Tag Archives: religion

American dogma in dangerous decline

Dogma has a bad name these days, and that’s bad for the Church and for America.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (DCA) spoke for growing numbers of Americans when, at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in 2017, she criticized Notre Dame law professor Amy Coney Barrett’s Catholic faith: “The dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern.”

The premise is that those who hold dogmas grounded in religion are intolerant and bigoted, and should keep their religious ideas out of public life. That’s an idea both ironic and dangerous. American democracy was founded on dogmas grounded in religion. As our common assent to them diminishes, the duty of Catholics to live publicly as Catholics is increasingly threatened.

Dogmas are principles laid down by an authority as absolute truth. Some are “revealed” truths. While they are subject to reasoning, they are ultimately accepted by faith, by trust in the authority that reveals them. For example, Christians accept, on the authority of the Bible, that Jesus is God.

But Feinstein was not concerned about Barrett’s understanding of revealed dogma. She was targeting the Catholic understanding of moral truths, which for centuries have been accepted by the authority of Scripture and the authority of natural reason. For example, the Ten Commandments teach dogmas that it is always wrong intentionally to kill innocents, or to commit adultery, or to seek sexual gratification outside marriage — an institution defined by Jesus (Mt 19:4-6), and until recently by most societies, as the union of one man and one woman.

Of course, few dogmas have garnered universal assent, let alone been practiced universally by fallible human beings. But religious and non-religious people alike have generally believed that objective truths exist whether or not we apprehend them. Because they are true, we seek to discover and understand them, and to live by them.

Much has changed in recent decades. We are today witnessing the hardening of what Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI called the “dictatorship of relativism” — the conviction that there are no absolute truths, that all knowledge and moral principles are the product of history and environment, or that they are constructed by the state, or by each person for himself.

That ‘relativism is itself an absolute truth’ claim is no longer an amusing irony. It has become a coercive barrier to traditional morality in American public life, a driver of judicial decisions and legislation that codify sexual freedom while silencing dissenters.

Recall, for example, Justice Anthony Kennedy’s relativist dictum justifying the abortion license: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” This claim provides a constitutional basis for the killing of innocents and underlies the establishment of homosexual acts, same-sex “marriage,” and choosing one’s gender as constitutionally protected rights.

The Equality Act, passed this summer in the House, would make sexual orientation and gender identity protected classes under the Civil Rights Act, brand those with traditional moral views as bigots, and open the door to financially ruinous lawsuits against Catholic and other religious institutions. Under this law, no one could claim religious freedom as a defense.

But our founders embraced a radical religious truth claim: “all men are created equal, [and] are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights….” The first of those rights, codified in the First Amendment, was religious freedom.

Call it the American dogma, the transcendent source of our equality and freedom. If we Catholics are to merit this gift, we must exercise it, in private and in public, as free and equal citizens of this great land.

THOMAS FARR is president of the Religious Freedom Institute, a D.C.-based non-profit that advances religious freedom for all as a source of human dignity, social and political flourishing, and international security. He was founding director of the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom (1999-2003) and of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center (2011-18). He was an associate professor of the Practice of Religion and International Affairs at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service from 2007- 2018. He is a member of the Northern Virginia Chapter.

Catholics don’t use ‘religion’ to discriminate – but natural law

Because the natural law is accessible to everyone through the power of reason, it tells each one of us what ought to be done or what should not be done. It does so in an absolute sense – no matter what, whether we like it or not, whether we feel it or not, whether others enforce it or not. In short, moral rights and moral duties are not just beliefs, but are objective truths rooted in a moral order.

Moral rights and moral duties are by their very nature not only absolute but also universal; if they were not, one could not claim that human rights are applicable to all humanity, regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality, culture, religion, or political affiliation. Societies and governments that violate the natural law with their legal laws cannot last long because they go against the moral order. Just as we cannot violate the physical order – the physical law of gravity, for instance – without getting hurt, we cannot violate the moral order of the natural law – the moral law of respect for human life, for instance – without hurting ourselves and society

When Catholic doctors use religious reasons of conscience for not providing an abortion, or Catholic pharmacists use religious reasons of conscience for not providing certain pills, their actions are not a matter of “imposing beliefs” on others, but of following the natural law that we all have in common through the power of reason. So we are not dealing here with an exemption of the civil law based on beliefs, but rather with a universal moral right based on the natural law. This is not a matter of their having freedom to do what certain religious individuals or institutions want, based on personal opinions and beliefs, but instead a freedom to do what they must do, in accordance with the natural law. What secularists ask them to give up is not their personal beliefs but their fundamental rights.

…Can religion be an excuse for discrimination? The answer is yes and no. On the one hand, the answer is yes, depending on what discrimination means. If it just means “making a distinction,” then those who say Catholics discriminate are themselves discriminating against Catholics as well. But if discrimination is seen as something morally good or bad, then we need to face the fact that Catholics have valid reasons to discriminate, for their reasons are based on the natural law that we all share – Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

On the other hand the answer can also be no. Once we reduce religion to mere set of beliefs and opinions, untested by reason, anything can go under that banner – even white-supremacist beliefs that qualify as “religion.”

Excerpt by Gerard M, Verschuuren, Ph.D., from his latest book Forty Anti-Catholic Lies: A Myth-Busting Apologist Sets the Record Straight (Manchester, New Hampshire: Sophia Institute Press, 2018), from Chapter 39, “Catholics Use Religion to Discriminate,” pp. 315-322.

GERARD M. VERSCHUUREN is a human biologist, specialized in human genetics. He also holds a Ph.D. in philosophy of science, and is a renowned writer, speaker, and consultant on the interface of science and religion, faith, and reason. He has written over 10 books. Learn more at www.where-do-we-come-from.com.