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 ( 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.

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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 interest.

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, 79).


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 poisons everything".

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 differently".

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 reason.

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 Heats Up

By Father John Flynn, L.C.

ROME, JULY 22, 2007 ( 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 Judeo-Christian-Islamic God."

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 tradition.

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 humanism.

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.

Christian letters

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 such grounding.

Religion's contribution

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 archbishop continued.

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 ( 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 Western society.

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 Christian faith.

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 uncatechized.

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 media?

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 at large.

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 century.

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 there.

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.


Cardinal William Levada: Neoliberalism is not compatible with Catholic social teaching

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 truth.

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 another.

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".
Neither Marxism...

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 Dawkins         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 -- The 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.
Dawkins 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 by religion.
As a serious work, this book has little 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
But 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 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 their atheism.
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 Can Too. 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 Times, 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 persuasive?
Natural selection misapplied
Natural 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 interested” 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.
Dawkins' next 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 cultural identity -- with an emotion-charged accusation of child abuse. (He touchingly entitles one sub-chapter "In Defence of Children".)
Does 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 become arrogant.
Ivory tower syndrome
But 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 scathing review, 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?
In 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 deluded, 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 his own 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 ( 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 Vinci Code."

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 rationalist
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 Dominican.

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.

Eamon Duffy


Religion flourishes but atheism looks sick        
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.[1] 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 higher education.

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.[2] 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.[3] 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

[1]Religiosity Around the World, Gallup International Voice of the People 2005 Press Release, Nov 16.
[2]Voice of the People End of Year Survey 2005 Press Release. Gallup International, Dec 20.
[3] Majority in U.S. believes in God, The Washington Times, Dec 25, 2005


"Homo Indifferens" Is Still a "Homo Religious"

Cardinal Poupard's Talk on Secularization in the West

MINSK, Belarus, DEC. 18, 2004 ( Here is an excerpt of an address Cardinal Paul Poupard, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, gave during a conference Dec. 10 at the Saints Cyril and Methodius Theological Institute.

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Christianity and the Challenges of Secularism, Unbelief and Religious Indifference

Cardinal Paul Poupard,
President of the Pontifical Council for Culture

Your Eminence Metropolitan Filaret,
Reverend Fathers
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen,


The Changing Face of Unbelief

Earlier this year I led the members and consultors of the Pontifical Council for Culture on a reflection intended to give a new impetus to the response to the challenges of unbelief and religious indifference. We began by making an updated map and analysis of unbelief in the world.

As regards the analysis of the state of unbelief in the world today, let me share with you the following conclusions:

1. Globally, unbelief is not increasing in the world. It is a phenomenon seen primarily in the Western world. The cultural model it inspires spreads through globalization, and exerts an influence on the different cultures of the world, and erodes popular religiosity from them.

2. Militant atheism recedes and no longer has a determining influence on public life, except in those regimes where an atheistic political system is still in power. Contrarily, a certain cultural hostility is being spread against religions.

3. Atheism and unbelief have changed their profile. Today the phenomena seem to be connected more to lifestyle.

4. Religious indifference or practical atheism is growing 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." Well-being and the culture of secularization provoke in consciences an eclipse of need and desire for all that is not immediate. They reduce aspiration toward the transcendent to a simple subjective need for spirituality, and happiness to material well-being and the gratification of sexual impulses.

5. A dwindling number of regular church-goers can be seen in those societies marked by secularization. But this undeniably worrying 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," who, 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 have 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 develops 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 disaffection is occurring both in terms of militant atheism and in terms of traditional 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 faith.

The man whom we call "homo indifferens" never ceases to be a "homo religious"; he is just seeking a new and ever-changing religiosity. 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 obliged 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 report from one of the groups of bishops who once every five years come to Rome 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 attending 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 belonging' continue to rise. Paradoxically, 'faith' in atheism is also flailing with levels down to just 1 or 2%. The old interlocutors of the dialogue with nonbelievers, the famous theorists of atheism, such as Nietzsche and Marx, are somewhat passéé and nobody has seriously replaced them. Instead, there is a notable growth in indifference and a waning of well-informed debate and dialogue. We live in a culture of indifference and, what is perhaps worse, ignorance."

b) The Causes of Unbelief: Secularism and Indifference

Christianity has a curious place in the European project. On the one hand it provides the philosophical, anthropological and moral inspiration behind the project. On the other due to various cultural shifts it has often been sidelined or worse positively excluded. The recent Rocco 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 liberalism. It is an evil side effect and demands correction. We can be confident because secularism will never exclude religion from the world, for the simple fact that each and every man is fundamentally religious. But it bears emotionalism and individualism among its defining values, as they are exemplified in the New Age of cultural abandonment and privatized religion and consequent reduction of the pursuit of the transcendentals to mere technological progress and the feeling of well-being.

