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Religious Freedom…Where??

The Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, 1982:

Article 36. Religious freedom

Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief.

No state organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion.

And yet, we know how freedom of religion plays out in Communist China.  According to a 2010 US State Department report:

The Department of State, the U.S. embassy in Beijing, and the U.S. consulates general … consistently urged the government to expand the scope of religious freedom in keeping with the rights codified in the constitution and internationally recognized norms…

The constitution protects religious freedom for all citizens but, in practice, the government generally enforced laws, administrative orders, and other policies that restrict religious freedom. Religious groups were vulnerable to action by local officials who often regulate through administrative orders.

The Constitution of the USSR, Article 52:

 Citizens of the USSR are guaranteed freedom of conscience, that is, the right to profess or not to profess any religion, and to conduct religious worship or atheistic propaganda.

We know the reality of religious freedom in the Soviet Union, though, don’t we?  In fact, we even held Congressional hearings (find transcripts here) addressing religious persecution in the USSR, and we heard testimony such as this:

Religious groups do not have the status of independent public organizations under Soviet law…The law is structured to prevent the clergy or hierarchy from exercising effective control over church affairs. At the same time, it allows state officials to manipulate church activities and policies…

It is in this context that the Soviet attitude toward religion can be readily understood. To the extent to which religion can serve the ruling class it will be used. To the extent to which it interferes with the objectives of the ruling class it will be suppressed.  In today’s  Soviet Union these persons (the common people) may engage in religious observance as long as that is done in a place authorized by the government, at a time authorized by the government, and in a format authorized by the government.

The Constitution of the United States, Amendment 1:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…

So how did we, the great bastion of freedom, the “shining city on a hill,”  get to this point:

The Department of Health and Human Services’ new rule requires almost all employers to provide insurance plans that cover sterilization and contraception, including some abortifacient drugs. Its religious exemption will not cover most Catholic institutions like health systems, universities, and charities.

The announcement prompted a strong outcry from religious schools, hospitals and charitable organizations, as well as Catholic individuals running secular businesses, who say that the requirement would force them to violate their religious beliefs.

However, despite the storm of protest, the Obama administration has refused to broaden the exemption to the mandate.

Just asking…

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Turning the Tables

It’s awfully easy for me to find examples of what’s wrong with mainstream culture or ineffective education or liberal policy.  Lately, though, I have come across plenty of things on my own side of the aisle that have me scratching my head.  Sadly, a lot of it has to do with faith and religion.  I guess that’s why religion is considered one of the “no-no” topics for polite conversation.

Here’s an easy example: I am opposed to gay marriage.  I believe homosexual activity to be immoral, yet I cast no judgement on the homosexual individual.  It’s the behavior I disagree with.  Along comes that nutcase preacher from Westboro Baptist Church.  He also condemns homosexual activity, but he does it by demonstrating at the funerals of  US servicemen who were killed in action.  His outrageous actions done in the name of God cast a dark shadow over anyone who calls himself a faith-filled person.

A not-so-easy dilemma: what to do about Catholics who are “too Catholic”?  I used to believe that the biggest threat to believers came from “the Left,” for lack of a better term.  Those folks who want to liberalize the Church, make it a democracy, and bring it into the new millenium were the ones to watch out for.  They too easily fall into formation with those who accuse the Church of being sexist, repressive, out-dated, and so on.  I began to distance myself from those parishes that pulled out their kneelers, baked their own Communion wafers, and sang all of the “pat ourselves on the back for coming to church” songs in place of those hymns that actually focus on God.  Little did I know that the so-called traditional Catholics could be just as scary.

Ultra-orthodox Catholics think the Church is in trouble for an entirely different set of reasons ranging from using the English language instead of exclusively Latin, Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI being too liberal, and Catholic culture being too lax.  I touched on that last point a little when I blogged about passing judgement on Catholic women who wear pants.  I’m finding out how much more there is to it than that.  The other day, I read a rather heated discussion on a Catholic blog about whether it’s immoral for Catholics to practice yoga.  No, I’m not making that up.  Then, there’s the lady that sits a few pews behind us in church every week who refuses to recite the prayers in English.  Instead, she whispers them loudly in Latin.  She also will only sing traditional hymns; otherwise, she keeps her booming opera voice silent.  These examples are like mosquitos.  They are annoying but generally harmless.

