Monday, January 07, 2008

Bishop Hubbard on Religion and Politics

Bishop Howard J. Hubbard has written an excellent article for the Times Union regarding the role of religion in the public square. As we at Albany Catholic have come to expect, it is thoughtful and reasoned and worth sharing. Here is an excerpt:
What is different in the contemporary milieu and is contributing, I believe, to the concern about the legitimacy of the religious voice in the public debate is the growing secularization of our culture. America remains a society wherein religion is important for people's lives, but, and unlike other periods in our nation's history, increasingly religion is being relegated to our private lives as an aggressively secular culture systematically seeks to exclude religion from all public space.

Religion is deemed acceptable for private life, but, when its adherents seek to advance arguments in the public arena, they are told "to check their bags at the door." Under the banner of enforcing the notion of official neutrality, the contemporary secular milieu actually promotes its own secular values to a privileged position in shaping public opinion and public policy.
. . .
In other words, there has developed the phenomenon in our national life that would seek to rule religiously based values out of order in the public arena simply because their roots are religious. In this view, pluralism is defined as a public square purged of "intolerance," which many secularists define as the belief in exclusive truth claims that define right and wrong. They believe that any religious voice in a pluralistic society will either infect the body politic with unhealthy doses of fanaticism and ill will or will contribute to the type of extremism and polarization along religious lines that have plagued Europe and the Mideast for centuries.

Therefore, we have the anomaly in our country that in private, religion enjoys an overwhelming majority status (more than 90 percent of our citizens profess belief in God, and 80 percent claim adherence to some religious tradition), but in public, religion has a minority status or no status at all. It is either eliminated entirely from public space, or if it does exist in our public affairs, our entertainment, our intellectual and artistic endeavors, it exists uneasily, disguised on its very best and blandest behavior, preferably, as a form of vague nondenominationalism.

We in the faith community are struggling with the challenge of how best to engage the culture in a way that combats an elite secularism that is fundamentally antithetical to a spiritual message. Religious people across the theological and political spectrum, from the far left to the far right, are increasingly uneasy with the cultural drift that has developed. For religious conservatives, these forces are exemplified in the abortion syndrome, value-free secular schools and moral laxity. For religious liberals, these forces are perceived in militarism, consumerism and environmental insensitivity.