The non-confessional democratic state
And Taking a Look at Benedict XVI's praise for the US

By Elizabeth Lev

ROME, 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 state relations.

When 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.

U.S. 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.
On 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 in America.

Historical tug-of-war

On 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."

The 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 vice versa.

Having left 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.

Despite 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.

Tensions 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.

This 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.

At 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.

Professor 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 intolerance.

A fascinating 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.

Understandably, 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 luster.

A gritty snapshot

When 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."

Dr. Richard Garnett of Notre Dame Law School addressed the modern threats to positive secularism with a candid portrait of the state of religious liberty today.

He outlined 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.

The 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.

The 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.

Professor 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.

While 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

On 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."

The 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.

"Between 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."

Professor 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.

Furthermore, 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 religion.

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."

Provoking 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.

Professor 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.

For 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 freedom.

The attendees 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.

On 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.

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Elizabeth Lev teaches Christian art and architecture at Duquesne University's Italian campus. She can be reached at lizlev@zenit.org.

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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 private matter.

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.

Helping hand

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 interest groups.

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 progress.

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.


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The Foundations of Democracy
According to Theologian Father Michael Hull

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.

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"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 consideration.

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 countries.

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.

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urope Needs Christians in Public Square
Interview With Professor Hans Maier

MUNICH, 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 and Culture in Bavaria from 1970 to 1986, and president of the Central Committee of German Catholics from 1976 to 1988.

He has written some 30 books, including "Democracy in the Church?" (1970), in which he collaborated with Father Joseph Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI.

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.

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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.

Q: The 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 influenced 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 different continent.

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 ours.

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?

Maier: 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 _expression, are 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 state.

Q: What is the relationship between Christianity and democracy?

Maier: There 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 organizational, administrative, 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.

Q: What are Christians called to do in the modern state?

Maier: They are a fundamental element both of criticism as well as of legitimization of democracy. Political and social participation therefore becomes 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 totalitarianisms 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 state's secularism?

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 celebrating 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 horizontal relationship.

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.

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Concerns About Religious Freedom Grow
More Countries Under U.S. Scrutiny

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 Iraq.

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.

Post-Taliban

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 freedom.

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 standards."

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 visit

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 control.

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 second-class citizens.

Financing hatred

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.

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Cardinal: Democracy Doesn't Ensure Religious Liberty
Appeals for Politics That Respect Human Dignity

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 2004.

During his visit to Vienna, the cardinal said that the ideological neutrality of the "state of law" must not be confused with its alleged ethical neutrality.

"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 at stake."

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 cardinal concluded.

The cardinal met earlier with Austrian President Heinz Fischer, and with the president of the Parliament, Andreas Khol.

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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 around ££100.

'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.

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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 preaching.

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 their beliefs.

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 everyone.

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 and traditions?

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 nature.

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 freedom.

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.

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Rediscovering the Soul of Europe
Father Vincent Twomey's Take on a Troubled Continent

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 they played.

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 quotas, etc.

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 well-being.

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 bioethical commission.

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 violent nature.

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 of Europe.3
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 rooftops.

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 deadly alliance.

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 liberal capitalism.

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 included.

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 Christ.

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 in 1883.

"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.

--- --- ---

ENDNOTES

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 East.

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.

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Decadent Virtues  (October 22, 2005)
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 main virtue.

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 governments.

Sentimental ethics

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 people.

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.

Caring virtues

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 exaggeration.

Narcissism

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 concludes.

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 guilt.

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.

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Benedict XVI:  "Positive secularity"  (October 17, 2005)

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 religious convictions."

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 Creator."
"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."

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Religion 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 secular culture.

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," declared Toynbee.

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.

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Michael Novak on the Hunger for Liberty

On the Need for Morality to Safeguard Freedom

WASHINGTON, D.C., MAY 11, 2005 (Zenit.org).- A regulative ideal of truth is necessary to ensure ground rules for a healthy dialogue in the public arena, says a leading political scientist.

Michael Novak explores his premise in his book, "The Universal Hunger for Liberty: Why the Clash of Civilizations Is Not Inevitable" (Basic Books).