Then the “too Catholic” scenario hit closer to home.  SuzyQ is attending the Steubenville Summer Youth Conference at the Franciscan University of Steubenville this weekend.  I’m all for a movement to engage teens in their faith and offer them a way and opportunity to befriend other faithful teens.  Then I saw the list of what to pack for the conference.  A bathing suit was suggested, not for swimming, but for wearing in the shower for modesty.  It’s immodest to take a shower naked in single-sex dorms with bathrooms equipped with private shower stalls??  Only spiritual reading was permitted.  If you were hoping to re-read some Harry Potter before the latest movie opens, you are out of luck. 

Why, oh, why can’t we just be normal?  Do we have to go from one extreme–teens reading sexually explicit YA novels and flaunting porn-star fashion–to the other.  Are we really expecting to keep teens practicing their faith by encouraging them to shower in bathing suits and condemning secular entertainment?  Wouldn’t it be more effective to teach them to discern what’s appropriate and why?  If we portray “true Catholics” as akin to the Dugger family, how is that going to appeal to teenagers who are bombarded with Katy Perry and “Jersey Shore?”

So why not just shrug all of it off as just a minor nothing that’s easily addressed?  It turns into a problem when the conference also sells Steubenville and other schools like it as “authentically Catholic” colleges.  The message is that other schools will not provide an environment that is healthy for Catholic students.  Now, I can’t argue that there are plenty of dangers for Catholic students at colleges both secular and Catholic.  But there are also some outstanding Catholic Campus Ministry programs and Newman Centers out there, too.  If parish youth groups, retreats, and events like the Steubenville conference would give kids some tools to take away to college, Catholic teens might have a better chance at continuing in the faith along with acting as a joyful witness in their faith to the rest of the world. 

Does my desire for “normal” religious practice make me any less uncommon?  Uh. No.  It’s one thing to be counter-cultural.  It’s something else entirely to enclose yourself in an extremist-looking sect.  Apparently, being normal is even more uncommon than you think.

 

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Living in the Land of Tolerance

Sometimes it’s hard being uncommon.  Especially when you know that you will be a social outcast for the forseeable future.  Lately the headlines remind me that things will get worse before they get better.  The most recent example is the decision by a California federal court judge striking down that state’s Proposition 8, which defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman.  The judge ruled that “moral and religious views form the only basis for a belief that same-sex couples are different from opposite-sex couples,” and that those views are “irrational.”  He went on to describe marriage as merely “an expression of emotional support and public commitment.”

Let’s put aside for now my response to the judge’s opinion about marriage.  Instead, there’s the bigger picture to examine.  Rebecca Hagelin does this in a recent column.   She predicts a field day for those who wish to cram the new morality of Tolerance down our throats:

The judge’s ruling serves as a primer for the sex educators, liberal school boards, and social engineers who want our children to embrace the same reasoning. And their methods are frightening: They are using the power of big government to force their personal moral views of homosexual relationships on children and families across the nation.

She goes on:

School curricula and the mandated atmosphere of tolerance are already rolling over our children like waves eroding the shore; but now, the tsunami is headed our way. And the pressure for parents to be silent and conform to a “new morality” is everywhere. It’s in television shows, the movies, games and music; it’s in the schools, in advertising, in our courtrooms and boardrooms.

Let’s face it.  The presumption in this country today is that everyone is on board with what was taboo only a generation or two ago: abortion, embryonic stem cell research, couples shacking up instead of marrying, divorce, “hooking up,” openly homosexual behavior.  Now the taboo is questioning any of these behaviors. In the military world, for example, shack-up “families” are afforded almost all the same privileges as traditional families, even though this means passing ship movement information to non-dependents.  Objecting on the grounds that a couple is not married is akin to stirring a hornet’s nest.

I’m trying to raise my children with a set of firm values.  I want them to know that there are absolute truths, moral standards of right and wrong.  But as the notion of tolerance-no-matter-what becomes more ingrained in our society and government, believing in absolute truths seems more and more foreign.  I’m asking my kids to be truly counter-cultural.

