The silencing of Christianity is a matter of grave concern
by Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB
This is an excerpt from a homily given for the Red Mass Feb. 16 at Holy Rosary Cathedral.
In Mark 8:33, Jesus rebukes Peter by telling him his way of thinking is just plain wrong: “For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
The Lord is reminding us that we can engage the world in two ways: with merely a human way of thinking, or with faith, thinking as God does. What you must strive for in your professional lives as servants of the law is to think and act as the Lord himself would have you do, setting your mind on divine things or, to paraphrase for the occasion, on the divine law.
This is no easy task. Many people hold that distinctively Christian values are all very fine as long as they remain in the realm of high-sounding rhetoric and private devotion. But when it comes to attitudes and norms that might influence the common good and the execution of justice, they would exile Christianity from the public life of our democratic, pluralist society. For all their talk of tolerance and pluralism, it is not uncommon for ideologues to want to impose upon the law a doctrinaire secularism which marginalizes believers.
Ideological secularism has deleterious effects on our public life. Without a transcendent reference, the law loses its dignity, for it is no longer grounded on a firm moral foundation. Untethered from ethical and spiritual principles, it easily becomes merely a vehicle for the expression of personal desire or the communal sentiment of the moment.
Secularist views such as these – and we have recent evidence of their powerful influence in the legal arguments in favour of physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia – have opened the door to the legalization of acts that not long ago were held to be ethically reprehensible.
But an even more profound danger follows from the systematic elimination of God from our civic discourse: the tyranny of the strong over the weak. When positive law is divorced from its relationship with the natural moral law and God’s eternal law, it easily becomes a weapon in the hands of those who can commandeer power within a society, whether through intimidation, the manipulation of majority opinion, or coercion.
As Pope Benedict XVI pointed out, “If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident – herein lies the real challenge for democracy.” As Canadians, it is well worth our while to take these words of the Pope to heart.
People of faith should not be regarded as a problem for legislators to solve, but as vital contributors to the conversation on issues affecting the common good. We are not troublemakers. Nevertheless, for believers, the increasing marginalization of religion from public life and discourse, particularly the silencing of Christianity that is taking place in some quarters, is a matter of grave concern.
However, of even greater concern to me are the arguments of those who – paradoxically with the intention of eliminating discrimination – hold that those in publicly supported services, such as health-care professionals, should be required at times to act against their conscience.
They say that religious beliefs should not influence decision-making in public institutions, as if they were a “‘neutral space,’ separate from values, faith and personal conviction. As Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast said at his Red Mass last year, “Pretending that we can set aside our faith and values so as to act as a disinterested, value-neutral person, is neither honest nor fruitful.”
Family and marriage, the right to life and the sustaining of life and human dignity, as well as respect for conscience, are dismissed as purely religious notions, with no grounding in reason. But what we believe and hold most deeply in our hearts and conscience must influence our decision making – not because they are founded on religious grounds but because they are based on the inbuilt moral authority of conscience formed in accordance with the natural law.
Around us, tragically, are worrying signs of a failure to appreciate not only the rights to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, but also the legitimate role of religion itself in the public square. True religious freedom, as it has traditionally been honoured in Canadian law, is at risk.
I would invite all of you who are dedicated to the law and justice, within your respective spheres of influence, to seek ways of promoting and encouraging dialogue between faith and reason at every level of national life and to acknowledge forcefully that it is indeed possible to be a person of faith and a valuable actor in the public sphere whose convictions inform public policy and discourse. Again, to cite Benedict XVI, “the world of secular rationality and the world of religious belief need one another and should not be afraid to enter into a profound and ongoing dialogue, for the good of our civilization.”