The non-confessional democratic state
And Taking a Look at Benedict XVI's praise for the US
By Elizabeth Lev
JAN. 15, 2009 - Last April (2008), Americans basked in the glow of
Benedict XVI's visit. His gentle charm won them, his direct
confrontation of serious issues in the Church impressed them and his
message of "Spe Salvi" rallied them.Americans were also startled to
hear themselves praised by the Holy Father. After two centuries of
being the new kids on the block, they were stunned to hear the Pope
suggest that Europe could learn from the American model of Church and
curious Europeans asked about this exemplary model, however, Americans
were perplexed. As of late, it seems that the U.S. has been trying out
several different models.
Ambassador to the Holy See Mary Ann Glendon picked up the Pope's
challenge to rediscover the American model of religious liberty and in
her final conference of a richly packed year leading the U.S. mission
to the Holy See, she set out to examine that model.
January 13, a star-studded international conference presented to
Americans and Europeans alike what the Holy Father found praiseworthy,
but also the real challenges and pitfalls facing Church/state relations
the plane to the U.S., Pope Benedict made the following comment to
Italian reporter Andrea Tornielli, "What I find fascinating in the
United States is that they began with a positive concept of secularism,
because this new people was formed by communities and people who had
fled from the state churches and wanted to have a lay state, secular,
that would open possibilities to all confessions, for all the types of
religious exercise. In this way, an intentionally secular state was
born: They were against a state church."
first speaker, Dr. Phillip Hamburger of Columbia University, gave a
succinct explanation of the development of the American experiment on
how to combine government and religion. Pointing out the specific
circumstances of founding fathers of the 18th century, Professor
Hamburger emphasized that the "positive secularism" of the newborn
American state was designed to protect religion from the state and not
Europe to escape Churches imposed by the state, as in England, or a
state hostile to the Church, as in France, the Constitution of the
United States tried to form a climate where the myriad of different
peoples joining the new nation would be able to practice diverse
religions without interference by the government.
lack of any reference to God in the Constitution, this notion of
religious liberty made America a land where many different religions
could flourish side by side in relative peace.
existed from the beginning however, Professor Hamburger noted. Some
wanted a state blind to religion, while others looked for exemptions
from law for religious reasons.
tug-of-war has contributed to what Professor Hamburger describes as the
decline of the U.S. model, which has taken place during the second half
of the 20th century. On the one side, demands for religious exemption
from laws has spawned the notion that if "some religious freedom is
good, more is better." But Professor Hamburger believes that indeed
"more is less" as it creates inequality and discrimination in favor of
those with religious beliefs.
the same time, a re-reading of the First Amendment out of its original
context has also caused a misunderstanding of the meaning of
disestablishment. The First Amendment intended to prohibit the state
from forming a religion, but as the years wore on, a new meaning of
separation of Church and state came into play.
Hamburger explained that the founding fathers intended a vertical
separation of government and religion so that the state could not reach
down into the religious sphere. Today it has been misinterpreted as a
wall between Church and state and glossed with prejudice and
historical nugget presented by Professor Hamburger recounted the
beginnings of the Church-state separation mantra in the anti-Catholic
slogans of the 1840s against the immigrant Irish. Those slogans were
picked up by the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. Catholics were painted as
ignorant, mindless followers of a foreign despot, while Protestants
were intellectually independent and acted according to conscience.
Americans at the dawn of the 21st century are confused between these
two interpretations of Church/state relations. Professor Hamburger
closed on a positive note, saying that that the "old model lives on,"
but the American people need to rediscover its original meaning and
A gritty snapshot
addressing the U.S. bishops conference last April, Pope Benedict
illustrated some weaknesses of the American model, saying, "Perhaps
America's brand of secularism poses a particular problem: it allows for
professing belief in God, and respects the public role of religion and
the Churches, but at the same time it can subtly reduce religious
belief to a lowest common denominator. Faith becomes a passive
acceptance that certain things 'out there' are true, but without
practical relevance for everyday life."
Richard Garnett of Notre Dame Law School addressed the modern threats
to positive secularism with a candid portrait of the state of religious
three models of religious freedom at play in the United States. The
first is a freedom from religion that tries to exclude religion from
public life as if it were "just another hobby." The domestication of
religion creates a boundary that prevents people from living their
religion in every aspect of their lives.
second is freedom of religion that recognizes religion cannot be simply
put aside, but treats it with a "benevolent evenhandedness." This model
refuses to acknowledge the specialness of religion.
third model is the ideal, freedom for religion, in which man's "search
for truth is recognized as an important human activity." This model,
which reflects the spirit of the founding fathers, does not impose
religion but understands that man needs to look for truth.
Garnett also shed light on the tremendous amount of litigation over
religion that steers and drives these models. The stakes are very high
between these models; questions of education, the liberty of religious
institutions to govern themselves, bioethical issues all have an
interest in which model will prevail.
presenting a sobering picture of a very real battlefield, Garnett saw
hope for the model of freedom for religion in that "our laws still
think religion is good thing."
The agent provocateur
the White House lawn, Pope Benedict offered a challenge to the American
people. "Freedom is not only a gift, but also a summons to personal
responsibility. Americans know this from experience -- almost every
town in this country has its monuments honoring those who sacrificed
their lives in defense of freedom, both at home and abroad. The
preservation of freedom calls for the cultivation of virtue,
self-discipline, sacrifice for the common good and a sense of
responsibility toward the less fortunate. It also demands the courage
to engage in civic life and to bring one's deepest beliefs and values
to reasoned public debate."
last talk, given by Dr. Joseph Weiler of New York University, brought
the responsibility of religious freedom out of courts, Congress and
churches and placed it squarely on the shoulders of citizens.
the government sphere and the private sphere, there is the huge sector
of civil society," Professor Weiler noted. "Citizens cannot break the
First Amendment, only governments; it is a shield, not a sword."
Weiler pointed out that when Americans consent to the sterilization of
speech from religious content, the "naked public square" and the
willful misunderstanding of the separation of Church and state, they
are allowing their own religious freedom to slip through their fingers.
he pointed out the irony that Christianity introduced the concept of
that which is Caesar's and that which is God's, creating a distinction
between the realm of God and the realm of man, yet this great
innovation is often manipulated at present to strangle the voice of
An expert on
European law, Professor Weiler, pointed out the essential element of
religion in the identity of Europeans, making the purely secular
American model an imperfect fit. "The Irish without the Holy Trinity
and the British without God Save the Queen lose a crucial part of what
defines them as a nation."
the Church and state separation question further, Professor Weiler
announced that the "deepest religious freedom is that of being able to
say no to God." Like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, man should be
free to choose to defy God. Therefore, the true acceptance of religion
would be to put man in a position to refuse religion, instead of hiding
religion from him.
Weiler placed a strategic burr under the saddle of the harmonious
proceedings, by alluding repeatedly to a Franco-American model of
Church/state relations at work in the United States.
many it seemed like an oxymoron -- the French having legislation
against religion and the Americans legislating for religious tolerance.
But over the years and the intermixing of models, the French definition
of laicism has begun to infiltrate American notions of religious
tried to shake off the French comparison with lively debate, but a few
uncomfortable thorns stuck. The realization that America might be
drifting toward a European model, with its attendant low birthrates,
education problems and general malaise lingered as the conference ended.
the eve of a new presidency, as Americans enter a new era, the momentum
begun by Pope Benedict on his trip to America took on clarity and
direction in this last great conference held by Ambassador Glendon,
organized by the U.S. embassy to the Holy See and made possible by the
Knights of Columbus.
* * *
Lev teaches Christian art and architecture at Duquesne University's
Italian campus. She can be reached at email@example.com.
God in the Public Square
Think Tank Insists That Faith
Has a Role
By Father John Flynn
LONDON, NOV. 20, 2006 - Faith has an important contribution
to make to today's society, according to a report published by a new
British think tank, Theos. The London-based organization opened its
doors with the publication on Nov. 7 of a report titled: "'Doing God':
A Future for Faith in the Public Square."
According to its Web site, Theos says it will undertake research and
provide theological commentary on social and political arrangements.
The Anglican archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and the cardinal
archbishop of Westminster, Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, co-wrote the
foreword to the report. They comment that there is a "collective
confusion" regarding issues of faith in society. "Issues of belief and
faith, of how human beings perceive the world, have rarely been so
important in society, or so badly misunderstood," says the foreword.
"Many secularist commentators argue that the growing role of faith in
society represents a dangerous development," the two prelates observe.
Such an interpretation is incorrect, they argue: "This report argues
that faith is not just important for human flourishing and the renewal
of society but that society can only flourish if faith is given space
to makes its contribution and its challenge."
In the past, Christianity played an important role for social cohesion
in Britain, the Theos report notes. Nevertheless, for many decades
Christianity has been in decline in terms of numbers who regularly
practice their faith. Moreover, faith is often given short shrift in
contemporary British society. When Prime Minister Tony Blair recently
spoke about the role his faith played in his political decisions, the
public reaction was decidedly negative.
Added to this there is a constant stream of news about how Christian
symbols and traditions are being eliminated, on the basis that they are
thought to be discriminatory. Thus, Christmas is being turned into a
winter festival; crosses are removed from public places; church-run
social programs are pressured into eliminating any Christian message;
and Christian organizations are threatened with legal action if they
don't admit non-Christians.
Yet, faith-related themes are increasingly present in public debates.
Issues such as faith-based schools and the dress habits of Muslim women
were headline news in Britain recently. And the question of where to
place the dividing line between church and state is a hot topic, both
in the United Kingdom and elsewhere.
The public square
A number of arguments are made against religious involvement in public
affairs. The report comments on a series of such positions.
-- Politics is, at best, the art of the possible, and is the arena for
compromise, and religions don't like compromise. But, the report
replies, many of those active in public life who hold religious beliefs
are also serious about the need to debate and negotiate.
-- Religiously motivated engagement in the public square is oriented
around transcendent principles, which do not give sufficient weight to
human concerns. Theos observes that, for Christians, the Incarnation
gives a special meaning to human concerns. Another answer lies in the
fact that this criticism can be made of any ideology, and 20th-century
history amply demonstrates that "god-less ideas are as dangerous as
allegedly godly ones."
-- Another argument against "doing God" is that religiously motivated
engagement in the public square is inherently sectarian. This
supposedly fractures public discourse and exacerbates tensions. But
this is not necessarily true, the report argues. Citing the Catechism
of the Catholic Church, Theos observes that religiously inspired
activity can be a force for the common good of society.
-- Religion is also criticized for being "inherently inaccessible," in
that ideas driven by a belief system can fragment public discourse and
alienate those outside a particular tradition. The report replies by
commenting that debate in the public square is not in any case some
kind of perfectly neutral discourse, which would somehow be damaged by
religion. Moreover, religious believers are more than capable of using
arguments and principles that are of universal application.
-- A more common argument is that God and Caesar have nothing to do
with one another, so therefore the churches should keep out of the
public arena. Theos, however, argues that the establishment of the
Kingdom preached by Christ is just as much a public affair as it is a
Churches not only have a legitimate role to play, they also play an
important part in maintaining political equilibrium, the report
maintains: "A belief in the provisionality and impermanence of
political power, which forms the basis of political liberalism, is
Christendom's legacy to the modern world."
When states forget that they do not have an absolute claim on their
citizens, then they can more easily err in the direction of a
totalitarianism that dehumanizes people, the report warns. "This is an
error into which theophobic secularism can fall," it states.
The Theos report also points out the valuable charitable contribution
made by churches to civil society. One study of England's Northwest
region identified more than 5,000 significant church-affiliated
projects, of a social and not religious nature, involving more than
45,000 volunteers. Another report on the same region estimated that the
volunteers contributed around 8.1 million hours per annum (the
equivalent of 4,815 full-time jobs).
More data come from the UK Charity Commission, which calculates there
are more than 22,000 religious charities working in England and Wales
today. This number is growing. In 2005, no fewer than 16.5% of the
5,000 new charities that registered were religious.
According to Theos the religious contribution to civil society is
particularly important for four main reasons.
-- First, religious involvement in civil society is almost always
group-based. This helps ensure a wider perspective that goes beyond
very local concerns or individual attitudes.
-- Second, such voluntary activity tends to be commonly focused on
those in greatest need.
-- Third, religious groups are often more disposed to commit for the
long term, and the parish structures help ensure continuity.
-- Fourth, religious groups are very often involved not simply as
another special-interest group but as potential brokers between
More than bread alone
Religion's contribution goes beyond material help. Theos argues that
religion also has an important part to play in satisfying deeper needs.
The British, like most Westerners, are richer than ever before. "Most
people in Britain live in a material paradise that would have left
their grandparents speechless," the report comments.
People also live longer and are healthier. Yet all is not well with
today's society. This is reflected in data such as increased alcohol
and drug abuse, higher levels of depression and sexually transmitted
infections, and a rising prison population. Opinion polls, both in
Britain and other countries, also point to flat levels of satisfaction
or happiness over the last decades, in spite of significant material
Religion, the report explains, has long preached value systems that
foster a more profound well-being and acted as a counterbalance to the
human inclinations toward greed and materialism. And values such as
trust and community participation, closely correlated with personal,
social and economic flourishing, are central features of faith groups.