And these have devastating effects on Europe. Secularism also means relativism as it comports a denial of the Truth. This ideology 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 designer dogma and stand-off between Spain's socialist government and the Catholic Bishops concerning questions related to the value of life, solidarity and 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 agnosticism and skeptical relativism are the philosophy and the basic attitude which correspond to democratic forms of political life. Those who are convinced that they know the truth and firmly adhere to it are considered unreliable 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 according to different political trends. It must be observed in this regard that if there is no ultimate truth to guide and direct political activity, then ideas and convictions can easily be manipulated for reasons of power. As history demonstrates, a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism" (encyclical, "Centesimus Annus," No. 41).

You are aware more than I of the perils of totalitarianism, but in Western Europe too, fundamental spiritual values have fallen prey to secularism. As a result, even in traditionally Christian countries such as France, England and Spain, the hierarchy of values has been overturned and Truth, Beauty, and Goodness have been relegated below individualized, relativized and social values.

The centrality of the individual has been promoted but the real value of the human person has been forgotten. Such that democracy 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 that it is now necessary to offer basic courses on Christianity to students of the arts so that they can understand the great masterpieces and understand their own Christian culture. For without it, how can they appreciate the full value of Bach's "St. John Passion," Handel's "Messiah," Beethoven's "Missa Solemnis" or Michelangelo's Pietàà?

But let us be careful not to throw out the baby with the bath water! Secularism is not secularization, and not all that is not explicitly religious is evil. The transcendental reality can inspire us in other ways! 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 marked history for 2,000 years -- some have developed diverse expressions of Christian spirituality, others safeguarded our biblical heritage, others developed fundamental ideas about law and values, and others have been the source for the continual rebirth which has marked European history and her cultural developments. It is our task to follow in their footsteps, revealing the truth about humanity to our fellow men and women, to open the way to the transcendental source of all values, so that Europe can once more return to her roots.

The Response of the Church: A New Evangelization of Culture

Evangelization doesn't stop with the past, but must pour into the next generation. To respond to this task the Pontifical Council for Culture encourages various initiatives to evangelize culture, including prayer, personal dialogue, Cultural Centers, especially theological institutes, the evangelization of desire, a renewed awareness of Christian anthropology, a strong presence in the public forum, the promotion of the values of the family and of life, good Christian formation, the "via pulchritudinis," evangelical use of Christian patrimony, use of the complementary languages of reason and feeling, as well as the promotion of pilgrimages and many connected issues.

The evangelization of culture aims at letting the Gospel penetrate the actual situation of the lives of the people of a given society. "Pastoral practice must undertake the task of shaping a Christian mentality in ordinary life" ("Ecclesia in Europa," No. 58). More than at convincing, such evangelization aims at preparing the ground and at enabling listening, 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 proclamation of the Gospel and then acting on them, the evangelization of culture has some recurring themes, ideas, places, and methods, three of which I would like to present briefly here.

Christian Cultural Centers

The bridging of the gap between faith and culture, between the Gospel and everyday life, and between the proclamation of the Message and the indifference and practical atheism of many men and women of our time, has a privileged forum in Christian Cultural Centers, which I believe 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 particular communities. The very title "Christian cultural center" is to be understood in a broad sense, reflecting the rich diversity of cultural situations in different countries, where different interests and activities respond to the local needs in sync with the social and cultural traditions of each place.

The fourth edition of the International Directory of Catholic Cultural Centers, published by the Pontifical Council for Culture is meant to foster more frequent communication and more effective cooperation between such centers which are rich and varied in character, in terms of what they are called: cultural centers or circles, academies, university foundations, houses for cultural formation etc; their orientation: theological, scientific, educational, artistic. etc; the areas they cover: cultural trends, values, intercultural and interreligious dialogue, science, art. etc; and the activities undertaken: talks, debates, courses, seminars, publications, libraries, cultural events, exhibitions. etc.

