03 December, 2009

Debate on Freedom of Religion as framed by the Swiss Referendum banning Minarets

The following is a contribution to a comment thread within the pages of the National Post Religious Blog, "Holy Post".



Have any of you good folks read George Weigel's, "The Cube and the Cathedral" or any of his recent writings which offer persuasive argument and evidence as to the imminence of a conflict of cultures and religions that cannot be avoided? I think he gives us the key to understanding this culture and religious conundrum.

First by pointing to the changing demographics of Europe, with a Christian birthrate that is insufficient to maintain a significant role within the social and political countries of the near future; certainly insufficient in the face of the of high birth rates of Islamic immigrants. (Please spare me the migrant worker/immigrant name game. The difference does little more than point out the prejudices of the proponents of the word game).

That is a demographic fact.

Further, Weigel points out that there is a subset within Islam which he refers to as "Islamists" or "Islamic fascists" which recruit within the greater Islamic community. This violent and Jihadist group is truly our enemy for they would deny us our right to live and believe as we do now as Christians and secularists. "Infidel" is a pejorative term which expresses the different manner in which they view non-believers. The epithet is infused with an evil nature and thus when viewed within the theological blinders of Wahabism  they must see Christians, Jews, and all other faiths are beliefs to be forcefully opposed

Yet this danger must be measured against the majority of the Islamic faith whose understanding of the rights of religious thought, belief and expression are compatible with western societal convictions.

To hold the views of groups like al Quaeda  as being representative of Islamic thought is as silly (and dangerous) as Muslims accepting the likes of Jim Jones (or any other cult leader) as representing modern Christian though. To put it in secularist terms, it would be as insane as presenting the Grand Knight of the K.K.K. as the exemplar of American Democratic thought!!

The Swiss Catholic Bishops have expressed immense disappointment with the results of the referendum. A media campaign of a right wing party in the final two weeks of the campaign strongly swung the vote. A campaign that propagandized the worst images of Islamic extremism, playing to the cultural fears within the small and relatively homogenious society of Switzerland. Their complaint is that it is a blatant attack upon the freedom of expression of  faith in the public square.

If the state has the right to so oppress Islamic faith, we as Christians cede to them the same power over our faith as well.

Those who have previously posted that we should practice a "tit for tat" policy with Islamic countries are neglecting to consider the examples of Jerusalem or virtually all of the Middle East (Arabia being the exception). The three faiths that claim the same Abrahamic and Mosaic roots, have churches, mosques and synagogues that have co-existied  for thousands of years. To those who would demand a right to open a Christian church on the Temple Mount or within the al-Aqsa grounds would blanch with indignation of a Muslim community demanded to set up a mosque in the Vatican!

While there are legitimate restrictions the are required of any religious community (we don't allow for human sacrifice no matter whatever claim of religious rights), there must be sufficient room offered within our present and future society to allow for freedom of religion, and public religious expression.

We can use noise legislation to control any public calls to prayer, just as bells are controlled now within Christian bell towers, but we must not let the illegitimate suppression of religious expression stand unchallenged, lest we become the "baby" that gets thrown out with the "bath water".

Instead of playing to societal unease in the face of the demographic crisis (at least from a Christian perspective) Christian's must be engaging honestly and openly with the various Islamic communities (Sunni, Shia, etc.) in helping them to develop the arguments of faith such as Christian formulated as we transitioned from "Christendom" through to our modern western societies of today.

Actions that threaten religious rights of expression such as this vote has brought before the Muslims of Switzerland serve only to make the task of their scholars to bring about an Islamic "enlightenment" to their faith communities that much harder.

Fr. Tim Moyle

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