PopeWatch: Secular and Confessional States

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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.

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  1. What P Francis and other world liberal socialist elites ignore is the elephant in the living room: Islam. Sharia. The experts on Islamic law themselves. It is a fundamental conflict with their dream of Western secular society.

    Better than any way that I could express the profoundly disinformed disconnect of PF and his fellow elites is the address given not long ago by former federal prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy, based on a talk he gave at Hillsdale College in February, 2016, entitled: “Islam: Facts or Dreams” (Imprimus Vol 45, N. 2, Feb 2016):


    McCarthy, the prosecutor of “the Blind Sheikh”, Omar Abdul Rahman, the latter being the brains behind the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, under an equally blind, disinformed, elite, Bill Clinton-Janet Reno administration, is this: the true experts on Islam are people like the Blind Sheikh, who is no “wanton killer”, but a doctor of Islamic jurisprudence of Sharia law, in fact from the Al-Azhar University of Cairo. The Al-Azhar has been the seat of Sunni law expertise on Islam for over a thousand years.

    So, McCarthy observes, when the Blind Sheikh tells Muslims, “Fight those who believe not in Allah: fight and slay the pagans wherever ye find them; seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem of war,” Omar Abdul Rahman’s is a “summons to jihad rooted in a coherent interpretation of Islamic doctrine. He was not perverting Islam.”

    McCarthy cites how the defense team of Rahman brought forth character witnesses, moderate Muslims, to explain alternative meanings of the Q’uran and of the Blind Sheikh’s teachings. But when asked to explain, “What does ‘jihad’ mean? What is sharia? How might sharia apply in a certain situation?”, they demurred, saying “they were not competent to say.” “In other words, you’d have to turn to Islamic scholars—like the Blind Sheikh.”

    At present, PF and the elite coterie, smugly well-educated (except in the case of PF) Westerners think they have an expert understanding of Islam and Sharia: but they are in fact not the experts, and contradict, like the Clintons, like Janet Reno, like John Kerry, the true experts. To try to fit true Islamic believers into a secular Western state is their self-praising wish-fulfillment—and it will fail, and its destruction will rain down on all of us, even as we see it openly in Belgium, France, Germany right now. But they will have their loudly proclaimed self-congratulatory moments right up until that day. We should pay attention to the unvarnished language of the true experts, be they the Blind Sheikh, the mullahs in Iran, or Muqtada al-Sadr in Iraq.

    To sum it up, McCarthy cites Robert Jackson, FDR’s attorney general and later a Supreme Court justice on Islam, writing in the 1930’s—he “got it”, these people today do not:

    “In any broad sense, Islamic law offers the American lawyer a study in dramatic contrasts. Even casual acquaintance and superficial knowledge—all that most of us at the bench will be able to acquire—reveal that its striking features relative to our law are not likenesses but inconsistencies, not similarities, but contrarieties. In its essence, its scope and its sanctions, the law of the Middle East is the antithesis of Western law.”

  2. The best State is a Catholic state. In the best sense of the words.
    To be a truly Catholic body is to be truly infused with the Holy Spirit. The members of the body likewise.
    That old Hebrew idea of having God as our King, means no conflict between the Church and State. I know it can get all byzantine on us …. but if truly Catholic, it could be that state that secularists strive for, where it could really be said “Here comes everyone!” and in Latin: “Benedicamus Domino”

  3. I hope you read the Imprimus summary of McCarthy’s lecture at Hillsdale, Anzlyne: here is a man who has figured it out, methodically, factually, and literally built a case on it.

    All the rest of our Dear Leaders (I hate to say it: except Trump, and certainly also Ted Cruz) are the misinformed fools.