He holds the George Frederick Jewett Chair in Religion and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute, where he is director of social and political studies.

In the first segment of a three-part interview, Novak shared with ZENIT the meaning of liberty, and how democracy affects political 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 States 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 against the mists of passion and the darkness of ignorance, and in her other hand the Book of the Law. An old American hymn sings: "Confirm thy soul in self-control/ Thy liberty in law."

The theological background to this statue, at least as it is understood in America, is as follows. The reason the Creator created the universe is so that somewhere in it there would be at least one creature 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 rendered in freedom. Freedom is the necessary condition for friendship between God and man, man and God. That is the theological background of the term.

But in America there is also a historical and political 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 humans and reciprocated by humans; therefore they named its capital Philadelphia, City of the Love of Brothers.

Penn made the first article of the Pennsylvania Charter the principle of liberty. If friendship, then liberty.

Finally, there is the philosophical background. As Lord Acton put it, liberty is not the right to do whatever we please, but the 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 higher insight, understanding and judgment. Humans sense within themselves a call to use their heads to become masters of their own instincts; they are self-governors.

This is the liberty for which, when it is in its own season at last awakened, there is a universal call among human beings: The hunger to become masters of their own choices and provident over their own destiny. In this we are made in the image of our Creator. And in this, as Aristotle put it, we are made political animals, as we reason together about our common life.

Q: What is the link between freedom and truth?

Novak: The links are many. More than one chapter in "The Universal Hunger for Liberty" is devoted to spelling them out. In particular, as I explain in Chapter 2, a vision of "Caritapolis," or a planet of worldwide friendship, is based upon a non-relativistic conception of truth, suitable for a conversation among several truly contrary civilizations.

The first step in coming to such a vision is to approach by a kind of "via negativa." Suppose there is no regulative ideal of truth that imposes itself upon all of us. In that case, if anyone who is oppressed by thugs complains of his oppression, the thugs can legitimately reply: "But that is only your opinion. In our opinion, this is what you deserve."

The old saying "The truth shall make you free" makes a very rich point and deserves much reflection, also in practical political terms.

How do we institutionalize a conversation in which all participants are bound by a regulative ideal of truth, such that each must 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, learning from each other, in the direction of a fuller grasp of the truth?

To participate in such a conversation means to be willing to impose the disciplines of evidence and reason upon oneself, and to remain open to the light of criticism from others and criticism also by oneself, in the light of the truth which we all are pursuing together.

If we wish to become free from our illusions, and free from false and superficial apprehensions, we need to keep making strides forward toward the light of truth. None of us wholly possesses truth; on 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 selves may grip us and impel us forward, ever more deeply. To achieve a greater 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 freedom grow together.

Q: How does liberty in the moral-cultural sphere affect political and economic liberty?

Novak: It is the soul that animates the other two. When the virtues proper to moral liberty weaken, so does the vitality of economic and political liberty. The cardinal virtues of honesty, courage, practical realism and self-control -- temperance -- are indispensable in democracy and a dynamic, creative economy.

By moral liberty I mean the right to do what one ought to do, not what one pleases. The other animals can only obey their instincts. 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 objective moral order, but doesn't democracy undermine objective truths?

Novak: My approach to this question is dialectical, rooted in the horrific experiences of our time. Without hesitation or cavil, the Holocaust of the Hitler period is recognized as evil, and not just in somebody or other's opinion.

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights stands as a record, as it were, of some acts that ought never to be committed or countenanced by the civilized world. These prohibitions have been reached by a kind of "via negativa," by living through certain specific evils and coming to abhor them beyond endurance, beyond tolerance.

Agreements on such matters were able to be achieved in possibly the most remarkable act of public philosophy the world has ever come to. Jews and Christians played a leading role in thinking this through. Thankfully, Mary Ann Glendon at Harvard has written a splendid study of this achievement in "A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."

Another line of reflection runs as follows. How can a people that cannot govern its passions in their private lives govern their passions in their public life together? There is an intimate relation between self-government in private life -- strong moral habits among individuals -- and self-government in political life.