For all their rich variety, these centers have one thing in common: the cultural activities they offer reflect their constant concern for the relationship between faith and cultures. This relationship is developed through dialogue, scientific research, personal formation and the promotion of a culture which faith inspires and makes fruitful, lively and dynamic. Catholic cultural centers, (and there is no reason why this should not apply to Orthodox or Christian cultural centers) are public forums, places where people meet and reflect, study and learn, exchange ideas and develop the dialogue between faith and cultures. In the broad context of globalization, they offer Catholics and anyone else interested in culture opportunities for useful contact and conversation about the world and history, religion, culture and science, all of which helps to discern those values that can throw new light on existence and give meaning to life.

Two other aspects of Christian Cultural Centers are worth bearing in mind: their networking and their publications. The Pontifical Council for Culture has already organized some fruitful meetings of such centers in different cultural regions: in France, in Germany, in Spain, in Italy, in the Lebanon, in Romania and further afield in Mexico, Chile 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 insights. Together with the Italian Episcopal Conference we have also produced a "Vademecum" to assist people to get into the mentality of Cultural Centers.

I would like to give three concrete examples of Christian 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 crossroads between the state, the Church and artists. By formation in theology, liturgy 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 faith, and to be creative. This task of saving cultural heritage clearly has at its heart the promotion and protection of fundamental values. For while Dostoevsky wrote that it is "beauty that will save the world," the director of the institute believes that the current task is to save beauty.

A second example lies in Further Educational Institutes. 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 themes of momentary importance for cultures. Their last conference, for example, 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 Centers of Theological Education for Laypeople in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine doing to bridge the gap between faith and culture?

Third, The Library of the Spirit in Moscow. This Christian Cultural Center has for some 15 years been publishing in Russian works of Christian cultural interest which come from both Orthodox and Catholic traditions, in order to present to readers across the Russian Federation and beyond Christian convictions about man, and God, and to make available 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 the Catholic Church, this centre provides a space for Christianity to make its message known through the field of culture, with books, literary events, meetings, and a widespread distribution network, thereby promoting a Christian conscience across the very heart of society, and contributing to the creation of a society based on Love.


John Paul II's Address to Bishops of England and Wales

 "The Pervasive Advance of Secularism"

 Here is the address John Paul II prepared today for the bishops of England and Wales, on their five-yearly visit to the Holy See.

 Your Eminence,
 Dear Brother Bishops,

 1. "Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father 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 Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor for the good wishes and kind sentiments  expressed on your behalf. I warmly reciprocate them and I assure you of my prayers for yourselves and those entrusted to your pastoral care. In "coming to see Peter" (Galatians 1:18) you strengthen in faith, hope and charity your bonds of communion with the  Bishop of Rome. Your first visit "ad limina Apostolorum" of this new millennium is an occasion to affirm your 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 a rich Christian heritage, today face the pervasive advance of secularism. At the root of this situation is the attempt to promote a vision of humanity apart from God and removed from Christ. It is a mentality which  exaggerates individualism, sunders the essential link between freedom and truth, and consequently destroys the mutual bonds which define social living. This loss of a sense of God is often experienced as "the abandonment of man". Social disintegration, threats to family life, and the ugly specters of racial intolerance and war, leave many men and women, and especially the young, feeling disoriented and at times even without hope. Consequently it is not just the Church which encounters the disturbing effects of  secularism but civic life as well. Jesus Christ, alive in his Church, enables 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 religious indifference, the decline in vocations to the priesthood and Religious Life, and the grave difficulties experienced by parents in their attempts to catechize their own children, all attest to the vital need for Bishops 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 safeguarding the unity of faith and of upholding the discipline which is common to the whole Church" ("Lumen Gentium,"). It is by fidelity to the ordinary magisterium of the Church, by strict adherence to the discipline of the universal Church, and by positive statements which clearly instruct the faithful, that a Bishop preserves God's people from deviations and defections and guarantees them the objective possibility of professing the true faith
 without error (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church).

 3. Dear Brothers, your reports clearly indicate that you have taken to heart my profound conviction that the new millennium demands a "new impetus in Christian living" ("Novo Millennio Ineunte,"). If the Church is to satisfy the thirst of men and women for truth and authentic values upon which to build their lives, no effort can be spared in finding effective pastoral initiatives to make Jesus Christ known.

