Removing God from the public arena, Bishop Robert Barron suggests, other fundamental rights and values are endangered, and when a society and legislation decides who lives and dies, that land is morally and legally compromised.
In an exclusive, wide-ranging interview with ZENIT ahead of the U.S. elections, the Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles and founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries, expressed this.
In the interview, the American prelate reflects on his prayer for his nation amid a pandemic and elections, and how Catholics are to respond to division and fear. Bishop Barron also discusses God’s proper place in the public arena, why we need to rediscover the art of argumentation and how to consider when legislation and society makes decisions on who can live and die.
Here is our interview with Bishop Barron:
ZENIT: Bishop Barron, you were the speaker of the recent 2020 Prayer Breakfast. What is your prayer for your country as the nation lives through a pandemic and has elections ahead?
Bishop Barron: I pray that we might realize that respect for one another, despite our political differences, is essential to the proper functioning of our democracy. If our public discourse simply descends into rancor and ad hominem attacks, we have moved out of the creative political space described by Jefferson, Adams, and Hamilton.
ZENIT: Our country is suffering in a time of grave division and lack of faith. People are angry and afraid. What is a Catholic to do in these circumstances?
Bishop Barron: During these turbulent times, Catholics should keep their eyes fixed on Jesus and their minds focused on the Church’s social teaching.
ZENIT: We also see Catholics fighting among Catholics, with passionate political views turning ugly, trying to ‘strong arm’ other Catholics, to see their views… How can this be worked on and addressed?
Bishop Barron: We have to rediscover the art of having a real argument. The two options typically proposed by our culture are violent opposition and bland toleration. But between these two finally fruitless paths is argument, which involves careful description of the situation under consideration, the marshalling of evidence, the careful formulation of hypotheticals, the drawing of conclusions, and finally the willingness to live with the truth discovered. Go on social media and scroll through com-boxes, if you dare, and you will find lots of vituperation and self-righteous posturing, but precious little argument. We have to cultivate, in our homes and schools, the subtle art of argumentation.
ZENIT: How important it is for us to keep religion open and free in the public arena. Does it matter that we as a people credit God as our ultimate authority?
Bishop Barron: Privatized religion is obviously bad for religion, for authentic faith has to do with the whole of life and not just with our subjective convictions. But it is also extraordinarily bad for a democratic polity, which rests upon certain basic assumptions that are ultimately religious in nature. I’m referring to the belief in the equality of all people, the presence of inalienable rights in all, and the value of ordered liberty. Take God out of the equation, and you will see, in very short order, what happens to these values.
ZENIT: What is your hope for freedom of conscience and religion, for all religions regardless of who wins the elections…. How do you hope to see life upheld and not cancelled for the vulnerable, in the womb and all stages of life? How are Catholics instructed in Church Teaching regarding these points?
Bishop Barron: Catholic social teaching holds that fundamental human rights, including and especially the right to life, are not the gifts of the state or the culture, but of God. Hence, they are antecedent and superior to any particular legislative act. When the law turns on them, as it clearly has in many cases in our country, the moral integrity of the legal and political enterprise is compromised.
ZENIT: You wrote “Letter to a Suffering Church” in wake of the abuse scandals… Could one apply the same principles in a divided nation?
Bishop Barron: The one connection I might make is this: the Church has endured through terrible times, when it has been threatened from both within and without. And through Christ’s grace, we are still here. So, don’t give up! Stay grounded in the Lord, fight for what you know is right, always act with love in your heart. Jesus is stronger than anything that is in the world.
ZENIT: What are you seeing in Los Angeles, or around the country, that gives you hope?
Bishop Barron: Though the COVID period has been trying for everyone, I’ve seen an explosion of interest in Masses, Benedictions, prayers, and spiritual conversations offered online. Even during dark times, the Church finds a way. This gives me hope.
ZENIT: Thanks again for your time, Bishop Barron.