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Religious Freedom vs. Aggressive Secularism


GEORGE WEIGEL

Source:
Nat. Cath. Register
Type:
Media/Opinion
Date:
10/20/2012

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ABSTRACTReligious Freedom vs. Aggressive Secularism | Daily News | NCRegister.com Print Edition:  October 21, 2012 Sign-up for our E-letter!   Donate Archives Blogs Store Resources Advertise Jobs Radio Subscribe Make This My Homepage Resources Arts & Entertainment Books Commentary Culture of Life Education In Person News Opinion Sunday Guides Travel Vatican Dan Burke Edward Pentin Mark Shea Matthew Warner Jimmy Akin Matt & Pat Archbold Simcha Fisher Tito Edwards Jennifer Fulwiler Steven D. Greydanus Tim Drake Tom Wehner Our Latest Show About the Show About the Register Donate Subscribe Stations Schedule Other EWTN Shows Advertising Overview Editorial Calendar Order Web Ad Order Print Ad Print Article | Email Article | Write To Us Daily News Daily News Religious Freedom vs. Aggressive Secularism (572) Oct. 21 issue pre-election commentary Tweet by GEORGE WEIGEL 10/20/2012 Comment – Shutterstock Some years ago, the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor coined the term "exclusivist secularism" to describe a disturbing phenomenon in Western societies: the determination of some intellectuals, activists and politicians to scour public life of transcendent religious and moral reference points in the name of "tolerance" and "inclusion." Taylor’s "exclusivist secularism" is not the benign "secularity" — the separation of religious and political institutions in a modern society — that Pope Benedict XVI has praised for helping Catholicism develop its understanding of the right relationship between church and state. No, by referring to "exclusivist secularism," Taylor was raising a warning flag about an aggressive and hegemonic cast of mind that seeks to drive out of the public square any consideration of what God or the moral law might require of a just society. Aggressive secularism was once thought to be a primarily European malady. Then it migrated to Canada. Now it has become a serious problem in American public life. Catholics can do something about that if they understand what the Church asks of the "world." The Catholic Church asks — and, if circumstances require, the Church demands — two things of any political community and any society. The Church asks for free space to be itself, to evangelize, to celebrate the sacraments and to do the works of education, charity, mercy and justice without undue interference from government. The Church freely concedes that the state can tell the Church to do some things: to obey the local sanitary laws in church kitchens hosting pancake breakfasts, for example. But the Church refuses to concede to the state the authority to tell the Church what to think and preach or how to order its ministerial life and serve the needy. Moreover, the Church asks, and if necessary demands, that the state respect the sanctuary of conscience, so that the Church’s people are not required by law to do things the Church teaches are immoral. The Church also asks any society to consider the possibility of its need for redemption. The "world" sometimes doesn’t take kindly to this suggestion, as the history of the martyrs reminds us. But overt persecution isn’t the only way the "world" resists the Church’s proposal. Societies can affect a bland indifference to the truths taught by biblical religion. Cultures can mock the moral truths taught by God’s revelation to the people of Israel and God’s self-revelation in his Son, Jesus Christ. Educational systems can inculcate an ethos of nihilism and hedonism, teaching that the only moral absolute is that there are no moral absolutes. On both of these fronts — the political-legal front and the social-cultural front — the Catholic Church is under assault in the United States today. Over the past four years, the federal government has made unprecedented efforts to erode religious freedom. The gravest assault was the "contraceptive mandate" issued earlier this year by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, an offense to conscientious Catholic employers who believe what the Church believes about the morality of human love and the ethics of the right to life and a frontal attack on the institutional integrity of the Church. For, with the HHS mandate, the federal government seeks nothing less than to turn the Catholic Church’s charitable and medical facilities into state agencies that facilitate practices the Catholic Church believes are gravely evil. Rather than truckle to such coercion, Catholic bishops across the country have made clear that they will, if ne.......