 In the midst of recurring impulses to division, suspicion and opposition, the great challenge facing us is to make the Church the home and school of communion (cf. ibid.), recognizing that she is "a people brought into unity from the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit" ("Lumen Gentium,"). Thus it is of great importance that the catechetical and religious education programs which you have introduced should continue to deepen the faithful's understanding and love of Christ and his Church. Authentic pedagogy on prayer,  persuasive catechesis on the meaning of liturgy and the importance of the Sunday Eucharist, and promotion of the frequent practice of the Sacrament of Reconciliation (cf. Congregation for Clergy: Instruction: "The Priest, Pastor and Leader of the Parish Community,")  will do much to meet this pastoral goal and enkindle in the hearts of your people the joy and peace deriving from participation in the Church's life and mission.

 4. Integral to the success of your programs of pastoral renewal is the role of priestly ministry. The Church needs humble and holy priests whose daily journey of conversion will inspire the entire People of God to the holiness to which it is called (cf. "Lumen
 Gentium,"). Firmly grounded in a personal relationship of deep communion and friendship with Jesus the Good Shepherd, the priest not only will find sanctification for himself but will become a model of 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 will show them your special affection by accompanying them as fathers and brothers along all the stages of their ministerial life (cf. "Pastores Gregis,").  Similarly, Religious Priests, Brothers and Sisters need to be encouraged as they too seek to enrich ecclesial communion by their
 cooperative presence and ministry in your Dioceses. As a gift to the Church, the consecrated life lies at her very heart, manifesting the deep beauty of the Christian vocation to selfless, sacrificial love. Your recent endeavors to promote a "culture of vocation" will certainly become a welcome sign of the treasure of the various states of ecclesial life which together exist "that the world may believe" (John 17:21).

 As a priority in your response to the call for a new evangelization, I am heartened to learn of your resolute efforts to bring further energy to youth ministry. The growth of groups such as "Youth 2000" and the development of university chaplaincy programs are  evidence of the desire of many young people to share in the Church's life. As ministers of hope, Bishops must build the future together with those to whom the future is entrusted (cf. "Pastores Gregis,"). Offer them an integral Christian formation and challenge them to follow Christ. You will find their enthusiasm and generosity exactly what is needed to promote a spirit of renewal not just among themselves but in the entire Christian community.

 5. Evangelization of culture is a central aspect of the new evangelization, for "at the heart of every culture lies the attitude man takes to the greatest mystery: the mystery of God" ("Centesimus Annus,"). As Bishops, you rightly seek to find ways for the truth of Christ to be given due consideration in the public arena. In this regard, I recognize the fine contribution of your pastoral letters and statements on matters 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 uniqueness of marriage as a lifelong union between a man and a woman in which as husband and wife they share in God's loving work of creation. Equating marriage with other forms of cohabitation obscures the sacredness of marriage and 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 communication is that it should respect and serve the truth. Your efforts to assist those 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. Invite 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 evangelization of culture, I wish to acknowledge the fine contribution of your Catholic schools both to enriching the faith of the Catholic community and to promoting excellence within civic life in general. Recognizing the profound changes that affect the world of education, I encourage teachers, lay and Religious, in their primary mission of ensuring that those who have been baptized "become daily more appreciative of the gift of faith which they have received" ("Gravissimum Educationis,"). While religious education, the heart of any Catholic school, is today a challenging and taxing apostolate, there are 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, we need teachers with a clear and precise understanding of the specific nature and role of Catholic education. This must be articulated at every level if our young people and their families are to experience the harmony between faith, life and culture (cf. Congregation for Catholic Education, "Consecrated Persons and their Mission in Schools,"). Here I would make a special appeal to your Religious not to abandon the school apostolate (cf. "Pastores Gregis,") 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 the 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 share 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 Teresa 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 in pastoral wisdom, strengthen you in fortitude and enkindle in your hearts 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 ( Here are excerpts from an address given by George Weigel at the Gregorian University this month. Weigel is a senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

* * *

At the far western end of the axis that traverses Paris from the Louvre down the Champs Elysées and through the Arc de Triomphe is the Great Arch of La Défense. Designed by a sternly modernist Danish architect, the Great Arch is a colossal open cube: almost 40 stories tall, faced in glass and 2.47 acres of white Carrara marble. Its rooftop terrace offers an unparalleled view of the French capital, past the Tuilleries to the Ile de la Cité, Sante Chapelle, and Notre-Dame.

