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Christianity in the public square.

In 1985 the social Protestant commentator Harry Antonides published a pamphlet entitled Is There Room for A Christian Presence in The Public Square?--based on a presentation he gave to the Michaelmas Conference at the University of St. Michael's College in Toronto that year. There is a long history of Christian thought, he said, that considers the state's core responsibility to be the preservation of a political and legal framework within which the rights and freedoms of all citizens can be protected. We live in a time, however, when traditional religious and moral teachings are regarded as restraining and anti-human. "In the end," writes the American Catholic historian, James Hitchcock, "the promise of our culture is one the Judeo-Christian tradition has heard before: You shall be like gods."

Judge Abella

In illustration Antonides refers to the recommendations of a Royal Commission study on employment discrimination by Judge Rosalie Abella, describing four groups--women, natives, the disabled, and visible minorities--as disadvantaged. In fact they are described almost exclusively in terms of victimization; the history of the role of women is depicted entirely in terms of discrimination.

Judge Abella's own bias is anti-institutional and anti-family. For example, she considers that spouses ought to be economically independent from each other; a family should not be treated as "a single indivisible unit for policy purposes." She also writes that "law in a liberal democracy is the collective expression of the public will."

If that is all there is to the basis of law, Antonides writes, and if the public will is not anchored to some principle of authority, then we have reached the stage in which the social engineers, the group of people C.S. Lewis calls "the Conditioners," are the designers of their own values. Law has become a technical instrument in the service of social engineering, and it would be quite right to speak, as Lewis does, of "the abolition of man."

Dalton Camp

So Christianity, contrary to the abuse heaped on it, is a guarantee of freedom in the public realm, not a threat to it. In fact Antonides asserts that the awareness of the transcendent is the only true safeguard against arbitrary power and despotism.

Antonides refers to a letter sent out by Dalton Camp, a well-known political commentator and Tory strategist, on behalf of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. Camp declared that the Moral Majority in the U.S., or "whatever it chooses to call itself," is actively lobbying to have its religious doctrines enacted into laws and imposed on everyone else--including laws banning contraceptives, punishing homosexuals, keeping women at home, banning books from libraries and barring those who disagree with them from teaching in public schools. Similar developments are surfacing in Canada; in some Ontario schools students are told that only through "the blood of Jesus can sins be taken away." "Now more than ever," Camp wrote, "a reactionary cloud threatens this continent"--and "the potential exists in Canada for much worse."

Antonides calls attention to the fundamentally dishonest type of rhetoric being employed here. Christians certainly do believe that only through the blood of Jesus can sins be taken away. But to mingle this central tenet of Christian doctrine with supposed examples of intolerance is an odd way of trying to protect civil liberties in Canada. "By the wording of this letter," he says, "I am tied in with all the sinister things mentioned . . . and I am accused of being a bigot by holding to the scriptural view of the Atonement and the reconciliation between God and man." How can I defend myself?" Camp's views illustrate what happens when religion is removed: then only his views on contraception and pornography and similar issues deserve consideration; the others are declared anathema.

Public square

When Antonides used the term "public square," he was alluding to Richard John Neuhaus's American book The Naked Public Square, a book he praises highly. Neuhaus insists the naked public square, one dominated by secularism, is incompatible with freedom and democracy.

Law must be seen as related to basic presuppositions about right and wrong, good and evil. But morality without religion becomes immorality, with laws contrary to the designs of God becoming capricious, even tyrannical. Once Christianity is removed as the countervailing force to the ambitions of the state, the public square will have only two actors--the state and the individual.
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Author:David Dooley
Publication:Catholic Insight
Date:Apr 1, 1996
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