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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, Thomistic theologian, liturgical scholar, and choral composer, is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College in California (B.A. Liberal Arts) and The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC (M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy). He taught at the International Theological Institute in Austria and the Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Austria Program, then helped establish Wyoming Catholic College in 2006. There he taught theology, philosophy, music, and art history and directed the choirs until leaving in 2018 to devote himself full-time to writing and lecturing.

Today he contributes regularly to many websites and publications, including New Liturgical Movement, OnePeterFive, LifeSiteNews, Rorate Caeli, The Remnant, and Catholic Family News, and has published thirteen books, including four on traditional Catholicism: Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis (Angelico, 2014, also available in Czech, Polish, German, Portuguese, Spanish, and Belarusian), Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness (Angelico, 2017), Tradition and Sanity (Angelico, 2018), and Reclaiming Our Roman Catholic Birthright: The Genius and Timeliness of the Traditional Latin Mass (Angelico, 2020). His work has been translated into at least eighteen languages.

Kwasniewski is a scholar of The Aquinas Institute in Green Bay, 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 a thousand articles on Thomistic thought, sacramental and liturgical theology, the history and aesthetics of music, and the social doctrine of the Church.

For news, information, article links, sacred music, and the home of Os Justi Press, visit his personal website,