In addition, religious value systems are strongly related to vital
questions of personal happiness, such as the promotion of lifelong,
faithful, monogamous marriage.
"The object of politics and the goal of human flourishing, as
understood in Christianity, are not the same thing," the report
observes. Yet, they well may share more common ground in the future
than many are now willing to admit.
The Foundations of Democracy
According to Theologian Father
NEW YORK, SEPT. 1, 2006 Here is the text of an address
Father Michael Hull of New York delivered at a theologians
videoconference on race and culture June 27. The Congregation for
Clergy organized the international videoconference.
* * *
"Democracy" is difficult to define, and its foundations are difficult
to articulate, because the word is used in many and diverse ways,
especially by special-interest groups including political parties, the
media, and governments.
At its root, democracy means "rule by the people" (Greek: democratia).
Such is the foundation for all democratic thought, namely, that the
ruled should participate in some capacity in their ruling; but the
extent of that capacity, whether total or partial, and the means by
which that capacity is exercised, whether by the people themselves or
their representatives, are hardly standard or standardized.
In fact, the range of meaning ascribed, often speciously, to the word
democracy is so wide as to make it almost meaningless.
Yet the root of the word expresses well its foundational principle:
rule by the people.
A sincere desire for the people to have a voice in their government
reflects knowledge of and respect for the fundamental dignity of the
human person as a creature of God. Although such an understanding may
be a crude one, as in the ancient Greek or Enlightenment understanding,
unaided human reason can come to know God, the created order, and the
natural law (see "Dei Filius" of Vatican Council I).
Such knowledge ought to lead to a profound respect for human persons
and their dignity. Over 40 years ago, "Gaudium et spes" spoke of "a
keener awareness of human dignity" as the catalyst "to establish a
politico-juridical order in which the rights of the human person in
public life will be better protected" (73).
That catalyst has been accelerated by revelation, wherein we see the
sacrifice of Christ -- "greater love has no man than this, that a man
lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13) -- as the prism through
which we see every human being: one for whom the Son suffered and died,
one to whom eternal salvation is offered.
Thus, "the Church recognizes that while democracy is the best
_expression of the direct participation of citizens in political
choices, it succeeds only to the extent that it is based on a correct
understanding of the human person" (Congregation for the Doctrine of
the Faith, "The Participation of Catholics in Political Life," no. 3).
The foundation of democratic thought -- that the ruled should
participate in some capacity in their ruling -- assumes a weighty
character when the ramifications of revelation are taken into
This character compels a recognition of the natural law described by
St. Paul as "written" on human hearts (Romans 2:15) and defined by St.
Thomas Aquinas as "nothing else than the rational creature's
participation of the eternal law" (Summa theologiae, part I-II, q. 91,
a. 2; cf. Pope John Paul II, "Veritatis splendor," no. 43).
Without the recognition of the primacy of natural law, democracies are
condemned to little more than tyranny of the majority, not to mention a
plethora of social and moral evils.
The single, clearest example of such evil is found with respect to
every human being's right to life. Recall for a moment those millions
upon millions of babies legally murdered in their mothers' wombs in
so-called democracies like the United States and most European
The foundation of democratic thought -- that the ruled should
participate in some capacity in their ruling -- has failed the common
good in this (and in many other areas).
Great care must be taken, as St. Augustine of Hippo so wonderfully
reminds us in "De civitate Dei," to avoid mistaking the kingdom of men
for the kingdom of God.
Winston Churchill may have been right when he remarked, "Democracy is
the worst form of government except all those other forms that have
been tried from time to time."
But we know for sure that something better is coming along at the end
of time: the reign of Christ the King.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------urope Needs Christians in Public
Interview With Professor Hans Maier
Germany, AUG. 27, 2006 -
Christians have a responsibility
to be involved in the preservation of freedom in the
modern state, says political scientist Hans Maier.
Maier, 75, retired professor
of Munich's Ludwig-Maximilians University, was minister of Education
in Bavaria from 1970 to 1986, and president of the
Central Committee of German Catholics from 1976 to 1988.
has written some 30 books, including "Democracy in the Church?"
(1970), in which he collaborated with Father Joseph Ratzinger, now
In this interview with the Italian daily Avvenire, published
July 5, Maier speaks of the soul of Europe, its
relationship with Islam and the role of the lay Christian
in public life.
* * *
Q: Do you think a
European culture exists?
Maier: There is not one European culture that
can be studied in school. Just as there is no
one European language, or one way of living that can
be described as European.
However, there are common foundations and principles,
manifested in the cultural specificities of each nation. And these
unifying principles are Roman law, which led Europe to develop
an efficient juridical culture; the Judeo-Christian belief in one God,
which has imprinted itself on institutions and thought; the model
of educational formation, which presupposes a certain conception of man
and a specific way of situating himself before learning.
Greco-Roman and Christian heritage appear as constitutive of Europe and
its cultural foundations. What kind of Islam can Europe have,
without entailing an alteration of identity?
Maier: We cannot say that
Europe is only Christian, but the Judeo-Christian heritage profoundly
its cultural and political soul. To import in Europe the
same Islam that has been structured in Arab countries would
mean the suppression of present-day Europe to create another, radically
This does not mean that we cannot have a
Euro-Islam, an Islam adapted to Europe. But it presupposes on
the part of Muslims respect for religious freedom, pluralism of
thought and the distinction between religion and politics. It requires
that the mullahs accept to live their faith along with
the Jewish synagogues and Christian cathedrals. It is a process
of transformation and maturation to which we must call Muslims,
if they wish to be part of this Europe of
Q: Europe has given origin to the worst totalitarianisms in
history. Do you hold that one can also consider the
concept of freedom as a constitutive part of European identity?
Certainly. Freedom is something typically European, and I would also
say, typically Christian. The contribution made by Christianity to the
development of freedom as well as of democracy, is very
strong. As for the rest, the totalitarianisms of the 20th
century, Communism, and Fascism especially in their National-Socialist
the substitute introduced when there was an attempt to suppress
religion in Europe.
They are "political religions," molded as religions in
the vacuum created by the cancellation of religion. I would
say therefore that Christianity is a kind of vaccine against
attempts to suppress freedom. And in this regard, Christians have
a fundamental role to cement freedom also in the modern
Q: What is the relationship between Christianity and democracy?
is a very close link, and it begins with Christianity's
computation of time, which is not a simple matter of
the calendar, but expresses a conception of the world and
of existence. The birth of a Christian chronology reflects a
transformation of Christians' attitude in regard to "this world": in
the measure in which the Christian interacted with the world,
he identified himself increasingly with his own time.
The calculation of
time in the Medieval convent was transformed into personal and
collective responsibility. And this would later influence the
and civic structure in the social and political life of
communities. Herein lie the roots of modern democracy, which not
by accident are Christian roots. That is why I say
that the modern state is in need of Christians.
are Christians called to do in the modern state?
are a fundamental element both of criticism as well as
of legitimization of democracy. Political and social participation
a responsibility that weighs on all Christians, especially in times
such as our own, in which all withdraw in the
first person from direct commitment.
To develop this task of theirs,
Christians are called to unite, to seek ties with others.
It must never be forgotten that one of the factors
that led to the affirmation of Nazism in Germany was
the division between Catholics and Protestants, who were unable to
form a common front.
Q: The German jurist Ernst-Wolfgang Bockenforde holds
that "the secularized liberal state lives on budgets it cannot
guarantee." Can the state reproduce on its own that ethos
on which it maintains itself?
Maier: The state can guarantee the
conditions in which that liberal ethos that supports it can
be reproduced, but it itself cannot reproduce it through politics
and administration. It was the presumption of the modern
to decree values by themselves.
The "secular" state is also in
need of values expressed by citizens. It lives from the
impulses and binding forces that religious faith itself transmits to
its citizens. Hence the reason why it is good for
the state to recognize the role of religion. And in
Europe this means to be aware of the importance exercised
by the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Q: This calls for a greater public
role of the Churches. How is this harmonized with the
Maier: The individuals must be distinguished. The actors of
politics, of the economy, of the social are lay Christians.
It corresponds to them to give body in the public
sphere to what they live within the Church.
Priests are not
concerned with politics, but with proclaiming the Gospel and
the sacraments. Moreover, the Second Vatican Council was clear for
those who have any doubts: "Political prelates" are not admitted,
and thanks be to God, this has sent conflicts between
the Church and sate to the back room.
Q: But, is
there democracy in the Church?
Maier: The Church is not a
democracy, but a communion. There are not some on top
and others below, but among all believers there is a
Yet without being a democracy in which decisions are
made by the majority of members, there are in the
Church, nonetheless, democratic elements.
Since the first Christian communities a public
opinion has developed within Church, an articulation of thought; and
we also have elements of democracy in the election itself
of the Pope.
Concerns About Religious Freedom Grow
More Countries Under U.S.
WASHINGTON, D.C., MAY 6, 2006 (Zenit.org).- The U.S. Commission on
International Religious Freedom this week issued its annual report on
the global situation. As well, it announced this year's recommendations
to the U.S. secretary of state on "countries of particular concern" --
CPCs, in government lingo.
Under its International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the United
States designates as CPCs those countries whose governments have
engaged in or tolerated systematic and egregious violations of the
universal right to freedom of religion or belief.
After last year's report, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
designated as CPCs the following countries: North Korea, Eritrea, Iran,
China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Vietnam and Myanmar (formerly Burma). This
week's report recommended that these eight countries remain on the
list, and that Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Pakistan be added.
The commission, or USCIRF for short, also has a "Watch List" of
countries plagued by serious problems with regard to religious liberty.
This year's report added Afghanistan to the list of Bangladesh,
Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia and Nigeria.
The USCIRF is also closely monitoring the situations in India, Russia
and Sri Lanka. As well, it continues to be "especially concerned" about
Regarding the latter, the USCIRF report stated that "fundamental
questions remain about the final content of the constitution, and how
the provisions on religious freedom and other fundamental rights will
be implemented through enabling legislation." As a consequence human
rights, including religious freedom, continue to be at risk. The report
also expressed concern over the violence in Iraq due to religious
intolerance, as well as the attacks on places of worship.
Minority communities, including Christian Iraqis, are particularly in
danger. Due to the continuing violence Christians are leaving the
country, and the USCIRF warned that the exodus may mean the end of the
long-established Christian presence.
Regarding Afghanistan's presence on the Watch List, the report
commented that conditions have improved since the days of the Taliban
regime, but that the last year has been problematic for religious
The new Afghan Constitution has flaws, including a lack of clear
protections of the right to freedom of religion or belief, the report
contended. This has resulted in a growing number of criminal
prosecutions and other official actions taken against individuals.
The constitutional defects are exacerbated by the country's Supreme
Court, "which continues to be headed by a Chief Justice who disavowed
to the Commission his support for core international human rights
In addition, the government's failure to effectively control much of
the country outside the capital, Kabul, has led to a progressively
deteriorating situation for religious freedom and other human rights in
many of the provinces.
China, meanwhile, has tightened controls over religious leaders, the
U.S. report said. USCIRF members visited China for the first time last
August. Among other encounters they met with representatives from the
"patriotic" religious organizations. These officially approved bodies
are limited to five beliefs: Buddhism, Catholicism, Islam,
Protestantism and Taoism.
The cost of official recognition has been high, the USCIRF noted. The
approved organizations must submit to government monitoring of their
activities. They have also accepted restrictions on what doctrines and
traditions can be taught. Some Christian leaders reportedly have had to
refrain from teachings involving the second coming of Jesus, divine
healing, the practice of fasting, and the virgin birth.
"Most of China's religious practice occurs outside the system of
government approved religious organizations," the USCIRF report stated.
This is in spite of severe legal penalties for those involved in
unapproved religious activities.
Buddhists in Tibet and Muslims in the Xinjiang region also face serious
restrictions in the practice of their religions, and the report accused
authorities of severe abuses of human rights in these two regions.
Another country on the CPC list is Vietnam. The government "continues
to commit systematic and egregious violations of freedom of religion or
belief," the U.S. report stated. In May 2005, the U.S. State Department
announced an agreement with Hanoi on benchmarks to demonstrate an
improvement in religious freedom conditions.
"Vietnam's record on fulfilling this agreement is mixed," the USCIRF
contended. Some prisoners have been released and a number of places for
religious worship were opened. Some of the restrictions on Buddhists
and Catholics have also been eased. But many restrictions still stand.
Africa in conflict
Sudan was another country singled out in the report as being of
concern. On Jan. 9, 2005, the warring parties in the North-South civil
war signed a peace agreement. The provisions regarding religious
liberty, however, have not been respected, according to the U.S. report.
