Fr. Sirico: the ramifications of driving Christianity from the public square

On (The Detroit News) Fr. Robert Sirico has a column about the terms the ramifications of driving freedom of religion from the public square.

My emphases and comments.

Don’t devalue Christian heritage
Fr. Robert Sirico

A week or so ago I struck up a friendly conversation with a cleaning lady upon entering a hotel.

She right away asked me, "Did you hear the news of the statue of Christ being struck with lightning in Ohio?"

How could I avoid it? For some inexplicable reason the news of this "act of God" had attracted a great deal of attention. Why, I began to wonder, did this relatively marginal story gain so much press attention?

"Do you think it was a sign?" the lady asked.

"A sign of what?" I replied.

I thought of our conversation for the rest of the morning. I am not one given to "signs and wonders" to discern some kind of mystical revelation, though I grant there is plenty of historical precedent for such epiphanies. Yet, I could not get the image out of my mind and the fascination it held for so many.

It does not take the training of a professional sociologist to realize that a major cultural shift regarding faith, morals and the place of Christianity is under way in Western Civilization. And this has nothing, really, to do with some haphazard lightning strike in Ohio.

Consider the following, which is a mere sampling of recent efforts to undermine the place of faith in the public life of Western democracies:

• The European Union‘s insistence that neither God nor the Christian Church be mentioned in its Constitution, despite the clear historical role belief in the form and the institution of the latter played in the formation of Europe.

• The litany (if you will excuse the pun) of coarse jokes, cheap shots and outright viciousness directed specifically at the person of Christ or the Christian faith on TV and which are passed over by the same people who would readily file hate crime charges against their promoters if addressed to any other religion.

• The subtle but clear shift in language away from "freedom of religion" to "freedom of worship" on the part of the current administration, [that would be the Obama Administration] retaining only one dimension of religion (worship) while setting the stage to curtail its public witness. It is freedom of religion, not merely worship that has been venerated since the American founding.

This is not mere paranoia. Numerous other examples exist, but these should be sufficient evidence of a trend that is attempting to foster an entire cultural shift which would reject Christian revelation’s role in the forming of American and Western civilization[There are powerful forces determined to drive not just religious out of the public square, but in particular conservative Christianity, and even more in particular the Catholic voice.]

For secularists and some non-Christians this might seem a worthy undertaking. After all, they might reason, why do we need a religion to be telling us how to live our lives, much less a religion that makes a claim to truth? And what is truth anyway, they might ask, not even realizing they are echoing Pilate’s own question to Jesus on the eve of his crucifixion? [Because they reject that there is objective truth.]

Yet, aside from the historical amnesia this would represent, there are several significant ramifications which might well ensue were a complete repudiation of Christianity achieved.

The very idea of limited government and hence tolerance (yes, tolerance, which is not to be confused with the relativism offered as a substitute) emerge from the Judeo-Christian view of the sovereignty of God in personal and social life, rather than the sovereignty of political elites.

The very juridical systems we have grown accustomed to — and have been the envy of the world — did not just appear; they unfolded from the logic of the biblical faith. So, too, with the scientific method which followed from the knowledge that [NB:], if things are ordered by a divine plan and we are made in the image of God, then the truth of the physical world is knowable to reason.

Christianity has endowed Western Civilization with a priceless heritage. To lose this to a mass amnesia in the culture, would be an inestimable loss to the sense of who we are as a people and to any real hope we might have of building a just and tolerant future.

The Rev. Robert A. Sirico is president and co-founder of the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids

WDTPRS kudos to Fr. Sirico.

File those last points away for your future conversations… about the juridical system and about the scientific method. 

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. gmaskell says:

    So true. The short and sweet of it. We inevitably will find out the hard way. Persecution to follow. “The gates of hell shall not prevail” though.

  2. DisturbedMary says:

    I kind of like the idea of our God getting our attention with a lightening strike. We’re watching our country fall apart. The lady who questionned Fr. Sirico gets it. Without fear of God we have this:
    “Mr. President, With all the Crises, Where’s the Call to Prayer?” (

    I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m seeing God in unpluggable oil leaks, Icelandic volcanos and yes, even lightning strikes.

  3. wanda says:

    A lady (don’t remeber her name, sad to say) was on The World Over Live and spoke about this very thing. She shared views like that of Fr. Sirico. The lady spoke of how little words, little changes of phrase are creeping in..instead of freedom of the term ‘freedom of worship’..sneaks into the latest talking points of not only our government adminsitration, but other nations as well. I believe that we will soon find out that we, yes are ‘free to worship’ i.e. go into your nice little churches, synagoges..have your worship, but keep it in there. Shut up out in public. You will not be permitted to act on your faith in the public square. It’s all so subtle, so insidious…do you hear hissing?