Ms. Hagelin calls on parents to stand up for what they believe in and drown out the angry tolerance bombarding our kids.  Our Lord said: Be not afraid; I am with you always.  This is going to take a lot of courage and prayer and divine intervention.  I wonder–is there a patron saint for the uncommon?

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Hope on a Sunday

I know it’s Monday.  Because of technical difficulties, the family is down to just one computer to share.  How did we ever get by before the laptop and the second desktop?

With our country in serious trouble, the economy headed for even more trouble, and the almost unending string of news about the culture of darkness facing our children, it’s sometimes tough to feel hopeful.  While my faith reminds me to hope and trust in God, a little bit of good news goes a long way to keep the spirits up.

After attending Mass in our new parish yesterday and over the past few weeks, I got a nice glimmer of hope about the future of the Church and the generation of young adults.  A newly ordained priest, certainly not out of his 20s, celebrated Mass a few Sundays ago.  He had grown up in the parish and entered the Legionaries of Christ, a religious congregation founded in 1948.  I was moved nearly to tears by his humility and reverence.  His passionate love for the Church and zeal in his mission to share the Gospel truly radiated from him.  After hearing so much in the news about the evils of a very few priests along with experiencing the lukewarm attitudes of many parish priests, I was so thankful and heartened by the prospect of such faithful shepherds emerging in the Church.

Just this Sunday, the new youth minister in our parish introduced himself to the congregation.  He is a fresh, new graduate of the Franciscan University of Steubenville.  Not more than 22, he is a man confident in his faith and proud to proclaim it.  He told a little of his own story as a young person caught up in modern culture of instant gratification and his ultimate embrace of his faith.  His desire for the youth ministry is to help teenagers of the parish become young men and women of faith.  Again, his love for the Church and passion for extending the kingdom of Christ was so apparent.  And what a difference from the typical youth group which focuses mainly on “social justice” rather than encouraging one another in the faith.

I am a member of Generation X, but more importantly, I’m part of the JP II generation.  We are Catholics formed by Pope John Paul II, who gave us World Youth Days, the Theology of the Body, the collapse of communism, and over 470 new saints.  He encouraged us to open our hearts to Christ and taught unceasingly about the sanctity of life at all stages.  Even though my generation has suffered through the mishmash of CCD and Catholic school curricula teaching nothing but “God Loves You” or “social justice” and neglecting education in Church teaching, we cling to the example and message of JP II.  And many of this generation have opened their hearts to the call of Christ to serve His Church. 

Finally, we are beginning to see the fruits of John Paul’s labors.  Thanks be to God!

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The Uncommon Housewife Goes Green??

Well, green thumb maybe.  Today, I picked the first cucumber of the summer from my patio garden.  My sad little plant has taken off, and I’ll soon be setting up a table in the front yard to give cucumbers away.    I’m still waiting for my tomatoes and zucchini, but I did get a late start on my garden with our recent move.

I am 100% behind the drive to “eat local”.  I make several trips each week to my local farm stands to buy fruits and vegetables during these plentiful summer months.  Yes, it’s better for the environment because it doesn’t require trucking in vegetables from hundreds of miles away.  So my cucumbers have a tiny carbon footprint…blah, blah, blah.  My reasons for supporting local farmers are a lot simpler than that:

  • I believe that we show our love for God and His Creation by being responsible stewards of that Creation.  As Pope John Paul II wrote in his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus, the earth and its resources have a “…God-given purpose, which man can indeed develop but must not betray.”
  • My heritage includes a family farm.  My grandfather owned and operated a small dairy farm.  My mother spent many childhood years milking the cows each day.   Having heard the stories of the family farm, I understand the need to protect the livelihood of small, family run farms.
  • Last but not least, locally grown produce just tastes better!  The tomatoes don’t taste like plastic; the cucumbers aren’t coated with wax; and the peaches…Let’s just say, I refuse to buy grocery store peaches -ever- because there is no comparison.

So this suburban, conservative housewife does live green.  I plant my modest vegetable garden each year; I buy my produce from local farmers as often as possible; and I might even try composting.  Above all, I’ll be thanking God for His gift of the earth and all that it contains.

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