Cardinal Levada on October Assisi
Meeting (October 2011)
"The Church Must Be Leaven of This Unity for the Whole of Humanity"
VATICAN CITY, JULY 8, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of a statement by
Cardinal William Joseph Levada, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine
of the faith, that was published Wednesday regarding the day of prayer for peace
that will be held in Assisi. The October event will gather representatives of
the world's religions, as well as nonbelievers.
* * *
The announcement that next Oct. 27, Benedict XVI will go as a pilgrim to Assisi
for a "day of reflection, dialogue and prayer for peace and justice in the
world" shows that the religious experience in its different forms is the object
of the Church's attention in the third millennium. Given the present spread of
atheism and agnosticism, man must be helped to safeguard and rediscover the
awareness of his elementary bond (re-ligio) with the origin from which he stems.
This awareness, which naturally makes itself prayerful, is also a condition of
peace and justice in the world.
In his book-interview of 1994, Blessed John Paul II recalled the Assisi meeting
of 1986, stating that, together with his numerous visits to countries of the Far
East, it convinced him more than ever that "the Holy Spirit works efficaciously
even outside the visible organism of the Church." Nevertheless, well aware of
the delicacy of the issue, shortly after that meeting, on Dec. 7, 1990, he
taught in his encyclical "Redemptoris Missio," that the Spirit "manifests
himself in a special way in the Church and in her members. Nevertheless, his
presence and activity are universal, limited neither by space nor time."
Recalling the Second Vatican Council, he recalled the work of the Spirit "in the
heart of every man through the 'seeds of the Word,' to be found in human
initiatives -- including religious ones -- and in mankind's efforts to attain
truth, goodness and God himself," who prepares us "for full maturity in Christ"
(No. 28). Hence, in the same encyclical not only did he reaffirm the need and
urgency of the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus, but he opposed
energetically an "indifferentism, which, sad to say, is found also among
Christians. It is based on incorrect theological perspectives and is
characterized by a religious relativism which leads to the belief that 'one
religion is as good as another'" (No. 36).
In complete harmony with this concern is also the theological and pastoral
reflection of Joseph Ratzinger: Already in 1964 he manifested his intention to
"show more clearly the place of Christianity in the history of religions and
thereby to reinvest with some concrete and particular meaning theological
statements about the uniqueness and the absolute value of Christianity" (J.
Ratzinger, Fede, Verita, Tolleranza. Il Cristianesimo e le Religioni del Mondo,
17 (Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions, 19)). The
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, led by him, would take up this topic
again with the declaration "Dominus Iesus" about the oneness and the
universality of Jesus Christ and of the Church. The document, published on Aug.
6, 2000, was not intended solely to refute the idea of an interreligious
coexistence in which the various "beliefs" would be recognized as complementary
ways of the fundamental one which is Jesus Christ (cf. John 14:6); it intended,
more profoundly, to lay the doctrinal basis of a reflection on the relationship
between Christianity and religions.
Because of his unique relationship with the Father, the person of the Incarnate
Word is absolutely unique; the salvific work of Jesus Christ is prolonged in his
Body, the Church, and the Church is also absolutely unique ordered to the
salvation of all men. To accomplish this work, both in Christians as well as
non-Christians, it is always and only the Spirit of Christ that the Father gives
to the Church, "sacrament of salvation": that is why there are not, ordered to
salvation, complementary ways to the one universal economy of the Son made
flesh, even if outside the Church of Christ elements are found of truth and
goodness (cf. Nostra Aetate, 2; Ad Gentes, 9).
The Assisi meeting had a follow-up on Jan. 24, 2002. On that occasion Cardinal
Ratzinger felt the need to clarify further its meaning, making himself the voice
of those who questioned themselves seriously on this matter: "Can this be done?
Is it not the case that the majority of people are given the false illusion of
an association that in reality does not exist? Is not relativism thus fostered,
the opinion that at bottom there are only penultimate differences that arise
between the 'religions'? Is not the seriousness of the faith thus weakened and
in this way, in the end, God distances himself further from us? Is not the
sentiment reinforced of being left alone?" (Fede, Verita, Tolleranza, 111). The
reader can refer to the precise definitions which have not lost their topical
Here we would rather ask ourselves: Why, if he was so aware of the possible
misunderstandings of the gesture of his blessed predecessor, has Benedict XVI
felt it opportune to go as a pilgrim to Assisi on the occasion of a new meeting
for peace and justice in the world?
We find a first indication in Cardinal Ratzinger's recollection regarding the
meeting of 2002. On the day after the meeting he recalled the figure of the man
dressed in white, now elderly, seated together with the others on the train to
Assisi: "Men and women, who in daily life too often confront one another with
hostility and seem divided by insurmountable barriers, greeted the Pope who,
with the force of his personality, the profundity of his faith, the passion that
derives from it for peace and reconciliation, brought about through the charism
of his office what seemed impossible: to bring together in a pilgrimage for
peace representatives of divided Christianity and representatives of different
religions" (30Giorni, 1/2002).
Religion, far from deterring the building of the earthly city, drives rather to
a commitment to it. For us Christians, this means first of all interceding with
God, leaving to others, despite their diversity -- believers and non-believers,
who are also invited to the forthcoming Assisi meeting -- to join us in the
quest for peace and justice in the world. And, the cardinal added at the time,
"if we as Christians undertake the path to peace in the example of St. Francis,
we should not fear losing our identity: it is really then that we find it"
(ibid.). In short it is not a question of hiding the faith for the sake of a
superficial unity, but of confessing -- as John Paul II and the Ecumenical
Patriarch then did -- that Christ is our peace, and that precisely because of
this the path of peace is the path of the Church. The face of the "God of peace"
(Romans 15:33), again said Joseph Ratzinger, "made itself visible to us through
faith in Christ" (ibid.). And this peace is a fullness not only offered and
transmitted (cf. John 20:19), received already always by the "Ecclesia sancta et
immaculata" (Ephesians 5:27), at the same time as gift and as task in
confrontations with the world, which is the "theater of man's history" (Gaudium
et Spes, 2).
We are reminded of this by Vatican II: "obeying the command of Christ and
influenced by the grace and love of the Holy Spirit, [the Church is] fully
present to all men or nations, in order that, by the example of her life and by
her preaching, by the sacraments and other means of grace, she may lead them to
the faith, the freedom and the peace of Christ" (Ad Gentes, 5). Because "all men
are called to union with Christ" (Lumen Gentium, 3), the Church must be leaven
of this unity for the whole of humanity: not only with the proclamation of the
Word of God, but with the lived testimony of the profound union of Christians
with God. This is the authentic path of peace.
The title chosen for the next Day of Assisi -- Pilgrims of Truth, Pilgrims of
Peace -- gives us a second indication: to be able realistically to hope in the
building together of peace, it is necessary to put truth as criterion. "Ethos
without logos does not hold" (J. Ratzinger, Vi ho chiamati amici. La compagnia
nel cammino della fede, 71). Instructed by the painful experiences of the
totalitarian ideologies, the Pope abhors every form of subordination of reason
to practice. But there is much more to it. The original bond between ethos and
logos, and between religion and reason, lies ultimately in Christ, the divine
Logos: precisely because of this, Christianity is able to restore this bond to
the world, participating, as real and effective sign of Jesus Christ, in his
unique mission of salvation (cf. Lumen Gentium, 9). Hence, "that relativism that
affects clearly to a greater or lesser degree the doctrine of the faith and of
the profession of faith" (Vi ho chiamati amici, 71) is to be refuted decisively.
However this, far from constituting a belittling of the different religious
expressions or the ethical dimension is, rather, their appreciation: "We must
try to find a new patience -- without indifference -- with one another and with
the others; a new capacity to let be what is other and another person; a new
willingness to differentiate the levels of unity and, hence, to realize the
elements of unity that are possible now" (ibid.). Peace without truth is not
possible, and vice versa: the attitude to peace constitutes an authentic
"criterion of truth" (J. Ratzinger, Europa. I suoi fondamenti oggi e domani,
Atheism becomes fashionable
Passionate tracts by the new missionaries of unbelief are selling like
hotcakes. But are they rational?
Richard Bastien | Tuesday, 16 October 2007
Over the past half century, the dominant view among the chattering
classes has been either that there is no God (atheism) or that one
should go about one’s life as if the question of God’s existence cannot
be answered (agnosticism) and thus is of no concern. Most of those who
share the atheistic view also think that its propagation is best
achieved by treating it as an accepted and comfortable fact of life, in
keeping with Freud’s famous dictum that "the more the fruits of
knowledge become accessible to men, the more widespread is the decline
of religious belief".
However, it seems that this low key approach has turned out to be less
convincing for millions of people who just as comfortably accept
advances in science and technology alongside a growing interest for
religious faith. So a new strategy based on open proselytising in
favour of atheism is now gradually taking shape. That at least is the
impression given by the publication in recent months of a spate of
books by reputed atheists -- among them Letter to a Christian Nation,
by Sam Harris, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, by
Daniel C. Dennett, The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins, God is not
Great, by Christopher Hitchens and The Failed Hypothesis: How Science
Shows that God Does Not Exist, by Victor Stenger. According to a recent
article in the Wall Street Journal, these authors have collectively
sold about one million books over the past 12 months.
The irony of this new desire to further the spread
of atheism is that, unlike the cool and laid-back atheists of an
earlier age, these new atheists write like true believers... This
impatient zeal surely stems from the fact that, for them, history has
not unfolded exactly as intended.
The intent of these authors is to accelerate the elimination of all
remnants of the Judeo-Christian tradition. As Sam Harris puts it, the
name of the game is "to demolish the intellectual and moral pretensions
of Christianity." As for Hitchens, he seeks to show "how religion
The irony of this new desire to further the spread of atheism is that,
unlike the cool and laid-back atheists of an earlier age, these new
atheists write like true believers. There is, in fact, a missionary
and, at times, severe, tone to their writings. Indeed, reading them
produces the feeling of being lectured, hectored, and scolded by
atheist fundamentalists. This impatient zeal surely stems from the fact
that, for them, history has not unfolded exactly as intended.
Accordingly, Sam Harris ends his Letter to a Christian Nation with
something that smacks of a personal confession: "This letter is the
product of failure – the failure of the many brilliant attacks upon
religion that preceded it, the failure of our schools to announce the
death of God in a way that each generation can understand, the failure
of the media to criticise the abject religious certainties of our
public figures – failures great and small that have kept almost every
society on this earth muddling over God and despising those who muddle
From people who claim to be driven solely by reason and to have
liberated themselves from ignorance and "blind faith", one would
normally expect at least some attempt to understand the deeper human
reasons for refusing to bury God, as demanded. But such an attempt has
yet to be undertaken.
For Christians who take their faith seriously, there is both a downside
and an upside to this new wave of atheistic proselytising, with the
latter probably outweighing the former. The downside is that it will
reinforce already widespread liberal prejudices according to which
there is no point in trying to know God. Instead of encouraging people
to maintain an open mind about religion (the least to be expected from
true liberals), these books will further encourage a closing of the
mind to any possibility of the supernatural, which they gratuitously
equate with superstition.
The upside is that these books help draw more clearly than ever before
the battle lines in the ongoing culture wars. Until recently, most
Christians were inclined to assume that modern culture was at least
neutral with respect to the basic tenets of Christianity, and that it
was possible to adhere to the creed while at the same time accepting
the philosophical heritage of the "modern" age. In short, it was more
or less taken for granted that one could view oneself as being both a
child of God and a child of the Enlightenment.
Thanks in part to these books and others of the same ilk, it is now
becoming increasingly clear that Nietzsche was right: the only true
alternative to Christianity is nihilism and atheism. Nietzsche inferred
from this that morality can only be based on the human will. Anyone
familiar with European history of the 20th century will know the
disastrous outcome of that alternative. It is in this sense that the
new atheists help us to understand why the 150-year old attempt by
"progressive" Christians to find some accommodation between the
Christian creed and the basic tenets of the Enlightenment have led to a
gradual erosion of the faith. This perhaps explains why, at the outset
of the 21st century, many Christians are coming to realise that the
only meaningful choice is between traditional Christianity and atheism.
As the intellectual dust and confusion caused by the collapse of the
numerous variations of liberal Protestantism and "progressive"
Catholicism settles, we find there is no way around this choice.
All this does not mean, however, that Christians and atheists are soon
to find themselves locked into some kind of unrelenting battle. Whether
the more zealous atheists who have adopted the missionary posture of
these books like it or not, there are other atheists who do not
subscribe to their views and who even seek a dialogue with
Christianity. Jürgen Habermas, considered by many as a most
"methodical atheist" and an icon of postmodernism, wrote in a 2004
essay titled A time of transition that "Christianity, and nothing else,
is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights, and
democracy, the benchmarks of Western civilisation. To this day, we have
no other options [than Christianity]. We continue to nourish ourselves
from this source. Everything else is postmodern chatter." A similar
view is held by atheist Marcello Pera, professor of philosophy and
President of the Italian Senate in a book published jointly with
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Benedict XVI) and titled Without Roots.
