Genuine democracy allows religious believers room to operate in public and political spheres, Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput, OFM, said in an address to the Orange County Catholic Prayer Breakfast this week, speaking out against the growing exclusion of faith communities from participation in social debate.
"Democracy," Archbishop Chaput said, "does not mean putting aside our religious and moral beliefs for the sake of public policy. In fact, it demands exactly the opposite. Democracy depends on people of character fighting for their beliefs in the public square — legally, ethically and non-violently, but forcefully and without apology."
"Democracy is not God. Only God is God. Even democracy stands under the judgment of God and God's truths about human purpose and dignity."
The Archbishop said contemporary society's misuse of key words — such as "choice," "pluralism" and "community" — contributes significantly to the deforming of the human conscience.
"Words like "tolerance" and "consensus" are important democratic working principles. But they aren't Christian virtues, and they should never take priority over other words like charity, justice, faith and truth, either in our personal lives or in our public choices.
"In recent years, some people in both political parties would like to blame the conflicts in American public life on religious believers," the Archbishop said. "The argument goes like this. ‘Religion is so powerful and so personal that whenever it enters public life in an organized way, it divides people. It repels. It polarizes. It oversimplifies complex issues. It creates bitterness. It invites extremism. And finally it violates the spirit of the Constitution by muddling up the separation of Church and state that keeps Americans from sliding into intolerance.'"
That argument is false, Archbishop Chaput said, calling it "hype" for denying the religious foundations underlying and supporting modern society.
"First of all, key differences exist between public institutions which are simply non-sectarian, and today's secularist ideology. Everybody can live with the former. No Christian in his or her right mind should want to live with the latter. Whenever you hear loud fretting sparked by an irrational fear of an Established Church, somebody's trying to force religious believers and communities out of the public discussion of issues."
"Finally," Archbishop Chaput said, "secularism isn't really morally neutral. It's actively destructive. It undermines community. It attacks the heart of what it means to be human. It rejects the sacred while posturing itself as neutral to the sacred. It ignores the most basic questions of social purpose and personal meaning by writing them off as private idiosyncrasies.