This month marks the 1,700th anniversary of the Edict of Milan. While much debate surrounds the relationship of Church and state in Christian Rome, even key figures like the Emperor Constantine (traditionally considered a saint by both East and West), the Edict of Milan is something that anyone who values liberty, religious liberty in particular, ought to commemorate as a monumental achievement. While a previous edict in 311 had offered some toleration to Christians, who spent almost their first 300 years having to fear for their lives any one of many local outbreaks of persecution that periodically plagued Pagan Rome, the Edict of Milan for the first time granted the Church the same status, including property rights, as other religions. It did not establish Christianity as the state religion (that would not happen until the end of the fourth century). Even then, the history, like all history, is messy. Often different emperors had widely different practical perspectives toward their role (or lack thereof) in religion. As Lord Acton has stated, liberty is the “delicate fruit of a mature civilization,” and that includes religious liberty and Christian Rome. In all cases, it was not a total separation of Church and state, but it was an achievement, a maturation if only for a time, that marked the end of centuries of martyrdom for Christians in the Roman (now Byzantine) empire. (more…)
“When Christian institutions attempt to mitigate or compromise this understanding of their mission–often as the result of the political pressure–they morph into shadowy versions of their former selves,” writes Rev. Robert A. Sirico. In this week’s Acton Commentary (published October 24), Rev. Sirico explains that by losing the Christological dimension, Christian charitable work becomes essentially secular. The full text of his essay follows. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.
In a post about the “Nuns on the bus” tour, National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez reminds us that “at a time when the very ability of church organizations to freely live their mission of service has been compromised by federal mandates, it is especially important to debate the role of government with clarity and charity.” In her essay, she brings in the the PovertyCure project and Rev. Robert A. Sirico’s new book, Defending the Free Market: A Moral Case for the Free Economy.
About PovertyCure, Lopez notes that “the project asks if we have been raising ‘the wrong questions’ about the causes of poverty and how to address them.” She goes on to quote Rudy Carrasco, the United States Regional Facilitator for Partners Worldwide, who said this in relation to the PovertyCure mission: “Everybody has capacity, talent, and ability. Everybody has responsibility. Everybody has stewardship responsibility. I don’t care what dirt hovel you’re living in, in Brazil or Mexico City or Manila. You have a responsibility to be a steward of the resources under your control because you have a heavenly Father who has put great things inside of you, that [are] waiting to be called out and developed and extracted.”
Download Carrasco’s AU 2012 lecture here.
Religious people have a big role to play in the defense of freedom, Lopez says.
“When freedom is divorced from faith, both freedom and faith suffer,” Father Sirico writes in a new book, Defending the Free Market. “Freedom becomes rudderless, because truth gives freedom its direction. Freedom without a moral orientation has no guiding star. On the other hand, when a people surrenders [its] freedom to the government — the freedom to make moral, economic, religious, and social choices and then take personal responsibility for the consequences — virtue tends to waste away and faith itself grows cold.”
The nuns on the bus may not be cheerleaders for the bishops or the Fortnight for Freedom, but their road trip can be a helpful accompaniment. Fundamentally, this debate we’re having about God and Caesar is about much more than a presidential election: It’s about who we are as a people and whether we do not merely tolerate but welcome — and even encourage — religious believers as economic and political participants. The sisters and the bishops are on the same page there.
Read “Without Freedom No One’s Got a Prayer” by Kathryn Jean Lopez on National Review Online.
What happens if a Catholic college doesn’t require students to attend Mass, doesn’t engage in “indoctrination” or “proselytizing”, and hires non-Catholic faculty? As John Garvey, president of the Catholic University of America, says, the government will likely determine the school is not “Catholic” enough for religious liberty protections:
There is a pattern to these cases. The government has been eager to regulate the behavior of churches in ways more to its liking. It does this by defining religion down, so that only the most rigid and separatist groups are exempt. The rest are, for constitutional purposes, no different from the Jaycees or the Elks Club. We might say that the wall of separation is intact, but the government has made it so small that it encloses nothing more than a flower bed.
How distressed Roger Williams would have been.
The New York Times’ “Room for Debate” feature highlights religious freedom this week by asking the question: “Should Churches Get Tax Breaks?”
The contributors, who span the continuum of opinions on the issue, include Susan Jacoby, Christopher L. Eisgruber and Lawrence Sager, Winnie Varghese, Dan Barker, and Mark Rienzi.
