“As long as faith is understood as a private therapeutic pursuit that can be picked up, changed or discarded at will, it is permissible. But when people insist it is more than this it is resisted, increasingly through law.”
By Tony Evans
In one of the most outspoken and significant speeches of his tenure to date, Cardinal George Pell deplored the rise of recent worldwide secular and religious intolerance aimed primarily at Christianity, which he likened to a concerted campaign to eradicate Christian principles from public life.
‘Some secularists seem to like one-way streets,’ he said. ‘Their intolerance of Christianity seeks to drive it out not only from the public square, but even from the provision of education, healthcare and welfare services to the wider community. Tolerance has come to mean different things for different groups,’ the Cardinal said in a speech to Oxford University’s Newman Society on March 6.
Significantly, perhaps, the Cardinal chose not his own diocese for his counter-attack, but Oxford University, the intellectual centre of recent attacks on religion in England – a country once known as Our Lady’s Dowry, but recently described by the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster as no longer a Christian country.
The speech was sponsored by the Newman Society in the Oxford University Divinity School.
Bringing to mind a fleeting image of Thomas A Becket attacking unjust laws in the reign of Henry 11, the Cardinal showed that it was mainly through the support of new legislation and the campaigning for that legislation by liberals, that religious freedom was being severely curtailed.
The Cardinal began his address by citing examples of intolerance by religious groups and secular authorities – some of the examples fairly well known. But what was not reported from California for example, were the violent demonstrations, vandalism and intimidation by the supporters of same-sex marriage after the State voted to recognise only marriage between a man and a woman as valid. Catholic and Evangelical churches which strongly supported the legislation were the focus of these demonstrations and individuals received death threats. ‘Little about this prolonged campaign of payback and bullying has been reported internationally….it has been waged against Christians and others who have done nothing more than take part in a political campaign in a democracy, endeavouring to persuade a majority of the electorate to their point of view.’ So serious was the attack on Christians in California, and so unconcerned was the press generally, that ‘the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty ran a full-page advertisement in the New York Times condemning the harassment and anti-religious bigotry.’ The Cardinal went on: ’It hardly needs saying that there would have been no strange lack of attention if supporters of same-sex marriage were being targeted for bullying and blacklists.’
The Cardinal also cited, among others, the case of the Italian journalist, Oriana Fellaci who was charged with vilifying Islam in her book, The Force of Reason. Ms Fellaci died before the case could be brought to court. But others have had to face huge court costs to defend themselves. The Cardinal explained: ‘the expense of defending frivolous hate speech allegations, the time consumed in dealing with them, and the anxiety that comes from being enmeshed in a legal process straight out of Kafka all have an effect on the climate of openness, stifling robust discussion and fomenting intolerance under the surface.’
The Cardinal explained that one of the preferred means of promoting intolerance is supporting anti-discrimination legislation, and how this has enormous power to shape public opinion. It has been used very effectively, he said, to redefine marriage and to make a range of relationships acceptable as the foundation of various new forms of the family. ‘Anti-discrimination legislation in tandem with new reproductive technologies’ he said, ‘has made it possible for children to have three, four or five parents, relegating the idea of a child being brought up by his natural mother and father to nothing more than a majority adult preference.’
‘Clearly there is an urgent need to deepen public understanding of the importance and nature of religious freedom’, he said. ‘Having the freedom to search for answers to questions of meaning and value, and to live publicly and privately in accordance with our answers is an essential part of the fulfilment of human happiness…’
Cardinal Pell’s address at Oxford is much more than a mere catalogue of discriminatory legislation against Christianity. He delves deeply and shows how the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s was the foundation of the present attack on Christianity. Absolute sexual freedom lies at the heart of what he terms, ‘the modern autonomy project’– the supremacy of individual preference.
Cardinal Pell concluded his address by exhorting Christians to recover their genius for showing that there are better ways to live and to build a good society; ways which respect freedom, empower individuals, and transform communities. ‘They also have to recover their self-confidence and courage. The secular and religious intolerance of our day needs to be confronted regularly and publicly. Believers need to call the bluff of what is, even in most parts of Europe, a small minority with disproportionate influence in the media. This is one of the crucial tasks of the twenty-first century.’
The full transcript of the Cardinal’s address at Oxford, together with footnotes, can be found on therecord.com.au.