    St. Michael, the Archangel, defend us in battle.

  4. TJerome says:

    It’s always a pleasure to read or listen to Father Sirico’s commentary. He is spot on. Ironically, this worldview is pushed by liberal Catholics, perhaps not intentionally, but subliminally. Jesus Christ and the power of His Word was the most potent and tranforming force for good the World has ever seen. The World will be in even worse shape than it is if we allow His Word to be spoken and have influence only within the 4 walls of the Church building. Thanks for sharing this, Father Z.

  5. LarryD says:

    Christianity has endowed Western Civilization with a priceless heritage. To lose this to a mass amnesia in the culture…

    I’m not so sure it’s mass amnesia as it is ‘willful disregard’. To admit the role Christianity has played in the development of Western Civilization would mean to accept the mores and truths Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular, has proposed for our belief. Hence, in the culture’s estimation, it’s better to just devalue Christianity altogether and relegate it to church buildings and worship spaces. To the peril of us all – some (if not most) eternally, and others (such as believers in Truth) temporally. Either way, the battle lines are becoming even more defined.

    So the question is: what are we going to do about it?

  6. Supertradmum says:

    Father Sirico and the Acton Institute keep us from falling into complacency and deceit. I listen to him on EWTN radio frequently. Great article and thanks, Father Z.


    What can we do about it? One, do not compromise in the market place as much as possible-stick up for Catholics and Christians and their belief in Christ; boycott businesses and such which allow blasphemy and anti-life programs-find out who they are and boycott. We have been boycotting such businesses for years; three, be open with your children that theirs is the age of martyrs and they need to be ready for brave actions, brave stands; four, vote for pro-life, pro-democracy, anti-socialist candidates; five, write to your congressmen on a regular basis-use groups like the Susan B. Anthony group; six, when you can , support with your dollars traditional Catholic institutions and traditional Catholic parishes; seven, home school; eight, fast and pray; nine, see that the Church Militant is a minority church and cultivate saints in that church through your actions and example; ten, evangelize.

  7. Jack Hughes says:

    At least in America you have the States to act as a counterbalance to the moran in the White House, here in blighty we have an incredibally anti-Catholic government (and have had so for the past 13yrs) that would make the Corinthians blush.

  8. Sandy says:

    Well, I think it IS a sign, just as there are many others. “The Lord chastises whom He loves.” The response of those who love the Lord can and will make a difference.

  9. jlmorrell says:

    While I’m sure I would agree with Fr. Sirico’s thoughts on many other topics, I’m always disappointed to read his and other “conservative” Catholics thoughts on the freedom of religion topic. Why is there never any mention of the doctrine of the Social Kingship of Christ? There seems to be a real push in some circles to view things through the hermeneutic of continuity, but why never this topic? I guess everyone but the so-called “ultra” traditionalists have bought into the liberal view of society.

  10. catholicmidwest says:

    Among Ohioans that wasn’t exactly a shrine. It was “big butter Jesus,” a local landmark.

  11. catholicmidwest says:

    Seriously, if it was a sign of anything, it was a sign that although God doesn’t have great taste, loving all of us and all, he does have his limits. This is perhaps a good thing.

  12. polski says:

    catholicmidwest-Among Ohioans that wasn’t exactly a shrine. It was “big butter Jesus,” a local landmark.

    My sister lives near there and she also said besides it being called “butter Jesus” they also called it “touch down Jesus”. If I were God, I’d strike it down too. Such nicknames are disrespectful to our Lord.

  13. TJerome says:

    “Social Kingship of Christ?” I though Christ said, “My Kingdom is not of this World?” Christ was not a social worker nor a politician. I find your comment perplexing.

  14. catholicmidwest says:

    No, no, Polski, it was a statue and not a very good one. Actually, it was a 1/2 statue and not even a good 1/2 statue. IT looked like it was melting into the lake. But it did have a song about it.

    I’ve also heard about it being called “touchdown Jesus,” but we all know that the real “touchdown Jesus” is on the library at Notre Dame.

  15. kat says:

    TJerome, see Pope Pius XI’s encyclical “Quas Primas” to read more about the Social Kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ, written when he declared the feast of Christ the King.

    It isn’t about Christ being a social worker or a politician. It IS about Him being King of this World, King of our hearts, King of our lives (all our lives, as King of the Universe…not just those who choose to follow Him.)