This is the link that is corrupted by the welfare state, on the one hand, and by the cultivation of hedonism and moral fecklessness by the media, on the other hand. This moral corruption of democracy from within, in turn, corrupts intellectual life, and makes a sound public philosophy -- a moral philosophy --unsustainable.

Fortunately, moral awakenings do occur in history. The 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 moral or not at all."

It is not democracy that undermines the search for truth, but the moral corruption of democracy from within. The fact that democracy 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 it not inevitable?

Novak: The clash of civilizations arises from bitter conflict, exploding in sudden violence as it did in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001. This clash was at first defined in terms of such contrary views as the meaning of truth, freedom and even God that there seemed to remain no common ground. Some could see only a long struggle to the death of one civilization or another.

To speak all too simply, by contrast, my hypothesis was that even in Muslim civilization, for which the terrorists of September 11 presumed, falsely, to speak, there was a religion of reward and punishment after death.

As Thomas Aquinas and Moses Maimonides long ago pointed out during the golden age of Jewish, Christian and Muslim dialogue of several centuries ago, such a religion was bound to hold deep within it a theory of freedom, even if its philosophers and theologians had not yet made much of that theory, or grasped its full implications, or drawn out all its possibilities. Without freedom, reward and punishment after death make no sense.

In short, there is plenty to discuss -- about truth, liberty and God -- among Christians, Muslims and Jews today and in the centuries to come. And such a conversation can most profitably go forward under certain agreed upon rules appropriate to inquiries in the light of truth, liberty, and our poor and inadequate and yet inwardly demanding ideas about God.

When I was writing "Universal Hunger for Liberty" in 2002 and 2003, such a dialogue seemed nowhere in sight.

But in the express desire for liberty manifested in the elections of Afghanistan and Iraq -- and the still newer demand for them 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 democracy, but also in the cultural and human sense -- what human virtues, insights and practices are essential to it?

We have begun to move in the direction of Caritapolis 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 liberty. But the very word "Islam" means to submit. What makes you believe that Muslim cultures can foster liberty, given this tension between authority and liberty?

Novak: The great American poet T.S. Eliot wrote that the most beautiful line in human poetry occurs toward the end of "The Divine Comedy," where Dante writes in early Italian a line that we translate succinctly into English this way: "In His will, our peace."

In Christian and Jewish thought, too, there are tensions between God’s authority and human liberty, as there are between truth and liberty. These difficulties force us to deepen our own thinking and linguistic capacities, our ability to make distinctions and even our creativity in imagining solutions to seemingly insoluble puzzles.

It should be noted, too, that contemporary relativists, who face no difficulties in regard to the authority of God, in whom they have no belief, nonetheless face immense difficulties of their own. Why do they value liberty, instead of coercion? How do they find anything to be evil, without merely stating an arbitrary preference, with which others are free to disagree?

Their systematic relativism appears to turn decision-making, in the end, over to the most thuggish among them. If truth is of no relevance, the only source for resolving disagreements seems to be naked power.

In the universal dialogue among civilizations in the future, 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 speak 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 our own traditions as we can, in order to bring old and revered and still fecund treasures into the universal patrimony.

Q: It can be persuasively argued that the nations of the West have lost their desire for liberty -- at least the European nations have. In Europe, government expansion and new forms of cultural and social despotism are on the rise. What is the source of this trend?

Novak: One answer is the welfare state, which displaces personal responsibility from the center of the political universe and replaces it with the "caring" state -- the "new soft despotism" predicted by Alexis de Tocqueville in "Democracy in America."

A deeper answer, perhaps, is the drama of atheistic humanism. If there is no God, what human beings do with their lives does not matter in the end. Nothing eternal is at stake -- nothing true or just or significant.

In a world of nihilism, or even relativism, comfort and 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 European 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 from him. People could be unfaithful to God directly to his face, or indirectly through their betrayal of their duties to others.

At bottom, what Judaism and Christianity contributed to European identity, then, was the sharp taste of liberty -- the taste of true human dignity, trembling in the delicate balance of how humans decide to use their liberty.

As Europeans ceased to be faithful to Judaism and Christianity -- in the primacy of liberty, the Torah is at one with the New Testament -- they have lost their taste both for liberty and for the God of liberty. They have erected other, false gods.