Jacoby, who recently debated the merits of Christianity in American politics and Grand Rapids’ Fountain Street Church, is an advocate for secularism and author of The Age of American Unreason. Jacoby argues that if a church wants federal help, it must play by the government’s rules:
In cases involving freedom of conscience, government policy—like the Bill of Rights—should always be on the side of the individual. If churches don’t like the strings attached to public money, they are free to refuse taxpayer subsidies. The First Amendment was not written for an America in which religion claimed the right to have it both ways.
Review of The Tyranny of Cliches: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas, by Jonah Goldberg, (New York, NY: Sentinel, 2012)
With proper training, and maybe a bit of experience on the debate team, it’s easy to recognize logical fallacies in an opponent’s argument. When it comes to popular give and take, the sort of thing we have so much of now on opinion websites and news channels, there hasn’t been decent preparation for arguments outside the columns and blog posts of Jonah Goldberg.
In The Tyranny of Cliches, the National Review contributor, syndicated columnist, author of the bestseller Liberal Fascism, and American Enterprise Institute fellow, convincingly demolishes the Left’s oft-repeated, bumper-sticker slogans that seemingly defy repudiation by many who fear being depicted as a heartless jackanape.
For example, if an impassioned public figure pleads that yet another government expansion and encroachment is “for the children” it is therefore ipso facto in the best interests of everyone. This is a “case-closed” logical fallacy that circumvents rational discussion by declaring that if millions of cute kids benefit, only meanies, bullies, or some contemporary amalgamation of Attila the Hun, Adolph Hitler, Pol Pot, Joseph Stalin, and Darth Vader could oppose it.
Not so fast. Goldberg’s new book wonderfully dissects such liberal shibboleths as “social justice,” “diversity,” attacks on organized religion in general and Roman Catholicism in particular, and “separation of church and state” to reveal the hollowness within. In this regard, Goldberg resembles most William F. Buckley, with the difference that the latter stood athwart history yelling stop, and the former stands astride postmodernism to scream “enough!”
In his new book, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat explores the present decline—economic recession, a divisive, stagnant political climate and a deteriorating moral structure—of American civilization. Rather than citing religious excess or wide scale secularization as the problem, Douthat points his finger at what he calls “bad religion,” or, four basic heresies that present faux-Gospels contrary to the Christian faith.
Douthat’s solution, presented in the book’s conclusion, comes in the form of Christian orthodoxy, what one might call Good Religion. Without delving too far into critique, readers of all ecumenical stripes—even those without any—can profit from a quick examination of Douthat’s four points essential for traditional Christianity to reclaim a respected voice in the American public square.
First, Douthat calls for Christian engagement in the sphere of politics that is “political without being partisan,” marked by a “clear Christian difference.” He allows room for political disagreement while professing the necessity of Christian principles to mark the Christian ballot or campaign.
Second, Douthat endorses a Christianity that is “ecumenical but also confessional.” Douthat desires broader Christian discourse and unity, but vibrant doctrinal debate and a steadfast upholding of characteristic theological standards.
Third, Douthat calls for Christians to cut against the grain of contemporary society with a faith that is “moralistic but also holistic.” To present the Bible’s ethical system as a desirable path for a life, rather than a condescending rulebook, he says, is the great challenge for the Church of today.
Finally, Christian orthodoxy must be “oriented toward sanctity and beauty.” Christians occupy too sparse a share of today’s aesthetic landscape, he argues, calling for more distinctly Christian art the mirrors the novels of Marilynne Robinson or the poetry of Christian Wiman.
Douthat’s book will no doubt stimulate much discussion about Christianity’s place in politics, ethics and art. And voices like Douthat’s are an integral part of the debate. With any providence, both the Church and society will benefit greatly from a wider appreciation of Douthat’s hope:
“My hope throughout has been to persuade even the most skeptical reader that traditional Christian faith might have more to offer this country than either its flawed defenders or its fashionable enemies would lead one to believe.”
Is it unconstitutional for laws to be based on their supporters’ religiously founded moral beliefs? While most of us—at least most readers of this blog—would consider such a question to be absurd, some people apparently think it should be answered in the affirmative.
The New Yorker‘s George Packer believes, “The outcry over Obama’s policy on health insurance and contraception has almost nothing to do with that part of the First Amendment about the right to free religious practice, which is under no threat in this country. It is all about a modern conservative Kulturkampf that will not accept the other part of the religion clause, which prohibits any official religion.”
Ross Douthat provides a devastating reply to Packer’s backwards view of religious liberty: