Synod opens with call for religious freedom for all in Middle East

"In the face of tension and violence, Middle East Christians must work to defend freedom, democracy, peace and the human rights of each and every individual, said leaders of the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East. . . .

The report called on Catholics and other people of good will to work together to promote civil communities and nations that have a "positive secularity," which respects the religious identity of its members, but does not define citizenship or rights on the basis of religious belonging.

"Religious freedom is an essential component of human rights," it said.

All the constitutions of the countries represented at the synod recognize the right of religious freedom, but some of them place limits on the freedom of worship and some, in effect, violate the freedom of conscience with legal or social pressures against conversion, it said.

While the Catholic Church "firmly condemns all proselytism" -- pressuring, coercing or enticing someone to change faiths -- Christians can contribute to the freedom and democracy of their nations by promoting greater justice and equality under the law for all believers, the report said.

Patriarch Naguib, speaking at a news conference after the first working session, said that for many Muslims throughout the region, when one speaks of "secularism," it often is seen as a call to do away with religion or at least to limit its influence to people's private lives.

Maronite Bishop Bechara Rai of Jbeil, Lebanon, told reporters later that the church supports a form of church-state separation that ensures religions have a voice in society and that laws reflect moral values -- including laws against euthanasia and gay marriage. . .

But when religion becomes the primary source of a country's laws and religious authorities have civil power, members of minority communities end up being seen and treated as second-class citizens, he said.

[Here it should be noted that when addressing the Muslim world where Christians, including Roman Catholics, are at best restricted from proselytizing and at worst severely persecuted and murdered, the Roman hierarchy advocates freedom, democracy, peace and the human rights of each and every individual.  However, even in this environment the spokesmen do not fail to emphasize that, "the church supports a form of church-state separation that ensures religions have a voice in society and that laws reflect moral values - including laws against euthanasia and gay marriage".  This, it will be seen later on this page, is the meaning of "positive secularity."]

The introductory report condemned anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism and called on both Catholics and Jews to recognize that the political tensions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are not an interreligious conflict among Jews, Muslims and Christians."

[The downplaying of the role of religion in the political tensions of the Middle East is significant, because Rome is determined to play a central role in Jerusalem - and the sooner the better.  Interreligious conflict is not conducive to that objective.  (Cf.  Dan. 11:45.)]

The passages quoted above are classic examples of Rome's doublespeak.  How does the call to "defend freedom, democracy, peace and the human rights of each and every individual" "square" with the New Evangelization and its objective of "promoting the use of the Catechism of the Universal Church," with its internal mandate for enforcement of "the rigorist interpretation of the ex cathedra dogma extra ecclesiam nulla salus, outside the church there is no salvation and everyone needs to be a formal member to avoid Hell"?  Then there is the loaded term "positive secularity" which supposedly means that "which respects the religious identity of its members, but does not define citizenship of rights on the basis of religious belonging."  There is set forth here a distinction between this term and "secularism."  The distinction is a subtle one, and the text of an address at the University of Navarra in it's Religion and Civil Society Project by Professor Mary Ann Glendon, CIVILITAS EUROPA SECULARISM AND SECULARITY, is a valuable aid to understanding what it is.  Professor Glendon is Learned Hand Professor of Law of Harvard Law School, and was US Ambassador to the Vatican in 2008 (Cf.Article titled Fundamentalist secularism threatens U.S., warns ambassador to the Holy See Note this quotation from the article, "Glendon also cites Professor Philip Hamburger, who explains that “the first amendment, originally thought to limit the government, has been increasingly interpreted by the Court to mean limiting religion and confining it to the private sphere.”

“This interpretation—based on a very individualistic concept of freedom—has as its effect the limiting of the religious freedom of many people, people for whom the worship community is important,” the ambassador said." (emphasis added)

"Limiting and confining [religion] to the private sphere" is precisely the principle of separation of Church and State which is essential to freedom of worship.  We and others who espouse the strict separaton of Church and State are charged with "fundamentalist secularism.")  The entire text of "CIVILITAS EUROPA SECULARISM AND SECULARITY" follows, with highlights and notations]:


It is a real pleasure to be visiting the University of Navarra again. This great university is truly a beacon for those of us who believe that faith and reason must work together if we academics are to do our part in advancing what John Paul II called the civilization of love. And I congratulate Professor Alvira and his associates for having launched this project on Religion and Civil Society, a venture that directly confronts the challenges facing the world’s democratic experiments.

