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.