From ZENIT this week, an interview with Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver on his new book, Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life. “Nobody wants a theocracy,” says the archbishop, but if we do want democracy, we need a culture of political decision-making imbued with religious and moral convictions:
Q: Catholicism in the public square in the United States has had a long and complicated journey, and you say that Catholics have a lot to offer the political process, but that more often than not they keep their beliefs and convictions separate from their political actions. Why is that?
Archbishop Chaput: Catholics have always been a minority in the United States, and prejudice against Catholics in this country has always been real, even before the founding. Sometimes the bias has been indirect and genteel. Just as often it has taken more vulgar forms of economic and political discrimination, and media bigotry. Either way, prejudice always fuels the appetite of a minority to fit in, to achieve and to assimilate, and American Catholics have done that extraordinarily well—in fact, too well.
In the name of being good citizens, a lot of Catholics have bought into a very mistaken idea of the “separation of Church and state.” American Catholics have always supported the principle of keeping religious and civil authority distinct.
Nobody wants a theocracy, and much of the media hand-wringing about the specter of “Christian fundamentalism” is really just a particularly offensive scare tactic. The Church doesn’t presume to run the state. We also don’t want the state interfering with our religious beliefs and practices—which, candidly, is a much bigger problem today.
Separating Church and state does not mean separating faith and political issues. Real pluralism requires a healthy conflict of ideas. In fact, the best way to kill a democracy is for people to remove their religious and moral convictions from their political decision-making. If people really believe something, they’ll always act on it as a matter of conscience. Otherwise they’re just lying to themselves. So the idea of forcing religion out of public policy debates is not only unwise, it’s anti-democratic.
That sounds like an argument I heard somewhere once before. . . .