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God and My Work / Part 3

A series on the role of laity in the Church
by Fr Luis Garza LC | Source:

e. The year 1968 and its aftermath

The complex of being Catholic

It is difficult to understand the influence of the social movements of 1968 objectively. It is also difficult to know if new movements created new cultural assumptions or if, in reality, the revolution was the result of something that had been developing quietly and inexorably under the surface. In any case, one of the consequences of that period and of those cultural changes has been a complex that makes us ashamed to say we are Catholic Christians. Times have changed. Thanks be to God we can now talk about Christ with our friends and not feel like every head in the room turns toward us like towards a cat in a dog kennel when we mention our faith.

   Of course, if this complex affects how we share our faith with friends, it makes it much more difficult to bring the Gospel to the workplace. The result has been that the world of work has become a vacuum devoid of God, as if that world were entirely sealed to him. This happens not only in businesses or organizations, but also in many cultural circles. I am amazed at how the Hollywood movies that often present the life and customs of the American people, never seem to include a church or make any reference to God, when it is well-known that the American people are deeply religious and that their cities and towns all have many churches. We are surely looking at a complex here.

Tolerance to the extreme

This complex is often explained by a supposed tolerance and respect for diversity. Some even invoke the separation between church and state, as if that had something to do with it. It is a large and difficult topic, so I will not be able to cover it adequately here. However, I will offer some points that can help us to understand what may be at the foundation of it all. Reading Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's book Truth and Tolerance could also be helpful.

   I think that it is very good to be tolerant and respect other people's point of view. We can all agree about this. However, it is very important to clarify some aspects of this problem:

I) Above all, civilized persons cannot fall into the assumptions of radical relativism. I have always marveled at how the modern world has reached such extreme precision in the definition of certain types of concepts, with which everyone is in agreement or is required to be in agreement, and yet, at the same time, has become vague in its definition of some moral concepts. Tax laws, for example, require dotting every "i" and crossing every "t" when declaring income. No errors are allowed because the laws assume that any error is an attempt to hide a misdeed. It demands therefore a perfect understanding; everyone must agree and accept these norms.

Trading based on privileged information is wrong even if it does not hurt anyone else. However, in some areas of morality, it seems like everyone can have their own point of view, and that there is nothing good or bad about private actions.

Human beings have a nature and a way of being. There are things that help them to fulfill themselves on the physical level. So, we know that it is not good for us to eat too much fat and that we should choose healthy foods. We also know that we should avoid some toxic gases and other harmful substance since otherwise we put our very survival at risk. However, man is not just a living being who needs to worry only about his physical life. He is also a spiritual being who must live up to a certain level in his moral life. There is something that is proper to him, and that's why we speak of human rights; that's why we all accept the truth that people cannot be used as instruments to achieve something.

Moral relativism cannot explain what we do in all walks of life. The sad history of the 20th century is a witness to the horrors men are subject to when they lose the sense of objective good and evil.

II) On the other hand, tolerance is not the purpose of civil coexistence, but-correctly understood-one of its necessary conditions. In the modern world, tolerance has overturned the ideal of the civilized world, and we all seek it as the goal of our life and coexistence. It is an almost magical concept that is invoked for everything. Instead, the real objective of civil coexistence is for everyone to live together in peace and freedom, seeking the common good.

In this way, what we should aim for is the common good. This means that we should aim for the whole ensemble of goods that help men freely achieve their human fulfillment in the most radical and complete way. Thus, as a society, we should make sure to avoid whatever damages us. We avoid polluting the environment, we protect ourselves from the greenhouse effect that is supposedly driving climate change, we protect ourselves and others from damaging influences like child pornography and violent persons, etc.

Thus tolerance, understood properly, should help us avoid whatever stands opposed to this goal. We cannot allow thieves and assassins in our society, and we cannot be in agreement with someone who has violent ideas, even if he never puts them into practice. We respect those who deserve our consideration as sons of God, but we should express our disagreement and ensure that in the public life people who endanger our peaceful coexistence or the physical and moral well-being of others cannot put their ideas into practice. That is what prison is for.

Now, I think we can all agree that tolerance is not the end goal of society, and that it has limits; it cannot just be the mere acceptance of everything. In this sense, everyone will agree that it is good for groups in society to seek peaceful coexistence and freely work for the good of all through democratic and civil processes.

