Hostility towards religion in the modern world

Hostility towards religion in the modern world

Many international organizations almost every day provide information about the bloody forms of persecution of Christians in many countries of the world. This is happening in Asia, in the Middle East, but also in Africa and, recently, in Latin America. In the latter, for example in Nicaragua, there are attacks on churches where believers are dying, or attacks on clergymen, to mention the recent murder of the rector of the seminary in El Salvador[1].

Though no such type of physical extermination of believers is experienced in Europe, there are also disturbing violations of religious freedom, which is one of the fundamental human rights. These European realities reflect a certain cultural process in which prejudices and hostility towards all forms of religiosity are fueled from all sides. It is not about aversion to a specific religious community, but to the very phenomenon of religion as such. In recent years the so-called new atheism has largely contributed to this. The "new atheism" is a movement that does not so much dialogue with theism as seeks to show religion as a harmful superstition responsible for aggression and prejudice against others[2]. In many cases, accusations against believers are based on stereotypes and a reductionist approach.

It is worth paying attention to these phenomena because this road often leads from stereotypes through prejudices to discrimination and persecution. If those can be prevented in the early stages, there is a chance that those will not emerge in society in their radical form. And although the media reports most often highlight minorities and their problems, we are dealing with a paradoxical situation in which Christians (perceived as a privileged majority) experience surprising attacks on their freedom – professing their faith in public places (and recently also in places of worship) is interrupted, parodied, insulted or even physically blocked. This obstruction in experiencing and expressing faith has an ideological basis, as evidenced by the declarations of the perpetrators or the inscriptions left by them at the scene of the events. This is particularly noticeable in countries with a long Catholic tradition, such as Spain, where – according to the report of the Observatory of Religious Freedom in Madrid – there are more and more provocations related to religious processions (e.g. during Holy Week), attacks on places of worship and clergy with iconoclastic arts directed against religion. There appear also graffiti from groups declaring themselves to be radical feminism, calling for setting fire to the temples. Documentation of such phenomena carried out by many organizations in Europe (including Austria, Great Britain or France) shows that the basis of such behavior are prejudices against Christians, which due to their intensity and scope have become known as Christianophobia.



This term is understood to mean unfounded fear of Christians that makes anything that is described as "Christian" or done by Christians suspect and marginalized. Like every "phobia", i.e. fear, it hides a certain irrationality which aims to isolate and cut off the object of fear from the rest of life[3]. The long cultural process led to the development of this social mechanism of "oversensitivity" and rejection in public life of everything that is Christian. It seems, however, that although there is indeed such aversion towards Christians in many cases, it is not characterized by the irrationality typical of phobias. Rather, we are dealing with deliberate discriminatory actions against Christians, and not merely a sociological phenomenon. Such a narrow definition of the problem may distance us from the real source of these behaviors, which are not spontaneous, irrational feelings at the sight of Christians and their religiosity, but reactions resulting from ideological premises. The authors of actions directed against Christians clearly define the motives of their actions, which show hostility towards all forms of human religiosity. It manifests itself, inter alia, in the so-called tactics of muting the microphone, so that religious people have fewer and fewer possibilities of expression, their voice becomes practically inaudible (although they may think that they are shouting into the microphone!). At the same time, actions involving the cultural lowering of the reaction threshold by promoting stereotypes are noticeable: when certain prejudices are disseminated, the religious position loses its impact. The attacks that are made against the followers of religion are then aimed at checking the reaction – whether the next step can be taken or not.


Religion as "social good"

The way to change the format of an antagonistic discourse is to change the approach to the topic, encourage people to look more broadly. This can help to de-radicalize the circles that have put on their banners the slogan of war against religion/religions as enemies of progress (a slogan that appeared along with Marxist dialectics and with various mutations, and has survived to this day). Meanwhile, it was religion and religious people who contributed to the creation of the civilization in which we live, and were the advocates of progress, and derived their arguments regarding research and learning about the world from religious motivations. At the same time, religion and its features are not simply an ordinary "hobby" or an additional dimension of human activity, but something completely basic, because it is related to the sense of human existence.

It is often said that man is by nature religious – it is worth understanding this expression, because it is not contradicted by the fact that there are people in the world who describe themselves as atheists or agnostics. The category of homo religiosus is to emphasize man's orientation towards the ultimate meaning (goal), which makes him capable of transcendent relations, and this is also what constitutes dignity, a category that justifies the whole set of human rights. This dignity reminds us that a human being is something more than a cluster of cells or a brain with its neural connections explaining the mechanisms of consciousness (because we care for people in a coma who are therefore not "less" people), but being open to God, to search for final explanations.

