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Katie van Schaijik

Intimidation vs. freedom in religion

Mar. 7, 2010, at 12:58pm

Several years ago Jules and I heard Cardinal Schönborn give a lecture about the then newly released Catechism of the Catholic Church. Afterwards, someone in the audience asked the Cardinal what the Church was going to do about dissenting theologians and catechists. He answered with moving humility that he himself, who had headed the group that had authored the catechism, had been unable to stop the teaching of heterodoxy in his own diocese of Vienna. Then he told us that he had recently found himself sitting beside a highly-placed Muslim cleric on an airplane who had asked a similar question: Why did the Church not crack down on dissent within its ranks? His response was to point to the mystery of freedom in the Christian vision.

Yesterday I spoke with a friend who had just run into a friend of hers and discovered that he had left the Church months ago. She was full of sorrow for him and remorse that she had not even known—had done nothing to reach out to him. She prayed with him on the spot and recommitted herself to being a better friend from here on out.

When Ayaan Hirsi Ali was asked whether she was concerned about the influence of fundamentalist Christians in our society, she said (paraphrasing from memory), “No. When Christians ask me if I’m a believer and I say, ‘no’, they don’t try to kill me; they say they’ll pray for me.”

After posting the entry below, I found (by way of the Drudge Report) another article, this one in the New York Times, on Scientology and its defectors. It featured a young couple who had been raised in Scientology, who had been true believers and had dedicated themselves to working for it for years. Over time, witnessing the way staff were treated, and sensing the whole thing was a giant sham, they grew disillusioned and wanted to leave. But,

They could not just up and go. For one, they said, the church had taken their passports. But even more important, they knew that if they left the Sea Org without going through the church’s official exit process, they would be declared “suppressive persons” — antisocial enemies of Scientology. They would lose the possibility of living for eternity. Their parents, siblings and friends who are Scientologists would have to disconnect completely from them, or risk being declared suppressive themselves.

“You’re in fear,” Mr. Collbran said. “You’re so into it, it’s everything you know: your family, your eternity.”

I am appreciating more and more the place of freedom in personal life, and the wrong of all forms of coercion and intimidation in religion. And I am thanking God for the radical difference on that score between Christianity and other faiths.

UPDATE: Later in the NYT article, a current spokesman for the church of Scientology defends their practice of shunning apostates this way:

Mr. Davis, the church’s current spokesman, said Scientologists are no different from Mormons, Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Amish who practice shunning or excommunication.

“These are common religious tenets,” he said. “The very survival of a religion is contingent on its protecting itself.”

Excommunication in the Catholic Church, as I understand it, is not something the faithful do to the sinner, so much as what the sinner does to himself. In any case, it does not entail shunning the ex-communicant personally. It means rather that he may not receive the Sacraments of the Church unless and until he repents.


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