III) It is important to realize that there is no reason to think that by being religious, one is necessarily intolerant. In the religious field, something very strange happens: by some mental mechanism, it seems that any religious manifestations would be damaging or offensive to people of other religions. The religion that seems to offend most is Christianity. In countries with majorities of non-Christian religions, I have not seen citizens worrying that the expression of their religion might be offensive to people of other faiths. And if it is, they will tell you, "Too bad for them." It seems that this is one more manifestation of that complex that we acquired back in 1968.

It happens that in Catholicism and in various countries that have a Christian tradition, there has been a strong campaign of indoctrination to erode the prestige of the Catholic Church and its history. And so, the only thing that remains clear for many Catholics is that the Church has always sought power, even with violence, as demonstrated by the Crusades. The Church, it is claimed, is out of touch with reality and is opposed to progress and to science, as shown by the Galileo case, for which the Pope himself asked forgiveness. Supposedly the Church reacts neurotically to those who oppose her and even uses inhuman means: that is why she launched the Inquisition. In sum, she is still living in the Dark Ages and does nothing but block people's freedom and restrain our aspirations to enjoy life, which is why she opposes contraception and abortion. It's even said that humanity's wars have all been fought for religious reasons.

I have even heard, although I doubt it was said in a serious way, that "at least the Enlightenment and the French Revolution came along, because that liberated Europe from the hindrances of Christianity and set forth the values of liberty, equality, and fraternity." It seems to me that Someone else proposed the values of freedom, the equality of all human beings, and brotherhood in Christ about 1,800 years before the French Revolution. Besides, anyone who knows even a little bit of history knows how much the French Revolution, the daughter of the Enlightenment, trampled people's rights and how much destruction it carried with it.

Because of this brainwashing, many have lost confidence in their own faith. People are ashamed to belong to a Church that seems, they say, to be on its last legs, as only old people go to Mass anymore. Our capability of celebrating our own faith and of presenting our beliefs to the public is crippled. Since conventional wisdom has begun to hold that these beliefs were always imposed on others by violence, we assume that others will feel offended. But presenting our faith to give others the opportunity to choose it if they feel attracted is not compulsion for anyone, just as we do not impose on anyone when we offer a product to buy.

Why is a Christmas crèche or a cross on public display going to offend anyone? It is as if it were somehow offensive for me to see a Buddha or a Menorah or the book of the Torah. It is not reasonable to outlaw religious manifestations in public places as an expression of the faith of the people. In fact, society benefits when people live out their own religion with conviction, because they reach their human and spiritual fulfillment, and also ensure a peaceful coexistence among everyone. We should remember that faith is an inalienable dimension of the human person, and that to obstruct the expression of faith is really to suppress man himself. Marxist dictators understood this very well, and we should not be surprised that their countries have been (and where Marxism still exists, still are) so systematically opposed to religion, both in its public expression and in personal practice. These states would not have been enemies of the faith if it were not a force for freedom and if it did not give the people an antidote to the society-wide brainwashing that they tried to carry out.

I think that if one's own religion has some principles that agree with everything we accept as principles of civil coexistence-which stem from human nature-there is no reason to doubt the goodness of those religious convictions. It would be another thing to promote a religion destructive of civil coexistence, or one that manipulates consciences: We would instead have the obligation to oppose it.

On the other hand, Judaism, Christianity, and the so-called "Western" world cannot be separated, because the foundation of principles and values that has given life to this world of ours comes from these two religions. And I am not referring to merely external elements, but to the inmost core of the foundations of Western society and its value system.

  Taking all this into account, it is clear that tolerance, whether in the religious field or in the moral field, does not mean the absence of religion and morality, as some want us to think. If there is insecurity and scorn for one's own moral structure and religion, then people opt for the easy way out: a supposed tolerance that actually hides an inferiority complex about one's own identity.


   I think, therefore, that civil coexistence includes tolerance, properly understood; and for believers, it also requires living one's own religion with conviction, including its consequences in the moral field. If someone is not a believer, at least he should be in agreement with the basic principles of coexistence among men, such as the inalienable value of each human person and their essential equality, religious freedom, respect for the family, as well as the concept of freedom of speech, without falling into libertine excesses or scorn for others' rights, etc.

   The Enlightenment's attempt to establish a society from which God was excluded failed, since this type of society did not offer enough real certainties and so there was always a risk of these societies falling into totalitarianism. History proves it. Today, many, including atheists, are beginning to think that society should be based on principles that assume the existence of God, without this belief imposing any loss of freedom on non-believers. (See, for example, Marcello Pera's book Why We Should Call Ourselves Christians.)

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