The arch's three-story high roof also houses the International Foundation for Human Rights. For President François Mitterrand planned 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 was dubbed "Fraternity Arch." That same guidebook, like every other one I consulted, emphasized that the entire Cathedral of Notre-Dame would fit comfortably inside the Great Arch.

All of which raised some questions, as I walked along that terrace in 1997. Which culture would better protect human rights and secure the moral foundations of democracy? The culture that built this rational, geometrically precise, but essentially featureless cube? Or the culture that produced the gargoyles and flying buttresses, the asymmetries and holy "unsameness" of Notre-Dame and the other great Gothic cathedrals of Europe?

Those questions have come back to me, if in different forms, as I've tried to understand Europe in recent years. How, for example, 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 European intellectuals and political leaders deem any reference to the Christian sources of contemporary Europe civilization a threat to human rights and democracy?

Was there some connection between this internal European debate over Europe's constitution-making and the portrait in the European press of Americans (and especially an American president) as religious fanatics intent on shooting up the world? Was there a further connection between this debate and the fate of Rocco Buttiglione's candidacy for the post of Commissioner of Justice on the European Commission?

Understanding these phenomena requires something more than a conventional political analysis. Nor can political answers explain the reasons behind perhaps the most urgent issue confronting Europe today -- the fact that Western Europe is committing demographic suicide, its far-below-replacement-level birthrates creating enormous pressures on the European welfare state and a demographic vacuum into which Islamic immigrants are flowing in increasing numbers, often becoming radicalized in the process.

My proposal is that Europe is experiencing a crisis of 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 superiority of the Great Arch to Notre-Dame: the question of the cube and the cathedral, and their relationship to both the meaning of freedom and the future of democracy.

To suggest that Europe is living through a "crisis of civilizational morale" is a very broad description. Let me raised some specific issues that point toward that conclusion -- and to the necessity of a cultural, indeed theological, analysis of Europe's situation today.

-- Why, in the aftermath of 1989, did Europeans fail to condemn communism as a moral and political monstrosity? Why was the only politically acceptable judgment on communism the rather banal observation that it "didn't work"?

-- Why, as historian John Keegan puts it, do Europeans often espouse "a philosophy of international action that actually rejected action and took refuge in the belief that all conflicts of interest were to be settled by consultation, conciliation, and the intervention of international agencies"?

-- What accounts for disturbing currents of irrationality in contemporary European politics? Why did one of every five Germans (and one-third of those under 30) believe that the United States was responsible for 9/11, while some 300,000 French men and women made a best seller out 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 victory to appeasement in their March 2004 elections, held days after Al-Qaeda operatives killed hundreds and wounded thousands by bombing a Madrid train station?

-- Why is Europe retreating from democracy and binding 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 calls "depoliticization?" Why does Manent have "the impression today that the greatest ambition of Europeans is to become the inspectors of American prisons"?

-- Why are so many European public intellectuals "Christophobic," 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 pointed out?

-- Why do certain parts of Europe exhibit a curious, even bizarre, approach to death? Why did so many of the French prefer to continue their summer vacations during the European heat wave of 2003, leaving their parents unburied and warehoused in refrigerated lockers? Why is death increasingly anonymous in Germany, with no death notice in the newspapers, no church funeral ceremony, no secular memorial service -- "as though," as Richard John Neuhaus observed, "the deceased did not exist"?

-- Above all, why is Europe committing demographic suicide, systematically depopulating itself in what British historian Niall Ferguson calls the greatest "sustained reduction in European population since the Black Death of the 14th century"?

-- Why do 18 European countries report "negative natural increase" (i.e., more deaths than births)?

-- Why does no Western European country have a replacement-level birthrate?

-- Why is Germany likely to lose the equivalent of the population of the former East Germany in the first half of the 21st century?

-- Why will Spain's population decline from 40 million to 31 million by 2050?

-- Why will 42% of Italians be over 60 by 2050 -- at which 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, wealthier 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 civilizational morale is important for understanding Europe today and for discerning whatever promising paths of European renewal there may be. Getting at the roots of "Europe's problem" is also important for understanding a set of problems Americans may face in the not-too-distant future. And that means that both Europeans and Americans must learn to think in new ways about the dynamics of history.