More than we used to think, the God of Abraham, Isaac, 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 not be pressed to pursue the path of secularism. On the contrary, we can see by the experience of the West -- and also the experience of Arab secular states -- that secularism withers liberty as winter withers the formerly green forests and fields. Secularism has no resources to arrest moral decadence, or the raw will-to-power.

The God of Abraham made women and men free. The God who created us created us free at the same time. That is the root of our hunger, our thirst, to be what we are meant to be. Liberty is a hunger and a thirst 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 proposition that the hunger for liberty has a persistent historical power. The history of our own time is the most vivid lesson imaginable in the truth of this proposition.

Consider first the evidence since January 30 of this year. The courageous, ink-fingered election in Iraq followed upon the "Orange revolution" in Ukraine, which was followed in turn by the dynamic election in Palestine, the brave open demonstrations in Lebanon and yet other public demands in other nations.

Then think backward to the world of the year 1905. In many ways, the history of the 20th century was an attempt to impose tyranny in various forms upon the whole human race.

And yet, from a small handful of relatively free polities in 1905, the world has grown to well over 120 today -- not without world 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 through the Muslim world -- not least in the Arab countries -- as well as the Muslim nations of the "soft underbelly" of the former Soviet Union, the countries whose names end in "-stan."

In this sense, my book, written in 2003, has already begun 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 they were first written down. So, at least, I invite readers to verify, or to falsify.

Where I am mistaken, perhaps others can put the truth of things more exactly. I would welcome that.

Q: Does the fostering of liberty in Muslim, and other, cultures require secularism?

Novak: On the contrary. Experience shows that secularism is not a sustainable moral ecology. Secularism has no corrective to moral decadence, corruption and decline. It is parasitical on the moral ecology 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 relativistic 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 of Rome. But one reason Rome yielded to Christianity was the superior moral power of the Christian ethic, especially the Christian conception of liberty.

An analogous conception of liberty lies buried in the Islamic conception of rewards and punishments for personal actions. I would encourage and challenge Islamic thinkers to draw from their own resources a full-blown theory of liberty, both personal and political, to an extent never achieved before.

Q: How do political and economic liberties reinforce each other?

Novak: Either without the other is plainly flawed.

If all democracy brings a people is a chance to vote every so often, without any economic improvement in the conditions of the poor, the people will not love democracy. Conversely, if there is economic prosperity without protection for the civil rights of minorities, moral restlessness and even rebellion will fester.

Political liberty is restless until it ends in economic liberty, just as economic liberty soon raises demands for political liberty. In both cases, what one means by "liberty" is not license but self-government -- personal initiative, and also respect for the law, civil and moral.
 

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Cardinal Pell on Secular Democracy's Bluff

Australian Advocates a Personalism

GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan, OCT. 23, 2004 (Zenit.org).- As a special analysis, ZENIT offers this synopsis of an address given by Cardinal George Pell, archbishop of Sydney, at the Acton Institute's annual dinner Oct. 12. The full version of the address will appear in a forthcoming edition 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 speaking of "liberal democracy" which as currently understood is a synonym for "secular democracy." In Europe there are parties advocating "Christian Democracy." Lately there has been interest in the possibility of "Islamic democracy." These descriptors do not simply refer to how democracy might be constituted, but to the moral vision democracy is intended to serve.

This is especially true in the case of secular democracy, which some insist is intended to serve no moral vision at all. But as Pope John Paul II argues, "The value of democracy stands or falls with the values 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 drawing a distinction between procedural and normative democracy. Procedural democracy's claims are minimalist: Democracy should be regarded as nothing more than a mechanism for regulating different interests on a purely empirical basis.

To speak of normative democracy, however, especially if one is a Catholic bishop, is to provoke panic in some quarters and derision in others. Many things underlie this response, not least certain ideological 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 absolute autonomy.

But think for a moment what it means to say that there can be no other form of democracy than secular democracy. Does democracy need a burgeoning billion-dollar pornography industry to be truly democratic? Does it need an abortion rate in the tens of millions? Does it need high levels of marriage breakdown, with the growing rates of family dysfunction that come with them?

