Category - General

1
The Religious Problem with Religious Freedom
2
Berlinerblau Strikes Again, This Time on Free Speech on Campuses
3
The Courageous Voice of Cardinal Bo on Behalf of Rohingya Muslims
4
ArcU Contributor Daniel Mark Elected Chair of US Commission on International Religious Freedom
5
Behind the Attacks on Christians in Egypt
6
Religious Freedom Includes Right to Say “You Are Wrong,” the case of Salem Abdel Gelil in Egypt
7
Syria: A Moral Afterthought to a Moral Tragedy
8
You Are Not Alone: Why America Needs the World on FoRB
9
Under the Shogun’s Sword
10
Religious Freedom: All For One, One For All

The Religious Problem with Religious Freedom

The Religious Problem with Religious Freedom: Why Foreign Policy Needs Political Theology (Hardback) book coverWhat began as a series of personal curiosities about why public debate in Canada polarized so dramatically around not only about how but why and whether to promote freedom of religion or belief in its foreign policy, eventually took the form of a longer comparative study. The fruit of that has just been released by Routledge as The Religious Problem with Religious Freedom: Why Foreign Policy Needs Political Theology, an argument that underlying rival and incompatible meanings of religious freedom are often rival and incompatible definitions of the the religious and the secular. The argument is empirical on the front end (surveying the public debate in the United States and Canada around their Offices of Religious Freedom), theoretical in the middle (explaining the larger concepts and problems at work in these obvious disagreements), and political and prescriptive on the back end (given this, how and why to make freedom of religion or belief a priority in post-secular foreign policy).

I am grateful especially to my friend Dr. Andrew Bennett, Canada’s first Ambassador for international religious freedom. He wrote a very generous Foreword to the book, some of which I excerpt here as not only a great summary but also far sighted extension of the book’s arguments. The book itself is available for purchase for libraries (or independently wealthy individuals). Review copies can also be requested.

In his historical surveys and his judicious encounters with both the New Critics of the Immanent Frame and the Toft-Shah-Philpott school, Dr. Joustra charts his own path in offering us a guide towards navigating the contested waters of religious freedom. In acknowledging that the rival versions of religious freedom exist due to the rival and increasingly conflict-ridden meanings and practices of the secular and religious, he provides clearer language for us as practitioners to engage religious freedom. Additionally, Dr. Joustra prompts us to consider new approaches to communicate with secular elites who are often unable to converse about the core elements that undergird the freedom to privately and practice one’s religious beliefs: human dignity, theology, metaphysical encounter, contemplation, and the praxis of faith. Finally, Dr. Joustra’s understanding of political theology as “the understandings and practices that political actors have about the meaning of and relationship between the religious and the secular, and what constitutes legitimate political authority” provides a framework for championing principled pluralism, which is perhaps the most honest and truly diverse approach to dialogue between conflicting secular and religious viewpoints.

As ambassador, this conflict between the religious and secular, the privatisation of the religious in liberal democracies, and the corresponding exalting of a secular public reason that had little or no encounter with the religious was the single greatest challenge in articulating the rationale and imperative for our defence of religious freedom. As Dr. Joustra states, “political theology cannot be done by ambassadors and prime ministers. They may facilitate, but they cannot do the work of political theology itself.” Never was a truer statement made in the field of religious freedom advocacy! If we acknowledge that human rights are inviolable. If we acknowledge that religious freedom is universal as is evinced in the UDHR and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); if we affirm that at the core of religious freedom is the freedom to meet, what Rabbi David Novak, has referred to as humanity’s metaphysical need, the need to contemplate “Who am I?”, “Who am I in relationship to you?”, “Who am I in relationship to the world in which I exist?”, and “Who am I in relationship to God, or a philosophy to which I choose to adhere?”, then we must be able address head-on the contested notions of religious and secular. A political community, which cannot recognize that “the line demarcating the secular and the religious, the public and the private, will continue to be a site of considerable disagreement in the twenty-first century” cannot move forward with any genuine dialogue on the importance of religious freedom.

Too often I was met by foreign government officials who took issue with the fact that I expressed deep concern over the serious violations of religious freedom in their countries. In response to my advocacy as ambassador the pointed rejoinder often came that we in Canada regularly seek to restrict or limit public manifestations of religious faith, the implication being: “Who are you to criticize us?” – a comment that, granted, does not take into account the dissimilarities between restrictions on religious freedom in Canada and certain countries and the degree and form in which they impact people. While their criticism failed to hit its mark when one considers that Canada’s democratic institutions and the rule of law enables citizens who feel their religious freedom is being violated to seek redress in any number of ways, their critique was fair comment on our relatively poor effort in understanding political theology and our limited success in embracing a principled pluralism. As one who embraces the principles and worldview of Judeo-Christian secularism, I am well aware of the work that is required and so I am deeply grateful for Robert Joustra’s scholarly efforts in articulating the imperative of principled pluralism and of the deep need within western liberal democracies to recognize the contested nature of the religious and the secular. If we are to build a truly common life with our fellow citizens, we must recognize and embrace difference, in particular different approaches to the secular and the religious. Without such efforts we cannot begin to understand religious freedom, its relationship to other fundamental freedoms, and the human dignity it affirms.

