Recent events have made us aware – once again - of the fragility of peace and liberty in our world. When faced with occurrences like the bombing at the Boston Marathon, our lives seem to make a little less sense, to be a little less free, a little less calm. The problems seem magnified by the 24/7 barrage of media coverage. Many of us use our faith to help soothe frayed and jangled nerves, but we must also be aware that our religious liberty is a precious freedom that we must protect in order to keep.
Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, recently spoke at a TED Conference held at the Vatican. (For those unfamiliar with the TED Conferences, these are one-day events held throughout the world and throughout the year under the slogan "ideas worth spreading.") Cardinal Ravasi spoke on the topic of liberty, and had this to say:
I would like to reiterate what Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said in his message for the 2011 World Day of Peace. "Religious freedom expresses what is unique about the human person, for it allows us to direct our personal and social life to God, in whose light the identity, meaning and purpose of the person are fully understood. To deny or arbitrarily restrict this freedom is to foster a reductive vision of the human person; to eclipse the public role of religion is to create a society which is unjust, in as much as it fails to take account of the true nature of the human person. It is to stifle the growth of the authentic and lasting peace of the whole human family."
The basis of a peaceful and harmonious society is respect for the human person and it demands protection of the quest of each human being for higher values and greater aspiration, which very often are embodied in religious beliefs.
The unique identity of the human person, made in the image and likeness of God, must be at the very center of a free and virtuous society. The day-to-day lives that we reflect upon and treasure when something like the Boston Marathon bombing occurs are built upon the respect we have for our families, our neighbors, our co-workers. Sharing a friendly word with the young person who hands us our coffee at the local coffee shop or thanking a hardware store owner for his expertise as he helps us navigate our to-do list is all part and parcel of this valuing of the human person.
Writ large, any restrictions upon or misunderstandings of "the identity, meaning and purpose of the person" means we end up with a world that leans ever more towards religious persecution, over-reaching governments, greed, terrorism, and fear. If we miss the point of who the human person is, nothing else will matter.
John Stonestreet, Executive Director of Summit Ministries, says "The Christian understanding of the idea that all humans are made in the image of God was really one of the most revolutionary ideas that ever entered Western civilization. Because it immediately put all folks on equal footing, at least ideologically." Revolutionary – in the best sense of the word. It is this type of revolutionary thinking to which we must adhere and promote if we wish to protect liberty.
Justice will bring about peace; right will produce calm and security. My people will live in peaceful country, in secure dwellings and quiet resting places. – Is. 32:17-18
The human desire for peace and liberty is written on our hearts. In a world profoundly "broken" by sin, this desire is disturbed, and it becomes increasingly important for us to hold fast to the "revolutionary" idea that we are God's unique creation, and that He has set before us the task of working towards justice, peace and security for a world that cherishes liberty.
Rev. Sirico is president and co-founder of the Acton Institute.