Faithful intolerance.

Author:Daniel, Billy
Position:Letter to the Editor

In "St. Benedict After September 11" (April), John M. Owen IV shows us why the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia is not advancing the study of culture. One might expect that as a fellow of such an institute Mr. Owen would have something to say about culture, but unfortunately he does not. Owen criticizes Wendell Berry, Stanley Hauerwas, William Willimon, and Alasdair MacIntyre for their inability to live a dichotomous life. That is, he criticizes them for not being good Americans. "The state," says Mr. Owen, "being the supreme coercive power in any country, is capable in theory of forcing the Church (and other communities) to change their practices or suffer punishment." Mr. Owen goes on to say that because of America's religious tolerance it "not only deserves our loyalty, but also merits our continuing involvement." For Mr. Owen, then, the American government deserves the support of Christians rather than their condemnation because it is responsible to the people and grants them a place in which they can be free to worship--so long as they restrict their practices to the private sphere. MacIntyre's Benedictine ideal is insufficient, says Owen, and must not be taken too far, since it may lead the state to act towards us (the religious) in an inhospitable fashion.

Constantinianism is our model for religious tolerance, but was this the "colossal error" that Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon claim it to have been? Mr. Owen thinks that Hauerwas and Willimon are too radical in thinking so. Prior to Constantine's conversion there were great persecutions against Christians taking place throughout the Roman empire. And with each persecution came newly baptized confessors. The church of a crucified God does not deteriorate in the face of persecution but flourishes--for "it is in dying," says St. Francis of Assisi, "that we gain eternal life." Christianity suffered a loss of identity when it became a "national religion."

A decaying empire with a revolutionary religion that wouldn't die needed to gain the upper hand. What better way to gain support than to turn the tables and declare the revolutionists the head of society? It put an end to the revolt and gave a dying empire a glimpse of hope.

America, by contrast, was to be a new land, a place where citizens were free from the constraints of a national religion, where one's worldly fate would not be tied to whether or how often one participated in the life of the Church....

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