Berlinerblau Strikes Again, This Time on Free Speech on Campuses

I am a professor who believes that freedom is critical to the best and most defensible purpose of a university: the pursuit of knowledge, whose criterion is truth. And so I have been watching nervously in recent years as crowds on campuses have shouted down, chased off, and forced the disinvitation of speakers. The veritable takeover of Evergreen State by Jacobin mobs last month was positively frightening.

So, I read with great interest an insightful piece on the issue by Georgetown’s Jacques Berlinerblau — increasingly one of my favorite writers — published in the Washington Post last week. Berlinerblau was extolled here at ArcU by contributor Tim Shah, who praised and elaborated on his critique of “pomofoco” critics of religious freedom. Now he weighs in on speech on campus.

Berlinerblau notes that episodes of speech being shut down typically evoke cries of liberal bias:

Recent controversies at American colleges and universities follow a predictable script whose final act culminates in cries of “liberal bias!” The saga begins when a coalition on campus concludes that a person’s ideas are wrong, demeaning to a certain group or lacking in scholarly rigor. The holder of aforesaid ideas might have a lecture invitation rescinded (as occurred when the comedian Bill Maher was briefly disinvited from delivering a commencement address at the University of California at Berkeley in 2014). Or this person will be shouted down and verbally abused (as transpired recently with Evergreen State College professor Bret Weinstein, who declined to participate in a diversity initiative). Or maybe the offender will be shouted down, verbally abused and physically assaulted (as happened to lecturer Charles Murray and Professor Allison Stanger at Middlebury College).

Once the incident goes viral, our drama lurches to its spectacular conclusion: a backlash emerges, and commentators decry liberalism run amok. The scandal at Middlebury impelled right-wing critics to speak of “liberal intolerance” and “liberal groupthink.” After the Evergreen episode, conservative media fingered “liberal terrorists” as responsible for Professor Weinstein’s ordeal. Even a progressive liberal like Bill Maher attributed his rebuff to the wishy-washiness of liberals.

He argues, though, that liberals are not to blame for this, but rather the radical left, which is disproportionately represented on campuses. “This third camp,” he argues, “is composed of a vast, and diverse array of quite serious scholars whose animus towards liberal ideas often exceeds its disdain for conservative ones.” Here is how he describes this camp:

If you want to conceptualize the differences between liberal and leftist professors in political terms—which, I repeat, is always hazardous—think of it this way. Liberal professors are the types that probably voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential elections. Radical left professors likely wrote her off as a dreaded “neo-liberal.” Their primary votes might have been cast for Bernie Sanders—as irritatingly “mainstream” as the social-democratic candidate might have been to them. In the general election they might have opted for Jill Stein, or sat it out altogether in protest of American capitalism, imperialism, hegemony, etc

Yet whereas Stein received 1 percent of the popular vote, one recent national study of professors in all disciplines demonstrated that roughly 15.6 percent at non-sectarian schools self-identify as “far left.” That finding calls attention to a pronounced difference between the politics of American voters and American professors. But even this number strikes me as way too low. Although the data has never been parsed in this way, if we were to look solely at professors in the humanities and interpretive social sciences, my guess is that the 15 percent figure would be two or three times higher—and more so at elite institutions. In other words, at a nationally ranked school a department of English, Women’s Studies, Art History, French, African-American Studies, Spanish, Philosophy, Anthropology, Film Studies or Sociology is likely to have more far-left faculty than liberals and conservatives combined.

Berlinerblau concludes:

There’s a lot to be gained by contemplating the tripartite distinction identified above. College administrations and scholarly societies need to ask themselves why these ideological imbalances are so pronounced. They might also wonder why it’s so hard to identify a fourth camp, comprised of professors whose politics are inscrutable or unpredictable. (I would hope that my teaching and research places me in that camp.) The radical left might ponder why the academy is the sole American institution where its ideas hold any sway. Conservatives have every right to complain about ideological imbalance. But they need to stop blaming liberals for their misfortune, politically expedient as such a charge might be.

