By Anthony Barich
SYDNEY, Australia, JULY 24, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Knowing the Catholic faith and holding fast to its truths is the best way to evangelize and overcome intolerance, a founder of the Acton Institute told an audience in Sydney.
Father Robert Sirico, co-founder and president of the U.S.-based think tank, told ZENIT on Wednesday that there is “no reason” to be defensive about the Catholic faith.
World Youth Day, he said, is a perfect example of the faith being presented to the secular world confidently and without compromise.
“World Youth Day itself is part of ongoing formation — for both Catholics and the secular world,” he suggested. “It’s when we’re unsure of ourselves that we become defensive, and I don’t think there’s any reason for that.
“We need to engage people of different lifestyles and beliefs and propose to them, not impose upon them, the truth of the faith, and engage in an honest conversation about it.”
“Seeing 300,000 people on the streets of Sydney gives one a sense that they’re not alone and that the Catholic faith has a plausibility that we can recommend to the world,” he added.
The Acton Institute, dedicated to the study of free-market economics informed by religious faith and moral absolutes, launched in Sydney on July 4 its documentary “The Birth of Freedom.”
The documentary is “exploding the myth” that being religious is by definition intolerant, the priest explained.
It makes the case that the institutions of human liberty, the resistance to various forms of enslavement, misogyny and non-acceptance emerge from a Christian idea of the inherent dignity of the human person.
Father Sirico said that other social institutions emerged from around that: law courts, the right of contract, the right of private property, free exchange, free expression and the right of religious practice.
“These things are unknown in the ancient world, and it’s very telling that they emerge from the Judeo-Christian West,” he said. “There’s a reason for that, and I think it’s our anthropology and our understanding of who the human person is.”
The film credits Catholic monasticism as the first institutions to embrace the “spirit of innovation.”
It also notes that many agents for social change in the history of Europe and the United States were motivated by belief in God, and publicly stated so. These included Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln.
“We want our secular friends to understand the liberty that we take for granted, and what the roots of that liberty are,” Father Sirico said. “Our hope is to vigorously respond to the myth that religion and religious commitment is a form of intolerance and ‘the Dark Ages.’ The Dark Ages were a myth, as the film says. Some of the greatest achievements in human invention come from that very period.”
Father Sirico said there is a common perception that “atheists are ‘free thinkers’ where as religious believers are ‘shackled.’ We just want to basically explode the myth that religion is intolerant, or that the embracing of truth is itself an act of intolerance.
“We have to get over the idea that holding to the truth means that we disrespect people and their liberty. We may disagree with people, but we ought never to disrespect their person.”