Academic journal article Ave Maria Law Review

Christianity on Trial

Academic journal article Ave Maria Law Review

Christianity on Trial

Article excerpt


We will always need good, ethical Catholic lawyers. This is especially the case now, since, as I am sure you all have noticed, Christianity in general and the Catholic Church in particular often find themselves on trial in the United States.

Let me give you an example that struck close to home. In Connecticut, just eight months ago, several legislators essentially found the Church guilty, and proceeded directly to sentencing. They introduced a bill to strip priests and bishops of their administrative roles in parishes and dioceses, and turn those responsibilities over to lay trustees. (1)

New York had tried this once before, and had even succeeded in the 1850s--under the Know-Nothing party--whose name adequately describes their knowledge of constitutional law.

In Connecticut, Catholics from throughout the state rallied to their Church. Embarrassed by the public outcry, the legislators withdrew the bill.

It was really the only legal outcome imaginable. Even a first-year law student can see that if the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses mean anything they prevent government from stepping in to re-organize church structures in order to restrict the authority of clergy with whom they disagree.

After all, the First Amendment isn't that hard to find, even in Connecticut, "the Constitution State."


But why would such a bill even be proposed today? Why would a church face such a trial? I would suggest that it is because there is a growing influence within certain social elites that views Christianity not as a positive force for good, but as a social pathology--something akin to drug dealing.

This suspicion about Christianity goes back more than a century, at least to the time of Karl Marx, who called religion "the opium of the people." (2) Marx then made what he thought was the only reasonable response---remove religion and its influence from society. (3)

Marx wasn't the only one.

Another was the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche famously declared that God was dead, and described Christianity as a slave religion that "crushed and shattered man completely." (4) One might describe the effects of heavy drug use in the same way.

Another was Sigrnund Freud. Freud frequently called religion an illusion, even a "universal obsessional neurosis," attributing to religion something akin to addictive and hallucinogenic properties. (5)

No wonder the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur called these three icons of modern secular thought the "three masters of suspicion," because they were able to place the entire Judeo-Christian patrimony of Western Civilization on trial. (6) But it is a trial which we might recognize from Alice in Wonderland since in this case Christianity is guilty until proven innocent. (7)

And while these three "masters" are no longer with us, their methodology remains and continues its influence in such best-selling books as The God Delusion (8) which have done much to foster what we might describe today as an emerging Culture of Suspicion.

This culture has had a devastating impact on the formation of the religious conscience and, in particular, the Catholic conscience. In fact, we might well ask whether the suppression of religious conscience is becoming the norm--in family, law, business, medicine, social services, immigration, and art.

This is the root cause of the rise of secularism and relativism, as well as for phenomena like the de-Christianization of Europe. Because if religion generally is viewed with suspicion, then conscience--which enables us to adhere to our religious belief--is viewed with suspicion as well.

And in the long history of Western Civilization the two pillars upon which conscience has been supported are traditional Judeo-Christian values and the natural law--which as we know is that universal law inscribed in the heart of man. …

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