Does democracy (as in Holland's case) need legalized euthanasia, 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 defines 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 these things often implies that that they are a danger to democracy. This overreaction is of course a bluff, an attempt to silence opposition almost suggesting that these practices are essential to democracy.

If we think about the answers to the questions above we begin to have an inkling about what a form of democracy other than secular democracy might look like, an alternative I call "democratic personalism." It means nothing more than democracy founded on the transcendent dignity of the human person.

Transcendence directs us to our dependence on others and our dependence on God. And dependence is how we know the reality of transcendence. There is nothing undemocratic about bringing this truth into our reflections about our political arrangements. Placing democracy on this basis does not mean theocracy.

To refound democracy on our need for others, and our need to make a gift of ourselves to them, is to bring a whole new form of democracy into being. Democratic personalism is perhaps the last alternative to secular democracy still possible within Western culture as it is presently configured.

From outside Western culture, of course, come other possibilities. It is still very early in the piece, of course, but the small but growing conversion of native Westerners within Western societies to Islam carries the suggestion that Islam may provide in the 21st century the attraction 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 intolerant religion is not a problem that secular democracy can resolve, but rather 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 democracy to cancel itself out.

Democratic personalism does not mean seizing power to pursue a project of world transformation, but broadening the imagination 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 evangelization, more than political activism. Its priority is culture rather than politics, and the transformation of politics through revivifying culture. It is also about salvation -- not least of all the salvation of democracy itself.

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Walking the Church-State Tightrope

Pope Lays Out Guiding Principles

ROME, MARCH 5, 2005 (Zenit.org).- While the world focused on John Paul II's health in recent weeks, his own attention was directed toward an issue of long concern: Church-state relations. A message dated Feb. 11 and sent to Archbishop Jean-Pierre Ricard of Bordeaux, president of the French bishops' conference, raised some points on this subject.

The letter came after the conclusion of the French bishops' five-yearly visits to Rome during the past year. The Pope noted that the 1905 French law on Church-state relations, which replaced a Concordat of 1804, "was a painful and traumatizing event for the Church in France" (No. 2).

John Paul II observed that the 1905 law "relegated the religious factor to the private sphere and failed to acknowledge the place of religious life and the Church institution in society." He added, however, that after 1920 the French government did take some steps to improve the situation.

France, he continued, embraces the principle of secularity ("laïcité"). The Church too, he pointed out, is convinced of the need for a separation of the roles of Church and state, following Christ's 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 community nor bound by ties to any political system. At the same time, both the political community and the Church each serve the needs of the same people and this service will be carried out more effectively if there is cooperation between the two institutions.

This cooperation has continued to improve in France, the 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 relations to be developed in a climate of mutual respect. John Paul II also called upon French Catholics to participate in public life.

Speaking out

The Pope also observed that giving space for religion in French society is necessary so that they do not "withdraw into sectarianism which could become a threat to the state itself" (No. 6). This could lead to an increase in intolerance and harm the coexistence of the groups making up the nation.

To this end, the Pontiff continued, Christians must be allowed to speak in public and express their convictions during the democratic debates, "challenging the state and their fellow citizens on their responsibilities as men and women, especially in the field of fundamental human rights and 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 planet."

And the Pope did not let the occasion to go by without returning to a constant theme in past few years, the need to give Christian 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 to build European society on the values that prevailed when it was born and that are a part of its richness" (No. 5).

Maintaining freedom

On Jan. 24, the Pope addressed a group of Spanish bishops during their visit to Rome. He said that the spread of a secular ideology in that country's society "leads gradually, more or less consciously, to the restriction of religious freedom to the point that it advocates contempt for, or ignorance of, the religious environment, relegating faith to the private sphere and opposing its public _expression" (No. 4). Moreover, "Religious freedom cannot be curtailed without depriving human beings of something fundamental," the Holy Father added.

The Pope also insisted that it is necessary for Catholics "to seek the Kingdom of God in dealing with temporal realities and in ordering them in accordance with the divine will." And he urged them to be courageous in giving witness to their faith in the public arena.

