this setting, where religious liberty is systematically denied? If anything endures, it is minimalist and completely privatized; indeed, what remains is so private that it cannot emerge from the interior of the soul. In everything external to one’s thoughts and feelings, there must be complete conformity to the dictates of the state. Nothing less than public complicity with and docility toward the state is acceptable. If the film raises questions about the silence of God, it draws our attention equally to the silencing of religious speech and action. In the service of a totalitarian ideal, government agents exhibit a kind of enlightenment rationalism. They are meticulous, patient, thorough, articulate, and confident in their control and ultimate victory. One of the more instructive characteristics of Japanese rule in the film is that it is not just a regime of terror, desecration, and destruction. The surrealist nightmare of isolation, torture, and death that it constructs for believers stands in contrast to the world enjoyed by apostates, to whom, the officials offer comfort, work, community, and the esteem of both the elites and the common people. The strategy is smartly designed to suppress memories of, and longing for, any higher calling, any end beyond the scope of the state.

The Japanese rulers in the film were pioneers of a craft perfected in the twentieth century.

 

 

 

 

 

Religious Freedom: All For One, One For All

The following piece is reprinted from The Observer at the University of Notre Dame, February 22, 2017, where it was titled, “Stand Against Persecution and Exclusion.”

By now, a wide array of critics of President Donald Trump’s recent executive order on refugees — including a passel of United States Catholic bishops — have explained with force and perspicacity how the action amounts to a failure of charity, hospitality and justice. Among the many baneful dimensions of the order is President Trump’s rhetorical insistence that Christians are to be favored and Muslims disfavored for entry into the U.S.

In fairness, the order itself does not privilege Christians or bar Muslims per se, and, in fact, makes religious persecution a factor that enhances a refugee’s case for entry — arguably a positive development that has historical precedent in the refugee policy of the United States. Even this gain, though, is offset by an indefinite bar of all refugees — whatever their religion — from Syria, one of the worst sites of religious persecution in the globe.

More troubling still, though, are Trump’s many statements that have advocated banning Muslims from immigration to the U.S., spoke of Muslims in derogatory terms and called for privileging the protection of Christians. These statements, undoubtedly designed to please the president’s most ardent supporters, are unjust and unwise. Making this case and denouncing the order are numerous leaders of Catholic, mainline Protestant and evangelical churches and of Christian organizations dedicated to relief, development and the alleviation of persecution.   

I applaud the protest of these leaders as co-director of a project, “Under Caesar’s Sword,” whose purpose is to promote solidarity with the world’s persecuted Christians. Based jointly at Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture and the Religious Freedom Institute in Washington, D.C., and funded by a grant of $1.1 million from the Templeton Religion Trust, “Under Caesar’s Sword” is the world’s first systematic global investigation of Christian responses to persecution.

The project is timely and urgent. Nearly 3/4 of the world’s population lives in a country where religious freedom is strongly curtailed, and Christians suffer persecution and discrimination more than people of any other faith. The advocacy group Open Doorsreports that persecution only increased in 2016, when some 90,000 Christians were killed for their faith and some 215 million Christians faced persecution. Among the worst violators are the governments of North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, China, Eritrea and India, as well as the Islamic State.

“Under Caesar’s Sword” reports the reality of this persecution but more centrally conveys the range of Christian responses to it, many of these hopeful and courageous. A better understanding of these responses can help the rest of the world, not least a Catholic university, stand in solidarity with persecuted Christians. On Thursday, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades will be celebrating a mass for persecuted Christians at 5:15 p.m. in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, followed by the screening of a short documentary film on the subject in Washington Hall at 6 p.m.

Solidarity with persecuted Christians, though, in no way justifies the exclusion of vulnerable Muslims from sanctuary in the U.S. or indifference to any human right of Muslims. Religious persecution of any kind and against anyone is a violation of the human right to religious freedom, which several major human rights conventions articulate. The Catholic Church committed itself to this human right definitively in its landmark declaration of 1965, “Dignitatis Humanae,” rooting religious freedom in the dignity of the human person and his or her search for religious truth.

Muslims themselves suffer the violation of religious freedom in great numbers. In some countries, Muslim minorities like Shias, Ahmadis and Sufis are persecuted at the hands of Sunni Muslim governments. Elsewhere, Muslims face repression at the hands of governments dominated by other religions, like Hindu India and Buddhist Burma, or secular governments, as is the case in China, Syria, Egypt, Turkey and several Central Asian republics. Muslims have faced harsh discrimination in the West, too. Even in the United States, which is relatively tolerant and open to Muslim assimilation, Muslims have been denied the right to build mosques and attacked by other citizens, as they were in a wave of incidents following President Trump’s election.