With regard to the topic that I have been asked to discuss— secularism and secularity—let me begin by noting two recent developments that many people have found surprising. The first is the fact that one of the central themes of the current leader of the Catholic Church has been his praise of secularity. The second is the growing chorus of prominent atheists or agnostics who are expressing concern about the ability of their societies to remain free, democratic and humane without the support of habits and attitudes grounded in Biblical religion.

Both of these developments are signs of a more general ferment relating to the role of religion in a secular state. Until relatively recently, most people in western countries have regarded the position of religion in the polity as substantially settled along the lines of one or another of the two principal models of secularity that emerged, respectively, from the French and American revolutions.

Over the past few decades, however, all previous understandings about religion in society have [been] thrown into turbulence. The pressures come from several directions: There are developments in biotechnology posing moral dilemmas that could not have been imagined by previous generations; there are the well known changes in behavior and attitudes in the areas of marriage, family life, and human sexuality; and in many countries there has been a marked increase in religious diversity due to migration. In addition, as even political "realists" have had to acknowledge, religion is playing an important role in shaping events in our increasingly globalized and interdependent world.

The retreat from rigid secularism on the part of many intellectuals and public figures is a remarkable sign of how these changes are affecting long-held attitudes. In the case of Jürgen Habermas, it was concern about biological engineering and the instrumentalization of human life that led him to conclude that the West cannot abandon its religious heritage without endangering the great social and political advances that are grounded in that heritage. Habermas stunned many of his followers a few years ago by announcing that, "Christianity, and nothing else, is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy, the benchmarks of Western civilization. To this day, we have no other options. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source. Everything else is postmodern chatter."

No less significant were the remarks of French President Sarkozy when he greeted Pope Benedict in 2008. Referring to the Christian religion as France’s “living patrimony,” Sarkozy added that “it would be crazy to deprive ourselves of the contributions of that patrimony to intellectual and cultural life.” One can imagine Voltaire turning in his grave when Sarkozy went on to say, "For this reason, I am calling for a positive secularism. A positive secularism offers our consciences the possibility to [reflect on] the meaning we want to give to our lives….Positive secularism is an opportunity, an encouragement, a supplementary dimension to the political debate. It is an encouragement to religion, as well as to all currents of thought."

And consider the case of Tony Blair who never discussed his faith while he was Prime Minister of England because, he said, people would consider that to be "weird". But in a speech in Italy last year, Citizen Blair criticized such negative attitudes towards religion for allowing "the aggressive secularism in part of the West to gain traction." Persons of faith, he said, should "show how faith is standing up for justice, for solidarity across peoples and nations." He added that one thing he learned as Prime Minister was that "a society to be truly harmonious, to be complete, requires a place for faith."

Meanwhile, Italian Senator Marcelo Pera, a professed agnostic who is also a prominent philosopher, published a book last year with the provocative title: "Why we should call ourselves Christian." The preface to that book is a letter written by none other than Pope Benedict, who earlier, as Cardinal Ratzinger, had entered into a dialogue with Pera that was published under the title"Without Roots," a reference to Europe's neglect of its cultural foundations.

Clearly something important is happening when even the leader of France--the country that most strenuously defends the principle of the secular state--calls for a "positive secularism," echoing the very terms that Pope Benedict so often uses in his own calls for a “new reflection on the true meaning and importance of laïcité.” Something is happening when the former head of the British Labor government says he wishes he had spoken more in public about his faith. Something is happening when the leader of the Catholic Church and a prominent Italian agnostic begin singing duets.

[What Professor Glendon describes above is a process of convergence of interests between the Christian world and secular leaders of thought - atheists, agnostics, and professed individuals of faith alike.  This is not surprising in these eschatological times.  The apostle Paul wrote of these times in the following terms]:

Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.

Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.  Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?  And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time.  For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.  And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming:  Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders,  And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.  And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie:  That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
(2 Thess: 1-12)  (Emphasis added)

[This is the time of the gathering of the nations in final rebellion against God and His Truth revealed in the Bible]:

And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet.  For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.  Behold, I come as a thief.  Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.  Rev. 16:13-15

[Satan, the archenemy of God, is working behind the scenes to bring Atheists, Agnostics, Papists, and Christian apostates of all stripes into final and fatal confrontation with Almighty God.]

These developments inevitably have re-focused attention on the old French and American models of secularity—and they support the distinction made in the title of this section of our program: Secularity does not necessarily entail secular-ism. What both the French and American models had in common, in their 18th century origins—and what set them apart from countries with official state churches—was their commitment to a secular, non-denominational state.

The principal feature that differentiated them from each other was that the French model, at the outset, was marked by hostility to Christianity in general and to the Catholic Church in particular: to Christianity because it was thought by many to be an obstacle to the creation of a free and rational society; and to the Catholic Church because it was thought to have had excessive temporal power.

