Leaders from the world’s two largest churches say that Christians in the West are facing “unprecedented” hurdles to living out their vocation according to their conscience. A statement from Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians says that as traditional Western culture – liberally influenced by Christianity – is replaced with relativistic secularism and radicalized Islam, Christians are facing new barriers to entering whole sectors of the workplace, as well as other forms of hard and soft persecution. A misunderstanding of human dignity, they say, lies at the heart of it all.
“In the present context of unprecedented challenges and threats against Christianity, our Catholic and Orthodox Churches want to stand together in order to face them,” says a statement issued by the fifth European Catholic-Orthodox Forum, held in Paris on January 9-12. The statement takes on transatlantic significance, as the participants – which include three Catholic cardinals, nine Orthodox metropolitans, and distinguished clergy from both churches – promise to continue “promoting Christian values and principles in the sphere of public life, including the international level.”
Their focus is ecumenical in the best sense of the word, rooted in the two historic churches’ timeless commitment to the inherent, infinite, and immutable dignity of all human beings:
Our Catholic and Orthodox Churches proclaim the centrality of the human person and of its dignity created in the image of God. They affirm the dignity of human nature created freely. Human freedom is exercised to the utmost in the act of religious faith. The act of faith must always remain free. The constitutions of our States guarantee the fundamental rights of the human person. Nevertheless, in our societies, forces are always at work to marginalise or even erase religions and their message from the public space. We believe that Europe needs more than ever the breath of faith in Christ and the hope that it provides. Christianity is a marker of identity that does not deny others their human rights, but seeks to cooperate with all for the realisation of the common good. We are well aware that the personalist Christian vision of humanity is a minority view in relation to a dominant discourse that promotes hedonistic individualism, which ignores the notions of objective truth and common good.
Denying the transcendent has led to “unacceptable instances of discrimination or persecution in our societies, even as they strive to be open,” they write.
Aggressive secularism – not content to allow faiths to contend in an open market of ideas – encroaches upon faithful Europeans’ inalienable rights, particularly upon their ability to provide for their families while being true to their values. These “more subtle forms of discrimination against believers” take place “when they are excluded from certain roles or professions, when their right to conscientious objection is disregarded, or when persons who request counselling when faced with the choice of performing an abortion have that request denied.”
While rejecting “notions of objective truth,” the religious leaders warn that the EU imposes its own form of orthodoxy in government-funded schools: “anthropological theses without scientific foundation, like gender theories, or certain ecological ideologies that go as far as transhumanism."
Any ideology rooted in “cultural relativism, devoid of truth or moral good … cannot be established as dogma, because this actually leads to division between human beings.” The use of right reason to arrive at universally valid conclusions (which reflect the natural law) is a so deeply ingrained in the West that the second-century apologist St. Justin Martyr considered Socrates and Heraclitus unwitting Christians for practicing it. Casting aside the notion of universal values assures perpetual conflict between competing societal narratives.
This divided Western order faces the internal challenge of Islamic extremism. Avoiding a blanket denunciation of the billion-strong religion, the church leaders state that “some narratives of Islamic history” have “reinforced … a vision of hatred.”
They equate the persecution of Christians by Islamic terror with Marxist oppression. "Central and Eastern Europe has for too long been subjected to regimes of oppression for it not to feel solidarity with Christians now being persecuted,” they write.
Islamic fundamentalist terror, once an external problem, has become an internal struggle through waves of immigration from Muslim-majority nations. They emphasize that, while "under international law, everybody has the right to leave their country of origin … The key word for immigrants is integration. ... without which social cohesion will never be achieved."
They conclude that the West, slipping away from its traditional values of human dignity and the right of every individual to live according to conscience – whether in the sanctuary or the workplace – has left Europe incapable of preserving the rights secured by a traditionally faith-oriented worldview.
"Secular Europe is deeply rooted in our Christian traditions, which have provided it with its universalist vision, its notion of the dignity of the human person, and its moral principles. If you are cut off from your roots, you will come adrift," they write.
This statement, which repays careful reading, is an attempt by the continent’s spiritual leaders to help the region once known as both Christendom regain its moorings.
You can read their full statement here.
(Photo credit: Consilium Conferentiarum Episcoporum Europae.)