Religious freedom is a valuable asset in society. Even the Roman Catholic Church advocates the free exercise of religion. At first glance, this is a contradiction in the context of ecumenism. But with the definition of the “common good” this supposed incompatibility disappears again.
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“Stumbled” into religious freedom
Religious freedom is one of the achievements of the French Revolution, and the resulting declaration of human rights can still be found in the constitutions of many countries today. The path from the yoke of the Roman Catholic Church, which was overcome in 1798, to religious freedom was not a smooth walk. As a result of the upheavals led by the Jacobins after the end of Rome’s tyranny, religion was fundamentally banned in France. Bibles were burned, churches were closed and the moral standard was then considered to be “human reason”. It only took about 3.5 years of moral decline before the Declaration of Human Rights permitted free exercise of religion.”
Human reason alone is not a good standard
“Human reason” as a moral standard quickly turned out to be a fatal own goal. Actually freed from the grip of Rome, people quickly realized that their own morals were not that far off. An indirect triumph for the Catholic Church, because until then this Roman institution set the guidelines for human morality, and the collapse of society proved it right. After all, one of the components of the Christian façade of the Church of Rome was the moral guidelines of the Gospel.
Religion is rooted in people
It is now the general tenor that people find it very difficult to get along “without some religion”. It seems to be in humanity’s genes to be attached to something “supernatural.” This is how Augsburg Bishop Bertram Meier describes the context, as follows in his speech in Augsburg Cathedral on Sunday: “Religion is an essential part of being human.” According to CNA CNA, the reason for this address is the “3rd Ecumenical Report on Religious Freedom Worldwide 2023”.
Accordingly, this report documents numerous violations of religious freedom in many countries. These violations are not only directed against Christianity, but against the “universal human right of freedom of religion and belief”, said the bishop. Hostilities often begin with “verbal attacks, intimidation and exclusion.” However, these expanded to include “bans, arrests and expulsions and even the murder of people of other faiths.”
In countries like Germany, one can be grateful that the free exercise of religion is protected. But in order to gain this knowledge, it is our duty to “view the difficult fate of our sisters and brothers in other parts of the world as our duty” and to continually present this topic to representatives from politics and society.
Despite his authority, the Son of God refrained from putting his tormentors in their place, said the bishop. His plan of salvation looks different. Violence cannot be defeated by greater violence, only by forgiveness and love. “Let us thank God for showing us the way to salvation in Jesus,” said Bishop Meier.
Religious freedom without borders?
The Bishop’s arguments regarding absolute nonviolence, whether physical or spiritual, cannot be dismissed out of hand. Too many “believers” have misunderstood their position as judges and enforcers, or have interpreted their practiced religion as a justification for such actions.
However, the limits of freedom would already be reached if a religion prescribes the “exclusion, repression and persecution” of people of other faiths or “infidels”. At this point, the dogmas of a religion would have to be examined more closely in order to at least gain knowledge about them.
Religious freedom within ecumenism
Different religious views, whether similar or fundamentally different, must somehow be brought under a common roof in the spirit of ecumenism. The fact that a Catholic bishop is now emphasizing religious freedom seems at first glance to run counter to ecumenism. Because what Jesus Christ means as salvation for the Christian is merely a privileged prophet for the Muslim. But this “problem case”, that Jesus Christ has a monopoly claim for the salvation of every person, has long been worked on a large scale. Statements like those in John 14:6 are usually only quoted in half. Jesus Christ must be reduced, and this reduction to a simple itinerant preacher has already arrived in the minds of many “believing Christians”.
The supposed contradiction between the ecumenism driven by Rome and the free exercise of religion under the common Roman roof can be resolved on the basis of the “common good”. The Vatican has already formulated it that the free exercise of religion is granted as long as it does not run counter to the “common good”. This also includes refraining from any physical or mental violence. That sounds good at first, but it raises the question of who defines the “common good”. What is the “common good”, or who determines what is for the benefit of the general public? This also directly affects moral values.
Authority to interpret the “common good”
Once the authority to interpret the “common good” and morality is in a single hand, it is easy to simply exclude certain religious groups despite the appearance of benevolence for humanity. According to CNA (2018), Pope Francis has already shown such ambitions:
“It is not licit that you convince them of your faith; proselytism is the strongest poison against the ecumenical path. Proselytism among Christians, therefore, in itself, is a grave sin”
Evangelism according to the Bible only needs to be defined as “spiritual violence” which brings discord into a humanity that is happily united and freely practicing its religion. With the flick of a wrist, spreading the good news would be subject to punishment. It was enough to point out to the people who celebrate every Sunday that the Gospel describes the Sabbath (Saturday – Info) as a day to be hallowed. The common roof of ecumenism is Rome, and the highest moral authority is the Pontiff. This leader of the Mother Church almost referred to conversion as a “mortal sin.”
It is therefore easy to advocate for religious freedom if you can define the permitted framework for this. This would mean that there would be no difference at all between the sovereignty over the dogmas in the Middle Ages that were to be believed under threat of punishment and the desired goal in the sense of the “common good”.