The American model was more hospitable to religion because the descendants of Protestant Dissenters who had fled English persecution wanted a state where the various Protestant sects could live peaceably with one another. The English experience caused them to be more concerned about the threat that the State posed to religion than vice versa. In other words, the branch of the Enlightenment that was essentially anti-clerical and irreligious had little influence in America at the time of the Founding—except where the minority Catholic religion was concerned. Thus, it is commonly said that the American model of secularity was devised to protect religion and churches from government, whereas the French model, and the systems that followed it, were designed to protect government from religion and churches. It needs to be kept in mind, however, that the model contained a strong strain of anti-Catholicism that persists to this day.

Nevertheless, Pope Benedict has often praised what he calls the “positive” American understanding of secularity, contrasting it with the "negative" form of secular-ism inherited from the French Revolution. He has even gone so far as to say that the American version could be a "fundamental model" for Europe, in that the United States is a place “where the religious dimension, with the diversity of its expressions, is not only tolerated but appreciated as the nation’s ‘soul’ and as a fundamental guarantee of human rights and duties.”

[Pope Benedict's assessment of the American understanding of "secularity" must never be mistaken for approval of all aspects of what he calls a "fundamental model" for Europe.  His views, and those of his predecessor, conform to the vision of Pope Leo XIII.  They view religious freedom from a unique perspective, which was summed up by A. T. Jones in his 1895 General Conference Sermon on "The Papacy"]:

The papacy is very impatient of any restraining bonds; in fact, it wants none at all. And the one grand discovery Leo XIII has made, which no pope before him ever made, is that turn which is taken now all the time by Leo and from him by those who are managing affairs in this country--the turn that is taken upon the clause of the Constitution of the United States: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Leo has made the discovery that the papacy can be pushed upon this country in every possible way and by every possible means and that congress is prohibited from ever legislating in any way to stop it. That is a discovery that he made that none before him made and that is how it is that he of late can so fully endorse the United States Constitution.

We all know of course that that was intended to be the expression of the American people always, that religion should have no place in governmental affairs and no connection whatever with it. But the papacy is never satisfied without taking possession of everything in the government and running it in the interests of the church and Leo XIII has found out that this can all be done under the cover of that constitutional statement which was intended to prevent such a thing forever.

Thus the papacy in plain violation of the Constitution will crowd herself upon the government and then hold up that clause as a barrier against anything that any would do to stop it. And every one that speaks against this working of the papacy, behold! He "is violating the Constitution of the United States" in spirit, because the constitution says that nothing shall ever be done in respect to any religion or the establishment of it. When a citizen of the United States would rise up and protest against the papacy and all this that is against the letter and the spirit of the constitution, behold! He does not appreciate "the liberty of the constitution. We are lovers of liberty; we are defenders of the constitution; we are glad that America has such a symbol of liberty" as that.  Indeed they are.

[The major part of Protestant America, including the leadership of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, are either unsuspecting of this chicanery or actually endorsing it because they are enamoured of the idea of shaping the morality of this nation by the enactment of religious laws.]

Models and Reality

As we social scientists know, however, reality is always more complicated than any model. The fact is that the so-called French model has long contained some elements of positive secularity, while the American model, increasingly, has drifted in the direction of negative secularism.

In present-day France, for example, a notable instance of "positive secularity" is the generous program of subsidies for the (mostly Catholic) religious primary and secondary schools that are attended by 17 percent of French schoolchildren--something that would be clearly unconstitutional in the United States—and in any case would never be approved by the non-Catholic majority . I would also note that France, like most European nations, has laws in many controversial areas—such as abortion, experimentation on embryos, reproductive technologies, and same-sex adoption—that are closer to the teachings of the major religions than the laws of the U.S.

As for the United States, elements of negative secularism have been introduced through a series of Supreme Court decisions that, beginning in the 1940s, have cast doubt over the constitutionality of nearly every form of public cooperation and accommodation with religious institutions.

Now I come to a sign of the times that should claim the attention of our project: it is that negative secularism in Europe and the United States alike has accelerated in the wake of the sexual revolution. That era of social experimentation saw the rise among opinion makers of open disdain for religious believers and open hostility toward religious institutions—especially those religions that make strong truth claims and strong demands on their members. Not surprisingly, that period also saw the appearance of new legal rights in the areas of abortion, assisted reproduction, sexual orientation, and embryonic experimentation--rights that clash with the religious beliefs of many citizens. Today, there is powerful resistance to laws protecting the conscience rights of individuals and the autonomy of religious institutions. Religious freedom increasingly is coming into conflict not only with various "new rights", but with the interests of powerful lobbies such as the sex industry, the abortion industry, the population control lobby, and the assisted reproduction industry.

