Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, April 07, 2008

The Pope and America

Italian journalist Sandro Magister has an article up about Pope Benedict XVI's impending visit to the United States in which he describes the United States as a model for Catholic Europe. (HT: Chris Blosser's Benedict in America blog)
With this pope, the United States is no longer held up for scolding by the Vatican authorities. Until a few decades ago, it was tasked with being the temple of Calvinist capitalism, of social Darwinism, of the electric chair, with a hair trigger in every corner of the world.

Today these paradigms seem to have been set aside to a great extent. The Church of Rome vigorously contested the military attack on the Iraq of Saddam Hussein. Even Benedict XVI. But it is not now pressing for the withdrawal of the soldiers. It wants them to remain there "on a peacekeeping mission," including the defense of the Christian minorities.

In any case, the general judgment on the United States has shifted to the positive, to the same extent that judgments on Europe have become more pessimistic. To ambassador Glendon, Benedict XVI said that he admires "the American people's historic appreciation of the role of religion in shaping public discourse," a role that in other places – read, Europe – is "contested in the name of a straitened understanding of political life." With the consequences that stem from this on the points that are most crucial to the Church, like "legal protection for God's gift of life from conception to natural death," marriage, the family.
There's much more and it's worth reading. When we often read American commentators discussion how we should become more like Europe, it's interesting to see what a European commentator finds attractive about the American version of the modern state.


Rick Lugari said...

I appreciate reading something like this, but am slightly uneasy about it. I welcome acknowledgments like this because it recognizes what I view to be truths and balance. I get particularly frustrated with European exceptionalism that is demonstrated by many who see American exceptionalism at every turn. The reality is that there are some things that are really off about our society and government and that there are some things that are good (and many things that are just neutral - one of many valid possibilities). Likewise with Europe. And there's no reason to expect or desire things to be the same on the two continents, there really is a difference in culture. Now the thing is, as this article points out, the status of Europe is hardly exemplary, and that is why I tend to get a little more defensive about certain things here (in the US) when I read commentary that criticizes the US because we're not more like Europe, which seems to be a common theme among certain Catholics. Thanks for pointing this out, I missed it at Christopher's blog.

Darwin said...

I think the "we should be more like Europe" line is generally pushed by those who either want a more socialized (in the descriptive -- not the invective --sense of the term) economy, or those who want a much more secular public square. I would argue the Church is largely agnostic on the first question, while strongly in favor of allowing the voice of faith to be heard in regards to the latter question.

However, there's clearly much to criticize about American culture -- most especially the crassness of much of the popular culture that we export: a topic that American conservatives themselves tend to sound pretty consistently.

Pro Ecclesia said...

"With this pope, the United States is no longer held up for scolding by the Vatican authorities. Until a few decades ago, it was tasked with being the temple of Calvinist capitalism, of social Darwinism, of the electric chair, with a hair trigger in every corner of the world.

"Today these paradigms seem to have been set aside to a great extent."

Someone better inform Morning's Minion that the template has changed.

CMinor said...

Darned funny thing about that "more secular public square" across the pond--it's not as secular as you'd think.

We live in the Old South and a week or so ago my hubby got into a discussion of the prevalence of religion (specifically Protestantism,) in public life here.

D allowed that, in the last place he'd lived, the citizens even paid tax to the church. Everyone wondered what cultural backwater that was; expecting, no doubt, some hamlet in Appalachia that hadn't yet heard of the Constitution.

"Germany," said D.

Yep, in that secularist's paradise of saunas, sex shops, nude sunbathing at the community pool, and abysmal church attendance:
-A portion of the citizens' taxes goes to support churches--but only those approved by the government. Citizens register a religious affiliation in order to determine where their taxes go. If you're a Seventh-Day Adventist, tough.
-Children entering public school are registered by religious affiliation. Religious education is conducted in the public schools . Again, the options are generally limited to "Catholic" and "Lutheran" (where we were, at least.)

I used to reflect privately that the Church in Europe might in the long run become a stronger force if it would only get out of bed with the governments of Europe.

Darwin said...

I did think of the church taxes when putting this up, but in a sense, I think those tend to serve to make Europe less religious rather than more so. Perhaps that was not the original intention of church taxes, but at this point, I'm pretty sure that's the effect.

CMinor said...

Agreed absolutely. Dependence on a government is ultimately a weakener of the church.

Anonymous said...

The Blackadder Says:

The notion that state support of religion serves in the long run to make a country less religious sounds plausible to American ears, but I'm not sure the evidence bears this out.

A good test case is France. The Alsace region of France was part of Germany from 1871 to 1919. We it rejoined France after WWI, it wasn't subject to France's 1905 Law of Separation of Church and State, and the Catholic Church remains a state supported religion in that region to this day. While I haven't been able to find any direct statistical comparisons, everything I've seen indicates that religious practice and belief in Alsace is much higher than it is in the rest of France, the opposite of what one would expect if the "Establishment causes irreligion" thesis were true.

Darwin said...

Good counterpoint.

I don't think I'd go so far as to argue that establishment causes irreligion. But it does strike me that if religious institutions in an already generally secular society are primarily funded by involuntary taxes, that will generally serve to undercut the credibility of the institutions with many people, and decrease any sense of personal involvement and ownership.