Conditions have improved somewhat in the South, according to the
report. But in the northern part of Sudan all inhabitants, including
Christians and followers of traditional African religions, are subject
to Shariah, or Islamic law. Government approval is required for the
construction and use of places of worship, and while permits are
regularly granted to build mosques, permission to build churches is
routinely denied. In fact, for more than 30 years, the government has
denied permission to construct Catholic churches in areas under its
Churches built without permission are often razed. In addition,
church-owned properties that are legally recognized are vulnerable to
seizure. The report noted the case of a Catholic recreational facility
that was confiscated by the government for the private use of the
National Congress Party.
While not applied in recent years, the death penalty in Sudan still
exists for apostasy from Islam. Converts to Christianity generally face
so much social pressure and official harassment that they cannot remain
in the country.
Religion is also a point of conflict in Nigeria. The U.S. report stated
that since President Olusegun Obasanjo came to power through popular
elections in 1999, more than 10,000 Nigerians have been killed in
sectarian and communal attacks and reprisals between Muslims and
Christians. Recent conflicts include the killing of at least 120
Muslims and Christians during protests last February over the
caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed. The protests fueled underlying
religious and ethnic tensions.
Christians in the northern states, where Shariah has been adopted,
complain of discrimination at the hands of Muslim-controlled
governments and describe their communities as having the status of
Another country that has been on the USCIRF's blacklist is Saudi
Arabia. This year's report commented that the government continues to
ban all forms of public religious _expression other than one
officially-recognized school of Sunni Islam. Private religious practice
is also repressed by authorities.
As well, the report accused the Saudi government of continuing to
finance "activities throughout the world that support extreme religious
intolerance, hatred, and, in some cases, violence toward non-Muslims
and disfavored Muslims."
Religiously motivated violence persists in Pakistan, the report noted
as it explained why the country was recommended to be added to the CPC
list. Moreover, the government's response to this problem, while it has
improved, "continues to be insufficient and not fully effective."
The report noted that a number of the country's laws frequently lead to
imprisonment on account of religion or belief. Complicating the
situation is the Pakistani government's political alliance with
militant religious parties, which has strengthened these groups and
given them influence in the country's affairs. Call it the flip side of
separation of church and state.
Cardinal: Democracy Doesn't
Ensure Religious Liberty
Appeals for Politics That Respect
VIENNA, Austria, MAY 3, 2006 (Zenit.org).- A Vatican official warned
that the right to religious freedom is not always respected, even in
liberal and democratic countries.
Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for
Justice and Peace, expressed his concern in his address on "Religion in
the Public Arena: Religious Freedom in the New Europe." He delivered
the address last week at Vienna's Diplomatic Academy.
The meeting concluded his itinerary which in previous days took him to
Croatia, Hungary and finally Austria to present the Compendium of the
Social Doctrine of the Church, a volume published by his dicastery in
During his visit to Vienna, the cardinal said that the ideological
neutrality of the "state of law" must not be confused with its alleged
"Freedom of religion is the primary guarantee for human rights not to
be placed on the sand of convention but on the rock of the transcendent
foundation," he said.
Hence the state's respect for the right of freedom of religion is a
sign of its respect for other fundamental rights, inasmuch as it is an
implicit recognition of the existence of an order that surpasses the
political dimension of life, he clarified.
Not just private
Cardinal Martino rejected a concept of laicism that excludes religion
from public life, relegating it to a purely private event.
"An authentically secular political regime accepts both that Christians
act as such in the society -- as do persons without belief -- without
camouflaging themselves," he said. Such a regime also allows the
"Church to manifest its own assessments of the great ethical questions
And this is an interest of politics itself, because if the latter
pretends to live as if God did not exist, in the end it becomes arid
and loses its own awareness of the intangibility of human dignity, the
The cardinal met earlier with Austrian President Heinz Fischer, and
with the president of the Parliament, Andreas Khol.
The Dragons of Expectation: Reality
and Delusion in the Course of History
By Robert Conquest
272pp | Duckworth | 2005 | ISBN 0393059332 | ££18 rrp
Looking at the title of this book, I assumed it referred to the Book of
Revelation. Thus I was surprised to discover it is taken from the Old
Norse Elder Edda, though from an apocalyptic-sounding passage. This
demonstrates how universal certain symbols are, an idea that would not
be alien to Robert Conquest. Currently a Senior Research Fellow at
Stanford’’s Hoover Institution, Conquest has long cast a critical and
prophetic eye over the political ideologies of the twentieth century.
An expert on Soviet Russia, he wrote The Great Terror in 1968, a
seminal work on the atrocities of the Stalinist years.
This book, subtitled Reality and Delusion in the Course of History, is
a series of ruminations in short, numbered sections (the shortest only
three lines long) on the best and worst government systems that men
have devised. ““Our world can be divided into the civilised, the
semi-civilised and the uncivilised (or de-civilised) countries”” he
suggests, indicating that by ““civilised”” he means Western democracy
–– ““the plural tradition””. I suspect that his outlook has been
sharpened by the events of 9/11; he sees the enemy of today as the kind
of fanaticism which loathes the open, pluralistic society.
Conquest’’s strength lies in his constant reappraisal of words we take
for granted, like ““democracy””, ““liberalism””, ““imperialism””,
showing how they can be misapplied or twisted.. He quotes Goebbels’’
glib untruth that ““in Germany there is true democracy, in which the
whole nation can freely express its will””, to make the point that
democracy can only flourish in a healthy way when it has emerged from
the ““law and order liberty tradition””. This takes many centuries and
has to be guarded vigilantly so that it does not slowly shrink under
creeping state control; ““ossification””, he calls it. Again, the word
““socialism”” has meant different things for different people: to
George Orwell it meant justice and liberty, combined with independence
of thought –– the antithesis of Soviet ““socialism””.
The author is clear about the real meaning of fascism. Having often
heard the word bandied about inappropriately –– not least, having one
of my favourite authors, Kipling, branded a ““fascist”” by an Oxford
history professor –– it was enlightening to read that for Conquest it
means the indoctrination of the masses, isolationism, farcical
elections, fanaticism, a powerless parliament, a single party and its
control of the state. The word ““liberal””, too, has undergone an
unhappy sea-change. Today it means espousing an inhumane agenda, deeply
intolerant of anything that thwarts it and destructive of true
civilisation –– rather than a defence of political liberty, freedom of
thought and social justice.
When it comes to deriding emperors and their new clothes, in whatever
shape or form, Conquest is at his best. For him, Hegel has ““befuddled
minds over six or seven generations””; post-modernists, such as
Foucault and Derrida, belong to ““the sphere of the unreadable””; the
European Union is riddled with ““bureaucratic extravagance and
decadence””; current academic writing often evinces ““grotesque
vocabulary held together by a tangled syntax””. Naturally, given his
special interest, he is eloquent on the criminal follies of communism
and the power it exerted over party cadres throughout the world in its
heyday. Huge sums of money were sent by Russia to party workers abroad;
for instance. As early as 1921 the Communist Party in the UK was
getting ££55,000, at a time when its own annual income was
'Stalin: He Had the Three Big Keys to Peace', reads the Time captionIt
is strange, in retrospect, to think that the Soviet Union, despite its
horrors, remained ““acceptable or even praiseworthy”” for so long. In
the world of the socialist intelligentsia of the time, which included
well-known Marxists such as the historian Eric Hobsbawm or the
physicist J.D. Bernal (who was given the sobriquet ““Sage”” because he
knew so much), this may have been true. However, such delusions were
not universal. My own primary school was an unremarkable little convent
in an English provincial town. I was aged seven when Stalin died and
our teacher, a nun neither well-educated nor worldly, told us what a
wicked man he had been. She mentioned ““brainwashing””, a new and
dreadful word. I remember putting my hand up and asking, to general
approbation: ““Will Stalin go to hell?”” I cannot now recall her reply
to this –– but Conquest, who said of Churchill that he ““understood the
Nazis better than Chamberlain because he had some knowledge of history
and of evil””, would have been proud of our acumen.
For a writer so determinedly at odds with the unthinking prejudices of
the liberal establishment, he betrays a few unwitting prejudices of his
own, referring casually to the ““Inquisition’’s burnings”” and
describing the Albigensians as a ““higher and tolerant civilisation……
brought down by more fanatical invaders from the north””. It reminded
me of the recent Aztec exhibition in London, depicting an advanced and
exotic race (who unaccountably made a habit of human sacrifice),
brought low by Spanish freebooters and missionaries.
In conclusion, Conquest warns that the future ““teems with urgent
problems”” though he is optimistic that the ““law and liberty
cultures”” –– what he calls ““the Anglosphere”” –– may flourish. ““Let
us hope””, he says, in a book that struck me as redolent of a muted
pessimism. Given that the ““Anglosphere”” tradition includes the
concept of habeas corpus, juries, the rule of law and that elusive
sense of ““fair play”” (which he says has been a general feature of
British imperialism, now so denigrated), Conquest is vague or silent as
to their origins. Yes, they evolved over centuries –– but how and why?
A short answer is given by Charles Francis QC in a recent paper
delivered at a seminar of the Christian Legal Society of Victoria, NSW:
““It is important to remember that in the Western world the roots of
our individual rights and freedoms and the recognition of the rule of
law had its origins in Christianity…… It was in Christian countries
that democracy first developed and the two are intimately linked. When
Christianity withers, democracy tends to wither with it.”” That
Conquest, so sane and civilised a voice in many ways, takes no account
of this is a large lacuna in an otherwise stimulating book.
As an afterthought I would advise readers to leave aside the epilogue.
This is a poem; a series of 3-line stanzas called ““Reconnaissance”” in
which the author, a published poet as well as a one-man think tank,
grapples with man, cosmology and ““the immensities of the universe””,
referred to as ““the All””. William Blake, tackling a similar theme,
achieves it with the magnificent simplicity of ““To see a world in a
Grain of Sand””, but Conquest isn’’t a second Blake. I would counsel
him to stick to prose.
Wednesday, 25 January 2006
Francis Phillips, who is married with eight
children, lives in Bucks, in the UK. Her reviews often appear in
British Catholic publications.
The Right to Be Wrong
Kevin Hasson on Role of Religious
Liberty in Secular Societies
WASHINGTON, D.C., NOV. 7, 2005 (Zenit.org).- A society that fails to
protect a fundamental right such as religious liberty is dangerous for
everyone, says an attorney who specializes in religious rights.
Kevin Hasson makes that argument in his new book, "The Right to Be
Wrong: Ending the Culture War Over Religion in America."
Hasson, a Notre Dame Law School graduate with a master's in theology,
is the founder and chairman of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty,
an interfaith, public-interest law firm that aims to protect the free
_expression of all religious traditions.
He shared some of his ideas in this interview with ZENIT.
Q: Recently Benedict XVI said that "in modern and democratic societies
there can be and must be full religious freedom." In our modern
societies we tend to take religious freedom for granted. How is
religious practice being rejected today?
Hasson: Religious freedom is threatened all over the world, both in
repressive societies and in supposedly free ones. Religious militants
in nations like Iran and Sri Lanka still punish and imprison people for
Radical secularists in supposedly free societies -- including the
United States -- threaten religion by trying to banish it from the
public square. France's head-scarf ban is a perfect example: Muslim
children in France are forced out of public schools for exercising
Here in the United States, we see similar threats in attempts to ban
holiday observances, to regulate what can be said about political
issues from the pulpit, and to limit children's religious _expression
in public schools.
Q: In what way is respect for religious freedom important for a secular
society, and for nonbelievers?
Hasson: Respect for religious freedom goes hand-in-hand with respect
for human dignity.
Religious liberty is a fundamental human right, and must be protected
as such. A society that doesn't protect those fundamental rights -- in
other words, one that doesn't respect human dignity -- is dangerous for
Q: Religious practices and beliefs are increasingly under challenge in
liberal societies for supposedly being "intolerant." Why is it that
many who propose tolerance and pluralism are intolerant of religion?
Hasson: Tolerance is a problematic idea; it always has been. In
17th-century England, "tolerance" meant Protestants were free and
Catholics faced the death penalty.
The same was true in 17th-century Massachusetts -- where they hanged
Quakers -- and Maryland -- where they executed priests.
Tolerance is always based upon the whims of the tolerant. It's often
based on some idea of who God is, and whom he likes to tolerate. It's
never based on the inherent worth of those tolerated.
True religious liberty, by contrast, is a human right based on the
inherent dignity of the human person -- even when that person gets it
wrong. It's no surprise when those who preach tolerance -- and those
who misunderstand pluralism -- turn out to be intolerant themselves.
It's been going on for centuries.
Q: Is the recent U.S. case regarding the constitutionality of the
Pledge of Allegiance a sign that there is no longer a consensus over
some of the basic principles behind the American constitutional system
Hasson: It's a disturbing sign that people are afraid of any mention of
God in the public square. The Becket Fund got involved in this case to
defend the right of schoolchildren to voluntarily say the Pledge as a
statement about those principles and our history.
Religious liberty doesn't mean that a society has to be afraid of the
word "God" -- it's just the opposite. It means we embrace public
displays of religion.
