Peter Kwasniewski

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Why a ‘religiously-neutral’ public square always turns out to be anti-Christian

Peter Kwasniewski Peter Kwasniewski Follow Dr. Peter

September 12, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – We’ve heard for a long time that the solution to society’s problems, including the problems of Catholics in today’s modern Western democracies, is that everyone should “live and let live”—that we should all be classical liberals who rejoice in a land where people are free to live as they choose, as long as they allow others to live as the others choose to live, and as long as nobody hurts anybody else. There’s no reason for conflict if we just follow this common sense tolerance.

This sounds nice in theory, but how does it work in practice?

The reality is that the practice of religion (and, mutatis mutandis, the violent opposition to religion that is modern atheism) is necessarily public and political. For example, if all Catholics are to worship on a given day, they must have part or all of the day off of work; and if there is to be a procession, a main road might need to be shut down during it. The former will make companies less efficient or less profitable or both; the latter will impinge on traffic, perhaps on trade, certainly it may seem an imposition on the unbelieving or the unenthusiastic. 

Modern atheism, for its part, is no less public and political: it tries to get rid of all religious symbols, like crucifixes and Christmas scenes, and if it could, it would abolish Sundays and Holy Days (indeed, this has already largely occurred). If the unbelievers had their way, there would be no room and no respect left for Christianity in the public square. In this sense, the liberal isn’t one who thinks all views should be allowed to flourish; he believes that the only view that can be allowed is the one that says no view is sufficiently known as true for it to have any precedence or prerogatives. By this “reasoning,” atheism becomes de facto the default public and political creed.

We can illustrate the problem with a crystal clear example. When someone plays music in his car (especially with extra speakers and windows open, driving down Main Street) or through his leaking earbuds, he makes everyone around him listen to what he is listening to. His “free choice” to listen imposes on the others a situation they did not freely choose. He is forcing them to submit to his freedom. So, “giving everyone freedom” is illusory; one man’s exercise of freedom may and likely will impinge on another’s rights.

We see this playing out dramatically with the aggressive homosexual lobby. When “gay marriage” is legalized, what happens to the freedom of bakers, decorators, clothiers, musicians, and churches to follow their Christian (and natural law-based) conscience, whereby they would choose to be involved only in heterosexual weddings? Sorry, folks, you have no freedom anymore; liberalism has taken it away. You must now do just what the State tells you—no more, no less.

The most serious example, of course, is the denial of the unborn baby human’s right to the care of a mother and father and to legal protection. Because of liberalism’s intolerant creed, the woman’s freedom means everything; the child’s life, rights, and eventual freedom mean nothing. But only a demonic parody of freedom seeks to abolish and annihilate another person’s freedom in order to secure its own.

If the social space is not Catholic, it will be filled, over time, with pagan and anti-Catholic elements. Society, like nature, abhors a vacuum. We have seen more confirmation than we could ever have wished of the truth of what the great popes of the nineteenth century were saying: there is no such thing as a religiously-neutral public square, a society that does not privilege a creed. The public sphere will be either religious or irreligious, either Christian or anti-Christian. Liberalism self-destructs into intolerant ideology.

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Peter Kwasniewski

Peter Kwasniewski holds a B.A. in Liberal Arts from Thomas Aquinas College in California and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. After teaching at the International Theological Institute in Austria and for the Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Austrian Program, he joined the founding team of Wyoming Catholic College in Lander, Wyoming, where he taught theology, philosophy, music, and art history, and directed the Choir and Schola. He now works as a freelance author, public speaker, editor, publisher, and composer.

Dr. Kwasniewski has published five books: Wisdom’s Apprentice (CUA Press, 2007)On Love and Charity (CUA Press, 2008)Sacred Choral Works (Corpus Christi Watershed, 2014); Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis: Sacred Liturgy, the Traditional Latin Mass, and Renewal in the Church (Angelico Press, 2014); and most recently, Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness: Why the Modern Age Needs the Mass of Ages (Angelico Press, 2017)Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis has also been published in Czech, Polish, German, and Portuguese, and will soon appear in Spanish and Belarusian.

Kwasniewski is a board member and scholar of The Aquinas Institute for the Study of Sacred Doctrine, which is publishing the Opera Omnia of the Angelic Doctor, a Fellow of the Albertus Magnus Center for Scholastic Studies, and a Senior Fellow of the St. Paul Center. He has published over 750 articles on Thomistic thought, sacramental and liturgical theology, the history and aesthetics of music, and the social doctrine of the Church.