As for liberals, whose core values on issues like freedom of speech are everywhere under assault, they need to define what they actually stand for. And if it causes tension with their “allies” on the radical left, so be it.

A couple of glosses on this incisive piece.

First, I like to think that I am in Berlinerblau’s fourth camp. My views of justices are rooted in Catholic social thought, which, as I often tell my students, does not fall easily into left or right camps. As such, I am all the more committed to free speech on campus. It is the interstitial views that often get rubbed out when the Grim Censor comes around.

Second, I have wondered why more university administrators have not spoken out for freedom on campus. A number of moderate to liberal commentators who have observed the unruliness in forums of learning and reacted with apposite outrage. Journalist Kirsten Powers is one, and has been joined in standing for freedom of inquiry by journalist Fareed Zakaria, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, and even President Obama when he was still president. Kristof is especially interesting. Usually a voice for causes of social justice on the left, he was outraged by the silencings and raised his own voice. When readers wrote to the editor asking why conservative views ought to be tolerated at all, he wrote another column pleading for freedom, and then another. But if Powers, Zakaria, Kristof, and Obama have spoken up, why have so few tenured professors and college presidents, with only a few exceptions, raised their voices in solidarity with beleaguered fellow members of what are supposed to be communities of learning? If the free pursuit of truth is the very end of the university, then why have so few spoken out when it has been assaulted? Father Hesburgh, Notre Dame’s president of 35 years, who is pictured at the top of this blog, spoke often and eloquently for freedom on campus. But not presidents, provosts and deans today. Even after Evergreen State, where a professor was prevented even from teaching his class. Is not a threat to free inquiry in one university a threat to inquiry in every university? Where is the solidarity?

 

 

The Courageous Voice of Cardinal Bo on Behalf of Rohingya Muslims

One of the most impressive voices for justice in the global Catholic Church is Cardinal Charles Bo of Burma, who has recently spoken out against Burma’s Buddhist nationalist government for its atrocious treatment of its Rohingya Muslim minority. Unlike few other Burmese, he has been willing to name openly his government’s actions as ones of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing. Indeed, the government of Burma has displaced over 100,000 Rohingya and subjected them to arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, summary executions, and similar forms of repression.

Religious freedom is a critical dimension of the issue. Rohingyas are targeted for being Muslims and have experienced their mosques and madrassas destroyed at the hands of the state as well as riotous citizens. When a Catholic Cardinal dares to speak of the oppression of Muslims, it lends unique credibility to the Catholic Church’s witness for religious freedom. The Church’s key document declaring religious freedom, Dignitatis Humanae (1965) roots religious freedom in the religious nature of every human being. When Christians stand up for the religious freedom of others, they not only do what is just but enhance claims for their own religious freedom. Religious freedom is also an overlooked dimension of peace. When diverse religious communities respect one another’s members’ full citizenship rights, they have taken the critical step towards living together peacefully. As they must do in Burma.

Cardinal Bo gave a riveting address at the Under Caesar’s Sword conference in Rome in December 2015, by the way.

 

 

 

ArcU Contributor Daniel Mark Elected Chair of US Commission on International Religious Freedom

Daniel Mark, assistant professor of political science at Villanova University — and ArcU contributor! — has just been chosen to be Chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. He was first appointed to the Commission in 2014. USCIRF is an independent commission established by Congress that monitors religious freedom around the world, makes recommendations for U.S. foreign policy, and produces a valuable annual report along with numerous excellent reports on dimensions of international religious freedom. Warmest congratulations and best wishes to Daniel.

Behind the Attacks on Christians in Egypt

In today’s New York Times appears an insightful op-ed by Mustafa Akyol, one of my favorite writers on Islam, offering an explanation for why certain Muslims are killing Christians in the Middle East, written in the wake of yesterday’s shootings of Coptic Christians in Egypt. He points out that the attackers are a militant strain of Islam and that many other Muslims have condemned the killings and sought to defend and assist Christians.

[W]hile such atrocities come from extreme groups like the Islamic State, most other Muslims — from ordinary people to mainstream religious authorities — condemn them. Some Muslims even actively try to defend Christians, like the female police officers who lost their lives during the Palm Sunday attacks, and the men and women who rushed to mosques to donate blood for the injured. Clearly, what threatens Christians is not Islam but a strain of extremism within it.

Akyol goes on to say that the strain of Muslims who are carrying out these attacks are seeking to uphold an earlier tradition by which Christians and other non-Muslims were considered dhimmis, communities that were inferior but could be tolerated.