Q: Are we condemned to an endless series of court battles, or is there
another way to resolve the conflicts over religion in the public sphere?
Hasson: The court battles are just part of the larger battle -- the
culture war in America.
At the Becket Fund, we try to end this war by advancing religious
liberty both in courts of law and in the court of public opinion. I
believe we can end this war by understanding and respecting human
We must understand our natural thirst for the transcendent and respect
our very human need to follow our consciences. This isn't just the
stuff of high philosophy; it's a practical statement about how we live
together. I go into more detail on this in my book.
Q: What is the goal of your book "The Right to Be Wrong"?
Hasson: The goal is to present a third option for a nation divided
between the radical left and the Christian right.
The two sides will never agree on who God is and what he wants, but
they can agree on who we are. We are people who seek truth and value
My goal is to help the two sides recognize that a healthy society isn't
one where everyone agrees about religion, whether good or bad, but one
where everyone is free to disagree. It's a society where we all have
the right to be wrong.
Rediscovering the Soul of Europe
Father Vincent Twomey's Take on a
DUBLIN, Ireland, OCT. 24, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Can the devout Muslims in
Europe's midst help the continent to recover its soul?
Father Vincent Twomey raised that question in his keynote address at
the John Paul II Society's annual conference, held Oct. 7 at All
Hallows College, Dublin.
Father Twomey is a professor of moral theology at the pontifical St.
Patrick's College in Maynooth, County Kildare. Below is an adapted text
of his address.
* * *
Europe -- Risks and Opportunities
What does the world "Europe" mean to most people? Up to fairly recent
times, Irish people –– when they heard the word "Europe" -- tended to
think of "the Continent," a place perhaps to visit on vacation, where
foreign languages were spoken. Europe meant foreign.
As part of the Anglo-Saxon world, we tended (and still tend) to
identify spontaneously with one of the two powers in whose midst we
happen to exist and whose histories have for centuries, for better and
for worse, been entwined with ours: the former British Empire and the
present American superpower.
Our history is such that we have deep emotional ties, both negative and
positive, with Britain and America, whereas our historical ties to
Europe are primarily of the distant past, when Irish monks were the
harbingers of medieval Europe. Few today are even aware of the role
It is noteworthy that when we needed help to broker an agreement
between the rival parties in Northern Ireland, Dublin turned to
Washington for help, not Brussels. And when we celebrate our National
Feast Day -- now a secularized Paddy's week -- our head of government
ritually pays homage to the president of the United States in the White
House. Similarly, the rhetorical question as to whether we are closer
to Boston than Berlin betrays the same sense, the distance we feel to
the Continent and of closeness to the USA.
More recently, the term Europe might perhaps conjure up the European
Union, from which we have benefited so much economically and where an
increasing number of our citizens, especially the young, are working
and living. But the Irish in Europe are too few and too recent to make
us feel any sense of attachment to the rest of Europe.
Generally speaking, the European Union is seen mostly as the "common
market," a lucrative source for subventions and for increasingly
suffocating red tape in equal measure. The most obvious visible sign of
the EU's presence is the network of new roads and motorways. Otherwise,
the EU is seen as nothing more than a huge, anonymous bureaucracy
imposing all kinds of procedures and demands on us, such as fishing
The opening up of national boundaries across the EU has helped further
a new phenomenon for Ireland: immigration of tens of thousands, mostly
from Eastern European States who last year joined the Union, a ceremony
presided over by the Irish presidency of the EU in May 2004. The
presence of these skilled workers -- so crucial for the economy -- who
are ready to work long hours for a minimum wage in our midst, does not
always ensure that Irish people at home will become any more
sympathetic to "Europe." Xenophobia is not unknown.
The sense of indifference to, if not alienation from, the EU project is
not only felt in Ireland. Most Western European countries have
centuries of history behind them. Many were great, independent powers
whose influence covered the globe. Even tiny nations like Holland and
Belgium exercised power overseas. The sense of national identity, often
underpinned by a common language and a dominant, though now mostly
dormant, religion, is deep.
The Second World War made nationalism suspect and led to the project to
reunite Western Europe, itself under threat from the Soviet Union, by
stressing what is common to these countries. The fathers of the EU were
convinced Christians; most were practicing Catholics, who had a vision
of Europe built on its Christian foundations.
Its goal was to make national identity something relative by subsuming
the concerns of individual states to the greater common good of the
broader community, first at the economic level and later, it was hoped,
at the cultural and political level. The rejection of the proposed EU
Constitution by the citizens of France and Holland shows how much these
efforts failed. The reasons for the failure are complex, but the end
result is clear. The French and the Dutch are in the first instance
that: French and Dutch, not European.
However, one should not be too pessimistic, since at least two
important goals were achieved: the end of wars among the European
nations themselves -- at least among those of them who were members of
the EU -- and the raising of the standard of living. The peace and
prosperity of the past half a century has been a remarkable
achievement. But the price paid has been enormous. The primary focus of
each country's involvement in the EU was and is: their own economic
In a word, self-interest has been the primary value almost exclusively
espoused by citizens and politicians alike. The phenomenal success of
the EU in economic terms has in more recent decades evolved into the
cult of consumerism. The price of progress has been the death of the
spirit. Materialism is the dominant religion of the EU, while
expediency is its dominant morality.
This morality is the basis of those laws passed by European counties to
allow experimentation on human embryos and, more recently, stem-cell
research and cloning for so-called therapeutic reasons -- also
recommended earlier this year by the Irish government-appointed
The driving force in these developments would seem to be the
pharmaceutical industry, which cloaks its self-interest with a facade
of compassion by promising miracle cures. But the dominance of
expediency -- the triumph of utilitarianism -- affects all aspects of
life, in particular the family and education, all of which are under
threat today. When the Minister for Health recently advocated that
"[g]irls as young as 11 should be given the emergency 'morning-after
pill' to prevent pregnancy if they are sexually active,"1 the
justification for such a policy was based purely on expediency.2
The terrorist bombings in Madrid and London by fanatics who claim to
represent some pan-Islamic cause drew dramatic attention to a
phenomenon that heretofore attracted little public attention: the
presence in our midst of some 17 million Muslims. Apart altogether from
the threat posed by a small number of fanatics waging a jihad against
the West, the increasingly large communities of Muslims pose huge
problems of assimilation.
The questionable but intense battle in France over the wearing of
headscarves by schoolgirls is one example. The growth of real ghettos
in Berlin and other German cities, where Turkish is mainly spoken, is
another. Muslims are young and fertile while the native Europeans are a
dying race reluctant to bear children, having long embraced
contraception and abortion with gusto. Tensions between native and
emigrant, as was seen in Holland recently, can result in hostility of a
Trying to explain the phenomenon of home-grown Islamic terrorists in
Britain, one Islamic writer blamed their emergence on the fact that
third-generation Muslims there feel increasingly marginalized from
mainstream Britain, its culture and institutions, and so resort to
fundamentalist religious sects, where they find a sense of identity in
their commitment to a cause that is worth dying for, rather than
roaming aimlessly around the streets of Manchester and Birmingham. The
contrast is worth noting. The young Islamic fundamentalists have a
cause that is worth dying for. How many European youths would be
prepared to die to preserve Europe?
In sum, Europe, understood as the EU, is a very fragile entity held
together by complex treaties and agreements, which the average citizen
does not understand, and administered by anonymous bureaucrats
somewhere in Brussels or Strasbourg. It is hard to feel much attachment
to it. It rouses no passion. It is slightly alienating, threatening
deeply held values such as the family and the sacredness of human life.
It seems to stand for nothing but self-interest. And that is not enough
to satisfy the human heart.
The attempt to bring the EU closer to its citizens by setting up a
Forum in Dublin only highlights the abstract nature of the entity we
now call Europe. Is it a purely public relations exercise? In any case,
its deliberations generally leave the majority of people cold. Within
Europe, new tensions are appearing, old passions are roused, no longer
between the European nations but within them, while ethnic identities
and nationalism are reappearing in the ugly guises of extreme
right-wing parties and neo-Nazis.
* * *
But is the EU Europe? The short answer is: no. The present Pope has
pointed out that the first recorded use of the term -- by the Greek
historian Herodotus in the fifth century before Christ -- shows that
from the start Europe was never simply a geographical term. It does not
refer primarily to a geographical continent but to a spirit.
This spirit is symbolized in the first place by a city, Athens. This is
the Greek spirit of inquiry, namely, the search for the ultimate truth
about reality and for the wisdom needed to become fully human. This
spirit led to the great discoveries in philosophy and art, in geometry
and music, in medicine and astronomy, which have shaped civilization
down to our own day.
In a word, the Greeks discovered the soul, they discovered that the
scope of reason is literally infinite -- it can reach the Ultimate
Being beyond time and space. The Absolute. This spirit is at the root
But Rome had its own genius or spirit, that of law and order, of
administration and engineering. The primarily human achievements of
Rome and Athens were fused with another spirit, that of Jerusalem, the
Hebrew prophetic spirit of divine origin, when all three were taken up,
literally, into Christ, where they found their fulfillment.
Christianity is the product of all three spirits now transformed by the
synthesis that is Jesus Christ and his Body, the Church, and conscious
of a world-embracing mission to redeem all humanity. The short term of
its mission to save the souls of others, each human being is destined
for union with God in Christ. What the Greeks dimly perceived -- the
reality of the soul's scope -- Christianity proclaimed from the
Christianity is a historical phenomenon. After Constantine, the first
Christian Emperor, Christianity developed into two mainstreams, that of
the Latin West and the Greek East, both giving rise to two great
civilizations, Western Christendom and Byzantium, who finally parted
company in the Schism of 1054.
Byzantium fell to the Turks in 1453, but its spirit was continued in
Russia down to our own day. A century later, Western Christendom split
in two at the Reformation, the North predominantly Protestant, the
South Catholic. With the discovery of the New World, the Protestant
spirit dominated North America, the Catholic spirit South America. The
spirit of Europe is not confined to geographical Europe. Indeed, one
could say that today the Americas and Russia -- each in its own way --
represent the spirit of Europe in its two most basic forms more than
geographical Europe itself, the original home of these civilizations.
When one takes a quick look at a historical map of Western Europe over
the centuries, one is immediately impressed at the fluidity of the
boundaries, and the futility of the many attempts over the centuries to
unify Europe: first the ancient Roman Empire, then Charlemagne's Holy
Roman Empire, later the Hapsburg Empire, Napoleon's empire, and finally
the Nazi conquests. Spain and, later, England looked overseas and set
out to establish worldwide empires. All collapsed in time, but the
spirit that drove them did not.
Behind all these political developments, the peoples of Europe produced
a civilization whose achievements have changed the face of the earth --
thanks to the threefold spirit of Europe symbolized by Athens, Rome,
and Jerusalem: the critical spirit of enquiry and discovery, the
conservative force of law and order, and the prophetic spirit of the
Christian saints with their concern for the poor and the outcast. This
is the true soul of Europe.
The incredible civilizational achievements of the so-called Middle Ages
-- symbolized by great cities with their cathedrals, guilds, hospices,
and universities -- had an unfortunate side effect. Its achievements
tended to make man forget the heavenly paradise and seek to establish
an earthly one.
This released new forces, when the energy that once went into achieving
heavenly perfection was channeled into creating a perfect society. And
so a movement began in Western Europe at the height of its glory in the
Middle Ages that would shatter the synthesis of Athens, Rome and
Jerusalem, namely, humanism, a turning of humanity towards itself,
symbolized by the art of the Renaissance that was less concerned with
the divinity and more concerned with the humanity of Christ and then,
by way of extension, with human beings, indeed domestic concerns in
general, while heaven faded into the background until it disappeared.
Originally of Christian -- indeed Franciscan -- inspiration, humanism
became allied with a new understanding of history as a progression
towards a perfect society here on earth. The Renaissance looked more
and more exclusively to ancient Athens and Rome to the exclusion of
Jerusalem. The Reformation, on the other hand, sought to recover the
original Jerusalem (Revelation) to the exclusion of Athens and Rome
(reason and authority/law). The original synthesis of Athens, Rome, and
Jerusalem began to fall apart. A shadow passed over the soul of Europe.
* * *
The wars of religion that accompanied the Reformation made critical
thinkers skeptical of all religion. The wars ended with the division of
Europe into confessional states where throne and altar were one, a
Critical thinkers rejected the increasingly absolute throne and altar
and began to conceive of a new basis for law and society, "as though
God did not exist." Secularism was born, religion was separated from
reason. The Enlightenment, inspired by Athens and Rome, made reason
supreme and all traditional authority suspect.
Unfortunately, it was a reduced form of reason that the Enlightenment
embraced, better described as rationalism since it excluded God from
its scope. The power and the fragility of this new form of reason, now
left to itself, gave modern Europe the specific shape we know today.
The power unleashed by this form of reason gave rise to phenomenal
developments in science and technology -- and so to the Industrial
Revolution -- and it created the modern notion of human rights that
fueled the American and French revolutions.