  4. Another thing: you may know my daughter lives in Belgium. I spoke with her again yesterday. We have plans eventually to bring her family back to the US. My granddaughter is also a US citizen, and my son-in-law will soon apply for legal resident status.
    But give credit to “far-right” “radical” Geert Wilders of The Netherlands, whose cogent, intelligent, highly researched position on Islam and Sharia has awakened much of Europe. She speaks Dutch, as do most people in Belgium and many in Germany, and has heard Wilders speak many times, and he perfectly explains the disaster unfolding in Brussels, Antwerp, and Paris. Wilders is the perfect counterfoil to P. Francis and other elites. Facts and reason, like those of McCarthy’s article, are hard to glad-hand.

  5. I really don’t see how Griffey supports his interpretation of what Francis said. He’s right that this question of interpretation wasn’t a problem under the last two popes. If you wanted to understand the Regensburg Address, you simply had to read it and research the underlying concepts that you weren’t familiar with. That’s not the case with Francis, especially when he speaks off the cuff. Then again, are his writings that much better?

    Anyway, while I can sympathize with Griffey as he tries to develop a framework for understanding Francis, I don’t think he’s succeeded in this case. He’s treating the comments about the secular state as if they’re integrated with the rest of the interview, and I don’t see a reason to do so. The issue of a secular state seems to reflect to the question of Islam, whereas much of the rest of the discussion of Europe appears related to the issue of its Christian past. There is overlap, but the two themes seem sufficiently distinct to me to invalidate Griffey’s approach. Is there some order to the thoughts in this interview? Not one I can find. They seem to emanate from the mush of occasionally-contradictory assumptions known as contemporary Western liberalism, rather than from something systematic.

  6. “The question of sharing the Lord’s Supper is not easy for me to respond to, especially in front of a theologian like Cardinal Kasper! I’m scared!” – P. Francis, Lutheran Catholic discussion at Rome’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Nov. 15, 2015

    Well, as with understanding Sharia and Islam by listening to the actual acknowledged experts (i.e. Omar Abdul Rahman, the “Blind Sheikh”, in the case of understanding Sharia law), so also with P. Francis: the best way to understand PF is to reference his own sometimes-P Francis-acknowledged experts — such as:
    * Leonardo Boff, the renegade ex-Franciscan, whose concept of “the cry of the Earth” (= the earth has a soul, and sins against the Earth are as immoral as sins against another human); P Francis was acknowledged to have warmly communicated with him prior to including Boff’s ideas in Laudato Si. So, Boff tells you what PF thinks about Earth as Gaia;
    * Gustavo Gutierrez, whose practical atheist/social-activist “Gospel” P Francis much admires (PF acknowledged for example the failed idea of land-redistribution promoted by the Paraguayan bishops in Evangelio Gaudii –cf. ch. 2:n. 77);
    * Fellow Argentine, Bp. Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, the post-Christian neo-Hegelian whose contributions to Laudato Si are more or less openly acknowledged by PF, and of whom PF personally put in charge as chancellor of both the Pont. Academy for Social Sciences and also the Pont Academy for Sciences, point-man in PF’s new moral imperative for climate-control. MSS has given up on Jesus Christ returning, and settled for “managing” our earth instead;
    * Victor Manuel Fernandez, of whom TAC gives a good accounting in an article today (5/26/16);
    * Timothy Radcliffe, the radical “Dominican” whose ideas on LGBT explain PF’s position quite well, and whom PF named as consultor to the Pont. Academy on Peace and Justice. Radcliffe is quite clear that any kind of sex is “holy” and “good”. So that is what PF thinks;
    * Best of all, Walter Cardinal Kasper, of whom PF himself acknowledged as the superior “teacher of the Faith” on the new, re-designed concept of ‘catholic’ ‘marriage’ (q.v. above). (So, why are we even wasting our time talking with you, Holy Father?) We all have known what Kasper thinks on permanency of marriage: he has said so for years. Like Jesus’ miracles, it doesn’t exist.
    All of these people, and others, evidence who and what P Francis really means when he issues his “visionary-pastoral-phantasmagorical” statements about the New Church he is creating. “Interpreting Francis” really isn’t possible: but reading his transparently explicit and often PF-acknowledged “experts” is easy. Easy enough to give you a headache about where we are going under Frankenchurch.

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