During 13 years of research and teaching in east central 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 the fashionable nihilism and materialism of the late 19th century.

You can find it in 19th-century Polish novelists, poets and playwrights, who, breaking with the Jacobin conviction that "revolution" meant a complete rupture with the past, insisted that genuine "revolution" meant the recovery of lost spiritual and moral values. You can find it in such intellectual leaders of the anti-communist resistance in east central Europe as Karol Wojtyla, Václav Havel and Václav Benda, who all argued that "living in the truth" could change what seemed unchangeable in history.

The common thread among these disparate thinkers is the conviction that the deepest currents of "history" are spiritual and cultural, rather than political and economic. "History" is not simply the byproduct of the contest for power in the world -- although power plays an important role in history. And "history" is certainly not the exhaust fumes produced by the means of production, as the Marxists taught.

Rather, "history" is driven by culture -- by what men and women honor, cherish, and worship; by what societies deem to be true and good and noble; by the expressions they give to those convictions in language, literature and the arts; by what individuals and societies are willing to stake their lives on.

Poland is one embodiment of this way of thinking, which Poles believe has been vindicated empirically by their own modern history. For 123 years, from 1795 to 1918, the Polish state was erased from Europe. Yet during that century and a quarter the Polish nation survived with such vigor that it could give birth to a new Polish state in 1918. And despite the fact that the revived Polish state was then beset for 50 years by the 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 of 1989.

How did this happen? Poland survived -- better, Poland prevailed -- because of culture: a culture formed by a distinctive language, by a unique literature, and by an intense Catholic faith (which, an its noblest and deepest expressions, was ecumenical and tolerant, not xenophobic, 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 classically 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 "culture-first" understanding of the dynamics of the world's story. …

World War I, the Great War, was the product of a crisis 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 us today.

This latter crisis has only become visible since the end of the Cold War. Its effects were first masked by the illusory peace between World War I and World War II; then by the rise of totalitarianism and the Great Depression; then by World War II itself; and then by the Cold War. 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 "rage of self-mutilation" could come to the surface of history and be seen for what they were -- and for what they are.

The damage done to the fabric of European culture and civilization in the Great War could only been seen clearly when the Great War's political effects had been cleared from the board in 1991. Recognizing that damage for what it is brings into sharper focus the contemporary European cultural and political situation and its lessons for the United States.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's insight into the meaning of the 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. Augustine's 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 most distinguished theologians. Like other Europeans who had witnessed the Continent's 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 ideas, which he knew to be fraught with "real world" consequences. Thus, during the early 1940s, he turned his attention to some of the most influential intellectual figures in pre-20th century European culture. The result was a book, "The Drama of Atheistic Humanism" ["Le Drame de l'humanisme athée"], which argued that the civilizational crisis in which Europe found itself during World War II was the product of a deliberate rejection of the God of the Bible in the name of authentic human liberation.

This, de Lubac suggested, was a great reversal. In the classical world, the gods, or Fate, played games with men and women, often with lethal consequences. In the face of these experiences, the revelation of the God of the Bible -- the self-disclosure in history of the one God who was neither a willful tyrant (to be avoided) nor a carnivorous predator (to be appeased) nor a remote abstraction (to be safely ignored) -- was perceived as a great liberation. Human beings were neither the playthings of the gods nor the passive victims of Fate. Because they could have access to the one true God through prayer and worship, those who believed in the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus could bend history in a humane direction. History was thus an arena of responsibility and purpose.

Yet what biblical man had perceived as liberation, the proponents of atheistic humanism perceived as bondage. Human freedom could not co-exist with the God of Jews and Christians. Human greatness required rejecting the biblical God, according to atheistic humanism.

This, Father de Lubac argued, was something new. This was not the atheism of skeptical individuals. This was atheistic humanism -- atheism with a developed ideology and a program for remaking the world. As a historian of ideas, de Lubac knew that bad ideas can have lethal consequences. At the heart of the darkness inside the great mid-20th century tyrannies [of] communism, fascism, Nazism, Father de Lubac discerned the lethal effects of the marriage between modern technology and the ideas borne by atheistic humanism.

He summed up the results of this misbegotten union in these terms: "It is not true, as is sometimes said, that man cannot organize the world without God. What is true is that, without God, he can only organize it against man." That is what the tyrannies of the mid-20th century had proven -- ultramundane humanism is inevitably inhuman humanism. And inhuman humanism cannot neither sustain nor defend the democratic project. It can only undermine it or attack it. …

The argument over acknowledging any Christian contribution to the democratic civilization of the 21st century may have clarified the understandings of "democracy" and "human rights" that shape contemporary European high culture and the political elite in the Brussels-Paris-Berlin axis, but it also raised serious questions about Europe's capacity to defend its democracy, morally and philosophically.

If democratic institutions and procedures are the expressions of a distinctive way of life based on specific moral commitments, then democratic citizenship must be more than a matter of following the procedures 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 commitment to human rights, to the rule of law and equality before the law, to decision-making by the majority and protection of the rights of minorities. Democratic citizenship means being able to tell why one affirms "the universal values of the inviolable and inalienable rights of the human person, democracy, equality, freedom and the rule of law," to cite the preamble to the European constitution. Who can give such an account?

Here is one of the richest ironies involved in the question of the cube and the cathedral. The original charge against Christians in the Roman empire was that they were "atheists": people who were "a-theos," 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 over-against the political community.

The "Christophobia" of contemporary European high culture turns this indictment inside out and upside down: Christianity cannot be acknowledged as a source of European democracy because the only public space safe for pluralism, tolerance, civility, and democracy is a public space that is thoroughly a-theos.

It is all very strange. For the truth of the matter is that European Christians can likely give a more compelling account of their commitment to democratic values than their fellow Europeans who are a-theos -- who believe that "neutrality toward worldviews" must characterize democratic Europe. A postmodern or neo-Kantian "neutrality toward worldviews" cannot be truly tolerant; it can only be indifferent.

Absent convictions, there is no tolerance; there is only indifference. Absent some compelling notion of the truth that requires us to be tolerant of those who have a different understanding of the truth, there is only skepticism and relativism. And skepticism and relativism are very weak foundations on which to build and sustain a pluralistic democracy, 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 should be tolerant because it works better -- there is the argument for tolerance given by Pope John Paul II in his 1989 encyclical letter on Christian mission, "Redemptoris Missio" [The Mission of the Redeemer]. There the Pope taught that "The Church proposes; she imposes nothing." The Catholic Church respects the "other" as an "other" who is also a seeker of truth and goodness; the Church only asks that the believer and the "other" enter into a dialogue that leads to mutual enrichment rather than to a deeper skepticism about the possibility of grasping the truth of things.

The Catholic Church believes it to be the will of God 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 who share this conviction) can "give an account" of their defense of the "other's" freedom, even if the "other," skeptical and relativist, finds it hard to "give an account" of the freedom of the Christian. That the Church did not always behave according to these convictions is obvious from history.

The point today is that the Church recognizes, publicly, 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 led a "Day of Pardon" at St. Peter's Basilica. This was not an exercise in Catholic political correctness, nor was this pandering to approved victim groups. This was confession: an acknowledgment of sin and a plea for divine 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 the cathedral, if you will -- is a community capable of learning from the past, 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 commitments to freedom.

Can others? Can those who are a-theos -- can the people of the cube -- grapple with the dark passages on European history caused by radically secularist understandings of the human person, human community, and human destiny: the Reign of Terror, Nazism, and communism?

These concerns are not, let me repeat, the products of American Euro-phobia, nor are they the result of the sharp division between much of Europe and the United States over the Iraq War. Indeed, there is 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 exhortation, "Ecclesia in Europa." There, the Pope suggests that, within Europe itself, there is an intuition that a "Europe" of political, legal and economic structures alone is insufficient. Like John Paul II, thoughtful Europeans 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 European constitution was also the present and the future, not just the past. Those who insisted that there be no overt recognition that Christianity played 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 pluralistic can only be built as a public space from which the God of the Bible has been excluded.

That this position is shared by more than a few American political, judicial, intellectual, and cultural leaders is obvious, and suggests that what has been unfolding in Europe in recent decades -- indeed, over the past two centuries -- could well be replicated in the United States (as it is already being replicated in Canada). To repeat, that is why "Europe's problem" is, from an American point of view, "our" problem, too.