Faith and practice

Late last year John Paul II also touched on Church-state relations in his speech Dec. 4 to a group of U.S. bishops. Addressing prelates from the provinces of Louisville, Mobile and New Orleans, the Pope encouraged them to make it a pastoral priority to help the lay faithful combine harmoniously the duties they have as members of the Church and as members of human society.

Quoting from "Lumen Gentium," No. 36, the Holy Father said that lay men and women, after receiving a sound catechesis and continuing formation, have a clear mission "to extend the Kingdom of God in and through their secular activity, so that 'the world will be imbued with the Spirit of Christ and more effectively attain its purpose in justice, in love and in peace'" (No. 3).

Hence, the faithful need to receive clear instructions on their duties as Christians, and on their obligation to act in accordance with the Church's authoritative teaching, the Pope added. And to those who object that such instruction has overly political tones John Paul II stated clearly: "While fully respecting the legitimate separation of Church 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 life" (No. 3).

John Paul II further urged the bishops to give priority to their work in this area. "Given the importance of these issues for the life and mission of the Church in your country, I would encourage you to consider the inculcation of the doctrinal and moral principles underlying the lay apostolate as essential to your ministry as teachers and shepherds of the Church in America."

European model

The need to reinforce spiritual and moral values in civil society was also the subject of a recent document published by the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community. On Feb. 25 the executive committee of COMECE made public its discussion paper on the subject of the renewal of the European Union's Lisbon Strategy. The Lisbon strategy is aimed at addressing reforms regarding matters related to social and welfare policies.

The European bishops observed the need for a greater attention to spiritual values in the construction of the European Union. "Still too little attention is paid to promoting an awareness of being rooted in a religious and cultural tradition and to the understanding of European history," they said.

And while the Lisbon strategy does mention the term "spirit," it does so only in terms of strengthening the entrepreneurial spirit. "Europe can produce dynamic and outstanding individuals if they are shaped by a cultural and religious education aware of Europe's history," the bishops added.

"Europeans also seem to have lost their sense of what is holy, transcendent and ceremonial," the prelates noted. In fact, "it is depressing to see that in many places in Europe, Sundays and even religious and national holidays, have become ordinary working and shopping days." Religion, the bishops' document argued, can play an important role in strengthening the European social model. More than ever, they contend, secular society is in need of a helping hand from religion.

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The role of religion in democracy   By Bishop Christopher Prowse

The role of religion in a democracy has been the subject of special interest of late.

Whether the topic has been Federal Elections, U.S. Elections, 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 centuries. But what are the current parameters around which the Catholic Church enters into such debates?

BISHOP CHRISTOPHER PROWSE, Auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne, offers the following observations to assist the current debate.

A. ASSESSING DEMOCRACY

It may surprise you to know that the Catholic Church has 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 John Paul II, Centesimus Annus. The document celebrated one hundred years of the Catholic Church’s reflections on social life, which is called The Social Doctrine of the Church. In stark contrast to the previous negative assessments of democracy as exemplified in the Syllabus of Errors (1863), Centesimus Annus (n.46) stated:

“The Church values the democratic system inasmuch as it ensures the participation of citizens in making political choices, guarantees to the governed the possibility both of electing and holding accountable those who govern them, and of replacing them through peaceful means when appropriate.”

Following this statement and in the same paragraph, the document coins an important expression: ‘Authentic democracy.’ What is ‘authentic democracy?’ What are its characteristics, without which democracy would not be true democracy, according to the Catholic Church?

A very recent compilation, called a Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (Liberia editrice vaticana, 2004), expands upon this point. I will refer to the text directly and make 5 points:

1. An authentic democracy “is the fruit of a convinced acceptance of the values that inspire democratic procedures: the dignity of every human person, the respect for human rights, commitment to the common good as the purpose and guiding criterion for political life.” (n.407) 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 “special 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 their own particular narrow priorities. (n.408-411)

3. Authentic democracy is orientated towards service of citizens at every level. The state is the steward of the people’s resources. These resources are for the common good. A complex and depersonalised bureaucracy sends out the entirely wrong message regarding service. (n.412)

4. Authentic democracy must ensure widespread participation of citizens in the quest to reach results that foster the common good. (n.413)

5. Authentic democracy ought ensure the widespread diffusion 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 length. 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 centre and foundation of all political life. (n.484) After all, the human person 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 persons cannot be described truthfully and adequately without reference to our shared spiritual and moral dimensions. (n.390-392) That is, the transcendent and social dimensions of human anthropology are to be described as constituent of persons. They are not extrinsic or ‘tacked on’ to other more reductionist descriptions of the human person.