This is not to deny the frequency of violence committed by Islamist militants in the U.S. and around the world. President Trump’s policy, though, will do little to reduce this violence. The vetting of refugees is already remarkably stringent. The U.S. has accepted some 750,000 refugees since Sept. 11, 2001, not a single one of whom has committed a terrorist attack. 

Worse, the policy is likely to set back, not privilege, the cause of persecuted Christians. First, it undermines the credibility of these Christians’ appeals to universal human rights, makes their protests look like special pleading and hinders their already difficult task of gaining sympathy from human rights groups, the mainstream media, Western governments and international organizations. 

Second, the policy bequeaths recruiters of terrorists a perfect argument, confirming their contention that the United States wishes to fight a clash of civilizations between the West and Islam.

Finally, the policy suffocates a narrative that deserves far more attention: that of solidarity between Christians and Muslims in common cause against violence and persecution. One of the major findings of “Under Caesar’s Sword” is that Christians often respond to persecution by forming bonds with people of other faiths as a bulwark against extremists. “Under Caesar’s Sword” scholars document such cooperation with Muslims in Nigeria, Kenya, Syria, Iraq, India and Indonesia.

After Islamist attacks on Coptic Churches on New Year’s Day in 2011 in Alexandria, Egypt, Muslims joined hands in a human shield around Coptic churches during their worship services, and Christians likewise surrounded mosques. In the U.S., when Florida pastor Terry Jones burned the Quran on the ninth anniversary of the Sep. 11, 2001 attacks, Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders joined to demonstrate against Jones’ deeds. 

We best promote religious freedom for one faith by doing the same for all faiths, and when we promote the religious freedom of one faith to the exclusion of others, we undermine our efforts even for that one faith.

Daniel Philpott

professor of political science

Feb. 20

Winning Clean

This op-ed in this past Sunday’s New York Times is one of the profoundest pieces I’ve read on military ethics in a long time. Again and again we hear about the allegedly excruciating dilemmas — can we torture this person to save scores of others?, and so on. The author, a soldier in Iraq, argues something very different: to compromise on ethics not only undermines the purposes the U.S. is fighting for but delays and hinders victory. He commends his piece to us in this age of Trump. Rightly so.

Arguing More With the New Critics of Religious Freedom

Over the past year or so, I and my colleague, friend, and fellow ArcU contributor, Tim Shah, have been arguing with what we call the “new critics” of religious freedom. They hold that religious freedom is a Western principle, reflecting Western power and history, and should not be exported, especially to the Muslim world. We demur.  Some previous pieces are here, here, here, and here.

Now, Tim and I have written an extended review essay of their most recent work, published in the Journal of Law and Religion. It’s our most extensive critique yet. We welcome continuing debate!

Intervening in our Culture War Over Islam

President Donald Trump’s executive orders on immigration and refugees have much to do with Islam. They are outrageous, in my view, and I will have more to say about them in a post to come soon. The orders are likely to play into a culture war over Islam that has been going on in the West at least as far back as the attacks of September 11th, 2001. It’s the same debate over and over again, flaring up every time there is an incident somewhere involving a Muslim or group of Muslims committing violence: Paris, San Bernardino, Berlin, Benghazi, ISIS, and so on. There are hawks who think that Islam is hardwired for violence and doves who think that Islam, like all religions, is basically peaceful but has its extremists.

Who is right? I take up this question through two pieces published in Public Discourse. See here and here. My arguments preview a book that I am revising for publication, Religious Freedom in Islam? Intervening in a Culture War. To preview my position, both hawks and doves are right and wrong. Understanding how can calm the culture wars and give us a more constructive approach to Islam, both within and outside the West. The key to it all is religious freedom.

The Abortion Paradox

This year, when I and most likely hundreds of thousands of other people walk in the March for Life in Washington, D.C., we will be doing so with greater optimism than we have had in many years. We have a president in the White House who promises strong measures to protect the unborn.