The fragility of reason was manifested in the reign of terror which was
first unleashed by the French Revolution and found its most horrific
_expression in Marxism and Nazism, all products of that particular kind
of reason, which first emerged in the Enlightenment.
God was left out of the equation and man sought to redeem himself by
trying to formulate his own moral norms and to create a perfect society
on earth through social engineering. Liberal capitalism, Marxism and
Nazism are all attempts to achieve this goal, the most successful being
Despite their obvious differences, all share the same basic convictions
about reality. All are materialist, that matter comes first, and spirit
simply the product of matter, all deny the primacy of the human being,
and all are based on the perversion of one of the most fundamental
moral axioms, namely that the end does not justify the means. All crush
the spirit of Athens, Rome and Jerusalem, which constitute the true
soul of Europe.
Pope Benedict XVI in his homily at the World Youth Day in Cologne said:
"In the last century we experienced revolutions with a common program
-- expecting nothing more from God, they assumed total responsibility
for the cause of the world in order to change it. And this, as we saw,
meant that a human and partial point of view was always taken as an
absolute guiding principle. Absolutizing what is not absolute but
relative is called totalitarianism. It does not liberate man, but takes
away his dignity and enslaves him."
When the Absolute, God, is denied, then those aspects of social life
that should be relative become absolute: nation, efficiency, material
well-being. As a result, individuals are freely sacrificed on the altar
of a new god: race, nation, progress, health. Totalitarianism is not
something of the past, but is a real threat today in Europe, Ireland
Its echo can be found in the thinly veiled threats made by a member of
the government-appointed Crisis Pregnancy Agency to the few chemists
left in Ireland that refuse on conscientious grounds to sell
contraceptives. In a totalitarian state, even when it calls itself
pluralist, all must conform. But it is those few chemists and others,
like the Mater Hospital Ethics Subcommittee in recent days, who refuse
to bow to the might of those who wield power and who affirm the primacy
of conscience, properly understood.
What is conscience? St. Augustine once called it the sense for the good
that is implanted in us. It is what is meant by common sense, the
inbuilt capacity each person has to recognize goodness, to recognize
what is common to all humans. The ancient Greek thinkers discovered
conscience, when they discovered the soul is the "sensorium" of
Transcendence: We human beings can rise about the limitations of our
culture and inherited values to Truth and Goodness itself that judges
all things, that establishes the moral norms that judge human laws,
which can be unjust and immoral.
The recognition of God in his absoluteness and incomprehensibility
makes all human activities relative. The soul can know, however
inadequately, the incomprehensible Absolute, it can perceive a Law
above that judges human laws (Sophocles).
The Latin thinkers recognized the primacy of law for order in society,
a law that binds lawgiver and citizen alike, since its basis is that
law above, natural justice, and not on arbitrariness. The Hebrew
prophets revealed the fullness of the Law that arises from the
Revelation that we are made in the image and likeness of God, that his
absolute nature is reflected in ours.
And so there are moral norms that are absolute and beyond the power of
the lawmaker to alter. Without a moral consensus based on certain
non-negotiable moral principles -- such as the sanctify of human life
from conception to the natural death, the sacredness of marriage, the
primacy of the family over the state -- might becomes right and
politics becomes manipulation of passing trends.
Jesus Christ revealed in the fullness of time that he is the Way, the
Truth and the Life, that love is the fullness of the law, that we must
obey God rather than men. That is why any future EU constitution must
contain a reference to -- rather, a recognition of -- God.
"It is not ideologies," Pope Benedict XVI said recently, "that save the
world, but only a return to the living God, our Creator, the guarantor
of our freedom, the guarantor of what is really good and true. True
revolution consists in simply turning to God who is the measure of what
is right and who at the same time is everlasting love. And what could
ever save us apart from love?"
* * *
I want to return briefly to what many see as the threat of Islam today.
This, I feel, is exaggerated. Islam is not a stranger to Europe.
Indeed, it itself has left its mark on Europe.
In 732, Arab invaders came right into France and were repelled by
Charles Martel at a battle near Tours and Poitiers. They remained in
Spain some 800 years, creating such architectural wonders as the
Alhambra in Grenada and becoming the channel for much of the Greek
thought that had been lost to Europe for over a 1,000 years. When
translated into Latin, Greek thought helped forge the High Middle Ages.
The fall of Granada in 1492 marked the end of Islamic political power
in Spain, though not, of course, the end of Islamic cultural influence
in Spain. After capturing Constantinople, the capital of Eastern
Christianity in 1453, the Turks conquered the Balkans and Hungary, and
eventually laid siege to Austria, only to be repelled by the combined
Polish and German forces in 1683 and were eventually pushed out of
Hungary and the Balkans into modern-day Turkey only in the 19th century.
Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Lepanto, 1571, when, under
the initiative of St. Pope Pius V and in response to the capture of
Cyprus, the Spanish and Venetian navies led by Don John of Austria
defeated the Turks in the Gulf of Corinth. All of these earlier
incursions into Europe were by the sword and were repulsed by the sword.
The recent presence of Muslims in Europe is peaceful. It is due to
migration. Many, like the millions of Turkish "Gastarbeiter" who came
to Germany after the war seeking work to support their families and
made a huge contribution to the Germany economy; others, like the
Algerians in France, came seeking a better way of life on the basis of
their rights as citizens of the former French colony. Thousands risk
their lives attempting to cross the Mediterranean each year in search
of the good life and the freedoms denied them in their own countries in
North Africa, others coming to study in the universities, as in Ireland.
I attended a seminar recently on Islam given by two experts, one
German, the other Egyptian. The overall impression I got is that Islam
is a much more complex phenomenon than I had expected. It is true that
the claims of Islam are in many ways incompatible with Christianity,
but there are also some common elements, especially at the moral level.
(It was the Arab nations which supported the Vatican at Cairo to ensure
that the pressure from the EU and other countries to introduce abortion
would not succeed.)
There are many different shades of Islam, including ancient divisions,
such as that between the Sunnis and the Shiites, comparable to the
older hostilities between Catholic and Protestant, some more
traditional, others more open to reason, and still others are trying to
come to terms with the modern world, a secular world hostile to the
religious sense and common-sense morality.
Many look with horror at the moral decadence of the West and naturally
feel a sense of superiority thanks to their own evident piety and
strict moral practice. Others feel a sense of inferiority in the face
of Western scientific and technical progress. Intellectual Muslims
recognize the threat posed by a rationalistic critical spirit that
could undermine their Holy Book and sacred traditions as it did in the
case of Christianity.
Others fear the threat of atheism. Some are engaged in a mission to
convert Europe to Islam, and that is a real possibility, considering
their religious passion, on the one hand, and the emptiness of the
lives of so many of our contemporaries on the other, which is due to
the failure of the Church to preach convincingly. Others look forward
to the day when they will outbreed the native European populations. But
many are simply indifferent and simply want to earn enough to keep
their families fed and with a roof over their heads.4
One of the experts claimed that many Muslims are searching for more
than they find in their own traditions. He wondered, however, whether
or not they would find Christians in Europe who would lead them to
My own hope is that the presence of Islam in Europe could prove to be
catalyst for a revival of Christianity.
"On 13 November the Church will beatify Charles de Foucauld, the French
aristocrat, military hero, award-winning explorer and desert hermit who
served his priesthood among the Muslim Touaregs of the Sahara desert.
Following his military campaigns in Algeria, he underwent a religious
conversion in 1886 in Morocco. …… The seeds of de Foucauld's conversion
lay in his encounter with Islam on his geographic expedition to Morocco
"Islam produced in me a profound disruption …… the vision of this
faith, of those souls living in the continual presence of God, made me
perceive something larger and more authentic than mundane occupations:
'ad majora nati sumus' -- we are born for higher things."5
It is possible that the encounter with devote Muslims in our midst can
help Europe recover its soul? We are born for higher things than the EU
in its present guise can offer.
--- --- ---
1. Irish Independent, July 27, 2005.
2. "'Much as we may find that astonishing, and it is astonishing, I
think we have to deal with the reality and the consequences of that and
we have to make sure that if the morning-after pill is required that it
is available to somebody in that age group,' she said" (ibid.).
3. Ancient Greece covered most of Eastern Mediterranean, from Sardinia
and Sicily to Egypt and Asia Minor. When Greece was captured by Rome,
as Horace said, "Greece, once overcome, overcame her wild conqueror,
and brought the arts into rustic Latium [Italy]." In other words, the
spirit of Athens became a major cultural force in the Roman Empire,
which stretched from modern-day England and Germany in the North,
through Spain and North Africa in the South, to Arabia and Iraq in the
4. For an insight into the daily situation of Muslims in Britain, but
also on the suffering of a young Muslim who converted to Christianity,
see "The Battle for British Muslims' Soul" by Ahmer Khophar (The Word,
October 2005, 14-5).
5. Editorial, The Word, November 2005, by Sarah McDonald.
Decadent Virtues (October 22,
New-Age Froth and Feel-Good Ethics
Come to the Fore
LONDON, OCT. 22, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Western Europe and the United
States are decadent societies because they have abandoned a morality
based on the traditional virtues. So says a book just published by the
London-based Social Affairs Unit, "Decadence: The Passing of Personal
Virtue and Its Replacement by Political and Psychological Slogans."
Edited by Digby Anderson, the volume brings together authors from a
variety of backgrounds and views. A first section contains essays on
the "old" virtues, such as prudence, love and courage. The second deals
with the "new" virtues, centered on the environment, caring, therapy
and being critical.
The book does not pretend to give a complete analysis of any of the
virtues, and the authors of the chapters differ in their approach to
the subject matter. Readers could also disagree about some of the
interpretations of the virtues. Overall, however, the book provides a
stimulating reflection on the dangers of discarding the tried-and-true
virtues for passing fads.
In the introduction, Anderson explains that the old virtues were
genuine ones, in that they demanded of people specific types of
behavior. The new ones, in contrast, often fall into the category of
slogans or rhetorical appeals. Or, if in some cases they do contain
elements of true virtue, they tend to elevate a trivial aspect into the
Kenneth Minogue, a retired professor of political science at the London
School of Economics, addresses the virtue of prudence. After looking at
its classical origins in Aristotle and its subsequent modifications,
Minogue observes that prudence was particularly important in balancing
conduct by coordinating the virtuous acts of a person.
That concept of prudence came under challenge in the 18th century from
utilitarian philosophers, who tried to substitute it with a scientific
system of maximizing happiness. More recently, the modern world has
interpreted prudence as the avoidance of risk, and instead of a virtue
we now have statistical analysis and probability theory.
Another way in which the virtue of prudence has been weakened is
through the increasing role of the state. Instead of personal
responsibility we now have an ever-increasing regulation of conduct by
Digby Anderson, until last year director of the Social Affairs Unit,
looks at the Christian virtue of love in one of the book's chapters.
This virtue, he explains, has run into difficulties because it can only
be understood and lived within the context of a broader Christian
theology. Once belief in God, heaven and sin disappear, then love,
along with many other virtues, vanishes.
In its place we have a populist sentimental ethics, or a secular
rights-based ethics. Some of the traditional language of the virtue of
love remains, but it is superficial, without a metaphysics or solid
anthropology to ground it.
So, instead of a virtue that puts God in first place and requires us to
love our neighbor, we now have a love that liberates us from rules,
encourages us to follow our feelings and exhorts us to be nice to
The virtue of thrift is examined by Theodore Malloch, chief executive
officer of the Maryland-based Roosevelt Group. Frugality, or thrift,
has its origins in the Calvinist tradition, according to Malloch. It
was based on the idea that a person's worth is not determined by how
much he spends, but by the wisdom shown in discharging responsibilities
in the context of being a steward of God's creation.
For a person motivated by such a vision an unlimited desire to possess
goods is seen as denoting spiritual instability. Modern society,
however, has reversed things and sees having more possessions as a sign
of success. Thus, restraint has been replaced by profligacy, and thrift
by indebtedness. "In such a moral universe, desire is the only real
absolute," comments Malloch.
This indulgence of our appetites, he adds, too often leads to
corruption and decay, both personally and collectively. In the end,
just as the material objects we buy are discarded rapidly, so too
people can be cast off.
Peter Mullen, rector of the Anglican church of St. Michael's in London,
takes a critical look at the new virtues of "caring." The new caring
society, he notes, is based on euphemisms and sentiments, instead of a
community of faith.
Death and personal tragedies, for example, are not dealt with by
reference to faith, but consigned to the attention of grief counselors
and therapists. Instead of being consoled by the promises of eternal
life contained in the Gospel, people are now comforted by promises of
healing and energizing.
The grief-counseling business does, in fact, conjure up vague religious
feelings but empties them of all doctrine and Christian teaching,
leaving just a sham of religion.
Based on his 35 years of experience in parish work, Mullen warns that
grief counseling is pretentious and designed just as much for the
attention-seeking of the counselor as it is for the benefit of the
bereaved. In the end we have "New Age froth instead of the promises of
the gospel," he writes.