However, a part of the modern crisis was also religious — and it was rooted in the very tolerance of classical Islam. This tolerance had been based not on equality but on hierarchy. Muslims were the superior rulers, whereas non-Muslims were protected but inferior communities called “dhimmi.” The latter had to pay an extra poll tax, their temples could not be too loud and new ones were rarely permitted, and they were subject to various social limitations. And while their conversion to Islam was encouraged, conversion from Islam to the faith of dhimmi could be a capital offense.

In the Middle Ages, this hierarchal tolerance of Islam was preferable to the alternatives at the time, such as forced conversion or mass murder. However, in the modern era, equality before law became the universal norm, and that is what the religious minorities rightly began to demand. (It is notable that the Ottoman Empire, the seat of caliphate, answered these calls with the Reform Edict of 1856, declaring Christians and Jews equal citizens of the empire.)

Most of all, the piece contains a shout-out to the Under Caesar’s Sword project that I direct in partnership with my friends at the Religious Freedom Institute. Drawing attention to incidents like yesterday’s attacks in Egypt, looking at how Christians respond, and promoting solidarity with them is what the project is all about.

Religious Freedom Includes Right to Say “You Are Wrong,” the case of Salem Abdel Gelil in Egypt

Egypt has suspended Salem Abdel Gelil, a deputy minister of its (Islamic) Endowments Ministry, and Egypt is charging Abel Gelil with “contempt of religion,” as reported by Mada Masr.

The reason? Abdel Gelil, a Muslim, said that Christianity is not true.

It is bizarre for the Egyptian government to suspend a Muslim leader for saying this because mainstream Islam, like most other religions, makes distinct truth claims, so by definition a Muslim would believe that some of Christianity’s core teachings are not true. This move by the Egyptian government is not only bizarre, it is also a threat to peaceful coexistence in Egypt.

In this case it is the government of Egypt, not Abdel Gelil, that is engaged in “contempt of religion.” Forbidding religious believers from discussing basic tenets of their belief belongs to the very definition of “contempt of religion.”

According to a variety of mainstream definitions of Christianity, Christians believe Jesus is God, their understanding of the one God is trinitarian, and they do not believe Muhammad is a prophet. According to any definition of Islam I have ever seen, Muslims would view these statements as untrue.

Therefore I would only expect a Muslim talking about about Christians, to say as Abdel Gelil did“Yes, they believe in Jesus and Moses, but they disbelieve in Muhammad (كفروا بمحمد). Whenever we remind them of Muhammad, they say “No, no, no. We’re fine the way we are.”” Abdel Gelil further stated, “…what you believe is corrupt. Go back to God.” Granted, he could perhaps have chosen a gentler word than “corrupt,” but in looking at Christian beliefs from a Muslim perspective, some core Christian beliefs are in fact untenable.

The Endowments Ministry of Egypt issued a statement asserting that Abdel Gelil’s remarks “do not help the establishment of the foundations of citizenship, peaceful coexistence and societal peace that we work toward achieving in reality.”

In this the Endowments Ministry errs. Disagreement does not prevent peaceful coexistence. Quite to the contrary acknowledging difference is a foundational element of peaceful coexistence.

Abdel Gelil also said to Christians, “You are kind, and you are our brothers and sisters in humanity, not only inside our own country.” Indeed we can be “brothers and sisters in humanity” and disagree about deep matters at the very same time.

The legal framework of religious freedom contributes to peaceful coexistence by protecting space in which we can acknowledge and seek to understand our differences.

Forbidding those of different religions from being able to discuss their differences does great harm to the possibilities of “peaceful coexistence and societal peace” because it fosters a culture of ignorance.

A religiously diverse society in which the government forbids anyone from discussing, or even admitting, differences of belief is a society being forced to live in blindness and ignorance. Blindness and ignorance are foes, not friends, of “peaceful coexistence.”

We who are of different, and of no, religion need to understand each other better, not pretend instead that we are all the same. We are not.

I am a Christian working for a Muslim organization, the Center for Islam and Religious Freedom (CIRF). Because of the respect for religious freedom in our office, we talk openly about our religious disagreements. Sometimes when we talk about how to understand who God is, or who Jesus is, for example, I tell my Muslim colleagues, “You are wrong.” They smile back at me and tell me, “No Jennifer, you are wrong.” And then the conversations get really, really interesting as they listen to me explain my faith and I listen to them explain theirs.

We learn from each other and about each other. Significantly, when my colleagues admit that they think what I believe is wrong, I feel respected because they acknowledge that I take my faith seriously and they have taken time to learn what I believe.

Such open exchanges are not just abstract niceties. This openness about differences in turn bears concrete fruit. I believe that this mutual learning about each other is something that helps us work together even better as a team. I can be fully who I am as a Christian, they can be fully who they are as Muslims, and together we are partners working for the common good.

