Freedom vs. Belief

Book Pick: It’s Dangerous to Believe: Religious Freedom and Its Enemies

It’s Dangerous to Believe

Religious Freedom and Its Enemies

By Mary Eberstadt

Harper, 2016

192 pages, $26

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Mary Eberstadt’s latest book, It’s Dangerous to Believe: Religious Freedom and Its Enemies, presents the reversals that the concept and practice of religious freedom have undergone in recent years in the democratic and once freedom-respecting nations of the world.

Eberstadt has documented a “first world” move towards a secularist world order that reinterprets the exercise of religion as an assault on the rights of others, thereby greatly shrinking the sphere in which traditional believers, particularly Christians and (among them) particularly Catholics, are permitted to express these beliefs in speech and action.

Although Eberstadt traces the philosophical beginnings of secularist opposition to religion to the 18th-century Enlightenment, she locates two much more recent causes for the current rise of secularism and the move to circumscribe religious liberty: First, she singles out the priest scandals breaking in the United States in 2002 and detonating a few years later in Europe and South America, which undercut, for many, the moral authority of the Church. Second, she identifies the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the continuing battle by al-Qaida, ISIS and others to bring down Western Christian and secularist regimes through terrorism and militarism, which prompted the new atheists to argue the inherent intolerance, fanaticism and extremism of religion.

Simultaneously, a rising number of social issues have increased the divide between those from traditional faiths and the rapidly liberalizing mainstream. This chasm in thinking and behavior has produced the great legal and political confrontations prompted over the HHS mandate for Obamacare coverage of contraceptives and abortifacients and the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court decision on same-sex “marriage.”

As Eberstadt puts it, “[C]ries of ‘hater’ and ‘bigot’ now echo across the land, amplified by the anonymity of the Internet and social media campaigns aimed against believers.”

Small wonder that Christians increasingly feel threatened legally, socially, politically and economically in our own country — and others with long-standing traditions of religious liberties are not immune either. Heads of companies are hounded out because of support for traditional marriage, as teachers and professors are disciplined or dismissed for presenting the case for traditional marriage as one legitimate opinion.

Of course, Eberstadt acknowledges that all this is nothing to what Christians in the Middle East and other places suffer for their beliefs.

However, she believes, “The knowledge of what is happening … combined with the growing sense that progressives in the United States and elsewhere aren’t listening because these persecuted people are Christians, is one more reason why many Western believers experience today’s world as newly dark …”

If we ignore what is going on around us or attempt merely to appease those unjustly restricting our religious freedom, we will wake up one day to find it very difficult, if not impossible, to regain it.

Opus Dei Father C.J. McCloskey is an author of several books.