Religiousness develops a person. It is therefore about religious freedom that protects this good, in which non-believers also have a share. So is scientific freedom, which does not define scientific results, but creates a space to work out answers to questions about the world around us. In the same way, the state is not to answer the question of what is the meaning of human life, and at the same time is not to limit the answer. Religion is a space for just such a search, with the mind and heart, by a believer, atheist, agnostic, everyone – that's why offensive gestures towards religion undermine this value of "seeking" the ultimate issues.

And although we often reduce religiosity to specific forms of worship and call religious behaviors e.g. liturgical (such as adoration, prayers, etc.), as St. Thomas Aquinas noted – religiosity in a broad sense means directing everything to the ultimate goal[4]. According to Aquinas, therefore, it is not about a separate class of activities, but every action that becomes a means to achieve the ultimate end of man. Therefore, religious can be everyday duties resulting from the realization of a life calling, i.e. all good things put into practice, thanks to which a person relates to the supernatural horizon. Theologians distinguish faith from religion, treating the former as a conscious relationship with the Absolute who is revealed to man in history, as evidenced by the scriptures of a given religion. Faith is possible because we are religious as people, which is reflected in the category of "God's image" in the Christian tradition.

Nevertheless, it is difficult not to notice in this short analysis how much to the development of prejudices and the attitude of hostility towards religion is contributed by limiting it only to the internal (emotional) dimension, disconnecting it from who is a human. Religion is something fundamental, which cannot be separated from humanity, therefore in the catalogs of human rights, from the first generation in the 18th century, there was the right to freedom of religion, that is, to manifest religious life. Religiousness is an aspect of being in the world that generates culture, builds relationships between people on many levels, and thus has a beneficial effect on social life. From the perspective of social theories, it is therefore a good that needs protection.

The contemporary situation in which religion is accused or deprecated is a call for the "quality" of the testimony of believers themselves, to exercise the rights to freedom of religion. Society that limits someone's expression is losing a lot, especially on the topic of the meaning of life that inspired art. This translates into the quality of art – Zbigniew Herbert put it perfectly in the poem Why the Classics, fearing the times when banality will be the subject of art. None of us want to limit the child's expression by imposing on him patterns that may trap his creativity, so why can't it be the same with professing faith?

It is worth paying attention to one more argument that supports the recognition of religious freedom as a valuable achievement of civilization that requires protection. In the case of many totalitarian systems, if not all, the program of subjugating people and societies was associated with the elimination of the religious sphere, sooner or later. Many may be surprised by the interference of states with official ideology in the religious life of citizens, although formally, after all, ideology – e.g. communist – does not apply to spiritual life. Why is this happening? Perhaps because religion is the last bastion of freedom. The internal forum is uncontrollable and thus remains anti-ideological and anti-totalitarian, so it is no wonder that the greatest attacks on religion, in virtually every epoch, have been carried out by dictatorial systems. In a true democracy, the possibility of expressing views that arise from natural law, are based on tradition, proven, rational, bringing good into social life... it’s something desirable.

When it comes to defending religious freedom and its value, it should be noted that the protection of this value is not done as a concern for museum exhibits, but is realized in the dynamics of its interaction with cultures and thought systems. After all, universities were born out of faith – from this courage to look further, to discover the rationality of the world that comes from God who is the Logos, thanks to which man feels the meaning offered to him. Faith was and is the engine of learning and development. To protect faith simply means to allow a person to be human, to express something deep and irreplaceable. It is not to stand for one and against the other, but by taking care of the full development of a person.


fr. dr hab. Piotr Roszak, NCU prof..

Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń



[1], access: 20.08.2020.
[2] P. Roszak, F. Conesa, Nowy ateizm – czy rzeczywiście nowy? Analiza argumentów i wyzwań dla współczesnej teologii, „Teologia i Człowiek” 2014, no. 1, p. 79-100.
[3] See M. Duda, Przestępstwa z nienawiści. Studium prawnokarne i kryminologiczne, Olsztyn 2016, p. 42.
[4]  G. Cottier, La vertu de religion, „Revue Thomiste” 2006, vol. CVI, p. 335-352.

Autor: Laboratorium Wolności
Date: 16 September 2020
Financed from the means of the Justice Fund, administered by the Minister of Justice.
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