Is religious persecution declining or growing?
REV. GEOFFREY KERSLAKE is a priest of the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Ottawa.
In part, the answer to this question depends where in the world we look. Today in the Middle East, for example, Iraqi and Egyptian Christians are experiencing violent persecution that has made it necessary for many to leave their homeland.
A person who has grown up in a culture formed in liberal democratic theory may erroneously assume that other cultures value free speech and freedom of religion as basic human rights. The West has over centuries evolved the practice of letting each person decide for her or himself which faith, if any, to embrace, but this mindset is not shared by a large part of the world.
It is fundamentally important to help other cultures to see the value in religious tolerance and freedom of religion. Today, in many areas of the developing world, we can see a positive shift in attitudes as different faiths learn more about each other's beliefs and, just as importantly, work together on joint projects such as improving housing, education, medical and economic opportunities. For example, the Catholic
Church's "Development and Peace" organization works with local partners to improve life in many parts of the world, regardless of the religious affiliation of the aid recipients; this unbiased concern is a big help in fostering mutual understanding.
As a cautionary note, we should acknowledge that the reasons why a faith tradition would resort to persecution or violence are complex, but it seems that a common element is rejection of what are regarded as the decadent and immoral practices of other cultures or faiths.
We must be careful not to assume that the liberal democratic tradition of freedom of religion will be seen as the obvious choice either abroad or here within Canada.
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