It is also worth noting that the new atheists, as mentioned, fail to
provide any solid argument in support of the non-existence of God. This
is not because of some lack of intellectual sophistication on their
part, but rather because, as most philosophers will readily admit,
non-existence is something that can never be proven. Christopher
Hitchens, generally considered the most knowledgeable and entertaining
of the five authors mentioned, argues that God does not exist because
"all attempts to reconcile faith with science and reason are consigned
to failure and ridicule".
In making this claim, Hitchens makes two mistakes. First, he fails to
account for the fact that a large proportion of scientists (as many as
50 per cent according to the late Stephen Jay Gould, a leading
spokesman for evolutionary theory) do believe in God. Second, and more
importantly, he is totally oblivious to the fact that, in the order of
natural (ie, non-revealed) knowledge, the idea that God exists can only
make sense as a philosophical answer to a metaphysical question.
Throughout history, the concept of God has always appeared as one
having to do with the why of a certain existence. And the question as
to why something exists is not a scientific one because whatever its
answer might be, it does not lend itself to empirical verification, ie,
it is not falsifiable through experimentation. Anyone wondering whether
God exists is well aware that he is not raising a scientific question
because all scientific enquiries are geared to what a given thing
actually is, rather than to why it exists. In short, religion has
nothing to do with what things are – that is the realm of natural
science -, but rather with why they happen to be at all.
But there is an even deeper flaw in the thinking of the new atheists.
All assume that in the debate on God, the basic distinction is that
between believers and unbelievers. Yet, as Blaise Pascal, a 17th
Century mathematician, scientist and inventor of the first working
computer, notes in his Pensées, the true absolute distinction is
between "seeking" and "unseeking" unbelievers, between unhappy atheists
who seek and eventually become believers, and happy atheists who simply
don’t care. Pascal reminds us that God judges atheists, not by the
supernatural standard of faith, but rather by the natural standard of
Anyone reading Pascal’s Pensées cannot help but find them
eminently reasonable. What they tell us is that we are hard-wired to
seek happiness, perfection and certainty. It is impossible for us not
to seek these things. And yet we fail miserably at getting even near
them. Each of us is a living self-contradiction. The consequence,
Pascal says, is that "one needs no great sublimity of soul to realise
that in this life there is no true and solid satisfaction… that our
afflictions are infinite, and finally that death… must… infallibly face
us with the inescapable and appalling alternative of being annihilated
or wretched throughout eternity". This means that we would be foolish
not to reflect on whether there is an afterlife. "The immortality of
the soul is something of such vital importance to us…that one must have
lost all feeling not to care about knowing the facts of the matter".
Because it is our "chief interest" to seek the truth on this matter, we
must make "an absolute distinction between those who strive with all
their might to learn and those who live without troubling themselves or
thinking about it".
Here Pascal is still arguing on the basis, not of some revealed truth,
but of natural reason. He says that the negligence shown by the happy
unseeking atheists about their ultimate destiny "seems quite monstrous
to me. I do not say this prompted by the pious zeal of spiritual
devotion. I mean on the contrary that we ought to have this feeling
from principles of human interest and self-esteem. For that we need
only see what the least enlightened see" (n. 427).This means that the
choice between belief and unbelief is a matter, not primarily of the
head, but of the heart.
If one accepts Pascal’s basic premise –- the absolute certainty that we
will die some day – then there is no way we can refute his logic. And
that logic dictates that the proselytising of the new happy atheists is
not only intellectually flawed, but so downright irrational we may well
wonder who, 50 years from now, will enjoy the greatest readership:
Pascal or Hitchens? The answer seems obvious.
Richard Bastien is a Canadian freelance writer.
Atheists Versus Believers: The God Debate
By Father John Flynn, L.C.
ROME, JULY 22, 2007 (Zenit.org).- The attack against religion started
by Richard Dawkins in his book "The God Delusion" shows no sign of
letting up. In recent months a number of emulators have published books
that continue the polemic.
In "God: The Failed Hypothesis," Victor J. Stenger purports to provide
a sort of scientific proof that God does not exist. Stenger, a retired
professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Hawaii, alleges
that scientific reasoning has now progressed to the point where it can
offer "a definitive statement on the existence or nonexistence of a God
having the attributes that are traditionally associated with the
God, he contends, should be detectable by scientific means, because of
the role he is supposed to play in the universe and human life. An
examination which, he argues in the books' chapters, that God fails.
Another contribution is from English philosopher A.C. Grayling. In a
collection of brief essays titled "Against All Gods," he purports to
provide an alternative to religion, based on the Western philosophical
Grayling declares his objection to religion both in terms of a belief
system and its institutional role. Moreover, he accuses apologists for
faith as being "an evasive community, who seek to avoid or deflect
criticism by slipping behind the abstractions of higher theology."
In addition to his criticisms of faith, Grayling contends that religion
is now in its death throes, soon to be replaced by a far more benign
Further polemics against faith came in "God is not Great: How Religion
Poisons Everything" by Christopher Hitchens. The quality of the
arguments in the book, however, was found severely wanting by many
reviewers. For example, a review by Michael Skapinker, editor of the
weekend edition of the Financial Times, described the work using terms
such as "intellectual and moral shabbiness."
That hasn't stopped the book from being successful. According to a June
22 report by the Wall Street Journal, the book had sold almost 300,000
in its first seven weeks.
The atheist attacks have not gone unanswered. In recent months two slim
books by evangelical Christians were published in the United States in
reply to the 2006 essay by Sam Harris, "Letter to a Christian Nation."
The first is "Letter from a Christian Citizen," by Douglas Wilson, a
minister and senior fellow of theology at New St Andrews College,
Idaho. In the foreword Gary Demar echoes a common opinion among those
who have reviewed the current spate of anti-religious books. "The same
tired arguments that have been answered convincingly by any number of
Christian writers over the centuries have been trotted out in the vain
hope that atheism will find a new audience," he observed.
Wilson accuses Harris of selectively quoting texts from the Bible in an
effort to embarrass believers by highlighting outmoded cultural norms.
A more unbiased study of the Bible, particularly the New Testament
Wilson argues, shows the revolutionary nature of Christianity, which
subverted many of the unjust pagan cultural practices.
Wilson then notes that Harris reduces morality to a calculation
involving happiness and pain. If human conduct is to be regulated on
this basis it will easily be led into committing abuses against others.
Among other criticisms Wilson also accuses Harris of a superficial
interpretation of the problem that evil poses for a believer. According
to Harris the mere existence of a single evil act is enough to cast
doubt on the idea of a benevolent God.
The second reply to Harris is "Letter to a Christian Nation: Counter
Point," by R.C. Metcalf. Harris, he observes, makes a number of points
based on arguments related to Old Testament laws, slavery and human
sexuality in an attempt to discredit religion. Metcalf deals with each
of these issues, in general by showing how Christianity has been a
force for good in society.
Moreover, Metcalf argues, Christianity provides the most secure
foundation for morally upright behavior. By contrast an atheist has no
Another recent defense of religion came from Canadian Archbishop Thomas
Collins. Archbishop Collins received his pallium from Benedict XVI on
June 29 after being installed as Toronto's archbishop in January.
On May 31 he gave a speech to the Empire Club of Canada titled "The
Contribution of Religion to Society." The archbishop introduced his
talk by referring to the way in which religion enables us to perceive
the meaning of both the material world and of human life.
"We live in a web of relationships, and through faith see the pattern
of connections that show the purpose of our brief journey through this
world," he said.
This is particularly relevant in today's world "in which we can so
easily become lonely individuals, without purpose or direction,
disconnected, rootless, and going nowhere faster and faster," the
The main part of his speech was then given over to presenting four
contributions which religion makes to society.
1. Religion enhances local
communities in which human relationships can flourish.
The Catholic Church, he explained, places great stress on subsidiarity
which fortifies smaller communities. This helps people relate to one
another in a more humane relationship, based on reverence for the
personal dignity of each of the children of God.
The ultimate community, said Archbishop Collins, is the family, today
under great pressure. The Catholic Church celebrates marriage as the
stable covenant of a man and a woman faithful in love and open to the
gift of life, he explained.
2. Religious communities
make massive contributions to the common good of all society through
deeds of charity and social action.
Imagine what would happen, he asked his audience, if suddenly Toronto
were deprived of the social assistance offered daily to the most
vulnerable by the religious communities and organizations. Christians
undertake such works of charity motivated by the words of Jesus:
Whatever you do for the least of my brothers and sisters, you do for me.
3. Religious communities
bring to bear on current issues the wisdom of their heritage.
Religious people do disagree on important issues of doctrine, explained
Archbishop Collins, but they do share reverence for the human person,
made in the image and likeness of God, and have in common a tradition
of working together to address social issues.
There is a wisdom in religious tradition, he added, composed not only
of elements stemming from faith, but also made up of experience and the
use of reason.
"Whatever the irritation caused to those who profess a secularist faith
-- and secularism is itself a kind of faith -- it is of great value to
any healthy society that a strong religious voice speak out on all
issues of public concern," the archbishop affirmed.
He also referred to arguments against religion based on the misdeeds
committed in the name of faith. It would be more just, however, to base
our judgment on religion looking at those who strived to live fully the
reality of their faith. "Fairness dictates that religion be judged by
its saints, not by its sinners," the archbishop maintained.
4. Religious communities
endow society with beauty.
Beauty, truth, and goodness are both signs of God's presence and of
that which is greatest in humanity, Archbishop Collins explained.
Religious communities endow society with beauty through art, works of
music and literature.
In conclusion the archbishop asserted that what most matters in life
are not the things that can be weighed or measured on a material scale.
Unlike materialism, which he termed "the ultimate delusion," religion
enables us to perceive harmony, beauty, and above all, love. Arguments
to which the atheists have no convincing answers.
Age of Atheism or Religious Revival?
Interview With Father Thomas D. Williams
ROME, MARCH 27, 2007 (Zenit.org).- The notion of holiness can seem
boring to modern man, but in reality it is the greatest adventure of
human existence, says a theology dean.
Legionary Father Thomas D. Williams, dean of theology at Rome's Regina
Apostolorum university, makes that point in his new book, "Spiritual
Progress: Becoming the Christian You Want to Be."
He spoke with ZENIT about the state of religion and spirituality in
Q: Several books have come out in the recent past making the case for
atheism and the end of religion. At the same time people seem to be
returning to religious faith in greater numbers. Which is it, an age of
atheism or a new religious revival?
Father Williams: What seems most clear is the heightened interest in
all things spiritual, whether that means theories proposing to debunk
religion, "lite" spirituality, or a more serious exploration of the
The category of spiritual and religious books is the fastest growing
sector of publishing. People seem tired of chasing after a purely
material success and are exploring life's bigger questions. What does
it all mean? Why am I here? Where am I going?
Q: Do books such as Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion," Sam Harris'
"Letter to a Christian Nation," or Daniel Dennett's "Breaking the
Spell" pose a serious threat to Christianity?
Father Williams: They may not pose a serious threat to Christianity as
such -- the Church has faced far more stalwart adversaries -- but they
do cause confusion and unrest for many Christians, especially the
In reality, the atheistic theories these authors propose are centuries
old and resurface anew in every generation. They may appear novel to
those who encounter them for the first time, but they could have been
lifted straight out of texts from Voltaire, or Auguste Comte or any
number of other Enlightenment authors.
The new threat posed by books such as Dawkins' is that they come with a
veneer of "scientific" plausibility, which adds cachet -- if not
substance -- to his arguments.
Q: Is "The God Delusion" an honest inquiry into the nature of religion?
Father Williams: Of course not. That would be like calling "The Da
Vinci Code" an honest inquiry into the history of Christianity.
Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist. We expect scientists to be
objective, impartial and intellectually serious. Unfortunately, with
authors like Dawkins this isn't the case. He studiously avoids all
evidence that would contradict his theories, and his stated intention
is to win over his readers to the atheist crusade. In this book, he is
a proselytizer, not a scientist.
Q: You also work as an analyst and commentator for NBC News. What is
your perception of the attention that religious faith is given in the
Father Williams: To a certain extent the mainline media have picked up
on people's interest in religion and offer occasional stories that
touch on Christianity and the Church.
The fact that NBC/MSNBC brought me aboard and Fox News regularly
features my colleague Father Jonathan Morris testifies to a growing
awareness of the importance of religion and spirituality to the public
The success enjoyed by EWTN, which enthusiastically offers Catholic
doctrine and spirituality, is further proof of people's hunger and
thirst for real spiritual food.
Q: In the later years of his life Pope John Paul II repeatedly asserted
that the third millennium would usher in a new "springtime of faith."
Was this just an expression of his natural optimism, or can we see real
signs of such a springtime?
Father Williams: The Holy Father's words reflected a serious analysis
of the state of society in the wake of the tragedies of the 20th
Remember that the first sign of spring is the end of winter. Before we
see pink rose buds and hear twittering songbirds, we will see white
snow turn to ugly brown slush. When winter loses its stranglehold on
nature, that is the true beginning of spring.
We see a parallel to this in human society. This past century saw the
rise and fall of Marxist Communism, Nazism and Fascism, as well as more
subtle versions of ideological materialism promising an earthly
paradise. For a while many put their hopes in these ideologies. One by
one, however, the great secular ideologies have fallen into disrepute,
after causing untold human suffering. As these social experiments have
failed, people have realized that they must look elsewhere for meaning
and the solution of the world's problems.
Q: Does this mean we can expect a spiritual summer to follow?
Father Williams: That depends on whether we take advantage of the
opportunities of the moment. Remember that springtime is a time not of
fulfillment, but of hope and promise. Above all, it is a time of work.
Softer soil is equally open to weeds or good seed. Something will grow,
but there is no guarantee that it will be flowers and good plants.
Spring offers a window of opportunity, a particularly apt moment to sow
new seed when the ground is softening up and ready to receive it. If we
use the opportunity well, all of humankind will reap the benefits.
Q: Your own book "Spiritual Progress" tries to take advantage of this
moment. What do you propose?
Father Williams: This book is a guide for those who wish to advance in
the spiritual life. Many are realizing that being Christian in name
only simply isn't enough. The Christian life is essentially dynamic and
should grow constantly.
Even if we have earnestly cultivated our prayer life and our life of
virtue, Christ always invites us to grow more, and holds out new
challenges to us. This book helps Christians to understand more clearly
where they should be headed in their spiritual lives and how to get
Q: In a nutshell, what is the aim of the spiritual life?
Father Williams: The aim of the spiritual life is holiness and union
with God. Unfortunately the idea of holiness sounds very foreign -- and
not very attractive -- to modern ears. I begin the book unraveling
typical misconceptions about holiness, explaining what it is not,
before setting out what it is.
Holiness can seem boring, unreachable, even fanatical. In reality, it
is the greatest adventure of human existence. We often think we know
all about the Christian spiritual life, but we see it only as a
caricature. It is actually much richer, fuller and more exciting than
what we imagine.
Holiness is found not in seeking to perfect ourselves -- picking away
at faults and storing up spiritual credit. It is about forgetting
ourselves, discovering how intensely and passionately God loves us, and
in loving God and neighbor as a response.
Q: Where does God's will fit in?
Father Williams: Here, too, we need to sweep away some common
misconceptions. God's will is not simply a blueprint he has made for
our lives, like a well-meaning but overbearing father who desperately
wants his daughter to be a lawyer.
God's will is simply another name for God's love for us. Because he
loves us, he wants only good things -- the best things -- for us. He
asks certain things from us not because he needs them, but because we
need them. He points out the road to true happiness, and allows us to
share in his own life and work.
Q: What does this require from Christians?
Father Williams: Above all, it requires courage and trust. We need
courage to embark on a life of faith, without knowing where it will
lead. We need courage to accept the challenges that our Christian faith
holds out to us. We need courage to leave behind our old securities and
treasures, and to put our confidence in God and his promises.
And we need trust. This is perhaps the greatest challenge for modern
Christians. We often feel betrayed by those closest to us, and would
prefer to rely on our own ingenuity and creativity.
But God wants our trust. He wants us to believe in him, and to know
that he will never let us down. Only the one who trusts finds the
strength to accept the beautiful demands of the Christian life. When we
finally realize that God really is Love, we learn to trust in him
unconditionally and to follow him wherever he leads.
Levada: Neoliberalism is not compatible with Catholic social teaching
TRUTH, FUNDAMENTALISM, AND GLOBALIZATION
14 februari 2007 (MO) - Some call him the Catholic Secretary of
Ideology, others the numero due of the Roman Catholic Church. Cardinal
William Joseph Levada is Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine
of the Faith. That makes him a Very Important Bishop, at least.
Cardinal Levada took out time for an in-depth interview with MO*, one
of the first such interviews since he took office in May 2005. He spoke
about religious fundamentalism and the social impact of belief,
relations with Islam, and the excesses of globalization.
The Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is no
small fish in the global institution of the Roman Catholic Church.
Cardinal Levada's predecessor, the current Pope Benedict XVI, headed
the Congregation for 24 years, which gave him a platform to influence
the public and intra-ecclesiastical positions of the Vatican long
before he was elected Pope.
MO* encountered Cardinal Levada in his offices at the Vatican, under
the shadow of Saint Peter's Basilica, with church bells as an
appropriate backdrop. Cardinal Levada is not the kind of person you
would expect to pat you on the back or to share a pitcher of beer with,
though his formal distance does not stand in the way of a genuine
friendliness. He is very accurate and articulate, and does not shy away
from taking clear positions.
Before his appointment, Cardinal Levada served as Archbishop of San
Francisco. His American background often comes through when he explains
his explicitly conservative views on Church and society. MO*
refrained from focusing on typical church issues such as same-sex
marriage, clergy sexual abuse, and abortion. Instead, we focused on
global issues including the relationship between Christians and
Muslims, and between Europe and its Muslim neighbors.
Right to religious freedom
The Catholic Church shares quite a few values and even elements of
faith with Islam. That should make Rome an important player in the
indispensable dialogue between the West and Islam, says Cardinal
Levada. "That dialogue is a crucial effort at this moment of history,
not just for the religions but also for the future of humanity. We both
share a common resistance to the violence that is perpetrated in the
name of religion. Even though the Old Testament contains many passages
in which God uses violence against the enemies of His people, we know
that God is not a God of violence".
The rejection of a religiously motivated violence, in Levada's view, is
in the first place a call to respect each person's freedom. "In the
Catholic Church we needed centuries of religious and doctrinal
development to arrive at the insight that each person has a right to
religious liberty", says Cardinal Levada.
Would not the defense of religious pluralism gain in strength and
credibility if the Church itself would present it with a bit more
humility, for example by recognizing its own mistakes in the past? "I
am not anymore responsible for the crusades than atheists are
responsible for what Hitler or Stalin did", the cardinal responds.
"The Church's clear position on religious freedom is the result of many
painful experiences: the crusades, the religious wars in Europe, the
martyrs under the Protestant kings of England, and the Catholic
prelates in Spain and France", he adds. "And, as a matter of fact, Pope
John Paul II did recognize those mistakes in the past. But it becomes a
bit strange when the Church, time and again is denied credibility to
speak up against violence by refering to the crusades".
Rome, Ankara: one front?
The call for tolerance and against violence was the central point of
the Pope's lecture in September in Regensburg, though that point was
drowned out by the controversy caused by a quotation of the Byzantine
emperor Paleologus. For a moment, the two largest world religions
seemed headed on a collision course instead of playing their mutual
roles as religions of peace and humanism.
The Pope cleared away whatever trouble was caused when he emerged from
the plane in Ankara in December. He gave Prime Minister Erdogan his
support for Turkish EU-membership. That was a surprising gesture for a
man that, when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, said that Turkey's future
should be found in the Muslim world, rather than in the European Union.
Cardinal Levada: "The supportive words of the Pope to Prime Minister
Erdogan do not represent an official position of the Vatican, let alone
should they be understood as infallible. They do form, however, a very
good way to put an important issue on the European agenda: Do we want
to create a Europe that excludes every religious expression from the
public domain or will the influx of Muslim communities force us to find
another solution anyway? Maybe Europe should rather open up more space
for religion on its public square".
The place religious conviction has in the public arena and in political
discussions is an issue that gets the Cardinal sit up and speak out. "I
discern the emergence of a 'fundamentalism of religious exclusion'.
That is a position that under no circumstance accepts the holy
conviction of a believer, unless he is willing to present himself as a
searcher among searchers, and his convictions as a possibility among
possibilities. Once you say that you've searched and you've found the
answer, you're excluded. Conservative believers in the US describe this
tendency as the aspiration for a naked public square: a public square
stripped from every religious reference and from every religious
participation". Cardinal Levada rejects that approach and reckons
that his Catholic Church and the Islamic communities in Europe can
agree on this point.
The literal text
Millions of people believe that the Bible, the Qoran, or the Torah are
the literal Word of God. They organize their lives so that they follow
as closely as possible the literal reading of their respective
scripture. Professor Psychology of Religion Dirk Hutsebaut from the
Catholic University of Leuven (Louvain) recently stressed that this
kind of black-or-white belief increases the chances of an extremist
rejection of the Other and of violent activism.
He formulated his findings at the occasion of the presentation of the
book, Faith-based Radicalism. Every faith and every conviction
functions as a foundation for a social identity by creating "in-groups"
and "out-groups". The difference, says Professor Hutsebaut, is that
believers who do not engage in a personal interpretation of their
sources of faith fail much more to be in solidarity with those who are
not considered part of their "in-group".
To be complete, Professor Hutsebaut added that the very same
psychological tendencies can be found with unbelievers. In that
category as well he found that the "closed" unbeliever, the one who
considers anything not proven scientifically as non-existent, has a
strong tendency to think of his own group as possessing the only real
A good number of Christians would fall under the category "closed
believers" and would only accept the literal text of the Bible as the
guiding principle of their lives and, if possible, of the way society
is organized. Asked if he would consider this fundamentalism
problematic, Cardinal Levada responded:
"From the point of view of society, not necessarily. Take for instance
the Amish, a Christian sect largely living in Pennsylvania. They
continue living like their forefathers of the 17th century did, they
reject modern farming equipment and mostly all electricity and powered
machinery. But that does not seem to be a problem for them. Their
agriculture often is more successful than that of their neighbors, and
they get along quite well with the rest of society.
Their fundamentalist beliefs would turn problematic if they would start
to believe that God calls them to use violence against all those who do
not share their convictions. The crucial thing is that free choice is
guaranteed. Even though that freedom is conditional too, of
course. As soon as parents reject, from their literalist beliefs, blood
transfusions and thereby endanger the lives of their children, we are
in problematic territory.
It is like the conviction of the Mormons who hold polygamy acceptable.
Society at large in the United States thinks that is unacceptable
because it is detrimental to the women and the children and thus for
society. So the law interferes and forbids this belief to be put in
practice. A society has to formulate limits, whatever the religious
convictions of individual believers or churches".
Someone has to decide
Cardinal Levada does not like fundamentalism as a way of life. At the
same time he heads the administration responsible for formulating and
guarding the doctrine of a billion Catholic believers. In what sense
does his mission differ from the ambitions of movements who preach an
undisputable truth and try all they can to subject others to that
truth? The prelate's answer is a lengthy dissertation on the relation
between faith and reason, concluded by the statement that accepting the
dogmas of the Church is not the same as abdicating one's freedom of
thought or capacity to reason.
"After all", he said, "human reason and intelligence are, after divine
grace, the ultimate gifts, the capacities that differentiate us from
the rest of creation. But reason is balanced by devotion, the
acceptance of an authority beyond yourself, of God. That is not the
same as a rejection of human reason or an autonomous judgment, but an
exercise in challenging our own thinking by confronting it to calls
that supercede or, on first view, even contradict this thinking".
The role of the Church in that dialogue between an individual and his
or her God, says the Cardinal, is not to be the first interlocutor, but
the role is indispensable. "We believe that the apostles and their
successors received the mission to interpret revelation in new
circumstances and in the light of new challenges. That creates a living
tradition that is much larger than the simple and strict passing of
existing answers, insights and convictions from one generation to
But at the end of the day there has to be an instance that can decide
whether a specific lifestyle is coherent with the principles and values
of our faith, that can judge whether our actions are in accordance with
the commandment to love your neighbor. The mission of the Church is not
to prohibit people from thinking, investigate different hypotheses, or
collect knowledge. Its mission is to give those processes orientation".
The knowledge of good and evil
"My problem with the Church is that she has all the answers, while I
prefer to leave the mystery intact", said a recently deceased Dutch
singer. Robert Long, as he called himself, clearly was not waiting for
bishops and priests to be his arbiter. Cardinal Levada is not
impressed. He responds: "The mystery of God goes way beyond anything we
know or ever can know".
And that is quite a lot these days, he adds, since "human knowledge and
the challenges that come with it grow exponentially. The development of
the nuclear bomb, for instance, was an incredible achievement of the
human spirit, scientific progress without precedent -but now I am using
'progress' in all its ambivalence, of course. But was it good to
develop the nuclear bomb? A similar question should now be asked
concerning cloning. We can do it, but does that necessarily mean we
want to apply the technique on humans too?
The ethical question whether something is good, continues to be more
important than the scientific question whether something is possible.
God revealed to us what love is and with that knowledge we must answer
the question whether the nuclear bomb is in accordance with the
commandment to love your neighbor. Is cloning an expression of love?
These are the kind of questions you cannot solve by preserving God as
an unknown mystery. You need to discover the truth".
Make no mistake. The Vatican has the solution to a lot of the questions
evoked. The Church condemns cloning. The Church condemns stem cell
research. But has the Church magisterium ever condemned the atomic bomb
in equally clear terms? "No", the Cardinal admits, "but the magisterium
is usually far behind on the evolution of moral challenges. Usually the
magisterium will not take a position on issues that evoke opposed
opinions that each claims to stand on solid faith arguments".
Pope John-Paul II did not wait for centuries to speak very critically
about economic globalization. Cardinal Levada stresses that "every Pope
since Leo XIII has contributed to a beautiful collection of social
doctrines that can stand up to any other, including those in the
political arena". Catholic social teaching should get much more
attention, he says, "but we are up against a consumer society that
keeps everybody busy the whole time with consumption, sports, work, or
vacation. The effect is that people hardly find the time to stop and
reflect on the social dimensions of their faith. If we would give more
attention to social issues during our liturgies, more people might show
up because they would feel that these celebrations would concern their
lives, would offer them something more".
These socially involved words have a slightly hollow ring to them in
the offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that did
whatever it could during the seventies and eighties to stop liberation
theology from its ascendancy, even though this movement placed social
involvement squarely at the center of religious life. Liberation
theology did not quite endear CDF predecessor Cardinal Ratzinger to the
Catholic left, to put it mildly.
The current Prefect nuances the situation: 'The documents on liberation
theology that were published by Cardinal Ratzinger defend the social
teachings of the Church in their right application. They do warn
however against a theology that makes common cause with communist or
socialist ideologies, because that is in contradiction with the
liberation as it was revealed in Jesus Christ and of which the gospels
give testimony. The condemnation of liberation theology, in other
words, was not a condemnation of a socially oriented Christendom".
... nor neoliberalism
If the Church could speak out so clearly against the combination of
Christianity and Marxism, would there not be a need today for an
equally clear pronouncement that Christianity is not compatible with
the praxis and the values of neoliberalism? Cardinal Levada
answered unequivocally: "That would certainly be in accordance with the
teachings as formulated from Leo XIII onwards".
He continued: "In the United States, neoliberalism was fiercely
debated on the occasion of the signing of NAFTA. The unions opposed
that free trade treaty because they feared the consequences of a
globalized competition for the workers and the circumstances and
conditions in which they work. My sympathy in that debate is clearly
with the unions. We cannot just leave the issue of a global economy to
a few people with economic degrees. Economics is far too soft a science
for that. Economists come along with new theories every so often,
without a guarantee for the people that they will serve them better.
That is why Catholic teaching says that we cannot blindly jump into
this neoliberal approach of the globalizing economy.
You just cannot say that in the end everything will be all right, when
your theory in its contemporary practice costs the lives of millions of
human beings. That is not what we understand to be a successful economy
and it does not stand the test of gospel values. Our mission is: love
your neighbor. But how do you do that when almost every African country
is suffering from the most acute poverty? How do we practise charity in
Darfur, where hundreds of thousands are dying? Those are the challenges
that really matter in the world today".
The God Delusion, by Richard
Phillip Elias (Friday 26 January 2007)
Richard Dawkins spent a lot of last year
thinking about God. In January he hosted a TV program about God and
religion: The Root of All Evil? God was a constant theme on
his new official website. He wrestled with God on radio,
talked about God for TIME
magazine; he even read
a book about God out loud in public.
The book of course, was his own
God Delusion. Dawkins describes
it as “probably the culmination” of his war against religion. Although
a hefty 416 pages, it is an easy read, one might say a light read.
There is little in it that Dawkins has not said before. His style is
unfettered and his structure is concise.
He begins by
exonerating scientists such as Einstein from any suspicion of religious
belief and he decries the privileged place of religion in society. The
author proceeds to argue against agnosticism on the basis that "the God
hypothesis" is a scientific one, therefore empirically verifiable. Two
chapters are devoted to debunking the arguments for the existence of
God. The first deals with the first four ways of Aquinas -- the
ontological argument, and various psychological arguments. The second
specifically addresses the argument from design.
turns his attention to religion in general. He muses over possible
reasons for the ubiquity of religion in human societies. He attempts to
account for our moral sense using the Darwinian concept of natural
selection. The next three chapters have Dawkins on the offensive:
religious precepts are immoral; religious belief has caused most of the
world’s problems; and the education of children in a particular faith
is a form of mental abuse. The final chapter provides Dawkins’ vision
of how science can provide the inspirational role that has been usurped
As a serious work, this book has
merit. There are few direct references to texts of theology or
philosophy (or science, for that matter). The more rich and recognised
arguments for God’s existence receive the least amount of attention --
Aquinas is dealt with in a mere three pages. The conversational style
is perspicuous at the price of superficiality; Dawkins sustains plenty
of metaphors but few arguments. He prefers to take pot shots. People
don’t really believe in God because they feel sad when they are dying.
The God of the Old Testatment is “jealous…petty, unjust, unforgiving
control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser...” (He goes
on like this for some lines). Most of the book is taken up with
personal anecdotes, facetious jokes about Christian fundamentalists,
Islamic terrorists and popular Catholic piety, and horror stories about
religious bigotry and zeal.
Popularity and persuasion
Dawkins almost certainly did not intend to write a scholarly book.
After all, he holds the Charles Simonyi Chair for the Public
Understanding of Science, and "public understanding" for Dawkins means
just two things: popularity and persuasion.
Delusion has certainly
been popular. It reached second on the Amazon.com bestsellers
list and currently sits at ninth in the New York Times
Hardcover Nonfiction section. Still, the work must be seen in a wider
context. It is a thoroughly modern book. It was pre-empted by the
television series The Root of All Evil? It was hyped up
online by various bloggers and by Dawkins’ official website. It stormed
onto the bookshelves "full of sound and fury"; I half expected
promotional caps and bumper stickers.
Dawkins’ personality and position
ensured that Delusion
would be popular. Is it persuasive? Firstly let’s make it clear that
the type of persuasion Dawkins sought was a psychological persuasion.
The author makes explicit that he wishes to raise public consciousness
on four points: the power of natural selection as an explanatory tool;
religious education as child abuse; the possibility of being happy,
balanced, moral, and intellectually fulfilled as an atheist; and
"atheistic pride" as a counter to the persecution of atheists. Dawkins
wants people "trapped in religion" to be able to "come out" and declare
In this sense, the book can be viewed as a kind of self-help guide for
atheists. The subtitle could be: How I Found Atheism and How You
There is an appendix of support agencies for those "needing support in
escaping religion". It only lacked personals (40-year-old atheist male,
seeks soul mate…) Although Dawkins finds the idea of
a personality cult “highly undesirable", as he told the Sunday
his book is littered with personal anecdotes and triumphant, jovial
asides paying tribute to the collective wit of Dawkins and his
likeminded colleagues. We are supposed to feel privileged to get this
glimpse into the subtle minds of the evolutionary elite. But is this
Natural selection misapplied
selection is an extremely powerful idea and Richard Dawkins is
uncommonly adept at expressing it. Nevertheless he falls into a
hopeless redundancy when applying it philosophically. Take, for
example, his approach to morality. He contends that we have moral codes
because they were of some selective advantage in the past. How do we
know moral codes conferred selective advantage? Because we have them.
This can be expressed syllogistically:
1) Morals exist because they are the ones that
survive and are successful
2) The morals that survive and are successful
are the ones that exist
3) Therefore, morals exist because they are the
ones that exist.
So we are left with the morals
that we had to have: a redundant and deterministic conclusion.
(Interestingly, Dawkins is “just not
in the question of free will.) The same inadequate conclusion goes for
his application of natural selection to all metaphysical phenomena:
God, causality, truth, and existence itself. Natural selection itself
cannot explain the "why" of anything.
consciousness-raiser -- “there is no such thing as a Christian child”
-- is simply a manifestation of his anti-religious prejudice. He
wonders why a child with a religious label is not as outrageous as a
"Marxist child" or even an "atheist child". Is he equally incensed that
there could be an "English child", or an "Indian child"? What about a
"Jewish child"? Or an "Aboriginal child"? In essence, Dawkins is
masking his real agenda -- to tear religion away from
-- with an emotion-charged accusation of child abuse. (He touchingly
entitles one sub-chapter "In Defence of Children".)
Dawkins' book achieve its main aim? Will it foster "atheistic pride"
and will it help intelligent believers to "come out"? Part of the
answer remains to be seen. Another small part is clear: people who
agree with Dawkins will like this book, they will probably find it
funny, and they may even develop some pride. More likely they will
Ivory tower syndrome
very few people are prepared to go the whole way with Dawkins. While he
might see this as the lonely fate of the intellectual pioneer, it could
simply be ivory tower syndrome. The Economist was one of the
few sources of unqualified support
-- that is no surprise. But Dawkins’ closest ally, Daniel Dennett, sees
some use in religion, and is not
convinced that it should be “hastened to extinction.” Physicist
Lawrence Krauss, writing in Nature, wishes
that author would just “play to his strengths” and avoid sermonising.
Marxist Terry Eagleton describes Dawkins as “appallingly
bitchy…theologically illiterate” and argues that he
doesn’t even speak for all atheists. In fact he only really represents
the “English middle-class liberal rationalist”.
Richard Kirk gives the most
describing the book as “an exercise in contempt…an ill-edited and
garrulous diatribe.” The constant criticism is that Dawkins doesn’t
know his enemy -- he sets a straw man in its place. But this isn’t the
end of it. Dawkins sets up a straw man, and levels his lance at the hay
bales in the next paddock. He then curses the stable hand for putting
them there and abuses the livestock for causing the whole ruckus. This
quixotic behaviour is exemplified in his central argument. Dawkins
believes that the so-called God Hypothesis -- that “there exists a
superhuman, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and
created the universe and everything in it, including us” -- is
scientifically testable. Science, in the modern sense, is the study of
the natural or physical. So how can it test a hypothesis that is, by
his own definition, supernatural and metaphysical?
reality, Dawkins does not believe God is scientifically testable. But
he will not admit of any epistemology outside of science. His argument
can be summarised as follows: non-material reality does not exist,
therefore God does not exist. It is no wonder he is “not interested” in
free will, or in the reason for the existence of matter itself. He
sheds no light on any real philosophical question whatsoever. He is an
old-fashioned positivist, prejudiced against metaphysics, whose quarrel
really should be with structuralism and deconstruction, since it is
these which take his positivism to its logical -- and, even for
Dawkins, unwelcome -- conclusion. Of course, he doesn’t bother; he
merely brushes these off in passing as “haute francophonyism."
Dawkins believes most people are
but some people may begin to wonder whether Dawkins himself is all
there. His claims of marginalisation and persecution sound suspiciously
like paranoia, his nauseating verbiage borders on the obsessive, and
he has a profound lack of insight with regard to his
philosophical competence or lack thereof. He
may lose more friends than he gains by writing this book. He may find
himself soon sailing solo -- bound who knows where? -- with
precious cargo of delusions. At least he’ll still be able to laugh at
his own jokes.
Phillip Elias is studying medicine at the University of New South
Wales in Sydney.
Europe Without Christ?
Interview with Director of the Center on New Religions
TURIN, Italy, AUG. 18, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Europe is afraid of Christ,
says Massimo Introvigne.
The director of the Center of Studies on New Religions (CESNUR)
recently published "ll Dramma dell'Europa Senza Cristo. Il Relativismo
Europeo nello Scontro delle Civiltà" (The Drama of Europe
Without Christ. European Relativism in the Clash of Civilizations),
published in Italian by Sugarco.
In this interview with ZENIT, Introvigne, author of some 30 books on
religious minorities, reflects further on this "fear of Christ."
* * *
Q: The drama of Europe is a somewhat pessimistic title. Is it that bad?
Introvigne: I don't think it's too strong a title. Pope John Paul II
and Benedict XVI have used even more dramatic expressions.
John Paul II used the _expression "Europe's demographic suicide" and my
book begins precisely with this theme: In Europe the number of children
per couple (if immigrant couples are excluded, including immigrants who
have obtained citizenship, which in some countries, such as France,
alter the statistics) is under the level of natural replacement of the
population and is typical of civilizations that are dying.
The fact that children are not born is not only an economic but a moral
and religious problem, and it is the sign of a terrible crisis of hope.
Without hope, a civilization dies.
The moral crisis is also confirmed with the practice and legislation on
subjects such as marriage and adoption by homosexual couples,
euthanasia in Holland and experimentation with embryos.
Finally, there is a crisis of European institutions which do not
succeed in agreeing on almost anything or in speaking with a common
voice. When they do so, it is not on very important topics or, worse
still, when they try to impose on reluctant countries a relativist view
of morality on topics such as abortion, bioethics and homosexual unions.
Q: You say that fear of Christ harms Europe. But there are many
Europeans who cannot be afraid because they don't even know Christ. Is
ignorance worse than fear or disdain?
Introvigne: In fact, all Europeans know Christ. It is enough to consult
national literature or to leave one's home to see signs of Christianity
everywhere -- chapels, monuments, and churches.
What some call Christophobia is a conscious rejection of this Christian
heritage, a fear especially of moral obligations entailed in embracing
Christianity. It's true, phenomena like the success of "The Da Vinci
Code" show that there is also much religious ignorance. But that
doesn't mean that Jesus Christ isn't known.
It is known who he is, but the truths of faith are not known --
including of lay, historical academic research -- which refer to him,
because contact has been lost with religious institutions and also
because a relativist climate has been established in which any Dan
Brown is considered to have as much authority as a bishop or even a
university professor, perhaps a non-believer, but who knows the
historical sources and would never endorse the absurdities of "The Da
Q: What is the "religious capital" to which you refer in your book?
Introvigne: According to a school of sociology born in the United
States, that of religious economy, each one of us has a "religious
capital" which is made up of beliefs acquired in our youth of which,
even after a rejection or estrangement something remains from which one
cannot be easily separated.
For this reason, when a non-practicing European returns to religion --
something that today and for the past ten years has been happening ever
more frequently -- he can easily return to Christianity, or perhaps to
ways that are very distant from orthodoxy but which retain symbols and
reminiscences of Christianity, such as Jehovah's Witnesses, instead of
converting to Islam or Buddhism.
The theory of religious economy holds that this happens because there
is a tendency to conserve one's religious capital.
Those in Europe who return to the Catholic religion from the status of
being non-practicing or agnostic, either become Pentecostals, or even
Jehovah's Witnesses, retain in the three examples I have just given a
part of that "religious capital" that comes to them from their youthful
religious education. Those, instead, who become Buddhists or Muslims
must give up -- almost -- all their religious capital and build a new
one -- almost -- from scratch.
For this reason, though conversion to Islam or even to Buddhism are
more newsworthy in newspapers, the majority of Europeans -- in
particular since Sept. 11, which led many to question their identity --
who are interested in religion again, return more easily and in a more
striking way -- from the point of view of statistics -- to Christian
ways or at least retain Christian elements and symbols.
Prayers of a civilised
What I Believe
Anthony Kenny Continuum Books,
£14.99 Tablet bookshop price £13.50.
Sir Anthony Kenny is a favoured son of the Establishment, formerly
master of a great Oxford college, President of the British Academy,
laden with distinctions and honorary degrees. But he was born outside
the circle of privilege, the pre-war child of a broken marriage, raised
by his Liverpool Catholic mother. In 1949 he was sent to the English
College in Rome to study for the priesthood: after ordination in 1955
he went to Oxford to do a DPhil. In 1963, convinced that the religious
claims of Christianity could not be rationally sustained, he left the
priesthood and launched on what was to prove an enormously
distinguished career as a philosopher.
Kenny was trained in scholastic philosophy before the Second Vatican
Council, and though he now rejects religious faith and proclaims
himself an agnostic, he would still, I think, count himself an
Aristotelian, even a Thomist. As he makes clear in these fascinating
essays on his central convictions, he has, like his teacher Bernard
Lonergan, spent a lifetime “reaching up to the mind of St Thomas”.
Influences on his efforts to combine appreciation of the genius of
Thomas with the techniques of modern philosophy included Herbert McCabe
and Peter Geach, but above all Geach’s wife, the late Elizabeth
Anscombe, who helped Kenny to a fuller understanding of the greatness
of Wittgenstein. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, for someone with this
intellectual pedigree, many of his deepest convictions on truth, morals
and the proper ordering of society will resonate with Catholics: if not
quite an anonymous Christian, Kenny reads at times like an honorary
This affinity is evident in his distaste for some fashionable
intellectual trends. He has a low opinion of the work of Foucault,
Derrida and Lacan, in which “argumentation is replaced with devices
such as puns, jokes, sneers and incantations”. He detests even more the
brashness of modern atheism, which, he considers, “makes a much
stronger claim than theism does, because the atheist says ‘no matter
what definition you choose, “God exists” is always false’, whereas the
theist more modestly claims that there is some definition which will
make ‘God exists’ true”. Kenny believes, in fact, that neither claim
can be substantiated, and the true “default position” is and ought to
be agnosticism. Hence he offers one chapter headed “Why I am not an
atheist”, and two headed “why I am not a theist”. He rejects as invalid
all the traditional proofs of God’s existence, and finds the idea of
eternal life, which he understands as life going on and on, decidedly
unappealing. But he has little time for the cocksure claims of
neo-Darwinian atheists who imagine science can “explain the entire
cosmos”, but who fail to address three genuine puzzles: the origin of
language, the origin of life and the origin of the universe. God may
not be the compelling answer to the question “Why does anything
exist?”, but if the universe ever began (as proponents of the Big Bang
theory claim that it did), then “it seems perverse simply to shrug
one’s shoulders and decline to seek any explanation”.
The extent and limits of Kenny’s affinities with current Catholic
thinking emerge especially clearly in the field of morality. He rejects
the utilitarian and consequentialist assumptions that underlie much
contemporary ethical thinking. Murder and adultery are always wrong,
whatever their consequences, actual or intended. Like Aquinas, he
favours a morality based on the practice of the virtues as a means to
human flourishing. Hence, although he argues that sexual ethics should
be constructed round love, not procreation, he nevertheless considers
that a rational sexual ethic cannot altogether ignore the biological
functions of sex. He reminds us that moralists have always drawn
parallels between the ethics of sex and the ethics of food and drink,
and that nowadays “the moral evaluation of eating behaviour is more
closely linked to its biological efficiency than ever in the past”. By
contrast, sexuality is generally considered a matter of purely private
choice, and “the moral disapproval that once attached to sexual
activity that did not contribute to the propagation of the race seems
to have evaporated”. It is almost “as if temperance was a corset which
must be tightened at one point if it is to be let out at another”.
Because of the link between sex and procreation, Kenny believes
exclusive homosexual orientation to be a “double disability”,
preventing homosexuals from combining sexual pleasure with procreative
function, and depriving them of the possibility of combining intimate
sexual union with the diversity of experience of the two sexes. Hence,
though he is in favour of giving equal esteem and financial benefits to
same-sex relationships, he is opposed to gay “marriage”, homosexual
proselytising, and the creation of a homosexual culture.
In an extended discussion of the ethics of abortion Kenny makes clear
that he does not accept the Church’s current view that the foetus must
be accorded the full rights of a human person from the first moment of
conception. This is not, he thinks, a traditional Christian position.
Aquinas, for example, put “ensoulment” at about 40 days after
conception, and dated the personhood of the foetus from that point. In
the light of current scientific knowledge, Kenny places the key moment
of individuation earlier, at about 14 days, up to which point the
embryo is capable of dividing and developing as two or more human
individuals. This would make possible the use or rejection of
pre-individuation embryos for a sufficient cause, such as in vitro
treatment for a childless couple, but he emphasises that setting the
moment of individuation at 14 days cuts two ways. If the embryo up to
that time, though worthy of respect and protection, is not an
individual human being, equally after that time we must acknowledge
that it is, and hence “late abortion is indeed homicide”.
This is all very civilised, and Catholics will welcome even the partial
support of so respected a thinker for positions which in our culture
are always contentious and often dismissed out of hand. Similarly,
Kenny rejects the legitimacy of suicide and “assisted dying”, in part
because in his experience the “grief and misery” that follow such
suicides always hugely outweigh whatever benefits it was imagined they
would bring. In a rather startling aside he expresses the hope that he
will never be tempted to suicide “and pray that if I do I will be given
the strength to resist it”.
It is good to know that Kenny still sometimes prays, and it would be
impertinent to scrutinise that impulse too closely. Yet so rational a
man must surely ask himself what sort of a being must that God be who
can even be imagined as hearing the prayers of humanity at the end of
its tether, and who might respond with strength against temptation. For
prayer to have any meaning, the pray-er must surely, if only
momentarily, abandon the enigmatic blank of agnosticism, and reach out
towards the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jesus. And such a God, holy
and ardent for love as the great monotheisms have conceived him, can
hardly be satisfied with the civilised indifference to his being which
Sir Anthony thinks the “default position” for rational humanity.
Elsewhere in his book Kenny questions the force of Pascal’s famous
“wager” as an adequate justification of the rationality of religious
commitment. But the man who says a prayer has laid a bet.
Religion flourishes but atheism
By Carolyn Moynihan
Sunday, 22 January 2006
Why does atheism get such a good press and religion such a bad one
when, as a global survey shows, religious people outnumber atheists
eleven to one?
It will be forty years in April since Time magazine in a dramatic red
on black cover put a question that certain western intellectuals had
long since answered in the affirmative: Is God Dead? The idea that God
had ceased to be a reality for modern people had been simmering away in
Europe for at least a century and, after Time's airing of the subject,
the movers and shakers in Western society proceeded as if it could now
be taken for granted.
How surprising it is, then, that in Western Europe –– where
death-of-God talk originated –– 60 per cent of people on average still
say they are religious. How astonishing that 65 per cent in eastern and
central Europe –– so much of which was subject to communist repression
for decades –– also consider themselves religious, and that in Poland,
Romania, Macedonia and Kosovo no less than 85 per cent are believers.
This evidence that religious feeling and even fervour lives on despite
the most determined efforts to kill it comes from a Gallup
International survey of more than 50,000 people in over 65 countries
last year. Published on November 16 to mark the International Day of
Tolerance, it was overlooked by most media ––editors' minds no doubt
concentrated on the impending decision of an American federal judge as
to whether the concept of intelligent design was a way of smuggling God
into science classes, and therefore a sin against the separation of
church and state.
As every enlightened citizen of the twenty-first century knows,
religion is a private affair. Religious rituals may be tolerated in
public –– for example, when disaster strikes or when royals are married
or buried –– but religion can have no influence on law or public
policy. In any really important matter, whether it is the value of a
human embryo or the meaning of marriage, we must behave in public as
though we were all atheists.
Atheists only 6 per cent
Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Gallup's Voice of the
People survey shows that a mere 6 per cent of people in the world are
convinced atheists, while 25 per describe themselves as "not a
religious person" and 3 per cent don't know whether they are or not.
These groups collectively are outnumbered by religious people two to
one (66 per cent). These are not necessarily church-going folks but
people who believe in a transcendent reality.
To be sure, atheists tend to pile up in certain places, rising from
only 1 per cent of people in Africa and North America to 12 per cent in
the Asia-Pacific region –– also the least religious region at 50 per
cent. It may come as a surprise that the most atheistic place on earth
is not post-communist Russia or super-secular France, but shopaholics'
heaven Hong Kong, where 54 per cent say they are convinced atheists.
That should make the former British colony congenial to the extant
British atheist Ronald Dawkins, a scientist who considers religion "the
root of all evil", according to the title of a television programme he
presented this month. At the same time, the feverish commercialism of
the world's most deregulated economy, too busy even to reproduce itself
(Hong Kong's birth rate is 0.94 children per woman), seems a dubious
place to demonstrate Dawkins' contention that getting rid of God makes
us more human.
Nor do regional neighbours Japan and Thailand, where the percentage of
non-religious people is highest (59 per cent and 65 per cent
respectively), strike one as great advertisements for the benefits of
indifference to God. These countries have their virtues, giving Japan
one of the world's leading economies and Thailand one of its highest
growth rates, but they are not where most of us would choose to live.
Japan's population is ageing rapidly and has begun to shrink, while
Thailand's problems with sex tourism, child trafficking and Aids take
the shine off its economic performance.
What is it about these Asian countries that predisposes them to atheism
and religious indifference? They are not without religious traditions
–– predominantly Buddhism –– which many of their countrymen still
practice to some degree, particularly to mark personal milestones such
as birth, marriage and death. Yet Buddhism is more of a philosophy than
a religion, making no claim to be divinely revealed and lacking the
concept of a personal God. In this literal sense it is atheistic, or at
least agnostic. Little wonder if people with such a tenuous grasp on
religion discard it altogether when faced with the material promises
and demands of a booming economy.
Religious –– and optimistic
By contrast within Asia, religious identity remains strong in India,
which is 80 per cent Hindu, and in the Philippines, which is 80 per
cent Catholic. Eighty-seven per cent of Indians and 90 per cent of
Filipinos in the Gallup survey described themselves as religious. Some
might argue that is a measure of the material poverty of many Indians
and Filipinos - "What else do they have but God?" –– and it is true
that religious belief is more prevalent among the poor, as well as
those with little or no education, women and older people.
But Gallup data shows that, globally, socio-demographic differentials
are not huge. For example, 70 per cent of those on the lowest incomes
were religious compared with 62 per cent on high incomes. Education
brings a larger gap –– 76 per cent compared with 64 per cent, but here
one has to take into account the prevalent bias against religion in
In any case one can say that religion has not prevented India from
becoming a major world economy, and ranking among the most optimistic
countries in the world in another recent Gallup survey. The
Philippines, the new "Asian tiger", was much more pessimistic –– but
less so than France, which is also less religious. Filipinos are better
known for their cheerfulness and resilience as they carry out much of
the menial work in more prosperous countries –– a fact that can be
traced to the strength of their religious culture.
Religious fervour may not guarantee material prosperity, but it does
appear to sustain people along the way. This seems to be the lesson of
Africa, which shows up in the Gallup surveys as the most religious and
the most optimistic region of the world. Nine out of 10 Africans
declare themselves to be religious (91 per cent) and the proportion
rises to 94 per cent in Nigeria and 96 per cent in Ghana. Nigeria, for
all its problems, is the fourth most optimistic country in world, level
pegging with India and Venezuela. These are dynamic countries where
religion is part of the struggle for human development, not "opium" for
people who have given up.
Which way Europe?
No European country knows this better than Poland, where communism's
attempt to extinguish religion met its sturdiest opposition –– and, in
Pope John Paul II, its nemesis. If 85 per cent of Poles today are
religious it could well be because their struggle for freedom taught
them that religion was central to their cultural identity. The same
could be said of Orthodox Romania and states emerging from the former
Yugoslavia. Oddly enough, it is not true of the Czech Republic, where a
fifth of the people say they are convinced atheists and another 51 per
cent say they are not religious. Whatever else this means, it is a
reminder that persecution does not automatically strengthen people's
faith –– and prosperity can weaken it.
(Another oddity thrown up by the survey is the religious profile of
Israel: 11 per cent atheist, 52 per cent non-religious, and only 33 per
cent religious. Meril James, secretary-general of Gallup International,
suggests that this signals rejection of the political connotations of
"religious" in Israel.)
Communism, obviously, is not responsible for all the world's unbelief.
The further north and west one goes in Europe the less religious it
seems to be. In Greece 86 per cent of people say they are religious, in
Norway, 36 per cent. The Netherlands and the United Kingdom are also
less religious than the average for Western Europe. This is often
attributed to the (superior) scientific culture of the region and the
practical materialism that goes with it. Attempts to have Europe's
Christian roots acknowledged in the Constitution of the European Union
came up against an obstinate secularism that uses the diversity of
religions now represented in the EU as an excuse. "Europeans live in a
purely secular political system, where religion does not play an
important role," said former French president Valery Giscard d'Estaing,
who presided over the drafting of the constitution.
Can the religious fervour of Poland and other Central and Eastern
European states survive in this atmosphere? Pope John Paul II insisted
that Poland did not need to "join" Europe; it already was Europe –– in
the centre of Europe and at the heart of Europe. Joining the EU, which
Poland did in May 2004, is basically an economic decision; the cultural
consequences should be at least as free as the market consequences. It
is an opportunity for believers, as well as a threat.
Scientific enlightenment, economic dynamism and human development in no
way require people to turn their backs on religion. The great example
of compatibility between humanistic values and religion is the United
States, where 82 per cent of people believe in God. If the more
religious cultures of Europe need encouragement to hang onto their
identity they should look even further west than the UK –– across the
Atlantic, in fact.
Carolyn Moynihan is deputy editor of MercatorNet
Religiosity Around the World, Gallup International Voice of the
People 2005 Press Release, Nov 16.
Voice of the People End of Year Survey 2005 Press Release. Gallup
International, Dec 20.
 Majority in U.S. believes in God, The Washington Times, Dec 25,
"Homo Indifferens" Is Still a "Homo Religious"
Cardinal Poupard's Talk on Secularization
in the West
MINSK, Belarus, DEC. 18, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Here is
excerpt of an address Cardinal Paul Poupard, president of the
Council for Culture, gave during a conference Dec. 10 at the Saints
and Methodius Theological Institute.
* * *
Christianity and the Challenges of Secularism,
and Religious Indifference
Cardinal Paul Poupard,
President of the Pontifical Council for Culture
Your Eminence Metropolitan Filaret,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Changing Face of Unbelief
Earlier this year I led the members and consultors
the Pontifical Council for Culture on a reflection intended to give a
impetus to the response to the challenges of unbelief and religious
We began by making an updated map and analysis of unbelief in the world.
As regards the analysis of the state of unbelief in
world today, let me share with you the following conclusions:
1. Globally, unbelief is not increasing in the
It is a phenomenon seen primarily in the Western world. The cultural
it inspires spreads through globalization, and exerts an influence on
different cultures of the world, and erodes popular religiosity from
2. Militant atheism recedes and no longer has a
influence on public life, except in those regimes where an atheistic
system is still in power. Contrarily, a certain cultural hostility is
spread against religions.
3. Atheism and unbelief have changed their profile.
the phenomena seem to be connected more to lifestyle.
4. Religious indifference or practical atheism is
rapidly. A large part of secularized societies lives with no reference
to religious authority or values. For "homo indifferens," "Perhaps God
does not exist, it doesn't matter, anyway we don't miss him."
and the culture of secularization provoke in consciences an eclipse of
need and desire for all that is not immediate. They reduce aspiration
the transcendent to a simple subjective need for spirituality, and
to material well-being and the gratification of sexual impulses.
5. A dwindling number of regular church-goers can be
in those societies marked by secularization. But this undeniably
fact does not, however, mean that unbelief is on the increase. Rather,
it points to a degraded form of believing: believing without belonging.
It is a phenomenon of "deconfessionalization" of "homo religiosus,"
refusing to belong to any binding confession, jumps into and out of an
endless confusion of heterogeneous movements. This often silent exodus
often heads for the sects and new religious movements.
6. In the West, where science and modern technology
neither suppressed religious meaning nor satisfied it, a new quest that
is more spiritual than religious is developing, but it is not a return
to traditional religious practices. Often, this spiritual awakening
in an autonomous fashion and without any links to the contents of faith
and morals handed on by the Church.
7. Finally, at the dawn of the new millennium, a
is occurring both in terms of militant atheism and in terms of
faith. It is a disaffection in secularized Western cultures prey to the
refusal or simple abandonment of traditional beliefs, and affects both
religious practice and adherence to the doctrinal and moral contents of
The man whom we call "homo indifferens" never ceases
be a "homo religious"; he is just seeking a new and ever-changing
The analysis of this phenomenon reveals a kaleidoscopic situation where
anything and its opposite can occur: on the one hand, those who believe
without belonging, and on the other, those who belong without believing
in the entire content of the faith and who, above all, do not feel
to respect the ethical dimension of the faith. In truth, only God knows
what is at the bottom of our hearts, where His Grace works secretly.
I can give you a similar description by reading a
from one of the groups of bishops who once every five years come to
to pray at the tombs of the apostles Saints Peter and Paul. The report
recounts the familiar story:
"In many parts of the Western world, the numbers
Church are decreasing while the numbers of those who live as though God
did not exist and of those who are categorized as 'believing without
continue to rise. Paradoxically, 'faith' in atheism is also flailing
levels down to just 1 or 2%. The old interlocutors of the dialogue with
nonbelievers, the famous theorists of atheism, such as Nietzsche and
are somewhat passéé and nobody has seriously replaced
Instead, there is a notable growth in indifference and a waning of
debate and dialogue. We live in a culture of indifference and, what is
perhaps worse, ignorance."
b) The Causes of Unbelief: Secularism and
Christianity has a curious place in the European
On the one hand it provides the philosophical, anthropological and
inspiration behind the project. On the other due to various cultural
it has often been sidelined or worse positively excluded. The recent
Buttiglione affair is a case in point. On account of his public witness
concerning marriage and homosexuality he was excluded from an important
post at the European Commission. This reflects a developing separation
in politics and the public square between the religious and secular.
Secularism is a trend that has come out of
It is an evil side effect and demands correction. We can be confident
secularism will never exclude religion from the world, for the simple
that each and every man is fundamentally religious. But it bears
and individualism among its defining values, as they are exemplified in
the New Age of cultural abandonment and privatized religion and
reduction of the pursuit of the transcendentals to mere technological
and the feeling of well-being.
And these have devastating effects on Europe.
also means relativism as it comports a denial of the Truth. This
has led to the indifference and unbelief that I mentioned before in our
map of unbelief. It is an attitude that has led to the so-called
dogma and stand-off between Spain's socialist government and the
Bishops concerning questions related to the value of life, solidarity
the family, and brings with it the evils of abortion, and the pointless
civil marriage of homosexuals.
In the words of another analysis:
"Nowadays there is a tendency to claim that
and skeptical relativism are the philosophy and the basic attitude
correspond to democratic forms of political life. Those who are
that they know the truth and firmly adhere to it are considered
from a democratic point of view, since they do not accept that truth is
determined by the majority, or that it is subject to variation
to different political trends. It must be observed in this regard that
if there is no ultimate truth to guide and direct political activity,
ideas and convictions can easily be manipulated for reasons of power.
history demonstrates, a democracy without values easily turns into open
or thinly disguised totalitarianism" (encyclical, "Centesimus Annus,"
You are aware more than I of the perils of
but in Western Europe too, fundamental spiritual values have fallen
to secularism. As a result, even in traditionally Christian countries
as France, England and Spain, the hierarchy of values has been
and Truth, Beauty, and Goodness have been relegated below
relativized and social values.
The centrality of the individual has been promoted
the real value of the human person has been forgotten. Such that
is now considered as a supreme value superior to the Truth, rather than
a privileged means for discerning, reflecting and protecting the Truth.
Another effect of this loss of Christian culture is seen in the fact
it is now necessary to offer basic courses on Christianity to students
of the arts so that they can understand the great masterpieces and
their own Christian culture. For without it, how can they appreciate
full value of Bach's "St. John Passion," Handel's "Messiah,"
"Missa Solemnis" or Michelangelo's Pietàà?
But let us be careful not to throw out the baby with
bath water! Secularism is not secularization, and not all that is not
religious is evil. The transcendental reality can inspire us in other
A certain appreciation of art can come even to the atheist. And this is
the point of departure for today's evangelization. The saints have
history for 2,000 years -- some have developed diverse expressions of
spirituality, others safeguarded our biblical heritage, others
fundamental ideas about law and values, and others have been the source
for the continual rebirth which has marked European history and her
developments. It is our task to follow in their footsteps, revealing
truth about humanity to our fellow men and women, to open the way to
transcendental source of all values, so that Europe can once more
to her roots.
The Response of the Church: A New Evangelization of
Evangelization doesn't stop with the past, but must
into the next generation. To respond to this task the Pontifical
for Culture encourages various initiatives to evangelize culture,
prayer, personal dialogue, Cultural Centers, especially theological
the evangelization of desire, a renewed awareness of Christian
a strong presence in the public forum, the promotion of the values of
family and of life, good Christian formation, the "via pulchritudinis,"
evangelical use of Christian patrimony, use of the complementary
of reason and feeling, as well as the promotion of pilgrimages and many
The evangelization of culture aims at letting the
penetrate the actual situation of the lives of the people of a given
"Pastoral practice must undertake the task of shaping a Christian
in ordinary life" ("Ecclesia in Europa," No. 58). More than at
such evangelization aims at preparing the ground and at enabling
a type of pre-evangelization. If the basic problem is indifference, the
necessary task is to attract attention, to stir up the interest of the
people." By identifying the footholds or points of anchorage for the
of the Gospel and then acting on them, the evangelization of culture
some recurring themes, ideas, places, and methods, three of which I
like to present briefly here.
Christian Cultural Centers
The bridging of the gap between faith and culture,
the Gospel and everyday life, and between the proclamation of the
and the indifference and practical atheism of many men and women of our
time, has a privileged forum in Christian Cultural Centers, which I
are at the forefront of evangelization. On the basis of the teaching of
the magisterium, they permit a widespread and local approach developed
and articulated at the ground level, the use and strengthening of local
cultural traditions, and a response to the needs and expectations of
communities. The very title "Christian cultural center" is to be
in a broad sense, reflecting the rich diversity of cultural situations
in different countries, where different interests and activities
to the local needs in sync with the social and cultural traditions of
The fourth edition of the International Directory of
Cultural Centers, published by the Pontifical Council for Culture is
to foster more frequent communication and more effective cooperation
such centers which are rich and varied in character, in terms of what
are called: cultural centers or circles, academies, university
houses for cultural formation etc; their orientation: theological,
educational, artistic. etc; the areas they cover: cultural trends,
intercultural and interreligious dialogue, science, art. etc; and the
undertaken: talks, debates, courses, seminars, publications, libraries,
cultural events, exhibitions. etc.
For all their rich variety, these centers have one
in common: the cultural activities they offer reflect their constant
for the relationship between faith and cultures. This relationship is
through dialogue, scientific research, personal formation and the
of a culture which faith inspires and makes fruitful, lively and
Catholic cultural centers, (and there is no reason why this should not
apply to Orthodox or Christian cultural centers) are public forums,
where people meet and reflect, study and learn, exchange ideas and
the dialogue between faith and cultures. In the broad context of
they offer Catholics and anyone else interested in culture
for useful contact and conversation about the world and history,
culture and science, all of which helps to discern those values that
throw new light on existence and give meaning to life.
Two other aspects of Christian Cultural Centers are
bearing in mind: their networking and their publications. The
Council for Culture has already organized some fruitful meetings of
centers in different cultural regions: in France, in Germany, in Spain,
in Italy, in the Lebanon, in Romania and further afield in Mexico,
and Brazil. This kind of pooling of experiences has been enriching for
those taking part, who have come to know each other better, and it has
boosted the activities of the centers by supplying fresh creative
Together with the Italian Episcopal Conference we have also produced a
"Vademecum" to assist people to get into the mentality of Cultural
I would like to give three concrete examples of
Cultural Centers: First, the Centre de musique sacréée de
Sainte-Anne-d'Auray in France. It was set up in 1996 to be a cultural
between the state, the Church and artists. By formation in theology,
and music, a cultural education is available to a wide public in order
to protect France's musical and liturgical heritage, to hand on the
and to be creative. This task of saving cultural heritage clearly has
its heart the promotion and protection of fundamental values. For while
Dostoevsky wrote that it is "beauty that will save the world," the
of the institute believes that the current task is to save beauty.
A second example lies in Further Educational
I think for example of the Center for Advanced Research into Faith and
Culture, a research group. This is a further education institute which
seeks to offer courses in the theological sciences, the space to pursue
these studies to a highly advanced level, and to facilitate the meeting
between gospel and culture. Alongside their publications, they organize
conferences to make their research available to a wider public on
of momentary importance for cultures. Their last conference, for
was on Faith, Fear and Indifference. I would be most interested to hear
about the activities of the Orthodox in this field: what are the
of Theological Education for Laypeople in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine
to bridge the gap between faith and culture?
Third, The Library of the Spirit in Moscow. This
Cultural Center has for some 15 years been publishing in Russian works
of Christian cultural interest which come from both Orthodox and
traditions, in order to present to readers across the Russian
and beyond Christian convictions about man, and God, and to make
important works of spirituality and theology. Thanks to the support of
His Eminence Metropolitan Filaret, President of the Synodal Theological
Commission of the Russian Orthodox Church and also to assistance from
Catholic Church, this centre provides a space for Christianity to make
its message known through the field of culture, with books, literary
meetings, and a widespread distribution network, thereby promoting a
conscience across the very heart of society, and contributing to the
of a society based on Love.
John Paul II's Address to Bishops of England and
Here is the address John Paul II prepared
for the bishops of England and Wales, on their five-yearly visit to the
Dear Brother Bishops,
1. "Grace, mercy, and peace from God the
and Christ Jesus our Lord" (Timothy 1:2). With these words of greeting
I cordially welcome you, the Bishops of England and Wales. I thank
Murphy-O'Connor for the good wishes and kind sentiments expressed
on your behalf. I warmly reciprocate them and I assure you of my
for yourselves and those entrusted to your pastoral care. In "coming to
see Peter" (Galatians 1:18) you strengthen in faith, hope and charity
bonds of communion with the Bishop of Rome. Your first visit "ad
limina Apostolorum" of this new millennium is an occasion to affirm
commitment to make the face of Christ increasingly more visible within
the Church and society through consistent witness to the Gospel that is
Jesus Christ himself (cf. "Ecclesia in Europa,").
2. England and Wales, despite being steeped in
rich Christian heritage, today face the pervasive advance of
At the root of this situation is the attempt to promote a vision of
apart from God and removed from Christ. It is a mentality which
individualism, sunders the essential link between freedom and truth,
consequently destroys the mutual bonds which define social living. This
loss of a sense of God is often experienced as "the abandonment of
Social disintegration, threats to family life, and the ugly specters of
racial intolerance and war, leave many men and women, and especially
young, feeling disoriented and at times even without hope. Consequently
it is not just the Church which encounters the disturbing effects
secularism but civic life as well. Jesus Christ, alive in his Church,
us to overcome the bewilderment of our age. As Bishops we are called to
remain vigilant in our duty to proclaim with clear and passionate
certainty that Jesus Christ is the source of hope; a hope that does not
disappoint (cf. Romans 5:5). The faithful of England and Wales look to
you with great expectation to preach and teach the Gospel which dispels
the darkness and illuminates the way of life. Daily proclamation of the
Gospel and a life of holiness is the vocation of the Church in every
time and place. This mandate, which manifests the
Church's deepest identity, requires the utmost solicitude.
The phenomena of secularism and widespread
indifference, the decline in vocations to the priesthood and Religious
Life, and the grave difficulties experienced by parents in their
to catechize their own children, all attest to the vital need for
to embrace their fundamental mission to be authentic and authoritative
heralds of the Word. For this to be achieved Bishops, called by Christ
to be teachers of the truth, "have the obligation of fostering and
the unity of faith and of upholding the discipline which is common to
whole Church" ("Lumen Gentium,"). It is by fidelity to the ordinary
of the Church, by strict adherence to the discipline of the universal
and by positive statements which clearly instruct the faithful, that a
Bishop preserves God's people from deviations and defections and
them the objective possibility of professing the true faith
without error (cf. Catechism of the Catholic
3. Dear Brothers, your reports clearly
that you have taken to heart my profound conviction that the new
demands a "new impetus in Christian living" ("Novo Millennio
If the Church is to satisfy the thirst of men and women for truth and
values upon which to build their lives, no effort can be spared in
effective pastoral initiatives to make Jesus Christ known.
In the midst of recurring impulses to
suspicion and opposition, the great challenge facing us is to make the
Church the home and school of communion (cf. ibid.), recognizing that
is "a people brought into unity from the unity of the Father, the Son
the Holy Spirit" ("Lumen Gentium,"). Thus it is of great importance
the catechetical and religious education programs which you have
should continue to deepen the faithful's understanding and love of
and his Church. Authentic pedagogy on prayer, persuasive
on the meaning of liturgy and the importance of the Sunday Eucharist,
promotion of the frequent practice of the Sacrament of Reconciliation
Congregation for Clergy: Instruction: "The Priest, Pastor and Leader of
the Parish Community,") will do much to meet this pastoral goal
enkindle in the hearts of your people the joy and peace deriving from
in the Church's life and mission.
4. Integral to the success of your programs of
renewal is the role of priestly ministry. The Church needs humble and
priests whose daily journey of conversion will inspire the entire
of God to the holiness to which it is called (cf. "Lumen
Gentium,"). Firmly grounded in a personal
of deep communion and friendship with Jesus the Good Shepherd, the
not only will find sanctification for himself but will become a model
holiness for the people he is called to serve. Assure your priests that
the Christian faithful - indeed society at large - depend upon and are
greatly appreciative of them. I am confident in this regard that you
show them your special affection by accompanying them as fathers and
along all the stages of their ministerial life (cf. "Pastores
Similarly, Religious Priests, Brothers and Sisters need to be
as they too seek to enrich ecclesial communion by their
cooperative presence and ministry in your
As a gift to the Church, the consecrated life lies at her very heart,
the deep beauty of the Christian vocation to selfless, sacrificial
Your recent endeavors to promote a "culture of vocation" will certainly
become a welcome sign of the treasure of the various states of
life which together exist "that the world may believe" (John 17:21).
As a priority in your response to the call for
new evangelization, I am heartened to learn of your resolute efforts to
bring further energy to youth ministry. The growth of groups such as
2000" and the development of university chaplaincy programs are
of the desire of many young people to share in the Church's life. As
of hope, Bishops must build the future together with those to whom the
future is entrusted (cf. "Pastores Gregis,"). Offer them an integral
formation and challenge them to follow Christ. You will find their
and generosity exactly what is needed to promote a spirit of renewal
just among themselves but in the entire Christian community.
5. Evangelization of culture is a central
of the new evangelization, for "at the heart of every culture lies the
attitude man takes to the greatest mystery: the mystery of God"
Annus,"). As Bishops, you rightly seek to find ways for the truth of
to be given due consideration in the public arena. In this regard, I
the fine contribution of your pastoral letters and statements on
of concern in your society. I urge you to continue to ensure that such
statements give full and clear expression to the whole of the Church's
magisterial teaching. Of particular concern is the need to uphold the
of marriage as a lifelong union between a man and a woman in which as
and wife they share in God's loving work of creation. Equating marriage
with other forms of cohabitation obscures the sacredness of marriage
violates its precious value in God's plan for humanity (cf. "Familiaris
Consortio,"). Without doubt a primary factor in the shaping of today's
culture is the mass media. The fundamental moral requirement of all
is that it should respect and serve the truth. Your efforts to assist
working in this field to exercise their responsibility are commendable.
Though these efforts may at times meet with resistance, I encourage you
to endeavor to work together with the men and women of the media.
them to join you in breaking down barriers of mistrust and in striving
to bring peoples together in understanding and respect.
6. Finally, within the context of the
of culture, I wish to acknowledge the fine contribution of your
schools both to enriching the faith of the Catholic community and to
excellence within civic life in general. Recognizing the profound
that affect the world of education, I encourage teachers, lay and
in their primary mission of ensuring that those who have been baptized
"become daily more appreciative of the gift of faith which they have
("Gravissimum Educationis,"). While religious education, the heart of
Catholic school, is today a challenging and taxing apostolate, there
also many signs of a desire among young people to learn about the faith
and to practice it with vigor. If this awakening in faith is to grow,
need teachers with a clear and precise understanding of the specific
and role of Catholic education. This must be articulated at every level
if our young people and their families are to experience the harmony
faith, life and culture (cf. Congregation for Catholic Education,
Persons and their Mission in Schools,"). Here I would make a special
to your Religious not to abandon the school apostolate (cf. "Pastores
and indeed to renew their commitment to serve also in schools situated
in poorer areas. In places where much exists to lure youth away from
path of truth and genuine freedom, the consecrated person's witness to
the evangelical counsels is an irreplaceable gift.
7. Dear Brothers, with fraternal affection I
these reflections with you and assure you of my prayers as you seek to
make the face of Christ ever more recognizable in your communities. The
message of hope which you proclaim will not fail to evoke fresh fervor
and a renewed commitment to Christian life. United in our love of
the Lord and inspired by the example of the newly beatified Mother
of Calcutta, let us go forward in hope! With these sentiments I commend
you to Mary, Star of the New Evangelization, that she may sustain you
pastoral wisdom, strengthen you in fortitude and enkindle in your
love and compassion. To you and to the priests, deacons, Religious, and
lay faithful of your Dioceses I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.
Politics Without God?
Reflections on Europe and America
By George Weigel
ROME, DEC. 24, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Here are excerpts
an address given by George Weigel at the Gregorian University this
Weigel is a senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in
* * *
At the far western end of the axis that traverses
from the Louvre down the Champs Elysées and through the Arc de
is the Great Arch of La Défense. Designed by a sternly modernist
Danish architect, the Great Arch is a colossal open cube: almost 40
tall, faced in glass and 2.47 acres of white Carrara marble. Its
terrace offers an unparalleled view of the French capital, past the
to the Ile de la Cité, Sante Chapelle, and Notre-Dame.
The arch's three-story high roof also houses the
Foundation for Human Rights. For President François Mitterrand
the Great Arch as a human rights monument, something suitably gigantic
to mark the bicentenary of the French Revolution and the Declaration of
the Rights of Man and Citizen. Thus, in one guidebook, the Great Arch
dubbed "Fraternity Arch." That same guidebook, like every other one I
emphasized that the entire Cathedral of Notre-Dame would fit
inside the Great Arch.
All of which raised some questions, as I walked
that terrace in 1997. Which culture would better protect human rights
secure the moral foundations of democracy? The culture that built this
rational, geometrically precise, but essentially featureless cube? Or
culture that produced the gargoyles and flying buttresses, the
and holy "unsameness" of Notre-Dame and the other great Gothic
Those questions have come back to me, if in
forms, as I've tried to understand Europe in recent years. How, for
should one understand the fierce argument in Europe over whether a new
constitutional treaty for the European Union should include a reference
to the Christian sources of European civilization? Why did so many
intellectuals and political leaders deem any reference to the Christian
sources of contemporary Europe civilization a threat to human rights
Was there some connection between this internal
debate over Europe's constitution-making and the portrait in the
press of Americans (and especially an American president) as religious
fanatics intent on shooting up the world? Was there a further
between this debate and the fate of Rocco Buttiglione's candidacy for
post of Commissioner of Justice on the European Commission?
Understanding these phenomena requires something
than a conventional political analysis. Nor can political answers
the reasons behind perhaps the most urgent issue confronting Europe
-- the fact that Western Europe is committing demographic suicide, its
far-below-replacement-level birthrates creating enormous pressures on
European welfare state and a demographic vacuum into which Islamic
are flowing in increasing numbers, often becoming radicalized in the
My proposal is that Europe is experiencing a crisis
cultural and civilizational morale whose roots are also taking hold in
some parts quarters of American society and culture. Understanding and
addressing this crisis means confronting the question posed sharply, if
unintentionally, by those guidebooks that boast about the alleged
of the Great Arch to Notre-Dame: the question of the cube and the
and their relationship to both the meaning of freedom and the future of
To suggest that Europe is living through a "crisis
civilizational morale" is a very broad description. Let me raised some
specific issues that point toward that conclusion -- and to the
of a cultural, indeed theological, analysis of Europe's situation today.
-- Why, in the aftermath of 1989, did Europeans fail
condemn communism as a moral and political monstrosity? Why was the
politically acceptable judgment on communism the rather banal
that it "didn't work"?
-- Why, as historian John Keegan puts it, do
often espouse "a philosophy of international action that actually
action and took refuge in the belief that all conflicts of interest
to be settled by consultation, conciliation, and the intervention of
-- What accounts for disturbing currents of
in contemporary European politics? Why did one of every five Germans
one-third of those under 30) believe that the United States was
for 9/11, while some 300,000 French men and women made a best seller
of "L'Effroyable Imposture" [The Appalling Fraud], in which the author,
Thierry Meyssan, argued that the twin towers of the World Trade Center
were destroyed by the U.S. military, using remote-controlled airliners?
-- Why did the voters of Spain give a de facto
to appeasement in their March 2004 elections, held days after Al-Qaeda
operatives killed hundreds and wounded thousands by bombing a Madrid
-- Why is Europe retreating from democracy and
itself ever tighter in the cords of bureaucracy? Why do European states
find it virtually impossible to make hard domestic political decisions
-- as on the length of the workweek or the funding of pensions? Why is
Europe on the way to what French political philosopher Pierre Manent
"depoliticization?" Why does Manent have "the impression today that the
greatest ambition of Europeans is to become the inspectors of American
-- Why are so many European public intellectuals
as international legal scholar J.H.H. Weiler (himself an observant Jew)
puts it? Why is European high culture so contemptuous of both religious
and secular tradition, as French philosopher Rémi Brague has
-- Why do certain parts of Europe exhibit a curious,
bizarre, approach to death? Why did so many of the French prefer to
their summer vacations during the European heat wave of 2003, leaving
parents unburied and warehoused in refrigerated lockers? Why is death
anonymous in Germany, with no death notice in the newspapers, no church
funeral ceremony, no secular memorial service -- "as though," as
John Neuhaus observed, "the deceased did not exist"?
-- Above all, why is Europe committing demographic
systematically depopulating itself in what British historian Niall
calls the greatest "sustained reduction in European population since
Black Death of the 14th century"?
-- Why do 18 European countries report "negative
increase" (i.e., more deaths than births)?
-- Why does no Western European country have a
-- Why is Germany likely to lose the equivalent of
population of the former East Germany in the first half of the 21st
-- Why will Spain's population decline from 40
to 31 million by 2050?
-- Why will 42% of Italians be over 60 by 2050 -- at
point, on present trends, almost 60% of the Italian people will have no
brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, or uncles?
-- What is happening when an entire continent,
and healthier than ever before, declines to create the human future in
the most elemental sense, by creating a next generation? …
Probing to the deeper roots of Europe's crisis of
morale is important for understanding Europe today and for discerning
promising paths of European renewal there may be. Getting at the roots
of "Europe's problem" is also important for understanding a set of
Americans may face in the not-too-distant future. And that means that
Europeans and Americans must learn to think in new ways about the
During 13 years of research and teaching in east
Europe, I've been impressed by what might be called the Slavic view of
history. You can find it in a great thinker who lived in the borderland
between Orthodoxy and Catholicism, Vladimir Soloviev, who challenged
fashionable nihilism and materialism of the late 19th century.
You can find it in 19th-century Polish novelists,
and playwrights, who, breaking with the Jacobin conviction that
meant a complete rupture with the past, insisted that genuine
meant the recovery of lost spiritual and moral values. You can find it
in such intellectual leaders of the anti-communist resistance in east
Europe as Karol Wojtyla, Václav Havel and Václav Benda,
all argued that "living in the truth" could change what seemed
The common thread among these disparate thinkers is
conviction that the deepest currents of "history" are spiritual and
rather than political and economic. "History" is not simply the
of the contest for power in the world -- although power plays an
role in history. And "history" is certainly not the exhaust fumes
by the means of production, as the Marxists taught.
Rather, "history" is driven by culture -- by what
and women honor, cherish, and worship; by what societies deem to be
and good and noble; by the expressions they give to those convictions
language, literature and the arts; by what individuals and societies
willing to stake their lives on.
Poland is one embodiment of this way of thinking,
Poles believe has been vindicated empirically by their own modern
For 123 years, from 1795 to 1918, the Polish state was erased from
Yet during that century and a quarter the Polish nation survived with
vigor that it could give birth to a new Polish state in 1918. And
the fact that the revived Polish state was then beset for 50 years by
plagues of Nazism and communism, the Polish nation proved strong enough
to give a new birth of freedom to east central Europe in the Revolution
How did this happen? Poland survived -- better,
prevailed -- because of culture: a culture formed by a distinctive
by a unique literature, and by an intense Catholic faith (which, an its
noblest and deepest expressions, was ecumenical and tolerant, not
as so many stereotypes have it). Poles know in their bones that culture
is what drives history over the long haul.
This "Slavic view of history" is really a
Christian way of thinking about history, whose roots can be traced back
at least as far as St. Augustine and "The City of God." Yet, it is the
Slavs who have been, in our time, the most powerful exponents of this
understanding of the dynamics of the world's story. …
World War I, the Great War, was the product of a
of civilizational morality, a failure of moral reason in a culture that
had given the world the very concept of "moral reason." That crisis of
moral reason led to a crisis of civilizational morale that is much with
This latter crisis has only become visible since the
of the Cold War. Its effects were first masked by the illusory peace
World War I and World War II; then by the rise of totalitarianism and
Great Depression; then by World War II itself; and then by the Cold
It was only after 1991, when the 77-year-long political-military crisis
that began in 1914 had ended, that the long-term effects of Europe's
of self-mutilation" could come to the surface of history and be seen
what they were -- and for what they are.
The damage done to the fabric of European culture
civilization in the Great War could only been seen clearly when the
War's political effects had been cleared from the board in 1991.
that damage for what it is brings into sharper focus the contemporary
cultural and political situation and its lessons for the United States.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's insight into the meaning of
Great War reinforces the intuition that we should look to the realm of
culture for a deeper explanation of the currents of history. So let us
take a first step in reading history the old-fashioned way -- St.
way -- through lenses ground by the tools of theology. And that brings
us to another Christian analyst of modern European history.
Henri de Lubac was one of 20th-century Catholicism's
distinguished theologians. Like other Europeans who had witnessed the
travail during the first four and a half decades of the century, Father
de Lubac was haunted by the question, "What happened?" Or, perhaps more
to the point, "Why had what happened, happened?"
Father de Lubac was fascinated by the history of
which he knew to be fraught with "real world" consequences. Thus,
the early 1940s, he turned his attention to some of the most
intellectual figures in pre-20th century European culture. The result
a book, "The Drama of Atheistic Humanism" ["Le Drame de l'humanisme
which argued that the civilizational crisis in which Europe found
during World War II was the product of a deliberate rejection of the
of the Bible in the name of authentic human liberation.
This, de Lubac suggested, was a great reversal. In
classical world, the gods, or Fate, played games with men and women,
with lethal consequences. In the face of these experiences, the
of the God of the Bible -- the self-disclosure in history of the one
who was neither a willful tyrant (to be avoided) nor a carnivorous
(to be appeased) nor a remote abstraction (to be safely ignored) -- was
perceived as a great liberation. Human beings were neither the
of the gods nor the passive victims of Fate. Because they could have
to the one true God through prayer and worship, those who believed in
God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus could bend history in a humane
History was thus an arena of responsibility and purpose.
Yet what biblical man had perceived as liberation,
proponents of atheistic humanism perceived as bondage. Human freedom
not co-exist with the God of Jews and Christians. Human greatness
rejecting the biblical God, according to atheistic humanism.
This, Father de Lubac argued, was something new.
was not the atheism of skeptical individuals. This was atheistic
-- atheism with a developed ideology and a program for remaking the
As a historian of ideas, de Lubac knew that bad ideas can have lethal
At the heart of the darkness inside the great mid-20th century
[of] communism, fascism, Nazism, Father de Lubac discerned the lethal
of the marriage between modern technology and the ideas borne by
He summed up the results of this misbegotten union
these terms: "It is not true, as is sometimes said, that man cannot
the world without God. What is true is that, without God, he can only
it against man." That is what the tyrannies of the mid-20th century had
proven -- ultramundane humanism is inevitably inhuman humanism. And
humanism cannot neither sustain nor defend the democratic project. It
only undermine it or attack it. …
The argument over acknowledging any Christian
to the democratic civilization of the 21st century may have clarified
understandings of "democracy" and "human rights" that shape
European high culture and the political elite in the
axis, but it also raised serious questions about Europe's capacity to
its democracy, morally and philosophically.
If democratic institutions and procedures are the
of a distinctive way of life based on specific moral commitments, then
democratic citizenship must be more than a matter of following the
and abiding by the laws and regulations agreed upon by the institutions
A democratic citizen is someone who can give an account of his or her
to human rights, to the rule of law and equality before the law, to
by the majority and protection of the rights of minorities. Democratic
citizenship means being able to tell why one affirms "the universal
of the inviolable and inalienable rights of the human person,
equality, freedom and the rule of law," to cite the preamble to the
constitution. Who can give such an account?
Here is one of the richest ironies involved in the
of the cube and the cathedral. The original charge against Christians
the Roman empire was that they were "atheists": people who were
people who had abandoned the gods of Rome and who were thus a threat to
public life and public order. To be a-theos was to stand outside and
the political community.
The "Christophobia" of contemporary European high
turns this indictment inside out and upside down: Christianity cannot
acknowledged as a source of European democracy because the only public
space safe for pluralism, tolerance, civility, and democracy is a
space that is thoroughly a-theos.
It is all very strange. For the truth of the matter
that European Christians can likely give a more compelling account of
commitment to democratic values than their fellow Europeans who are
-- who believe that "neutrality toward worldviews" must characterize
Europe. A postmodern or neo-Kantian "neutrality toward worldviews"
be truly tolerant; it can only be indifferent.
Absent convictions, there is no tolerance; there is
indifference. Absent some compelling notion of the truth that requires
us to be tolerant of those who have a different understanding of the
there is only skepticism and relativism. And skepticism and relativism
are very weak foundations on which to build and sustain a pluralistic
for neither skepticism nor relativism, by their own logic, can "give an
account" of why we should be tolerant and civil.
In contrast to this thin account of tolerance -- we
be tolerant because it works better -- there is the argument for
given by Pope John Paul II in his 1989 encyclical letter on Christian
"Redemptoris Missio" [The Mission of the Redeemer]. There the Pope
that "The Church proposes; she imposes nothing." The Catholic Church
the "other" as an "other" who is also a seeker of truth and goodness;
Church only asks that the believer and the "other" enter into a
that leads to mutual enrichment rather than to a deeper skepticism
the possibility of grasping the truth of things.
The Catholic Church believes it to be the will of
that Christians be tolerant of those who have a different view of God's
will, or no view of God's will. Thus Catholics (and other Christians
share this conviction) can "give an account" of their defense of the
freedom, even if the "other," skeptical and relativist, finds it hard
"give an account" of the freedom of the Christian. That the Church did
not always behave according to these convictions is obvious from
The point today is that the Church recognizes,
that acts of coercion undertaken in its name were offenses against its
own true doctrine. That is why, on March 12, 2000, Pope John Paul II
a "Day of Pardon" at St. Peter's Basilica. This was not an exercise in
Catholic political correctness, nor was this pandering to approved
groups. This was confession: an acknowledgment of sin and a plea for
mercy that recommitted the Church to live the truth it professed about
the freedom of the human person.
A community capable of such acts -- the community of
cathedral, if you will -- is a community capable of learning from the
capable of a reformed life. A community capable of such acts of public
repentance is a community that can give a compelling account of its
Can others? Can those who are a-theos -- can the
of the cube -- grapple with the dark passages on European history
by radically secularist understandings of the human person, human
and human destiny: the Reign of Terror, Nazism, and communism?
These concerns are not, let me repeat, the products
American Euro-phobia, nor are they the result of the sharp division
much of Europe and the United States over the Iraq War. Indeed, there
nothing very original in my reading of Europe's current condition: You
can find the same points of concern in John Paul II's 2003 apostolic
"Ecclesia in Europa." There, the Pope suggests that, within Europe
there is an intuition that a "Europe" of political, legal and economic
structures alone is insufficient. Like John Paul II, thoughtful
are asking whether a "Europe" that represents the continentwide triumph
of bureaucratic regulation is all that might be hoped for.
The debate over the "invocatio Dei" in the new
constitution was also the present and the future, not just the past.
who insisted that there be no overt recognition that Christianity
a decisive role in the formation of European civilization did not do so
in the name of "tolerance," despite their claims to the contrary. They
did so because they are committed to the proposition that there can be
politics-without-God: that a Europe free, tolerant, civil, and
can only be built as a public space from which the God of the Bible has
That this position is shared by more than a few
political, judicial, intellectual, and cultural leaders is obvious, and
suggests that what has been unfolding in Europe in recent decades --
over the past two centuries -- could well be replicated in the United
(as it is already being replicated in Canada). To repeat, that is why
problem" is, from an American point of view, "our" problem, too.