Another aspect of the caring society is that we are expected to feel
moved by the death of every celebrity or public figure. The result,
however, is that our emotional response is cheapened through
Mullen also criticizes the self-centeredness of the new spirituality.
The old religious idea of acting virtuously for its own sake, or for
God's sake, has been replaced by the psychotherapuetic notion of virtue
for our own well-being.
Self-respect has been replaced by self-esteem. Self-respect used to
come from the peace of trying to live a virtuous life and having a
clear conscience. Now it means just feeling good about ourselves and
lacks any moral content.
Traditional religions told their followers that we are fallen and in
need of spiritual help, and explained the realities of sin and
forgiveness. The new gospel of self-realization, in contrast, denies
any personal deficiencies and sells a series of techniques that will
enable us to realize our potential. In the process the concepts of
right and wrong fall by the wayside.
The psychological thrust of the new virtues is dealt with in a chapter
by Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at the University of Kent. The
traditional teaching about the seven deadly sins, and the
countervailing virtues, has been turned on its head, he notes.
We are warned against too much kindness, as it can lead to compassion
fatigue. Diligence is sometimes dismissed as an example of someone
suffering from a perfectionist complex. Humble people lack self-esteem,
and chastity is a sexual dysfunction. "Virtue is not so much its own
reward, as a condition requiring therapeutic intervention," he
Modern therapeutic culture also encourages the open and uninhibited
display of emotions, Furedi observes. Acknowledging our feelings is
presented as an act of virtue. And the subsequent encouragement to seek
therapy or help has acquired a connotation akin to the act of admitting
There is, therefore, a tendency to inflate the problems of emotional
vulnerability and to minimize the capacity of the person to cope with
distress without the help of outside therapy. This culture of therapy
also brings with it the idea that people are not the authors of their
lives, but the victims of consequence. Virtue is thus replaced by
therapy, leaving us all the poorer as a consequence.
Benedict XVI: "Positive
secularity" (October 17,
VATICAN CITY, OCT. 17, 2005
(Zenit.org).- In a letter to the president of the Italian Senate,
Benedict XVI called for a "positive secularity" that omits any kind of
hostility between religion and the state.
The "positive secularity" of which the Pope speaks guarantees "to each
citizen the right to live his own religious faith with genuine freedom,
including in the public realm."
The Holy Father expressed his proposal in a message sent to Marcello
Pera, who is also honorary president of the Magna Carta Foundation, on
the occasion of the Freedom and Secularity meeting organized by this
institution in Nursia, Italy, last Saturday and Sunday.
Benedict XVI cemented a friendship with the president of the Italian
Senate during meetings when the former was prefect of the Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith.
They both took part in a May 2004 symposium with a report on the roots
of Europe. This led to a book entitled "Senza Radici" (Without Roots),
published by Mondadori, which they co-authored.
In his message the Pope proposed: "It will be necessary to work for a
cultural and spiritual renewal of Italy and the European continent so
that secularity is not interpreted as hostility against religion."
Guarantee to all
The Holy Father clarified that secularity must become "a commitment to
guarantee to all, individuals and groups, respect for the exigencies of
the common good, [and] the possibility to live and to express one own
According to the Bishop of Rome, the fundamental rights of the human
being "are not created by the lawmakers, but are inscribed in the very
nature of the human person, and refer back, in the last analysis to the
"Therefore," he added, "a healthy secularity of the state seems
legitimate and advantageous, in virtue of which the temporal realities
are governed according to norms that are proper to them, to which those
ethical instances also belong that have their foundation in the very
existence of man."
as a Scapegoat
Secularism Shows a Growing Hostility
LONDON, AUG. 27, 2005 (Zenit.org).- The July terror bombings in England
opened up a debate over the place of Islam in the country. It also
triggered heated words over the role of religion in general. Not a few
commentaries attacked religion in general as being dangerous in today's
Writing in the Guardian newspaper on July 22, commentator Polly Toynbee
called for a defense of "Enlightenment values" against the threat of
violence inspired by religious extremism. "If religions teach that life
after death is better," she warned, "then it is hardly surprising that
some crazed followers will actually believe it."
"It is time now to get serious about religion -- all religion -- and
draw a firm line between the real world and the world of dreams,"
Matthew Parris, writing in the July 23 issue of the Spectator magazine,
declared: "What unites an 'extremist' mullah with a Catholic priest or
evangelical Protestant minister is actually much more significant and
interesting than what divides him from them."
Parris says that the crucial difference between those who are secular
and those who are religious is that the latter teach about a new life
after death and try to help people have faith. The divisions between
religions, such as whether or not they instruct followers to kill
innocent people, is of little importance, he argued.
For Muriel Gray, writing in the Scottish newspaper Sunday Herald on
July 24, "The cause of all this misery, mayhem, violence, terror and
ignorance is of course religion itself." Gray lumped together extremist
Islam with "fundamentalist Christian insanity" and described all
religion as "Dark Ages nonsense."
"For the government of a secular country such as ours to treat religion
as if it had real merit instead of regarding it as a ridiculous
anachronism, which education, wisdom and experience can hopefully
overcome in time, is one of the most depressing developments of the
21st century," according to Gray.
These sentiments are not new. In the Times newspaper on March 19, long
before the London bombings, Sam Harris wrote: "Incompatible religious
doctrines have Balkanised our world and these divisions have become a
continuous source of bloodshed."
He rejected the idea that such conflicts could be avoided through
promoting religious moderation. "In so far as religious moderates
attempt to hold on to what is still serviceable in orthodox religion,
they close the door to more sophisticated approaches to human
happiness," according to Harris.
"If religious war is ever to become unthinkable for us, in the way that
slavery and cannibalism seem poised to, it will be a matter of our
having dispensed with the dogma of faith," he concluded.
Listening to Catholics
The difficulty for Catholics of following their faith in the midst of a
hostile secular world was amply documented in a report released by the
bishops' conference of England and Wales. Published on July 18, "A
Report of the Findings of Listening 2004: My Family My Church" collects
the results of a series of "conversations" held at the diocesan level.
The consultations held last year were designed to coincide with the
10th anniversary of the U.N. Year of the Family and, according to the
organizers, aimed "to hear what families say about the reality of their
lives, their needs and the means by which our church community can
offer effective support."
The highest number of responses to the question about difficulties
experienced as a family in the world centered on the challenges
presented by consumerism, selfishness, materialism and individualism.
Many families noted the harmful influence of the media. The media were
often blamed for promoting negative portrayals of families and
unrealistic expectations of life. Peer pressure was another difficulty
identified for all ages: teen-agers, young adults and families.
Many respondents strongly identified Christian values as a source of
strength for family life. Gospel values, prayer, and the support of the
parish community were seen as important elements in helping families.
Nevertheless, many also noted that the younger generations lapse from
religious practice, a source of grief for many parents. To overcome
this problem the report noted that there is a great need for pastors to
place more emphasis on family holiness and family spirituality. In
fact, the report concluded: "There appeared to be little awareness of
the vocational nature of marriage and parenthood or of the specific
spirituality of the home (domestic church)."
The report also concluded that after examining the commentaries from
many dioceses, "we see a huge need for better communication and deeper
understanding of Church teaching in the area of marriage and family
life, especially as it applies to real family experience. Families seem
to be able to endure hardship if they can make sense of it in
spiritual/religious terms and if they can see it as just."
As well, the Church needs to greatly increase the means it offers to
parents, so that they can hand on the faith to their children. And the
report further recommended a reassessment of the role of young people
play in the Church, so that they can feel at home.
Faith in today's world
Benedict XVI recently addressed the challenges facing religion in
today's secularized culture. During his vacation in the Italian Alps he
took time July 26 to speak to a group of clergy from the local Diocese
of Aosta. The Pope said that in the West, particularly Australia and
Europe but less so the United States, there seems to be little evidence
of the need for God or Christ.
In this climate of rationalism, he said, the scientific mode of looking
at things is considered as the only way of really knowing reality, and
all the rest is merely subjective. In this way the Christian life is
seen as just something not only subjective, but also purely arbitrary.
The Catholic Church is not as seriously affected by this as the
mainstream Protestant denominations, which are in deep crisis.
Nevertheless, the Catholic Church is also feeling the effects of this
tendency, the Holy Father said.
Benedict XVI suggested some ways in which the Church can face up to
this difficult situation. It is important to have patience, he said,
and to be certain that the world cannot live without God. This means
having certainty that Christ is the answer. Without the presence of
Christ the world will self-destruct, warned the Pope.
There is already evidence that the attempt by a rationalism that is
closed in on itself cannot fulfill its promise of building a better
world, he added. The promises made in the cultural changes unleashed in
the events of 1968 have not been fulfilled, and in the younger
generation there is a growing awareness that there is another reality,
more complex, that requires the transformation of our hearts, the Holy
Father said. We need, therefore, to have the conviction that God is the
Truth and that only by following in his path will we be going in the
right direction, he added.
Further, the Pope insisted that we need to build a deep personal
relationship with Christ, so that our certainty about him is not based
on mere rational considerations. Whether that message impresses the
secularists remains to be seen.
Michael Novak on the Hunger for Liberty
On the Need for Morality to Safeguard Freedom
WASHINGTON, D.C., MAY 11, 2005 (Zenit.org).- A
ideal of truth is necessary to ensure ground rules for a healthy
in the public arena, says a leading political scientist.
Michael Novak explores his premise in his book, "The
Hunger for Liberty: Why the Clash of Civilizations Is Not Inevitable"
He holds the George Frederick Jewett Chair in
and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute, where he is
of social and political studies.
In the first segment of a three-part interview,
shared with ZENIT the meaning of liberty, and how democracy affects
and economic liberty and the search for truth.
Q: What do you mean by "liberty"?
Novak: The Statue of Liberty, a gift to the United
from France in 1886, shows a serious woman as the symbol of liberty. In
one of Lady Liberty's upraised hands she bears the torch of reason
the mists of passion and the darkness of ignorance, and in her other
the Book of the Law. An old American hymn sings: "Confirm thy soul in
Thy liberty in law."
The theological background to this statue, at least
it is understood in America, is as follows. The reason the Creator
the universe is so that somewhere in it there would be at least one
capable of receiving the Creator's offer of friendship –- receiving it
freely, to accept or to reject.
If the gift was friendship, that gift had to be
in freedom. Freedom is the necessary condition for friendship between
and man, man and God. That is the theological background of the term.
But in America there is also a historical and
background. William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania -- my own native
state -- belonged to the Society of Friends, or Quakers, who wanted to
build his new colony on the ideal of God's friendship extended to
and reciprocated by humans; therefore they named its capital
City of the Love of Brothers.
Penn made the first article of the Pennsylvania
the principle of liberty. If friendship, then liberty.
Finally, there is the philosophical background. As
Acton put it, liberty is not the right to do whatever we please, but
right to do what we ought to do. The other animals do what they please
–- whatever their instincts direct.
But humans have an opportunity to follow their own
insight, understanding and judgment. Humans sense within themselves a
to use their heads to become masters of their own instincts; they are
This is the liberty for which, when it is in its own
at last awakened, there is a universal call among human beings: The
to become masters of their own choices and provident over their own
In this we are made in the image of our Creator. And in this, as
put it, we are made political animals, as we reason together about our
Q: What is the link between freedom and truth?
Novak: The links are many. More than one chapter in
Universal Hunger for Liberty" is devoted to spelling them out. In
as I explain in Chapter 2, a vision of "Caritapolis," or a planet of
friendship, is based upon a non-relativistic conception of truth,
for a conversation among several truly contrary civilizations.
The first step in coming to such a vision is to
by a kind of "via negativa." Suppose there is no regulative ideal of
that imposes itself upon all of us. In that case, if anyone who is
by thugs complains of his oppression, the thugs can legitimately reply:
"But that is only your opinion. In our opinion, this is what you
The old saying "The truth shall make you free" makes
very rich point and deserves much reflection, also in practical
How do we institutionalize a conversation in which
participants are bound by a regulative ideal of truth, such that each
present evidence that may be judged by others as closer or farther from
the truth, and in such a manner that all together can move forward,
from each other, in the direction of a fuller grasp of the truth?
To participate in such a conversation means to be
to impose the disciplines of evidence and reason upon oneself, and to
open to the light of criticism from others and criticism also by
in the light of the truth which we all are pursuing together.
If we wish to become free from our illusions, and
from false and superficial apprehensions, we need to keep making
forward toward the light of truth. None of us wholly possesses truth;
the contrary, each of us is under judgment in the light of truth, which
is greater than any of us.
Yet a love for the truth greater than our present
may grip us and impel us forward, ever more deeply. To achieve a
penetration of the truth about ourselves and our destiny, we need to be
freed from our own self-love and illusions. In this sense, truth and
Q: How does liberty in the moral-cultural sphere
political and economic liberty?