Moreover, the freedom to discuss differences is an essential component of truth-seeking. If someone thinks I am wrong, I want to know. Maybe I can learn something. Truth-seeking is the very point of religious freedom.  As law professor Gerald Bradley has explained, “To detach religious liberty from truth is to decapitate it.”

I am thankful that due to religious freedom in the United States, I can explain my faith to those with whom I disagree and they are free to tell me what they believe. The best way to defend religious freedom for myself is it to defend religious freedom for others.

I defend the right of Salem Abdel Gelil to tell me he thinks I am wrong.

I ask that he defend my right to tell him he is wrong. And I hope he and I can enjoy a meal together sometime to learn more about these differences.

Syria: A Moral Afterthought to a Moral Tragedy

Bombing an airfield in response to the latest of a long litany of atrocities committed by the Assad regime, ISIS, and a host of other factions in Syria seems like a moral afterthought. It is a moral afterthought for several reasons.
  • The humanitarian case for military intervention is clear. Syria is a failed state, torn apart by some of the world’s most ruthless killers. As Pope Francis and his recent predecessors have said, when whole populations are threatened by systematic and widespread killing, the international community has a right and duty to protect civilians. The use of chemical weapons is an egregious act, but the airstrikes seem like an afterthought given the many, many equally egregious acts that were not considered worthy of response.
  • Unilateral intervention, especially without Congressional authorization, is morally problematic. In order to guard against endless wars of altruism, the UN Security Council should authorize interventions in places like Syria. Since the Security Council, hamstrung largely by Russian intransigence, has proven itself incapable of acting in a responsible way in Syria, other collective bodies should act.
  • Bombing is not a morally serious way to protect threatened populations. Because of the grave risks involved, bombing should not be about making statements or political points; it must be tied to a serious and viable strategy for protecting the Syrian people. The lack of a credible government or opposition in Syria makes it virtually impossible to have a serious strategy.
  • For most of the past 14 years, the United States has bombed, fought, trained and armed the Iraqi government.  Yet Iraq is as violent and unstable as ever. And Iraq is relatively easy compared to Syria.  What are the realistic objectives of our military action in Syria?  To defend civilians against ISIS? Against the Syrian government? Against all armed groups that threaten civilians?  To rebuild a nation?  If the latter, who would undertake the Iraq-style occupation and nation building that would be necessary, and what grounds do we have for thinking that would succeed any better than it did in Iraq?

There are no morally clear or clean answers to the moral conundrums the international community faces in Syria. The United States, in particular, faces a serious moral conundrum.  U.S. policy has suffered a double moral failure: it was immoral to intervene in Iraq in 2003, and in the years since, its self-serving, misguided, incompetent and sometimes grossly negligent policies have failed the Iraqi people and contributed to the conflict in Syria. The first moral failure made the second more likely.  These many years, many deaths, many billions of dollars, and many missteps later, we are tempted to say that we have done all we can do and wash our hands of the problem, letting Iraq and Syria be torn apart by their “ancient hatreds.”  But that would be shirking our moral obligations, for the United States has become –voluntarily! – very much a part of those hatreds.

The more serious temptation at this moment is to do a very modest version of what we did in 2003:  pursue a quick-fix military solution justified by best-case scenarios about the good that would be achieved – peace, freedom, and democracy for Iraq and the region.  But that approach lacks the realism essential to any ethic of military intervention.  Because past U.S. interventions helped create the current crisis, we have a moral obligation to act.  Limited military intervention might be necessary.  But without a serious effort to address the larger political, economic, and cultural dynamics – to engage in nation building in two countries torn asunder, it will be no more successful than it has been until now.

You Are Not Alone: Why America Needs the World on FoRB

There is real fear—given the State Department’s place in President Trump’s proposed budgets—that genuinely significant foreign policy efforts may be hamstringed, or axed entirely, in the coming months and years. Diplomacy, as a practice and tactic, already seems underfunded, and arguments are already being marshaled for why particular areas of concern should be continued or even expanded in what will undoubtedly be a shoestring budget. Such is the argument of Peter Mandaville earlier in March, where he outlines at least five strategic objectives of religious engagement in American foreign policy, some distinct, some overlapping with freedom of religion or belief (FoRB). Much of that argument is persuasive and important, but I want to add one significant, friendly amendment to his strategic priorities: the view from outside. America is not alone on freedom of religion or belief, and it projects its values and its interests most profoundly when it acts diplomatically and galvanizes the world around issues of universal interest.

I make a longer argument over at the Berkley Center for Religion & World Peace.

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

© 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.