Category - Religious Freedom

1
Sacred vs. Naked
2
Soft Power Needed, Too
3
The Persecution of Christians is for Real

Sacred vs. Naked

As choices go, the sacred versus the naked is one of the more arresting. But – says David Anderson, Parliamentary Secretary to Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs – that’s just the false choice facing many political cultures around the globe today.

On the one extreme, he says, governments grant and enforce exclusive status to one religion. That’s the sacred choice. On the other hand, governments try to stamp out religion and its expression from public life. They go, it’s said, naked.

Both of these are flawed in a way that Charles Taylor explains in Secularism and Freedom of Conscience. They both rely on strong civil religion, a comingling of political-theological enforcement that often produces, according to God’s Century, pathological and destructive politics. This see-saw default, argues Taylor, is endemic to many political cultures partly because the alternative can be seen as a dangerous gamble, especially in times of fear and anxiety.

Religious freedom, says David Anderson, can’t be a balancing of some kinds of belief with others, but the right of persons to choose to believe, or not to believe (and change those beliefs) as they see fit. The objective is not sameness, he says, but freedom.

That’s a gamble. And it’s probably the critical gamble of our time that enables democracy. Chris Seiple, from the Institute for Global Engagement, says the big question of our moment in history is: “how to live together well, in the midst of our deepest diversity?” The anxious, religious and non-religious alike, will be alarmed by that diversity – and sometimes they’ll have good cause to be. The temptation, says Taylor, is always very strong to reintroduce a stronger civil religion, to foreclose on the possibility of deviant diversity, to control and manage pluralism. That, he’s said in a recent interview with James K.A. Smith, is the story of the Charter of Quebec Values.

Limits to pluralism exist. But in the false choice between going sacred or going naked, the gamble of secular societies truly deserving of that name will be on their own citizens funding the virtues and values that laws cannot make, and markets cannot sell. Therein the clothes of democracy.

Soft Power Needed, Too

Not just the hard power of military force but also the soft power of building coalitions with moderate Muslims is needed to defeat Islamic militants in Syria and Iraq, Christian leaders argued at the In Defense of Christians summit that concluded today in Washington, D.C., according to Mark Stricherz over at Aleteia.

The summit was an effort to advocate for and show solidarity with Christian communities in the Middle East who have suffered dramatically in recent decades and are now remnants of what they once were.  Hosted by a group whose name is also In Defense of Christians, the summit assembled a remarkable cast of Christian leaders from across the region.

Hard power-ites might be skeptical — not of the summit or its cause but of the claim that anything but bombs will drive out the Islamic State.  It was no less a realist than General David Petraeus, though, who understood the importance of reconciliation with moderate Muslims in his leadership of the successful “surge” of 2007-2008 that allowed the U.S. to exit from Iraq without ignominy in 2011.  I’ve been reading about it in Surge, written by Peter Mansoor, Petraeus’ right-hand man during the operation.  Through the U.S. army’s reconciliation with Sunnis and through its encouraging the new national government to include Sunnis and Kurds in important positions, Sunnis were peeled away from their alliance with Al Qaeda, leaving Al Qaeda isolated and vulnerable.  None of this is to deny the thorough and brave counterterrorist operations that hunted down and rooted out Al Qaeda, but these alone could not have done the job, Mansoor argues.

Since the U.S. departure, it has been a lack of reconciliation among Iraqis that has allowed the Islamic State to rise as far as it has.  Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki’s failure to include Sunnis and Kurds in important parts of the national government allowed the Islamic State, despite its horrific tactics, to ally with Sunnis against the government – and has left the U.S. in the position of now having to send its (air) forces back in.

As I argued in an earlier post, reconciliation must go deeper than even Petraeus’ alliance-building.  In coming posts, I will offer concrete ideas of what this could involve.  One dimension, though, is alliances among religious leaders, whose spiritual and moral authority is a critical asset for building ties across factions.  We can be grateful for In Defense of Christians for bringing this to our attention.

 

The Persecution of Christians is for Real

Religious freedom is something for everyone. Bahai’s in Iran. Yazidis in Iraq. Ahmadis in Pakistan and Indonesia. Muslims in Gujurat.  And Christians. Christians? To much of the public and even among academics and journalists, it comes as a surprise that Christians suffer severe denials of their religious freedom. But the past summer’s headlines leave little doubt about it. Iraq’s remaining Christian community has been decimated by an Islamist army declaring the rule of a caliph. Sudan’s Miriam Ibrahim was sentenced to death by a Sudanese court for (supposedly) leaving Islam for Christianity. The Chinese government has continued to demolish churches.

80 percent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world are committed against Christians, estimated the International Society for Human Rights, a secular NGO based in Frankfurt, in 2009. The finding is corroborated by other human rights observatories. Christians were the only religious group that was persecuted in all sixteen of the countries highlighted as egregious offenders by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom in 2012, John Allen reports in his recent book, The Global War on Christians.  The Pew Research Center’s 2014 report found that between June 2006 and December 2012, Christians faced harassment and intimidation in 151 countries, the largest number of any religious group.

Here at the Center for Civil and Human Rights, we will be investigating how Christian communities respond to persecution and how sympathizers can help them in a three year grant of $1.1 million awarded to the center by the Templeton Religion Trust, “Under Caesar’s Sword: How Christian Communities Respond to Repression.”   Here is the story.  Stay tuned for findings.

 

© 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.