Dave Griffey at his blog Daffey Thoughts takes a look at this statement by the Pope in his recent La Croix interview:
– The significance of Islam in France today, like the nation’s Christian historical foundation, raises recurring questions concerning the place of religion in the public arena. How would you characterize a positive form of laicity (Editor: ‘laicity’ refers to the French system of separation of Church and state)?
Pope Francis: States must be secular. Confessional states end badly. That goes against the grain of History. I believe that a version of laicity accompanied by a solid law guaranteeing religious freedom offers a framework for going forward. We are all equal as sons (and daughters) of God and with our personal dignity. However, everyone must have the freedom to externalize his or her own faith. If a Muslim woman wishes to wear a veil, she must be able to do so. Similarly, if a Catholic wishes to wear a cross. People must be free to profess their faith at the heart of their own culture not merely at its margins.
The modest critique that I would address to France in this regard is that it exaggerates laicity. This arises from a way of considering religions as sub-cultures rather than as fully-fledged cultures in their own right. I fear that this approach, which is understandable as part of the heritage of the Enlightenment, continues to exist. France needs to take a step forward on this issue in order to accept that openness to transcendence is a right for everyone.
In 2004, Sam Harris, a radical proponent of the new, aggressive evangelical atheism, published a book titled “The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason.” Of course there were a million problems with the book, and greater minds than mine had no problem unpacking those problems and pretty much skinning the thing and leaving it out to dry. Despite its problems and its premise – that it’s high damn time non religious types get aggressive and start being open about their desire to eradicate religion from the planet – it was met with much praise and adoration by many in the Christian community who were, shall we say, left of center. The president of Union Theological Seminary famously gave the book two thumbs up.
One of the most often referenced points of agreement between Harris and those liberal Christian leaders I knew was his insistence that only by embracing secularized societies can the world have hope. The more secular, the more peaceful. The more religious, the more horrible, violent, and oppressive. Even folks like me didn’t take more than a minute to say ‘The Soviet Union? North Korea? The Khmer Rouge?’ Eventually Harris did back down and drop that as part of his stump speech.
Enter Pope Francis. His latest interview is, once again, drawing attention to say the least. The idea that converting people to Christianity and jihad might be the same thing has found stunned reactions by many in the Christian community. Likewise the idea, much embraced by Western liberals, that Christianity and Islam are two of many sides of the same coin, just like any other religion, seems to have gotten a jolt from him, especially when he added his praise to London for electing a Muslim mayor and seemed open to a potentially Islamic dominated Europe.
Over at The Catholic World Report, Carl Olson takes apart some of this, pondering why Pope Francis seemed so reluctant to ascribe Christian influence to the roots of European Civilization. If Pope Francis is a child of Latin American liberation theology, that’s easy. I don’t know Catholic liberation theology, but the Protestant brand was a simple nut to crack. Basically, there is no Satan or Hell, there’s only the Democratic, Capitalist West. That is pretty much the source of all evil and suffering in the world. A child of Latin American theology might well chafe at the idea of associating Christianity too closely to the Western Tradition. In the same way Gnostics chafed at the idea of an Incarnation. What is by definition evil can’t possibly have a spark of the divine.
Perhaps Pope Francis means to distance Europe from exclusively Christian origins in order to separate the Church from always bearing the brunt of Europe’s sins. There were, after all, other historical ingredients in the soupy mix that would become the European stew. Charity suggests I might take that approach to understanding his statement. His follow up statements, however, suggesting that appealing to Christian roots equated to triumphalism and even colonialism make that interpretation difficult.
But on the factual level, his subsequent dismissal of confessional states in preference to secular states is even more baffling. Again, Pope Francis seems to say it doesn’t really matter. Things like Global Warming, open borders for immigrants, Socialized economies and tolerance and mercy for liberal sexual norms are the key positions to have regarding life and death, blessings and curses. Other things don’t seem to be much more than opinions with which we can respectfully disagree, and as a result, it doesn’t really matter what religion is running the ship or what religious ship people want to board.
As I looked at the interview a couple more times, his preference for a secularized society was most troubling. Assuming Pope Francis isn’t hardcore to the Left and speaking the words of his heart, then he seems almost tone deaf to the majority of the secularized world that hears his words and rejoices to hear a leader of one of the world’s largest religions conceding the superiority of secularization.
Beyond that, you have the basic problem that he is wrong. There is absolutely nothing historically to suggest that going secular is the key to happiness and embracing religious confessional states will kill an empire. In fact, after the 20th century, you would be hard pressed to find a more wrong statement to make. And given the track record that arguably could be attributed to secularized nations, it goes beyond just wrong to being dangerously wrong. It is so wrong that even Sam Harris finally had to concede and change his spiel to acknowledge the facts. And yet, it is something of which our Pope appears convinced. If he is not a liberal Catholic child of Marxist inspired Latin American liberation theology, he makes less and less sense every day. For it to make sense, well, you know.
Go here to read the rest. To be charitable perhaps the Pope had a polity like the US in mind where freedom of religion is enshrined in law. The problem of course is that secularism too often becomes anti-religious as those who radically embrace secularism turn it into a substitute religion. However, I think the reason why the Pope said what he said was more operational on his part than strategic. Right now the Pope is pressing Europe to accept millions, probably tens of millions, of Islamic “refugees”. Of course he is currently against the concept of European states being Christian, if only by inheritance, since that belief would indicate that his policy is a tragic mistake. The bleakly hilarious aspect of all this is, of course, that if enough Islamic immigrants are admitted, the secular European states will soon be on the road to being confessional states of an Islamic variety. There is more in Heaven and in Earth than is dreamt of in the Jesuit Modernism embraced by the Pope, and this becomes glaringly obvious in his off the cuff remarks.