Dr. James Hitchcock: “Pious public silence is dereliction of duty”

Dr. Hitchcock, author of several books including the soon-to-be-released History of the Catholic Church: From the Apostolic Age to the Third Millennium (Ignatius Press, 2012), writes the following for the “Square None” column in Touchstone

From time to time, some orthodox Christians wonder aloud whether the pro-life movement, the struggle to defend the integrity of marriage, and other “social issues” implicate believers in an overly political activity that is a distortion of their faith. It would be best, they argue, for Christians simply to bear witness to their beliefs—even more in their lives than in their words—and not to politicize religion.

The dangers in such politicization are real enough. Christians can indeed become so involved in causes as to define their faith exclusively in those terms, to lose sight of why they are involved, and to push into the background everything that does not relate directly to those causes—a mirror image of what liberal religion has become.

Believers are also routinely condemned by secularists for “intruding” their beliefs into the public square, a charge that assumes something uniquely sinister about religion; citizens may form their principles in any way they choose (astrology, throwing dice) except religion. The obvious response is that Christians have as much right to be in the public square as anyone else, but it is a response that is less than satisfactory. Is Christian morality to enjoy only the formal tolerance accorded all other schools of thought?

But those Christians are doomed to fail who insist that their beliefs must prevail because they carry divine sanction. In the public square, such a claim merely provides ammunition to those who warn that religious believers are dangerous, that believers can offer no argument except that of authority.

Given this reality, some Christians choose to withdraw from a public square where the truth of the faith is not recognized, a position similar to that of those who reject political action as a distortion of the gospel. Holders of both viewpoints seek to keep the faith uncontaminated by involvement in the secular sphere. But those who seek such purity often do not seem to understand the logic of their position, or how radical it is—the action of “dropping out,” the claim that being a citizen is incompatible with being a Christian.

Continue reading on the Touchstone site.

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About Carl E. Olson 1233 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.