Religion in a pluralistic society – Ray Azzopardi

The equality bills by their very name give one the impression that they are a step in the right direction.

Who doesn’t want equality? We all want to eliminate discrimination. Pointing out the bills’ shortcomings, therefore, should be looked at positively.

We have to admit that our society is not different to other western democracies. We live in a pluralistic and secular society where different voices and opinions want to be heard.

While the Church preaches absolute truths to safeguard the dignity of the human person and promote the common good, in a secular society truth becomes relative and subjective. Secular voices insist on privileging no religion – on silencing the voice of religion. Secularisation is unconsciously pervading our culture and dictating the way forward.

It is in the context of such an environment that we need to seriously debate the equality bills. By insisting that everyone is equal we seem to be emphasising the value of equality and giving less importance to the value of diversity.

In the book by George Carey and Andrew Carey, We Don’t Do God, it is stated: “By insisting on compliance on matters that are morally questionable in the eyes of some citizens, the state is moving beyond democracy to authoritarianism, thus creating an unhealthy culture”.

To tolerate does in no way mean to submit or deny one’s point of view. In order not to offend, very often, we feel refrained from speaking out about our views – from practising our religion in public.

 Quoting from the editorial of the Daily Telegraph, the Careys point out that, in Britain, “The right to hold religious beliefs, and to act in keeping with one’s faith, is being set against the right not to offend – and is losing. This is a dispiriting trend in a free society”.

Our faith and Catholic doctrine enrich our society

Shall the equality bills, therefore, when they become law, bring about conflict between equality and diversity? Is the ‘supremacy clause’ going to be in conflict with one’s conscience?

Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights gives prominence to the right of freedom of thought, conscience and religion. It also gives one the right to manifest one’s religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.

Due to the rapid transformation of our society, which is becoming more cosmopolitan and multicultural, we tend to downgrade our Christian tradition. Rather than looking with pride at our Christian roots and being grateful for all that the Church has been doing throughout the years, we try to belittle her impact.

The predominance of our Catholic religion on other faiths is not a question of privilege as some seem to think. It is a fact that our Catholic faith is part and parcel of our Maltese identity. Our Christian roots have grown and spread because of the strong faith of our forefathers. Why denounce or downplay our Christian foundation? Why curtail the Christian ethos of Church schools?

Unless we stand up and vehemently defend the right to publicly practise our religion, we shall one day find ourselves struggling to practise what we believe in. Religion is not a private affair. Quoting once more from the Careys: “For Christians, the whole life is indivisible. We cannot retreat to a privatised ghetto because the Gospel concerns the whole of life. There is no ‘privatised’ morality because the whole life is based on morality. Faith is necessarily public”.

Let not those in power fall into the trap of secularism. Let not politicians be shy to publicly proclaim their beliefs for, no, religion is not a private matter. We have churches in every town and village not as museum pieces or to dominate but as a witness and a reminder of our dependence on the Supernatural.

Our faith and Catholic doctrine enrich our society and they will continue doing so if we only allow them. Our Catholic schools with their religious character have been in the forefront to promote justice, inclusion and the common good.

Let us not in the name of equality and tolerance divest ourselves of our diversity and religious identity. Promoting Christian values and inculcating in our young ones a Christian ethos is not a privilege but a mission entrusted to those of us who profess the Catholic faith.

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