Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Christian Roots of The American Experience

I posted this same article on my political blog and since Archbishop Chaput hits this article out of the park I thought I would repost it here.

I don't usually post entire articles but this article by Archbishop Chaput is brilliantly written.   The article is called Subject to the governor of the universe: The American experience and global religious liberty.  Archbishop Chaput pulled the first part of the title - "Subject to the governor of the universe" - of his post from one of our Founding Fathers.

“Before any man can be considered as a member of civil society he must be considered as a subject to the governor of the universe.”
  — James Madison

Subject to the governor of the Universe: The American experience and global religious liberty: 

A friend once said – I think shrewdly -- that if people want to understand the United States, they need to read two documents.  Neither one is the Declaration of Independence.  Neither one is the Constitution.  In fact, neither one has anything obviously to do with politics.  The first document is John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress.  The second is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Celestial Railroad
Bunyan’s book is one of history’s great religious allegories.  It’s also deeply Christian.  It embodies the Puritan, Protestant hunger for God that drove America’s first colonists and shaped the roots of our country. 
Hawthorne’s short story, of course, is a very different piece.  It’s one of the great satires of American literature.  A descendant of Puritans himself, Hawthorne takes Bunyan’s allegory – man’s difficult journey toward heaven – and retells it through the lens of American hypocrisy: our appetite for comfort, easy answers, quick fixes, material success and phony religious piety.
Bunyan and Hawthorne lived on different continents 200 years apart.  But the two men did share one thing.  Both men – the believer and the skeptic -- lived in a world profoundly shaped by Christian thought, faith and language; the same moral space that incubated the United States.  And that has implications for our discussion today.
In his World Day of Peace message earlier this year, Pope Benedict XVI voiced his concern over the worldwide prevalence of “persecution, discrimination, terrible acts of violence and religious intolerance.”i   In reality, we now face a global crisis in religious liberty. As a Catholic bishop, I have a natural concern that Christian minorities in Africa and Asia bear the brunt of today’s religious discrimination and violence.  Benedict noted this same fact in his own remarks.
But Christians are not the only victims. Data from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life are sobering.   Nearly 70 percent of the world’s people now live in nations — regrettably, many of them Muslim-majority countries, as well as China and North Korea — where religious freedom is gravely restricted.ii
Principles that Americans find self-evident — the dignity of the human person, the sanctity of conscience, the separation of political and sacred authority, the distinction between secular and religious law, the idea of a civil society pre-existing and distinct from the state  — are not widely shared elsewhere. In fact, as Leszek Kolakowski once said, what seemed self-evident to the American Founders “would appear either patently false or meaningless and superstitious to most of the great men that keep shaping our political imagination.”iii   We need to ask ourselves why this is the case. CONTINUED


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