This is ironic. I did not vote for Trump in good part because of his many statements that augured exclusions of entire classes of people from our national life as well as the compromise of human rights. Yet he is quite likely to take serious measures towards including the unborn in our national community. Meanwhile, the other candidate promised inclusion and tolerance but would exclude the unborn from the human family right up to the moment of birth. Her party brashly celebrated its extreme abortion rights stance and made no room for pro-life voices in its 2016 national convention, just as in 2012.

This is what may be called the abortion paradox: Powerful organizations and sectors that profess themselves devoted to human rights and the protection of the weak are indifferent to or even support the largest human rights violation in the world. Major mainstream human rights organizations, much of the development community, and the preponderance of voices for justice in academia practice this paradox.

The largest human rights violation in the world? Yes, these are strong words. Readers of this post may not agree that unborn persons are fully human and so may demur. Suffice it to say that at the moment of conception, the fertilized ovum is an entirely unified individual human being, wholly distinct from (albeit highly dependent upon) his or her mother, and begins a process of development that, unless halted by nature or human hands, will last the entire career of his or her life. Embryo textbooks make it clear: Conception is when you started being you.

When a person starts being a person, he or she has human rights. It follows that the right of unborn persons to life is violated on a scale of around one million annually in the U.S. Globally, the World Health Organization estimates that some 40-50 million abortions take place every year, though other estimates place it around 12 million. Either way, the numbers are orders of magnitude beyond other classes of human rights violations, including those committed in the largest civil wars and massacres of the past generation.

Yet, in 2007, Amnesty International, the world’s most venerable human rights organization, declared its support for abortion rights – the human right to carry out a major human rights violation. Human Rights Watch supports abortion rights, too, as do major development organizations like Oxfam, as have top United Nations officials in human rights and development. Often they cite their goal as providing clean, safe abortions for women but almost never do they mention the rights of the other person affected by abortions.

The Democratic Party included leaders who professed pro-life stances around the time of Roe V. Wade, including Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy and civil rights leader Jesse Jackson. It was not at all inevitable that the Democrats — the party of the little guy — would be the party of abortion rights. Once the abortion lobby gained control of the issue in the early 1980s, though, it became impossible to become a national leader in the party and still be in favor of the right to life for unborn persons. Politicians like Albert Gore and Richard Gephardt abandoned their previous pro-life stances. Now legendary is the denial of a speaking spot at the 1992 Democratic National Convention to Pennsylvania Governor Bob Casey, who watched the proceedings from the rafters of the arena.

The upshot of the abortion paradox is that advocates of the right to life for the unborn receive no help from and are in fact opposed by some of the most powerful organizations that advocate for human rights and for the welfare of the world’s most vulnerable people. Compromised is the credibility of the human rights movement, which comes to look more like an ideology. The same paradox stands in the way of a unified coalition for human rights and of the possibility of a political platform that would support the right to life as well as provide substantial material help to women giving birth and to children at the youngest age. Instead, we are left with Trump for Life. In this endeavor, may he prosper.

Democrats Need to Get Religion

At least two friends forwarded me this interview conducted in The Atlantic Monthly by religion writer Emma Green, a journalist whom I always find insightful. Here, she interviews a former Obama White House staffer, Michael Wear, on the failure of the Democratic Party to understand and appeal to religion — arguably a major reason for Hillary Clinton’s defeat. The whole interview is worth reading, but here were some of the most salient moments for me:

Green: I’ve written before about the rare breed that is the pro-life Democrat. Some portion of voters would likely identify as both pro-life and Democrat, but from a party point of view, it’s basically impossible to be a pro-life Democrat. Why do you think it is that the party has moved in that direction, and what, if anything, do you think it should do differently?

Wear: The spending that women’s groups have done is profound. 2012 was a year of historic investment from Planned Parenthood, and the campaign in 2016 topped it.

Number two, we’re seeing party disaffiliation as a way of signaling moral discomfort. A lot of pro-life Democrats were formerly saying, “My presence here doesn’t mean I agree with everything—I’m going to be an internal force that acts as a constraint or a voice of opposition on abortion.” Those people have mostly left the party.

Third, I think Democrats felt like their outreach wouldn’t be rewarded. For example: The president went to Notre Dame in May of 2009 and gave a speech about reducing the number of women seeking abortions. It was literally met by protests from the pro-life community. Now, there are reasons for this—I don’t mean to say that Obama gave a great speech and the pro-life community should have [acknowledged that]. But I think there was an expectation by Obama and the White House team that there would be more eagerness to find common ground.

