Thursday, December 29, 2011

Silence Please in the Public Square

To what degree should Christians take an interest in the world? This is a question that many have difficulty with. One of the most influential and largest Korean dailies criticized the Catholic Church for getting involved in the things of the world. The caption for the editorial: "When religion takes an interest in the things of the world, this earthly religion will foster interference." The editorial was very critical of the Catholic bishops' Justice and Rights Committee. 

Sad to say, this is not only the thinking of a secular newspaper but also the thinking of many of our Christians in Korea and in other parts of the Catholic World. It is difficult to understand how this thinking developed without blaming the Church for a lack of proper instruction on a very basic teaching of Christianity.

We are to be the salt of the earth, its light and yeast; and into this world we have been sent to be these things to each other. We are told in Philippians, " that nobody thinks of his own interests first, but everybody thinks of other people's interests, instead." In the Magnificat, the Church's evening prayer, Mary is shown to be very much interested in the goings-on in society. The words can even shock those who read them for the first time, and we know Mary is the model of what the Church should be.
Misunderstanding comes with a superficial knowledge of the meaning of the scriptural line, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's....," and thinking it implies the separation of Church and State. When religion is thought to be solely a private matter that should remain private, it can lead to a misunderstanding of what is meant by a legitimate separation of Church and State.
The editorial relied on a faulty understanding of the  separation of Church and State when it blamed the Church for speaking out on social issues. It is this misunderstanding that is prevalent not only in society but also in Christianity. For many it is unpatriotic or illegal for a Church or an individual to express an opposing opinion publicly. It is seen by the editorial as telling non-Catholics, as well as Catholics, what to do with their life. 

Like any individual or institution, the Catholic Church and its members have not only the right to participate in society but have a duty to participate. Korea is a democracy and all its citizens and institutions have a right to express their opinions. The Church and Catholics, therefore, also have this right when, following the teachings of the Church, they express their opinions, and to do so without facing efforts by government or the media to silence them. This allows others as well to have opposing opinions. When efforts are made to silence these legitimate expressions of opinions, it will impair all other efforts to develop a mature and informed society.

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