Mea maximum culpa
Today’s guest opinion from Kevin J. Arsenault is in defence of religious tolerance, free speech and Bishop Grecco.
In a guest opinion published in the Guardian on January 20, 2015 Richard Deaton wrote: “To ensure that all religions are equal there must be uninhibited freedom of speech in the public domain. The same rules must apply to everybody, and all religions.”
It was therefore surprising to read Mr. Deaton’s more recent article, “Bishop Grecco violates wall between Church and State” where he seems to have completely abandoned his belief in religious tolerance and free speech. He writes: “The good Bishop dares to tell people what to think and to proscribe social policy for people with respect to abortion and physician assisted suicide. The Church’s hubris seems to know no bounds. In its arrogance, a mortal sin, it presumes to tell others what values they should hold and how they should live their lives. Nothing could be more anti-democratic and authoritarian.”
First of all, the Bishop wrote a letter addressed to Catholics which was distributed at Sunday Mass in parishes throughout P.E.I.: it was a Guardian reporter who wrote an article about this event, thereby bringing it into the wider public domain. The Bishop wasn’t telling people what to think or how to live their lives, he was expounding on Catholic teaching and scripture ( for the benefit of other Catholics like me) and suggesting how we might act on our faith in response to recent political and legal changes in society. But so what if the Bishop had sent his thoughts directly to the Guardian as a guest opinion? Surely the Bishop has the same Charter rights as any other Canadian citizen and is entitled to express his opinions and beliefs to whomever he wants, including to the general public through secular media.
The essence of a healthy democracy is the right to speak freely in the public domain without fear of violent retaliation or condemnation. As Mr. Deaton noted in his January article: “Both religion and freedom of opinion and expression are key Charter values.” So why does he attack Bishop Grecco and the Catholic Church so vehemently? What I believe Mr. Deaton is actually advocating - whether he realizes it or not - is religious intolerance.
What is truly anti-democratic and authoritarian in today’s world is the increasingly pervasive cultural view that because we live in a secular society the public domain now belongs exclusively to atheists, and all religious opinions, symbols or activity must therefore be kept private. What proponents of this view often fail to realize is that atheism is also a philosophical world view that must be accepted on “faith.” That is, it is impossible to prove God does not exist. Nonetheless, atheists tend to present themselves as “scientific and rational” in contrast to theists who they regard as “unscientific and irrational.” Now that’s what you call hubris and arrogance!
The attempt to silence Christians and intimidate them to “keep their beliefs to themselves” is definitely intensifying in our culture. There is no longer an appetite for well-reasoned public debate on many moral issues. We are witnessing the entrenchment of an ethos of moral relativism which often serves the selfish desires of individuals at the expense of the greater social good. Those who speak out against policies and laws which promote excessive individualism and libertarianism are increasingly likely to be attacked.
As Pope Benedict stated in 2010, “A new intolerance is spreading.... There are well-established standards of thinking that are supposed to be imposed on everyone. These are then announced in terms of so-called ‘negative tolerance.’ For instance, when people say that for the sake of negative tolerance [i.e. ‘not offending anyone’] there must be no crucifix in public buildings. With that we are basically experiencing the abolition of tolerance, for it means that the Christian faith is no longer allowed to express itself.... In the name of tolerance, tolerance is being abolished.”
I sincerely hope that all citizens in P.E.I. – religious or not – find the courage to speak out in defence of the dignity of all human beings, including the unborn and elderly, as we together work to create a more just, peaceful and tolerant society.
Bishop Richard Grecco, Diocese of Charlottetown