It’s a free country” we used to say, when someone wanted to do something slightly ridiculous. Go ahead, walk around the streets with a placard saying
“The End is Nigh”, eat mustard on your jam sandwiches or join the Mormons and denounce tea-drinking – it’s a free country.
Is it? We can still do some ridiculous things if we like. But increasingly, Christians seem to be treated harshly by public authorities – even criminalised – for upholding in public some aspect of Christian morality, specifically sexual morality. The idea of a creative tension between freedom of speech and the needs of the community, of a shared desire to serve the common good, is under attack.
Are we free? We need to claim our freedom and make use of it. The Christian voice is needed in Britain. The great St John Paul said that religious freedom is “the basis of all other freedoms and is inseparably tied to them by reason of that very dignity which is the human person” (letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations, 1978).
Since 2013 the Diocese of Westminster has been working with the Explore educational charity to provide a “remote marriage preparation” experience in the diocese’s high schools and parishes. In December 2014, with the help of a grant from the Celebrating Family Fund from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, a Local Development Officer for the project was appointed. Four parish youth/Confirmation groups and almost a dozen schools have taken par t in sessions during which more than 1500 young people have had a chance to dialogue with married couples about what makes their marriage work. The feedback from these “workshops” is over whelmingly positive. One student said: “It gave me a bet ter understanding of how marriage works.” Another said, “ You can overcome any thing in a relationship if you truly love each other and want to try.”
The Second Vatican Council’s declaration on relations with non-Christian religions (Nostra aetate) is shot through with a desire to be as positive as it can be about them: this tendenc y was both noted and complemented by Dominus Iesus of 2000 which emphasises the uniqueness and sufficiency of the Revelation in Jesus Christ.
Regarding Muslims, Nostra aetate tells us that “they worship God, who is one, living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth.” Interestingly, and helpfully, it does not locate the source of such belief in the Qur’an or the Sunnah of the Prophet of Islam. So how have Muslims come by such belief?
One of the most interesting areas of modern philosophy is the philosophy of the mind. This is because it brings the philosopher down from his (supposed) ivor y tower and into the thick of the bat tle raging bet ween the theist and the modern atheist. This rests upon the fact that if it is proved that the mind is immaterial, this implies its abilit y to live on af ter death. Now, while this does not directly demonstrate the existence of God, it does open up a whole world beyond the material universe and so it makes the average atheist refreshingly ner vous that his own position is nothing like as secure as he, misguidedly, tends to think it is.
At the Easter Vigil after the first reading from Genesis chapter 1, describing the creation of the universe by God, the prayer that follows says: “Almighty ever-living God, who are wonderful in the ordering of all your works, may those you have redeemed understand that there exists nothing more marvellous than the world’s creation in the beginning except that, at the end of the ages, Christ our Passover has been sacrificed.”