This last point is very important, as it is the starting point and anthropological foundation for discussing religion and democracy.

B. THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN A DEMOCRACY

Australians would have little difficulty in agreeing on 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 later.

It may surprise some Australians, but the Catholic Church also agrees on an independence and autonomy of both the Church and the political community. As the Second Vatican Council reaffirmed: “in their proper spheres, the political community and the Church are mutually independent and self-governing.”(Gaudium et Spes, 76)

On the one hand, although they are both visibly institutional in structures and organisation, they are totally different in nature. As the Compendium succinctly states, “The Church is organised in ways that are suitable to meet the spiritual needs of the faithful, while the different political communities give rise to relationships and institutions that are at the service of everything that is part of the temporal common good.”(n.424) The ends that they pursue are different. The Church has no particular competence in the political world and visa versa.

On the other hand, “the mutual autonomy of the Church and the political community does not entail a separation that excludes cooperation.” (n.425) Both serve the human person and are actively present 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 democracy and as a contribution to the flourishing of that society from our religious perspective. But her contributions are simply that: moral and ethical conclusions deriving from our essentially religious vocation of men and women in Jesus Christ. This cooperation of Church and State is mutually enriching. It is a relationship that seems to be of particular interest in more recent times, especially since the terrorism of September 11 and even more recently since international and our own national political elections.

C. THE CONTRIBUTION OF RELIGIONIN A CULTURE

With the intense sensitivity to terrorism since September 11, people can see all too clearly that religious fanaticism is a seedbed for all types of violence. In our global community, no one can ignore this fact. It is no longer possible to dismiss religion, and most particularly bad religion, to the periphery of our culture and pretend it does not make any difference. It does.

The Catholic Church feels it has a particular role to 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 is, “man considered whole and entire, with body and soul, heart and conscience, 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 only life? When does life begin?’ These and other primal questions cannot be answered outside a theological vision of the human person. An Aussie pragmatic response alone will simply not suffice. These questions are essentially religious in nature. The Church offers her expertise as a service to humanity. To attempt to create answers by avoiding the spiritual and moral dimensions is to condemn us to “ethical relativism, populism, and an excessive concentration on the media and economic power” (as suggested by Cardinal Tettamanzi, the Archbishop of Milan at a recent conference in Bologna, Italy). I think the expression of Pope John Paul II says it all in synthesis: “A culture without God, is a culture against humanity.”

D. RECENT DEVELOPMENTS.

One of the pleasing side effects of the diabolical terrorist attacks of recent years is the upsurge of energy in inter-faith dialogue with the different religions. Here in Melbourne, we have noticed an exponential growth in contact with the different religions, especially Islam.

We are one together in condemning the use of our religious terms and sentiments as a pretext for violence of any sort. We have condemned such recourse on many public forums here in Melbourne in the last few years.

This has enabled us to get to know each other like never before to talk with each other at all levels and start to “dream dreams” 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 a recent document (2004) by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affaires and the Australian Multicultural Foundation in association with the World Conference of Religions for Peace, RMIT University and Monash University. It suggests that Australians have focussed too long on multicultural aspects of our shared existence here without sufficient 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 decades ahead, that religion and faith are not going to drift away into a privatised 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 75%.”(P.6)

Such a report does make one think that the links between religion in a democracy like Australia are beginning to re-position themselves. Religion’s role in Australia may not be dead, as so many seem so keen to believe.

Whatever the changing mix may bring, it will be incumbent on us to stand ready to participate in the moment. With the tools of dialogue and respect – logic and right reasoning and an amplified anthropological foundation – there is a real chance that religion in Australian democracy may be ready to begin a new chapter. If so, the Australia that we all love will be an even happier place and a seedbed for deeper human flourishing at all levels.