The Common Good by Monsignor Ferrarese

As believing members of the human race, we have a responsibility to the larger community to speak the truth with love. We live in an increasingly and self-consciously godless world.

In the interest of protecting religion, the statesmen that drafted our constitution devised a society that is agnostic about God. That is because when we talk about the ineffable Being of God, we tend to argue and eventually tear each other apart. If the government of a country, be it royal or democratic in nature, decides on one particular formulation of the god question, it tends to persecute and marginalize all other religious expressions. The long history of religious wars stands in testimony to this.

The other reason that our political ancestors chose to separate religion and the state is to protect religion from persecution. Europe was filled with governments trying to suppress religious movements that they deemed to be dangerous to their national unity. Hence Protestant governments tried to suppress Catholics and Catholic governments tried to do the same to Protestants. This was true also of the non-Christian religions.

So, the statesmen who drafted our constitution tried to put religion out of the hands of the government so that it could grow on its own. Most of them were religious men who thought that religion was important for the country, but they did not want the government dictating to the Faith.

But then came the French Revolution which was different from the American Revolution. In France, the Church had an outsized role in the governance of the nation. The King ceded a lot of power to the Cardinal Secretaries of State Richelieu and Mazarin. The Church ran the government often despotically. This bred centuries of hate toward the Church and its power. The Church seemed to buttress the heavy-handed lifestyle of the nobles and the Crown creating a separate caste system of the poor and the rich.

In the American Revolution, once independence from England was fought for and won, there was no long history of oppression to clear away so as to build something new according to Enlightenment principles. At the Constitutional Convention they could start afresh.

Not so in France. The forces of history had to get rid of the King and the Church before anything new could be built. This revolution was much bloodier. The execution of the King and the Nobility, as well as the dismantling of the Church, were seen to be essential parts of the Revolution. In America, it was Church and State, separate but working together. In France it was Church vs. State.

One of the things that has happened in the modern world is that something of the hostility toward religion of the French Model of Secularism has found a home in the American way of seeing the interrelationship between Faith and Reason. In our history, there was a partnership that now has become antagonistic. The new Secularism allows believers to believe in a God that does not matter, who is OK as long as He resides in the privacy of the hearts of believers. But that religious faith must remain private and should never be invoked in the Public Square of the political arena.

Yet, a person of faith cannot make political judgements apart from that faith. To this the modern American secularists responds: Don’t impose your faith on me. But how can one separate a believer’s desires for the future of the country from their cherished values that come from their faith?

It is for the Common Good that a Catholic must speak out of one’s Catholic Faith. Not to impose but to enlighten. Often the enemies of the Church, anxious to silence the contributions of citizens who are speaking out of a context of faith, say that they must not impose their beliefs on others. Does not an atheist ‘impose’ his belief that there is no god when he speaks out on an issue in politics? Every single human being speaks out of his or her existential context which helps them form and defend their positions on different issues. An atheist can’t help speak out of the nihilistic context of his decision that there is no god. So also, the believer speaks out of his or her own context of faith. Everyone does this and, in fact, one cannot help doing this since it is how every human being makes sense of the world around them.

Let us, then, at the very least put away this false argument pushed by the forces of unbelief that people of faith should just shut up and not impose their beliefs on others. One cannot, nor should not, try to silence anyone from speaking from the core beliefs that make a person who they are, be they believer or non-believer. We owe this to the Common Good.

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