Generally speaking, American Christians have a tough time perceiving Muslims as anything but a threat if they are promoting Sharia. But why oh why are not Christians similarly concerned about how threatening they might seem to those non-Christians with whom they share North American civil society? Two examples suggest that Christians have as hard a time fitting into modern secular society as Muslims. First, a Canadian iteration about the limits of public education:
To defenders of the North American status quo, school choice is shorthand for a set of policies that will undermine the effectiveness of a single education system, ensuring that all children are educated along similar core values. For those who advocate against big government and favour free market competition, school choice protects the freedoms of individual families and raises standards and performance. But what if most of us don’t actually make choices this way at the local level? In reality, there are two basic questions that parents ask:
Should we have more than one meaningful option as to where we will send our child to school?
Is every school appropriate for every child?
Parents make decisions regarding the education of their children in many ways. Accessibility to a desired school is among the most significant factors in real estate decisions. And while the range between the quality of schools in more affluent neighbourhoods and those in less affluent ones varies depending on the part of North America in which you live, the notion that common funding formulas automatically translate into equal educational quality is commonly understood to be mythical.
Parents desire different types of schools for all sorts of reasons. Whether they’re placing priority on the language, pedagogy, religious perspective, or any one of an additional dozen factors, decisions regarding schooling priorities can be as diverse as the population itself. The functional social question that emerges is two-fold: Which of these choices should be supported by the community? Should the same rules and the same funding apply to all of the choices?
I personally (all about moi) have great sympathy for this argument but at the same time we should remember that public schools were created to provide a common curriculum and basic level of education for citizenship in a republican or constitutional monarchy. If Christians opt out of public schools — and there are many good reasons — they are also opting out of a common project and claiming implicitly that their faith sets them apart from Canadian or American identity. This is more antithesis than
common grace providence.
So where will Christian exclusivism end? Does it extend to vaccines? Maybe so:
Can parents have their children vaccinated with the MMR vaccine without compromising their pro-life principles—without cooperating with the Culture of Death? The National Catholic Register addressed that question this week, and although I cannot find any clear error of fact in the article, I think it creates a very inaccurate impression.
Relying heavily on analysis by the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC), the Register explains that parents who choose to have their children vaccinated are engaged only in “remote material cooperation” with abortion. Given the potential risks of disease, the article reports, the Vatican has stated that parents can be justified in chosing vaccination.
That’s all perfectly true. But reading the Register article, one might conclude that the Vatican has said parents should vaccinate. That’s not accurate. The Pontifical Academy for Life, in a statement released in 2005, said that parents could be justified in choosing vaccination. The statement did not say that this choice was preferable, let alone mandatory.
What the Vatican did say, with undeniable clarity, was that parents have a moral obligation to insist on vaccines that are not prepared by immoral means: vaccines not derived from fetal remains. The Pontifical Academy for Life wrote that “there remains a moral duty to continue to fight and to employ every lawful means in order to make life difficult for the pharmaceutical industries which act unscrupulously and unethically.”
Of course, the reasons against vaccination here are more complicated than parents simply questioning the w-w of the medical establishment. But it does again raise questions about the willingness of Christians to participate in a common life that runs according to shared standards of education, medicine, and science. I get it. No neutrality in every square inch. But how about commonality (at least in a Commonwealth)?
So could the author of the Letter to Diognetus say this about today’s Protestants and Roman Catholics in North America?
Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.
If he couldn’t, should that make Christians more sympathetic to Muslims who also want to maintain their religious ways?