John Allen has a thoughtful column today about religious freedom as the dominant issue for the future of Catholicism. He identifies three historical movements which have thrust religious liberty into the foreground: (1) the secularization of Western nations, and the concomitant sense in which Western states will become increasingly hostile to Catholicism and Christianity generally; (2) the reality that increasingly large numbers of Catholics come from the southern hemisphere, where they face dire threats to life and limb (and I take the point about the ministerial exemption that Allen makes); and (3) the shift from Judaism to Islam as Catholicism’s primary interlocutor. Here’s a bit from Allen’s discussion of the last shift. — MOD
As Islam becomes the paradigmatic relationship, however, Catholic psychology has begun to shift. Today, Catholics are less inclined to assume that the problem lies on their side of any inter-faith dialogue; they’ve become more inclined to point to distortions and excesses on the other side as well. That’s a prescription for a more balanced and substantive, but also more combustible, form of dialogue.
By far, the most common area where one sees this new Catholic willingness to push back is religious freedom, and not just in the relationship with Islam. It also surfaces, for instance, in the dialogue with Hinduism, given the alarming spread of Hindu nationalism and radicalism in some regions of India. The worry is that violent anti-Christian pogroms that broke out in the state of Orissa in 2008 may be a preview of coming attractions.
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Brazil counts as the largest Roman Catholic country in the world. It is comforting to me, an atheist, to think that the rest of the RC world might follow its examples:
The government has instituted a policy of distributing condoms to kids, starting at age 11.
Most of my neighbors in Rio do not get married, especially if they have hooked up for a second time. Once they do live together (or marry) they get to choose the degree of financial sharing.
Brazil recognizes gay civil unions with most of the rights of marriage, and it is on the path of conferring full marriage rights to GLBTs.
Fewer than 10% of my neighbors in Rio ever darken a church door, except maybe to get baptized, married or buried, as is common in Italy, a very irreligious RC country.
The Brazilian birth rate is approaching the replacement rate of 2.1 births per woman. Its population has stabilized while the economy is growing by leaps and bounds.
Other large RC countries, such as Mexico and Colombia, are rapidly moving in the same direction. American Roman Catholics are notorious for their non-observance of the restrictive sex and procreation rules of the Vatican, but America has the disadvantage, not shared by our Latin neighbors (though the threat is growing in Brazil), of being polluted by fundamentalist Protestants who are far more restrictive than American RCs.