And this:

Green: One could argue that among most Democratic leaders, there’s a lack of willingness to engage with the question of abortion on moral terms. Even Tim Kaine, for example—a guy who, by all accounts, deeply cares about his Catholic faith, and has talked about his personal discomfort with abortion—fell into line.

How would you characterize Democrats’ willingness to engage with the moral question of abortion, and why is it that way?

Wear: There were a lot of things that were surprising about Hillary’s answer [to a question about abortion] in the third debate. She didn’t advance moral reservations she had in the past about abortion. She also made the exact kind of positive moral argument for abortion that women’s groups—who have been calling on people to tell their abortion stories—had been demanding.

The Democratic Party used to welcome people who didn’t support abortion into the party. We are now so far from that, it’s insane. This debate, for both sides, is not just about the abortion rate; it’s not just about the legality of it. It’s a symbolic debate. It’s symbolic on the pro-choice side about the autonomy of women and their freedom to do what they want with their bodies. On the pro-life side, they care not just about the regulations around abortion, but whether there’s a cultural affirmation of life.

Even the symbolic olive branches have become less acceptable.

 

Apology for Rwandan Genocide Comes from Catholic Church

This past November 20th, the Catholic bishops of Rwanda issued an apology for the Church’s complicity in the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. The apology and reactions to it are covered in this nice piece in the online Catholic journal, Millennial.

A Church apologizing?  The phenomenon joins a global trend of the last quarter century, namely a sharp historical spike in apologies issued by heads of corporate entities – sovereign states, churches, business corporations – for misdeeds committed in the name of their organization. In the Catholic Church, it was John Paul II who practiced apology most famously, offering over 100 apologies concerning some 21 different historical episodes and people groups.  This excellent book by journalist Luigi Accattoli covers it well.

As the Millennial piece suggests, political apologies are complex and not always well received.  The Rwandan Church’s apology met with sharp criticism from the Rwandan government. One might suspect, though, that this government has narrow political reasons for its stance. Rwanda’s President Kagame can be credited for keeping the peace and promoting development in Rwanda since the genocide but has done so through favoring an elite of the Tutsi minority, repressing political opposition, promoting and enforcing a narrative that blames the genocide exclusively on the majority Hutus and almost entirely avoids acknowledgment of Tutsi crimes, and links the Catholic Church to a narrative of complicity in this genocide. There is much truth to this complicity, of course, as the apology attests and the article explains. Far from the heroic role that the Catholic Church played in standing up to dictatorship and violence in countries like Poland, the Philippines, Chile, and Malawi, the Rwandan Church, including priests and members of the hierarchy, associated themselves closely with leaders who carried out the genocide and in some cases participated in carrying it out. It is also probable, though, that Kagame wishes to maintain the Catholic Church in a position of weakness so that it will not become an alternative center of authority that can challenge the government (as the Church has become in many African countries). By continually insisting on the Church’s guilt and its constant need to atone, Kagame keeps the Church on the defensive and thus crippled in its moral authority.

Political apologies can be strong or weak. Do those articulating them take responsibility for the full range of deeds done? Do they acknowledge the role of powerful members of their hierarchies in the misdeeds and speak for their institutions? Prior to the apology, did those voicing it make efforts to listen to members of the victims’ community and to discover what was desired? How well was the apology received by victims?  Was it answered with forgiveness and reconciliation?

By the first set of criteria – governing performance – the Rwandan Church’s apology seems like a good one. Whether it meets the latter criteria – being well received – is still an open question. The Rwandan government has criticized the apology, but this does not mean that others will not welcome it. We can pray that they do and that it will bring healing, which is ever critical even over 22 years after the genocide.

Good News for Religious Freedom Act

Six days ago Congress passed a bill strengthening the International Religious Freedom Act, which it passed in 1998.  Three days ago, President Obama signed the bill into law.

Here is a piece detailing the good news.

From the piece, here are three features of the law that enhance the religious freedom capacities of the U.S. government:

  • Requiring the ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom to report directly to the secretary of State;
  • Establishing an “entities of particular concern” category—a companion to the “countries of particular concern” classification used for nearly 20 years by the State Department—for non-government actors, such as the Islamic State (IS) and the Nigerian terrorist organization Boko Haram.
  • Instituting a “designated persons list” for individuals who violate religious freedom and authorizing the president to issue sanctions against those who participate in persecution.

Let us now urge President-Elect Trump to appoint a strong Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom — though it would be hard to improve upon the present one, Rabbi David Saperstein.

© 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.