  16. kat says:

    From Quas Primas:

    8. Thus the empire of our Redeemer embraces all men. To use the words of Our immortal predecessor, Pope Leo XIII: “His empire includes not only Catholic nations, not only baptized persons who, though of right belonging to the Church, have been led astray by error, or have been cut off from her by schism, but also all those who are outside the Christian faith; so that truly the whole of mankind is subject to the power of Jesus Christ.” [28] Enc. Annum Sacrum, May 25, 1899. Nor is there any difference in this matter between the individual and the family or the State; for all men, whether collectively or individually, are under the dominion of Christ. In Him is the salvation of the individual, in Him is the salvation of society. “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under Heaven given to men whereby we must be saved.” [29] Acts iv, 12. He is the author of happiness and true prosperity for every man and for every nation. “For a nation is happy when its citizens are happy. What else is a nation but a number of men living in concord?” [30] S. Aug. Ep. ad Macedonium, c. iii. If, therefore, the rulers of nations wish to preserve their authority, to promote and increase the prosperity of their countries, they will not neglect the public duty of reverence and obedience to the rule of Christ. What We said at the beginning of Our Pontificate concerning the decline of public authority, and the lack of respect for the same, is equally true at the present day.

    “With God and Jesus Christ,” we said, “excluded from political life, with authority derived not from God but from man, the very basis of that authority has been taken away, because the chief reason of the distinction between ruler and subject has been eliminated. The result is that human society is tottering to its fall, because it has no longer a secure and solid foundation.” [31] Enc. Ubi Arcano.

  17. robtbrown says:

    While I’m sure I would agree with Fr. Sirico’s thoughts on many other topics, I’m always disappointed to read his and other “conservative” Catholics thoughts on the freedom of religion topic. Why is there never any mention of the doctrine of the Social Kingship of Christ? There seems to be a real push in some circles to view things through the hermeneutic of continuity, but why never this topic? I guess everyone but the so-called “ultra” traditionalists have bought into the liberal view of society.
    Comment by jlmorrell

    Not to argue with the phrase Kingship of Christ, but I wonder whether you’ve been paying attention. How many second collections at mass are for the benefit of the needy? How many parishes collect clothes to send to the missions? How many Catholic run soup kitchens are there? Have you ever worked in one?

    Most decent sized towns have Catholic run assistance centers. I have retired friends who are regular volunteers. There are also opportunities to take older people to mass who cannot drive.

    You can also visit nursing homes, which are populated by lonely people. When I was in college, there was a man in one who was a blind, deaf dwarf. We would communicate with him by tracing letters on his back.

    And of course, there are the religious orders. Ever hear of the Little Sisters of the Poor? And are you aware that religious orders in the US often have foreign missions in very poor areas?

    Having said all that, I think one of the biggest problems in the US is familiar–the lack of attention to aged parents.

  18. robtbrown says:

    should read: . . . biggest problems in the US is familial.

  19. TJerome says:

    kat, thanks so much to the reference to Quas Primas. Given that Pius XI wrote it, I am certain it does not try to portray Our Lord as some kind of uber social worker, an impression, one might get from how jlmorrell framed the debate. I also think if Pius XI were alive today he might issue a sequel to Mit Brenneder Sorge and condemn the modern Democratic Party for its rabid pro-abortion stance.

  20. kat says:

    You are welcome, TJerome. I think it’s important to remember that we all really do want Christ as our King, and the sooner the world would recognize it, the happier all would be…so, we just have to do our little parts and begin first and foremost by having Him recognized as King of our own home and lives. Great place to start is Enthroning His Sacred Heart in the home and family as Fr. Matteo promoted. Then we know He is always there and watching us, and we try to live our lives better for it, and turn to Him for every little thing. Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, we believe in Your Love for us; Most Sacred Heart of Zesus, we place all our trust in Thee.

    It’s amazing how much the children learn to trust. When they lose something, they kneel before His picture at the enthronement site, and ask Him to help find it; stopping to thank Him when it is found. And many other problems are turned over to Him as well.

  21. visigrad says:

    In keeping with this article..I HIGHLY recommend The Truth Project..a twelve session video series produced by Focus on The Family and in which you will see and hear Fr. Sirico. We are using this as our adult ed program this summer. It is truly outstanding. If you google in Truth Project, you can watch a trailer.

  22. New Sister says:

    Fr Sirico – God bless you.

    I use dates A.D. XX or XX B.C., regardless of my audience. I wonder if students are now forbidden to use this? (does anyone know?) I noticed the 7th graders I taught this last year were/are utterly conditioned to keep their faith out of their academics.

  23. JuliB says:

    “They” chased Catholicism out of France in the early 20th century – I learned this from reading about Pope St. Pius. Look at the former ‘Daughter of the Church’ now….

    To combat this, I am trying to be very open about my faith in words and deeds. Darn hard at times, but worth it.

  24. California Girl 21 says:

    There is a good article on the “freedom of worship” versus “freedom of religion” phraseology over at Catholic Exchange:

    Very scary stuff–I highly recommend that everyone go read it.

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