Perhaps you’ve already seen the infamous headline today: “Pope calls Christians the most persecuted.” My knee-jerk reaction is something like this: “Seriously, Christians? You’re persecuted? You, who practice the dominant religion in North and South America, Australia and Europe? You seriously believe your basic freedom to worship is being restricted? The most?”
I hate it when Pagans bash Christians for no other reason than their own baggage and dissatisfaction with the religion’s message or adherents. Yes, back during the Inquisition the Church was the boogeyman and the sworn foe of heretics, including Pagans. Yes, during worldwide colonization countless atrocities were committed to wipe out indigenous faiths and supplant them with the Middle Eastern sky god. But I still feel we can’t blame all of our woes on the Church, nor always have an embattled relationship with Christianity. We’re all of different faiths, trying to practice equally and follow our own paths, while respecting those of others.
So it helps to judge the headline in the context of the article. To be fair, the Pope is talking about regions in the world that are intolerant of Christianity – such as Saudi Arabia, where Christians are forbidden to worship. But to phrase that in such a broad, sweeping statement as “At present, Christians are the religious group which suffers most from persecution,” as he does, is irresponsible. It will feed the political fires of America’s “culture wars” even more. We already have Christians who complain that their liberties are being curtailed whenever someone suggests they should be inclusive of other faiths, or leave religion outside of the public schools. This kind of statement from the Pope will just inspire them to work even harder to make America a theocracy, especially since in his proclamation he says that secularism is just as bad for society as blind fundamentalism. This kind of language will spur on the culture warriors who see it as their own personal mission to make sure there is a Ten Commandments statue in every city hall or public space and that Creationsim is taught in every school, because if that can’t be done, then the insidious “secularism” will eventually void the public of all religious sentiment.
It is also painfully ironic that the Pope has said, “It is painful to think that in some areas of the world it is impossible to profess one’s religion freely except at the risk of life and personal liberty.” Well, that’s kind of been your game for centuries, hasn’t it? If the Church has turned a new leaf and will no longer tolerate religious authoritarianism, then perhaps they can act with more compassion towards those cultures which still haven’t made that stride forward. (After all, Church, it is also painful to think that in some areas of the world it is impossible to profess one’s non-mainstream sexual orientation except at the risk of life and personal liberty. And some of that is definitely your doing.)
If you have time to read it, the full document issued by the Pope is filled with great quotes, which I encourage you to use the next time a Christian is barring you from practicing your own faith. Just tell them, “The Pope said…”
- “I implore all men and women of good will to renew their commitment to building a world where all are free to profess their religion or faith, and to express their love of God with all their heart, with all their soul and with all their mind.”
- “The right to religious freedom is rooted in the very dignity of the human person, whose transcendent nature must not be ignored or overlooked.”
- “Religious freedom is, in this sense, also an achievement of a sound political and juridical culture. It is an essential good: each person must be able freely to exercise the right to profess and manifest, individually or in community, his or her own religion or faith, in public and in private, in teaching, in practice, in publications, in worship and in ritual observances. There should be no obstacles should he or she eventually wish to belong to another religion or profess none at all.” (Emphasis added.)
- “The exploitation of religious freedom to disguise hidden interests, such as the subversion of the established order, the hoarding of resources or the grip on power of a single group, can cause enormous harm to societies. Fanaticism, fundamentalism and practices contrary to human dignity can never be justified, even less so in the name of religion.”
- “Religious freedom is not the exclusive patrimony of believers, but of the whole family of the earth’s peoples.”
Amen to that!