Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Religious faith is always personal, but it’s never private. It always has social consequences, or it isn’t real. And this is why any definition of “tolerance” that tries to turn religious faith into a private idiosyncrasy, or a set of personal opinions that we can have at home but that we need to be quiet about in public, is doomed to fail.


I think the word tolerance itself is a kind of problem. Tolerance comes from the Latin words tolerare, which means to bear or sustain, and tollere, which means to lift up. It implies bearing other people and their beliefs the way we bear a burden or a really nasty migraine headache. It’s a negative. And it’s not a Christian virtue.
-Archbishop Charles Chaput, On the Square

I am particularly partial to that last paragraph, for it backs my side of a cheerful argument I have had with my pastor. The first selection touches on an important distinction.

One of the severest mistakes of modern political life is to equate everything public with the governmental. Public works, public office, public goods, all connote opposition between the private and the governmental, rather than make distinctions between varieties of public life. The same failure goes for the word social; witness "social work" and high school "social studies." Even the fading industry of publicity in the Old Media has been a de facto secular institutions.

Perhaps this secularization is a side-effect of no single religious confession having numerical dominance. In our base quantitative age the public is assumed to be the most general, which means the most non-confessional is the true public. That this enables the chirping sectaries of secularism is yet another unhappy accident.

At times, one will find remnants of the public life in the liturgy of the church: public professions of faith, or public vows in a marriage ceremony, or public sinners who ought not present themselves to receive communion. Yet these uses of the word are almost vestigal in their current relation to the Public. The word "Liturgy" itself does not mean the "people's work," as the poor catechist's saw would have it. but--in a curious parallel to modern phraseology--it instead means a public work or service. Would that the Divine Liturgy were again more Public!

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