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Anti-Christianity in the Public Square

Interview With Professor Joan-Andreu Rocha Scarpetta

ROME, JUNE 19, 2006 (Zenit) - Religious intolerance exists not only in dictatorial regimes, but also in more subtle forms in free, democratic societies, says a professor of theology of religions and ecumenism.

Joan-Andreu Rocha Scarpetta recently spoke of intolerance aimed at Christians at a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on promoting tolerance. The meeting took place June 12-13 in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

In this interview, Rocha, who teaches at the Regina Apostolorum university and the European University, both in Rome, explained some forms of discrimination against Christians in free societies.

Q: What was the main purpose of the OSCE meeting in Almaty?

Rocha: The purpose of the meeting in Almaty was to evaluate and propose new paths in the promotion of intercultural, interreligious and interethnic understanding.

It was conditioned by the recent events related to the publication of the satirical cartoons regarding the prophet Mohammed and the grave offense of religious sensibilities caused by them.

They provoked the murder of a Catholic priest in Turkey, aggressions and threats to other Christians and episodes of violence in other parts of the world. They imply not a single effect, but a chain reaction that draws into it people of other faiths.

These trends offered an opportune moment to focus on the issue of religious identity and its place in society in the context of freedom of speech and religious distinctiveness.

Q: Did the issue of discrimination against Christians have a central place in this meeting?

Rocha: The OSCE is struggling against discrimination and intolerance, particularly in the issues of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, with specific and broad programs.

But in regard to the discrimination of Christians, there is still a long way to go. Discrimination of religious minorities is acquiring importance in the organization's agenda, but discrimination of Christians seems to be kept with a low profile.

Q: How do discrimination and intolerance against Christians manifest themselves?

Rocha: Discrimination and intolerance against Christians are not only evident in those countries that are still unable to assure freedom of religion, but also in the general cultural environment, disguised under the form of mockery of Christian symbols, practices and institutions.

The recent cartoon production entitled "Popetown," which ridiculed specific aspects of the Christian faith, and presented Catholic Church authorities as criminals involved in different kinds of malicious activities, is a clear example.

Several Web pages have been recently closed down due to their anti-Christian language. Numerous works of modern art and stage plays mock Christian symbols and practices. Even politicians allow themselves to joke about Christian symbols in public.

The increasing number of offenses against Christians, under the form of humor, art or a distorted freedom of expression, show that something must be done.

Q: How do you explain this situation?

Rocha: In countries where Christianity constitutes the basic cultural background, and where religion has been reduced to a personal affair, we are getting used to a subjective faith, where we "believe" without "belonging."

This creates a hazy situation where the mockery of the symbols we believe in seems like a normal thing that doesn't concern us. The absence of reactions promotes the spread of these kinds of offenses that, in the end, are the seed of discrimination and intolerance.

Q: What can Christians do to fight against this type of discrimination regarding their faith?

Rocha: The first thing is to acknowledge this reality of veiled discrimination. But the balance between freedom of expression and the respect of specific religious sensibility is a compelling challenge.

We should learn to react to these situations, obviously without violence, but by demonstrating our discontent to the media that produce them and to the civil institutions that allow them. This would slowly create a new sensibility about the misuse of Christian symbols in the public sphere.

Nongovernmental organizations could also play an important part. Some of them work actively against the discrimination of different ethnic groups and religions.

Maybe it's time for them to stress public discrimination of Christian symbols, practices and institutions, and not only the effective persecution of Christians.

These trends would open the path to some more specific actions, like the creation of a deontological code on freedom of expression and respect for religions, which could prevent the increase of discriminations against the Christian faith and its symbols.


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Anti-Christianity, Public, Square, Scarpetta, Freedom, Religion

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