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Religious freedom is in 'great jeopardy,' professor says

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Douglas Farrow affirms human dignity
By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News
Douglas Farrow spoke to a group of health professionals about the importance of speaking up for one's faith. "We already see a question arising as to whether religious freedom is a fundamental right,” he said. (Photo: CCN)Douglas Farrow spoke to a group of health professionals about the importance of speaking up for one's faith. "We already see a question arising as to whether religious freedom is a fundamental right,” he said. (Photo: CCN)
Christians must speak about God in the public square to affirm true human dignity and freedom, McGill University professor Douglas Farrow told a gathering of health professionals Mar. 2.

Christians must also be willing to risk civil disobedience and suffer its consequences as western society lapses into denial of objective truth – a denial that stems from losing the connection between morality and faith.

“Governments and NGOs in Europe and the Americas are almost routinely demanding that Catholics accommodate themselves to things that are morally unacceptable,” said the professor of Christian Thought.

At an event sponsored by the Ottawa Catholic Physicians’ Guild, Farrow said the Christian notion of freedom is “in great jeopardy.” He described the “Age of Denial” in which many do not wish to be reminded, or do not want to know the objective truth about man and about God.

Farrow spoke of the way the understanding of objective reality and the truth of our dimorphic identity as male and female in the image of God has been damaged by the redefinition of marriage. He noted how Benedict XVI, now Pope Emeritus, last December had spoken about the trend towards replacing God’s gift of our biological sexual identity with the notion that sexual identity is merely a social construct.

Those on the cutting edge of the social constructionist movement “are not interested in natures or essences,” Farrow said. “They are opposed to everything that smacks of essentialism.”

“Man is not male and female,” in their view, he said. “The end game is the abolition of man’s nature.”

When calling man’s nature into question, social constructionists are also calling into question the “dignity that comes from God.”

It is vital Christians “order their thoughts and order them aright” concerning authentic freedom, which is grounded in the understanding God’s creating man, male and female, in His image and oriented towards expressing man’s identity through the good and the true, he said.

“Only the freedom that submits to the truth leads the human person to his true good,” Farrow said, quoting Pope John Paul II. There is a need to help our culture “understand the essential bond between freedom, truth and the good.”

Christians must also “stiffen our resolve to live according to the truth,” he said. He urged Catholics to read John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth) on this its 20th anniversary in order to recover an understanding of the integral relationship of freedom and truth. “Right action ordinarily depends on right thinking,” he said.

Veritatis Splendor warned the “denial of God as the source of truth” could “lead to a democratic form of totalitarianism,” Farrow said, noting the present climate of threats and intimidation to force support for same-sex ‘marriage,’ abortion and euthanasia.

The encyclical can help “with the task of confronting a culture not of dissent but of denial,” and of avoiding “complicity in the denial of truth.”

“Serious confusion about good and evil makes it impossible to build up and preserve the moral order,” he said, further quoting Pope John Paul II. The crisis the Pope warned about “has come upon us.”

The source of the crisis is the “refusal of the Eucharistic,” he said. A society that fails to honour God and give thanks to Him “becomes futile” in its thinking and disoriented in its behaviour.

The Eucharist has been in a certain sense “the beating heart” of western civilization, but present day society is marked by “a refusal to give thanks” – by “a principle of thanklessness under the banner of secularism.”

Society misunderstands freedom, he said. “For many moderns it is not truth that leads to freedom,” as Jesus taught, “but freedom that leads to truth, but truth then becomes something elusive.”

The main lesson from Veritatis Splendor, he suggested, is that no attempt to resolve the crisis of confusion about good and evil, if it ignores the question of God, is workable. God, as the Supreme Good, constitutes “the unshakeable foundation of morality,” he said.

The Church must therefore bear witness both to Christ, in whom God is known, and to the inviolability of the moral order.

“Maintaining a harmony between freedom and truth occasionally demands uncommon sacrifices, as Pope John Paul II warned us, and this is such a time,” Farrow observed.

He urged the renouncing of “the contraceptive mentality” and related features of our society, especially where the “government allies with ideological and economic forces to enforce it.”

Christians “must practice self-denial,” he said. “They must proclaim that the body is the Lord’s.” If the eclipse of a sense of God leads to an eclipse of the senses of man, we must preach “Jesus Christ and his Resurrection,” and that “the body is for the Lord and the Lord for the body.”

This may land us in trouble.

“We have learned and are learning we cannot rely on an appeal to religious freedom,” said Farrow. “When morality is divorced from faith and faith from morality, religious freedom is immediately suspect.”

“We already see a question arising as to whether religious freedom is a fundamental right,” he said.

Farrow said our notion of human rights and religious freedom is rooted in the Christian faith, but these foundations have been eroded as society veers towards relativism and confusion.

“Christian freedom is not freedom from inconvenience, or even from fines or incarceration. It is freedom for God – freedom for God and for the neighbour.”

Last Updated on Thursday, 07 March 2013 09:46  

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