Author - Daniel Philpott

1
Contra Modern Wisdom, Christianity Incubated Freedom
2
Where Religion is Trusted for Politics
3
The Mission of Mother Theresa
4
Should Just War Be Abolished?
5
Religious Freedom, An American Export
6
Fr. Hamel’s Martyrdom – Or Is It?
7
More on Muslims at Mass
8
How to Think About Islam in These Times
9
Bridging Mars and Venus for Religious Freedom
10
The Culture War Over Religious Freedom Goes Global

Contra Modern Wisdom, Christianity Incubated Freedom

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.

An excellent entree to these works is this review by Samuel Gregg.  To see the volumes, go to Christianity and Freedom: Historical Perspectives.

 

 

 

Where Religion is Trusted for Politics

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.

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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!

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.

Bridging Mars and Venus for Religious Freedom

Robert Kagan once wrote a book called Americans are from Mars, Europeans from Venus.  In the past few years, the United States as well as several European countries, the European Union, and Canada have developed policies promoting religious freedom (though Canada has recently reversed course and closed its Office of Religious Freedom).  Does this development show a turn towards cooperation and emphasis on common priorities?

Perhaps, but Mars-and-Venus-like differences have persisted.  Europeans stress “religious engagement” and “Freedom of Religion or Belief” while the U.S. is more likely to trumpet religious freedom.  Europeans are prone to a multilateral approach while the United States finds it natural to go at it alone.  Western European states host more secular populations than the United States.

Seeing hope for cooperation among the U.S. and its European allies over a critically important principle but also realizing the need for bridging differences, the British Council awarded one of its “Bridging Voices” grants to the University of Sussex and the University of Notre Dame to pursue a pair of policy dialogues on “Freedom of Religion or Belief and Foreign Policy,” both of which were held in 2015 at Wilton Park in England and Georgetown University in the United States.  The results are summarized in a policy brief that presents recommendations for a unified foreign policy of promoting global religious freedom.

 

 

 

 

 

The Culture War Over Religious Freedom Goes Global

The afterglow of 4th of July fireworks is a good moment to reflect on religious freedom.  It used to be that Americans saw this principle as part of their common heritage, a constitutional principle that we teach to children in schools and that all take pride in.  Now we are starting to see religious freedom become one side in a culture war, even placed in scare quotes in the contemporary media.

Americans have also believed that their experiment in religious freedom was worth exporting.  President Roosevelt declared religious freedom as one of the “four freedoms” that made up U.S. aims in World War II.  After the war, the U.S. was instrumental in including religious freedom in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Then, after the Cold War, in 1998, the U.S. Congress passed the International Religious Freedom Act , institutionalizing the promotion of religious freedom in U.S. foreign policy.

A recent group of critics is calling into question this global promotion.  We’ve engaged them in debate previously here at ArcU (see here, here, and here).  In the past year, the two leading voices, Elizabeth Shakman Hurd and Saba Mahmood, have published books with Princeton University Press that look critically at religious freedom. I review these two books in a piece that Lawfare published last week.  I take issue with their critique and seek to defend religious freedom.

 

© 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.