[This passage conceals a snare for those who cherish religious liberty based on biblical principles of morality.  Because of an abhorrence of immorality and depravity there is a natural inclination to favor laws enforcing moral standards.  How can one oppose the enactment of such laws?  And yet, active support of the political crusade against those practices enumerated above that are clearly violations of biblical principles (some scientific procedures are not) involves alliance with the spiritual power that is opposed to the sovereignty and righteousness of God Almighty.  One is reminded of the words of warning from Ellen G. White, "[Satan] has grown more artful. His plans are laid deeper, and are more covered with a religious garment to hide their deformity." (2 SG,  p. 277.)  Christianity should lead by demonstrating godliness through the power of the gospel, and not by forcing its laws upon the ungodly through the power of the State,  It is no coincidence that the religious body which is foremost in agitating for laws enforcing "family values" is rife with homosexuality, child abuse, and even abortion to cover up the sins of errant priests.  It is Rome who conceived the destructive hermeneutic of "higher criticism" which has swept through the Protestant world and neutralized the Bible as the Word of God.  In these times there are Christians who are ignorant of what the Word has to say about homosexuals, fornicators, and adulterers.  How much more ignorant are the millions in the secular world!!  The  blame for the moral corruption in the world today must be laid squarely at the feet of the "Christian religionists" and not the secular State.]

As a leading U.S. expert on religious liberty has put it, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which was originally designed to limit government, has been increasingly interpreted by the Supreme Court to constrain religion and to relegate it to the private sphere. There are, of course, exceptions to these trends, some of which, like the exemption of religious institutions from taxes, are very important. But it is not an exaggeration to say that the present situation in the U.S. can best be described as one in which positive and negative models of secularity are engaged in a fateful struggle.

The eruption in 2002 of what has come to be known as the clerical sexual abuse crisis fell like a bomb into that volatile situation. There can be no doubt that incalculable harm was done to the cause of promoting secularity over secular-ism in the American model.

This brings me to an important, if obvious, point: There is no pure example of either positive or negative secularity in the world today. Each nation’s system of Church-State relations is constantly being shaped and reshaped by complex political compromises. And let me follow that observation with another point that should be obvious: no country's system can serve as a model for another if by "model" we mean something that can be copied.

Each nation’s system of church-state relations is the product of its own distinctive history and circumstances. Most of the continental European systems were decisively shaped by confrontations between Enlightenment secularism and Roman Catholicism, against the background of religious conflict. The American system was initially shaped by the desire to protect the various Protestant religions from the State, and to promote peaceful co-existence among Protestant confessions. That is why the Pope said, when he praised the American model: “Certainly, we in Europe cannot simply copy the United States; we have our history." What he meant when he referred to the U.S. system as a "model" is that the U.S. experience shows that a secular state need not necessarily be hostile to religion.

On his trip to the United States in 2008, he clearly demonstrated his awareness that the American model was in need of attention. He took the occasion to warn us that the erosion of the positive form of secularity would have serious implications for liberty as well as for religion. “The preservation of freedom,” he said, "calls for the cultivation of virtue, self-discipline, sacrifice for the common good and a sense of responsibility toward the less fortunate. It also demands the courage to engage in civic life and to bring one’s deepest beliefs and values to reasoned public debate. In a word, freedom is ever new. It is a challenge held out to each generation, and must constantly be won over for the cause of good.”

The question of the relationship between religion and freedom brings us to the heart of the project that we are gathered to discuss. What is the role of religion in sustaining a free and humane society?

The classic analysis of that question still begins with the two propositions about religion and freedom advanced by Tocqueville in the preface to Democracy in America. One of those assertions flew in the face of everything that was held to be true by most devout Christians at that time. It was that freedom would be good for religion. The second proposition seemed equally preposterous to enlightened skeptics like most of Tocqueville’s friends. It was that religion would be beneficial for emerging democratic societies.

Tocqueville was emphatic in advising his skeptical friends to get over their prejudices against religion if they hoped for the success of free and democratic government. “Lovers of liberty,” he said, “should hasten to call religion to their aid, for they must know that one cannot establish the reign of liberty without that of mores [by which he meant the habits and attitudes of citizens and statesmen], and mores cannot be firmly founded without beliefs.” Religion, he wrote, “is the guardian of the mores, and the mores are the guarantee of the laws and pledge for the maintenance of freedom itself.” In other words: Culture is prior to politics and law, and religion is at the heart of culture.