Novak: It is the soul that animates the other two.
the virtues proper to moral liberty weaken, so does the vitality of
and political liberty. The cardinal virtues of honesty, courage,
realism and self-control -- temperance -- are indispensable in
and a dynamic, creative economy.
By moral liberty I mean the right to do what one
to do, not what one pleases. The other animals can only obey their
Humans have a right and a duty to discern among their instincts the way
of reason, the law of God, and to exercise self-government in following
that law down the pathways of liberty.
Q: You say that liberty and democracy require an
moral order, but doesn't democracy undermine objective truths?
Novak: My approach to this question is dialectical,
in the horrific experiences of our time. Without hesitation or cavil,
Holocaust of the Hitler period is recognized as evil, and not just in
or other's opinion.
The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human
stands as a record, as it were, of some acts that ought never to be
or countenanced by the civilized world. These prohibitions have been
by a kind of "via negativa," by living through certain specific evils
coming to abhor them beyond endurance, beyond tolerance.
Agreements on such matters were able to be achieved
possibly the most remarkable act of public philosophy the world has
come to. Jews and Christians played a leading role in thinking this
Thankfully, Mary Ann Glendon at Harvard has written a splendid study of
this achievement in "A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the
Declaration of Human Rights."
Another line of reflection runs as follows. How can
people that cannot govern its passions in their private lives govern
passions in their public life together? There is an intimate relation
self-government in private life -- strong moral habits among
-- and self-government in political life.
This is the link that is corrupted by the welfare
on the one hand, and by the cultivation of hedonism and moral
by the media, on the other hand. This moral corruption of democracy
within, in turn, corrupts intellectual life, and makes a sound public
-- a moral philosophy --unsustainable.
Fortunately, moral awakenings do occur in history.
free world is much in need of one these days. As Charles Peguy used to
remind himself by a sign posted at his doorway, "The revolution is
or not at all."
It is not democracy that undermines the search for
but the moral corruption of democracy from within. The fact that
depends on moral agency makes democracy fragile and weak. It is in need
of endless vigilance and moral reawakening.
Q: What is the "clash of civilizations" and why is
Novak: The clash of civilizations arises from bitter
exploding in sudden violence as it did in New York and Washington on
11, 2001. This clash was at first defined in terms of such contrary
as the meaning of truth, freedom and even God that there seemed to
no common ground. Some could see only a long struggle to the death of
civilization or another.
To speak all too simply, by contrast, my hypothesis
that even in Muslim civilization, for which the terrorists of September
11 presumed, falsely, to speak, there was a religion of reward and
As Thomas Aquinas and Moses Maimonides long ago
out during the golden age of Jewish, Christian and Muslim dialogue of
centuries ago, such a religion was bound to hold deep within it a
of freedom, even if its philosophers and theologians had not yet made
of that theory, or grasped its full implications, or drawn out all its
possibilities. Without freedom, reward and punishment after death make
In short, there is plenty to discuss -- about truth,
and God -- among Christians, Muslims and Jews today and in the
to come. And such a conversation can most profitably go forward under
agreed upon rules appropriate to inquiries in the light of truth,
and our poor and inadequate and yet inwardly demanding ideas about God.
When I was writing "Universal Hunger for Liberty" in
and 2003, such a dialogue seemed nowhere in sight.
But in the express desire for liberty manifested in
elections of Afghanistan and Iraq -- and the still newer demand for
in Lebanon, Egypt, Iran and other Islamic cultures in the months since
then -- the topic of freedom is very much on the universal agenda.
It is so, not only in the political sense concerning
but also in the cultural and human sense -- what human virtues,
and practices are essential to it?
We have begun to move in the direction of
one painful and small step at a time, under the force of necessity. The
alternative is indescribably bleak, and also unnecessary, wasteful and
fraught with immense suffering for all.
Q: You seem to suppose that Islam is open to
But the very word "Islam" means to submit. What makes you believe that
Muslim cultures can foster liberty, given this tension between
Novak: The great American poet T.S. Eliot wrote that
most beautiful line in human poetry occurs toward the end of "The
Comedy," where Dante writes in early Italian a line that we translate
into English this way: "In His will, our peace."
In Christian and Jewish thought, too, there are
between God’s authority and human liberty, as there are between truth
liberty. These difficulties force us to deepen our own thinking and
capacities, our ability to make distinctions and even our creativity in
imagining solutions to seemingly insoluble puzzles.
It should be noted, too, that contemporary
who face no difficulties in regard to the authority of God, in whom
have no belief, nonetheless face immense difficulties of their own. Why
do they value liberty, instead of coercion? How do they find anything
be evil, without merely stating an arbitrary preference, with which
are free to disagree?
Their systematic relativism appears to turn
in the end, over to the most thuggish among them. If truth is of no
the only source for resolving disagreements seems to be naked power.
In the universal dialogue among civilizations in the
by contrast, under the regulative ideal of truth, I believe each of us
will teach some lessons to others, and learn from them as well.
About the great questions of how to conceive of and
rationally about liberty, truth and God, there is much for all of us to
learn. And there is great merit in each of us plumbing as deeply into
own traditions as we can, in order to bring old and revered and still
treasures into the universal patrimony.
Q: It can be persuasively argued that the nations of
West have lost their desire for liberty -- at least the European
have. In Europe, government expansion and new forms of cultural and
despotism are on the rise. What is the source of this trend?
Novak: One answer is the welfare state, which
personal responsibility from the center of the political universe and
it with the "caring" state -- the "new soft despotism" predicted by
de Tocqueville in "Democracy in America."
A deeper answer, perhaps, is the drama of atheistic
If there is no God, what human beings do with their lives does not
in the end. Nothing eternal is at stake -- nothing true or just or
In a world of nihilism, or even relativism, comfort
convenience are as significant as liberty. To most people, they may be
even more attractive. In Europe, it seems as if they are.
What Christianity and Judaism once contributed to
identity was a taste for the importance of how women and men use their
personal liberty, either to be faithful to their God or to turn away
him. People could be unfaithful to God directly to his face, or
through their betrayal of their duties to others.
At bottom, what Judaism and Christianity contributed
European identity, then, was the sharp taste of liberty -- the taste of
true human dignity, trembling in the delicate balance of how humans
to use their liberty.
As Europeans ceased to be faithful to Judaism and
-- in the primacy of liberty, the Torah is at one with the New
-- they have lost their taste both for liberty and for the God of
They have erected other, false gods.
More than we used to think, the God of Abraham,
Jacob and Jesus seems indispensable to the Western hunger for liberty.
It seems empirically evident that secularism has precipitated the death
of the hunger for liberty.
That is one reason why I argue that Muslims should
be pressed to pursue the path of secularism. On the contrary, we can
by the experience of the West -- and also the experience of Arab
states -- that secularism withers liberty as winter withers the
green forests and fields. Secularism has no resources to arrest moral
or the raw will-to-power.
The God of Abraham made women and men free. The God
created us created us free at the same time. That is the root of our
our thirst, to be what we are meant to be. Liberty is a hunger and a
in all human creatures, even in those who have sought to still it, and
kill it, in their own hearts.
Political history provides many proofs of the
that the hunger for liberty has a persistent historical power. The
of our own time is the most vivid lesson imaginable in the truth of
Consider first the evidence since January 30 of this
The courageous, ink-fingered election in Iraq followed upon the "Orange
revolution" in Ukraine, which was followed in turn by the dynamic
in Palestine, the brave open demonstrations in Lebanon and yet other
demands in other nations.
Then think backward to the world of the year 1905.
many ways, the history of the 20th century was an attempt to impose
in various forms upon the whole human race.
And yet, from a small handful of relatively free
in 1905, the world has grown to well over 120 today -- not without
wars, not without immense struggle and not without continuing problems,
but with undeniable effort, willingness to sacrifice and modest success.
Now the hunger for liberty is slowly sweeping
the Muslim world -- not least in the Arab countries -- as well as the
nations of the "soft underbelly" of the former Soviet Union, the
whose names end in "-stan."
In this sense, my book, written in 2003, has already
to be vindicated by events. Its hypothesis -- and the reasons given for
it -- seems far more in touch with reality today than they did when
were first written down. So, at least, I invite readers to verify, or
Where I am mistaken, perhaps others can put the
of things more exactly. I would welcome that.
Q: Does the fostering of liberty in Muslim, and
cultures require secularism?
Novak: On the contrary. Experience shows that
is not a sustainable moral ecology. Secularism has no corrective to
decadence, corruption and decline. It is parasitical on the moral
that proceeded the secular era, and when that original moral impulse is
exhausted, what has moral relativism got to teach or even to recommend?
Now there may be a form of secularism that is not
or nihilistic. The Rome of Cicero and Seneca seemed to be of that sort,
if one can call secular a culture so permeated with piety to the gods
Rome. But one reason Rome yielded to Christianity was the superior
power of the Christian ethic, especially the Christian conception of
An analogous conception of liberty lies buried in
Islamic conception of rewards and punishments for personal actions. I
encourage and challenge Islamic thinkers to draw from their own
a full-blown theory of liberty, both personal and political, to an
never achieved before.
Q: How do political and economic liberties reinforce
Novak: Either without the other is plainly flawed.
If all democracy brings a people is a chance to vote
so often, without any economic improvement in the conditions of the
the people will not love democracy. Conversely, if there is economic
without protection for the civil rights of minorities, moral
and even rebellion will fester.
Political liberty is restless until it ends in
liberty, just as economic liberty soon raises demands for political
In both cases, what one means by "liberty" is not license but
-- personal initiative, and also respect for the law, civil and moral.
Cardinal Pell on Secular Democracy's Bluff
Australian Advocates a Personalism
GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan, OCT. 23, 2004 (Zenit.org).-
a special analysis, ZENIT offers this synopsis of an address given by
George Pell, archbishop of Sydney, at the Acton Institute's annual
Oct. 12. The full version of the address will appear in a forthcoming
of the institute's Journal of Markets and Morality.
* * *
Is There Only Secular Democracy?
By Cardinal George Pell
Democracy is never unqualified. We are used to
of "liberal democracy" which as currently understood is a synonym for
democracy." In Europe there are parties advocating "Christian
Lately there has been interest in the possibility of "Islamic
These descriptors do not simply refer to how democracy might be
but to the moral vision democracy is intended to serve.
This is especially true in the case of secular
which some insist is intended to serve no moral vision at all. But as
John Paul II argues, "The value of democracy stands or falls with the
which it embodies and promotes." Democracy is not a good in itself. Its
value is instrumental and depends on the vision it serves.
An attempt is sometimes made to evade this point by
a distinction between procedural and normative democracy. Procedural
claims are minimalist: Democracy should be regarded as nothing more
a mechanism for regulating different interests on a purely empirical
To speak of normative democracy, however, especially
one is a Catholic bishop, is to provoke panic in some quarters and
in others. Many things underlie this response, not least certain
convictions about secularism. But most important of all is a failure of
imagination. Democracy can only be what it is now: a constant series of
"breakthroughs" against social taboo in pursuit of the individual's
But think for a moment what it means to say that
can be no other form of democracy than secular democracy. Does
need a burgeoning billion-dollar pornography industry to be truly
Does it need an abortion rate in the tens of millions? Does it need
levels of marriage breakdown, with the growing rates of family
that come with them?
Does democracy (as in Holland's case) need legalized
extending to children under the age of 12? Does democracy need assisted
reproductive technology (such as IVF) and embryonic stem cell research?
Does democracy really need these things? What would democracy look like
if you took some of these things out of the picture? Would it cease to
be democracy? Or would it actually become more democratic?
These are the things by which secular democracy
itself and stakes its ground against other possibilities. They are not
merely epiphenomena of freedom of speech, movement and opportunity. The
alarm with which many treat people in public life who are opposed to
things often implies that that they are a danger to democracy. This
is of course a bluff, an attempt to silence opposition almost
that these practices are essential to democracy.
If we think about the answers to the questions above
begin to have an inkling about what a form of democracy other than
democracy might look like, an alternative I call "democratic
It means nothing more than democracy founded on the transcendent
of the human person.
Transcendence directs us to our dependence on others
our dependence on God. And dependence is how we know the reality of
There is nothing undemocratic about bringing this truth into our
about our political arrangements. Placing democracy on this basis does
not mean theocracy.
To refound democracy on our need for others, and our
to make a gift of ourselves to them, is to bring a whole new form of
into being. Democratic personalism is perhaps the last alternative to
democracy still possible within Western culture as it is presently
From outside Western culture, of course, come other
It is still very early in the piece, of course, but the small but
conversion of native Westerners within Western societies to Islam
the suggestion that Islam may provide in the 21st century the
which communism provided in the 20th, both for those who are alienated
or embittered on the one hand, and for those who seek order or justice
on the other.
So alternatives are required. The recrudescence of
religion is not a problem that secular democracy can resolve, but
a problem that it tends to engender. The past century provided examples
enough of how the emptiness within secular democracy can be filled with
darkness by political substitutes for religion. Democratic personalism
provides another, better possibility; one that does not require
to cancel itself out.
