An initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Religious Freedom: Evangelii Gaudium

Lessons from Evangelii Gaudium #17
Pope Francis’s Apostolic Exhortation on the proclamation of the Gospel in today’s world, Evangelii Gaudium or “The Joy of the Gospel,” has many points that are relevant to the work of Marriage: Unique for a Reason.  This series will explore some of these themes and apply Pope Francis’s words to the culture of marriage and family in the United States.

Religious Freedom (nos. 255-258)
The Church recognizes the importance of religious freedom for maintaining a healthy social dialogue and an atmosphere of peace; but what, exactly, do we mean by peace? Peace is not an absence of difference, but a respectful harmony within a healthy pluralism of beliefs, which “respects differences and values them as such” (no. 255). Attempts to privatize religion as an individual matter of conscience that must stay behind church doors reflect “a new form of discrimination and authoritarianism,” rather than the progression of religious freedom (no. 255). Because our religious beliefs are meant to be embodied and manifested in our relationships and work in the public sphere, this kind of delegation does not grant us true freedom.

This lack of freedom is particularly prevalent in the intellectual and cultural realms. Pope Francis sees the modern tendency to disregard all religious thought as an attack not just on religious freedom, but also on reason. This discriminatory dismissal serves a “certain rationalism” that has largely dominated our culture, but is actually opposed to reason in the fullest sense. To ignore the history of thought that has arisen within a religious context is an impediment to, rather than a triumph of reason. This is evident in the narrow-minded views of most media representations of religion. When these “crude and superficial generalizations” become the norm, we lose a wealth of human understanding that the context of faith has developed.

To combat this rationalism, the Holy Father encourages interreligious dialogue, including that between believers and those who—though they don’t identify themselves with any religious tradition—“sincerely seek the truth, goodness and beauty which we believe have their highest expression and source in God” (no. 257). Such dialogue—especially in the realms of ethics, arts and sciences—can help to bring about peace through a mutual respect for the dignity of life and a mutual search for transcendent meaning.

Dialogue that respects and values difference should begin in the home! As we face increasing opposition in the public square, it is ever more important that our families be a place of openness and dialogue. Family members with differing beliefs must be accepted and loved, and this respect will be a model for children to follow.  The peace within a family that appreciates the uniqueness of each member can serve as the starting point for peace in society.

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