For a long time, however, many intellectuals clung to the belief that the free society could get along just fine without religion, and that the sooner we got rid of religion the freer we would be. They did not dispute that the preservation of a free society depends on citizens and statespersons with particular skills, knowledge, and qualities of mind and character. But a number of political philosophers, of whom John Rawls is perhaps best known, contested Tocqueville’s assertion that the democratic experiment was dependent in crucial ways on a culture nourished by Biblical religion (by which he meant religion based on the Hebrew Scriptures and the Apostolic Writings). Rawls and others maintained that the experience of living in a free society was sufficient in itself to foster the civic virtues of moderation and selfrestraint, respect for others and so on, that a decent society requires.

That faith in the ability of democracy to generate the virtues it needs in its citizens has been shaken, however, in the social and cultural upheavals of the late 20th century. With families, schools, religious groups, and other institutions of civil society in distress, non-believers like Habermas and Pera are starting to express concerns about the political effects of the breakdown of so many habits and customs that once provided cultural supports for liberal democracy. They have begun to ask, for example: Where will people learn to view others with respect and concern, rather than to regard them as objects, means, or obstacles? What will cause most men and women to keep their promises, to limit consumption, to answer their country’s call for service, and to reach out to the unfortunate? Where will a state based on the rule of law find citizens and statesmen capable of devising just laws and then abiding by them? Habermas has gone so far as to assert that the good effects that Rawls and others attributed to life in free societies may well have had their source in the “legacy of the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love."

In this new situation, there are really no models to follow because so many of the challenges are so new. But to say there are no models is not to say there is no wisdom and experience on which to draw. Historical experience indicates that there is a high correlation between religious liberty and the maintenance of a democratic state that respects individual freedom, equality, and the rule of law, and that attends to the needs of its least advantaged members. Conversely, there is a high correlation between the denial of religious liberty and the denial of other basic freedoms.

In 2009, the non-partisan Pew Forum reported on the growing body of empirical evidence that underscores the contribution of religious freedom to democratic governance, domestic tranquility, economic development, women's advancement and international peace. A Pew researcher found, after conducting research on 200 nations around the world that "the presence of religious freedom in a country mathematically correlates with the longevity of democracy" and with the presence of other goods, including civil and political liberty, women's income, press freedom, literacy, lower infant mortality, and economic freedom."

[Professor Glendon's glowing praise of religious liberty and democracy fails to recognize that in the United States these have been the product of secularism.  As she stated above, "What both the French and American models had in common, in their 18th century origins—and what set them apart from countries with official state churches—was their commitment to a secular, non-denominational state."  Religious liberty and democracy will most certainly be destroyed when Rome achieves "positive secularity."]

So, how do things look for the civilizations of Europe and the Americas as they face the challenge of protecting religious liberty within a secular state? In a sense, we would seem to be wellequipped. Despite many differences, we all are the beneficiaries of a common cultural inheritance in which religion and liberty are inextricably intertwined. It is an inheritance that includes the classical civilizations of Greece and Rome, the Hebrew Scriptures and the Apostolic Writings, the explosive energies of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, the concept of the rights of man, and so much more.

But under present circumstances, it will take great wisdom and prudence on the part of citizens and statespersons in free societies to find ways to keep the public square open to religiously grounded moral viewpoints, and to protect the intermediate institutions that compose each country's “moral ecology.”

Equally, if not more decisive will be the response of religious individuals and groups themselves. As we all know, it took a long time for mainstream Christianity to accept that liberty would be good for religion. For the Catholic Church, the major turning point was the Second Vatican Council where the Church officially declared the acceptability of a secular state in which Christianity, while fairly treated, enjoyed no special legal status. It is a remarkable sign of how far we have traveled that a Catholic Pope is now able to say as Benedict XVI has done, that, “It is necessary to welcome the real achievements of Enlightenment thinking— human rights, and especially the freedom of faith and its exercise, recognizing these as elements that are also essential for the authenticity of religion.”

I conclude with this thought: If the calls from various quarters to develop more healthy and positive forms of secularism are to succeed, the challenge for religions will be as great as the challenge to governments. It will be up to religions to encourage their members to the responsible exercise of freedom. It will be up to them to teach their members to advance their religiously grounded moral viewpoints with reasoning that is intelligible to all men and women of good will. It will be up to them to reject ideologies that manipulate religion for political purposes, or that use religion as a pretext for violence. And it will be up to them to find resources within their own traditions for promoting respect and tolerance. (That, of course, was Pope Benedict’s main message in the famous Regensburg address, a message almost completely obscured by the controversy that followed.)