Democratic personalism does not mean seizing power
pursue a project of world transformation, but broadening the
of democratic culture so that it can rediscover hope, and re-establish
freedom in truth and the common good. It is a work of persuasion and
more than political activism. Its priority is culture rather than
and the transformation of politics through revivifying culture. It is
about salvation -- not least of all the salvation of democracy itself.
Walking the Church-State Tightrope
Pope Lays Out Guiding Principles
ROME, MARCH 5, 2005 (Zenit.org).- While the world
on John Paul II's health in recent weeks, his own attention was
toward an issue of long concern: Church-state relations. A message
Feb. 11 and sent to Archbishop Jean-Pierre Ricard of Bordeaux,
of the French bishops' conference, raised some points on this subject.
The letter came after the conclusion of the French
five-yearly visits to Rome during the past year. The Pope noted that
1905 French law on Church-state relations, which replaced a Concordat
1804, "was a painful and traumatizing event for the Church in France"
John Paul II observed that the 1905 law "relegated
religious factor to the private sphere and failed to acknowledge the
of religious life and the Church institution in society." He added,
that after 1920 the French government did take some steps to improve
France, he continued, embraces the principle of
("laïcité"). The Church too, he pointed out, is convinced
the need for a separation of the roles of Church and state, following
injunction, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God
the things that are God's" (Luke 20:25). The Second Vatican Council, in
fact, explained that the Church is not identified with any political
nor bound by ties to any political system. At the same time, both the
community and the Church each serve the needs of the same people and
service will be carried out more effectively if there is cooperation
the two institutions.
This cooperation has continued to improve in France,
Pope commented, "to the point that in recent years a forum for dialogue
has been created at the highest level" (No. 4). This has enabled
to be developed in a climate of mutual respect. John Paul II also
upon French Catholics to participate in public life.
The Pope also observed that giving space for
in French society is necessary so that they do not "withdraw into
which could become a threat to the state itself" (No. 6). This could
to an increase in intolerance and harm the coexistence of the groups
up the nation.
To this end, the Pontiff continued, Christians must
allowed to speak in public and express their convictions during the
debates, "challenging the state and their fellow citizens on their
as men and women, especially in the field of fundamental human rights
respect for human dignity, for the progress of humanity but not at any
price, for justice and equity, as well as for the protection of our
And the Pope did not let the occasion to go by
returning to a constant theme in past few years, the need to give
values a place in the European continent. "Christianity largely shaped
the features of Europe," he wrote. "It is up to the people of our day
build European society on the values that prevailed when it was born
that are a part of its richness" (No. 5).
On Jan. 24, the Pope addressed a group of Spanish
during their visit to Rome. He said that the spread of a secular
in that country's society "leads gradually, more or less consciously,
the restriction of religious freedom to the point that it advocates
for, or ignorance of, the religious environment, relegating faith to
private sphere and opposing its public _expression" (No. 4). Moreover,
"Religious freedom cannot be curtailed without depriving human beings
something fundamental," the Holy Father added.
The Pope also insisted that it is necessary for
"to seek the Kingdom of God in dealing with temporal realities and in
them in accordance with the divine will." And he urged them to be
in giving witness to their faith in the public arena.
Faith and practice
Late last year John Paul II also touched on
relations in his speech Dec. 4 to a group of U.S. bishops. Addressing
from the provinces of Louisville, Mobile and New Orleans, the Pope
them to make it a pastoral priority to help the lay faithful combine
the duties they have as members of the Church and as members of human
Quoting from "Lumen Gentium," No. 36, the Holy
said that lay men and women, after receiving a sound catechesis and
formation, have a clear mission "to extend the Kingdom of God in and
their secular activity, so that 'the world will be imbued with the
of Christ and more effectively attain its purpose in justice, in love
in peace'" (No. 3).
Hence, the faithful need to receive clear
on their duties as Christians, and on their obligation to act in
with the Church's authoritative teaching, the Pope added. And to those
who object that such instruction has overly political tones John Paul
stated clearly: "While fully respecting the legitimate separation of
and state in American life, such a catechesis must also make clear that
for the faithful Christian there can be no separation between the faith
which is to be believed and put into practice and a commitment to full
and responsible participation in professional, political and cultural
John Paul II further urged the bishops to give
to their work in this area. "Given the importance of these issues for
life and mission of the Church in your country, I would encourage you
consider the inculcation of the doctrinal and moral principles
the lay apostolate as essential to your ministry as teachers and
of the Church in America."
The need to reinforce spiritual and moral values in
society was also the subject of a recent document published by the
of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community. On Feb. 25 the
committee of COMECE made public its discussion paper on the subject of
the renewal of the European Union's Lisbon Strategy. The Lisbon
is aimed at addressing reforms regarding matters related to social and
The European bishops observed the need for a greater
to spiritual values in the construction of the European Union. "Still
little attention is paid to promoting an awareness of being rooted in a
religious and cultural tradition and to the understanding of European
And while the Lisbon strategy does mention the term
it does so only in terms of strengthening the entrepreneurial spirit.
can produce dynamic and outstanding individuals if they are shaped by a
cultural and religious education aware of Europe's history," the
"Europeans also seem to have lost their sense of
is holy, transcendent and ceremonial," the prelates noted. In fact, "it
is depressing to see that in many places in Europe, Sundays and even
and national holidays, have become ordinary working and shopping days."
Religion, the bishops' document argued, can play an important role in
the European social model. More than ever, they contend, secular
is in need of a helping hand from religion.
The role of religion in democracy By
Bishop Christopher Prowse
The role of religion in a democracy has been the
of special interest of late.
Whether the topic has been Federal Elections, U.S.
how to respond to the AIDS pandemic, the renewed assessment of abortion
in Australia, the role of religion has been raised.
Of course, this topic has been discussed for
But what are the current parameters around which the Catholic Church
into such debates?
BISHOP CHRISTOPHER PROWSE, Auxiliary Bishop of
offers the following observations to assist the current debate.
A. ASSESSING DEMOCRACY
It may surprise you to know that the Catholic Church
only in recent decades offered a positive assessment of democracy as we
know it today. This took place in the 1991 Encyclical Letter of Pope
II, Centesimus Annus. The document celebrated one hundred years of the
Catholic Church’s reflections on social life, which is called The
Doctrine of the Church. In stark contrast to the previous negative
of democracy as exemplified in the Syllabus of Errors (1863),
Annus (n.46) stated:
“The Church values the democratic system inasmuch as
ensures the participation of citizens in making political choices,
to the governed the possibility both of electing and holding
those who govern them, and of replacing them through peaceful means
Following this statement and in the same paragraph,
document coins an important expression: ‘Authentic democracy.’ What is
‘authentic democracy?’ What are its characteristics, without which
would not be true democracy, according to the Catholic Church?
A very recent compilation, called a Compendium of
Social Doctrine of the Church (Liberia editrice vaticana, 2004),
upon this point. I will refer to the text directly and make 5 points:
1. An authentic democracy “is the fruit of a
acceptance of the values that inspire democratic procedures: the
of every human person, the respect for human rights, commitment to the
common good as the purpose and guiding criterion for political life.”
There must be a general consensus on these points. Ethical relativism,
which holds in doubt the existence of such shared objective principles,
is a poison to authentic democracy.
2. Corruption, or a system that is a slave to
interest” groups to the detriment of the common good, represent serious
deformities of authentic democracy. These aspects can undermine respect
for public institutions and favour those who have the means to push
own particular narrow priorities. (n.408-411)
3. Authentic democracy is orientated towards service
citizens at every level. The state is the steward of the people’s
These resources are for the common good. A complex and depersonalised
sends out the entirely wrong message regarding service. (n.412)
4. Authentic democracy must ensure widespread
of citizens in the quest to reach results that foster the common good.
5. Authentic democracy ought ensure the widespread
of information and data that will assist in proposing solutions. A key
role for the news media appears here. (n.414-416)
Such points could be expanded and modified at
Suffice it to say that the central litmus test as to whether democracy
is functioning properly is whether it places the human person at the
and foundation of all political life. (n.484) After all, the human
and a people are what give birth to a true political community and not
the other way around.
An important point to make here is that human
cannot be described truthfully and adequately without reference to our
shared spiritual and moral dimensions. (n.390-392) That is, the
and social dimensions of human anthropology are to be described as
of persons. They are not extrinsic or ‘tacked on’ to other more
descriptions of the human person.
This last point is very important, as it is the
point and anthropological foundation for discussing religion and
B. THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN A DEMOCRACY
Australians would have little difficulty in agreeing
a separation of the Church and State. The trouble is that they tend to
agree on this proposition in an excessive manner, but more of that
It may surprise some Australians, but the Catholic
also agrees on an independence and autonomy of both the Church and the
political community. As the Second Vatican Council reaffirmed: “in
proper spheres, the political community and the Church are mutually
and self-governing.”(Gaudium et Spes, 76)
On the one hand, although they are both visibly
in structures and organisation, they are totally different in nature.
the Compendium succinctly states, “The Church is organised in ways that
are suitable to meet the spiritual needs of the faithful, while the
political communities give rise to relationships and institutions that
are at the service of everything that is part of the temporal common
The ends that they pursue are different. The Church has no particular
in the political world and visa versa.
On the other hand, “the mutual autonomy of the
and the political community does not entail a separation that excludes
cooperation.” (n.425) Both serve the human person and are actively
to assist in the exercise of those rights and duties that characterise
our shared humanity. To ensure this happens fully, the Church expresses
publicly her moral and ethical judgements on all issues that affect the
dignity of the human person. She does this both as citizens of a
and as a contribution to the flourishing of that society from our
perspective. But her contributions are simply that: moral and ethical
deriving from our essentially religious vocation of men and women in
Christ. This cooperation of Church and State is mutually enriching. It
is a relationship that seems to be of particular interest in more
times, especially since the terrorism of September 11 and even more
since international and our own national political elections.
C. THE CONTRIBUTION OF RELIGIONIN A CULTURE
With the intense sensitivity to terrorism since
11, people can see all too clearly that religious fanaticism is a
for all types of violence. In our global community, no one can ignore
fact. It is no longer possible to dismiss religion, and most
bad religion, to the periphery of our culture and pretend it does not
any difference. It does.
The Catholic Church feels it has a particular role
play in this evolving drama of our times. With its 2,000-year-old entry
into human affairs due to the Christ Event, we have described ourselves
as an “expert in humanity.” (Paul VI) She understands humanity. That
“man considered whole and entire, with body and soul, heart and
mind and will.” (Gaudium et Spes, 3) The Church has answers to the big
questions of the human heart: Who am I? ‘Why suffering? Is this the
life? When does life begin?’ These and other primal questions cannot be
answered outside a theological vision of the human person. An Aussie
response alone will simply not suffice. These questions are essentially
religious in nature. The Church offers her expertise as a service to
To attempt to create answers by avoiding the spiritual and moral
is to condemn us to “ethical relativism, populism, and an excessive
on the media and economic power” (as suggested by Cardinal Tettamanzi,
the Archbishop of Milan at a recent conference in Bologna, Italy). I
the expression of Pope John Paul II says it all in synthesis: “A
without God, is a culture against humanity.”
D. RECENT DEVELOPMENTS.
One of the pleasing side effects of the diabolical
attacks of recent years is the upsurge of energy in inter-faith
with the different religions. Here in Melbourne, we have noticed an
growth in contact with the different religions, especially Islam.
We are one together in condemning the use of our
terms and sentiments as a pretext for violence of any sort. We have
such recourse on many public forums here in Melbourne in the last few
This has enabled us to get to know each other like
before to talk with each other at all levels and start to “dream
for the future. I would not want to underestimate the force for good in
Melbourne and beyond that this renewed respect and dialogue may have on
many levels, including the political.
In this context, I was particularly pleased to read
recent document (2004) by the Department of Immigration and
and Indigenous Affaires and the Australian Multicultural Foundation in
association with the World Conference of Religions for Peace, RMIT
and Monash University. It suggests that Australians have focussed too
on multicultural aspects of our shared existence here without
reflection on the impact of our multi-religious dimensions. Today, such
a secularist approach to life in Australia will not do at all. To quote
from the Introduction to the Report:
“It is very apparent, certainly for the several
ahead, that religion and faith are not going to drift away into a
world as many atheists and agnostics had predicted. In fact, one of the
major features of twentieth century history was the enduring stability
of religion and its institutions – 86 % of the world’s population claim
a religious faith (2 billion are Christian, 1.2 billion are Muslim and
0.8 billion are Hindu) and in Australia the comparable figure is about
Such a report does make one think that the links
religion in a democracy like Australia are beginning to re-position
Religion’s role in Australia may not be dead, as so many seem so keen
Whatever the changing mix may bring, it will be
on us to stand ready to participate in the moment. With the tools of
and respect – logic and right reasoning and an amplified
foundation – there is a real chance that religion in Australian
may be ready to begin a new chapter. If so, the Australia that we all
will be an even happier place and a seedbed for deeper human
at all levels.