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Theological Notebook: Cardinal George on Secularism and Democracy; Meeting on Christianity in Europe

I was struck by this photograph on the Catholic News Service website: it looked almost more like a painting to me.


A girl attends class in a village in Paghman, Afghanistan, in November. According to a Catholic Relief Services worker, there are around 4 million more Afghan children in school in the country today than in 2001. (CNS/courtesy of CRS)


Two CNS news stories I thought of interest:

At Library of Congress, cardinal warns against secularism's dangers
By Mark Pattison
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Freedom of religion, and all freedom, can be placed at risk by an "aggressive secularism" that asserts its dominance in society, Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago warned in a Feb. 13 talk at the Library of Congress.

In his talk -- titled "What Kind of Democracy Leads to Secularization?" -- Cardinal George weighed in against both legal and cultural expressions of secularism that marginalize the importance of religion in society.

It is, the cardinal said, "an issue of great importance for our life together in a democratic republic." Religion "can remain a necessary and legitimate actor in our affairs," he added.

"The secular must provide legitimate ground for religion" in society, Cardinal George said. "When the secular is legitimized without freedom of religion, persecution of religion becomes inevitable."

He noted his own remarks could be minimized. "If I were to present an argument on its own philosophical, rational terms, it would be seen as religious, because of the speaker," he said.

Cardinal George took aim at the Supreme Court. "Their jurisprudence is admittedly incoherent," going back 50 years to when Justice Felix Frankfurter was on the bench, he said.

The cardinal cited as one example the 1971 ruling in Lemon v. Kurtzman, which dealt with Pennsylvania and Rhode Island laws on government aid to religious schools. Eight-member majorities of the high court, in each of the two questions before it in the case, ruled against government aid, calling it "an excessive government entanglement with religion."

But the cardinal noted that many European nations, "most Canadian provinces and even the Baathist regime in Saddam Hussein's Iraq" -- which, he acknowledged, was not a democracy -- "have given money to the parents so their children can attend Catholic schools" without those nations' fortunes being put at risk.

"Incoherent and unpredictable law has resulted in self-censorship," Cardinal George added, noting on the day before Valentine's Day that some have even banned Valentine's Day cards to avoid any possible entanglement between government and religion.

Cardinal George said a "radical secularist" society would resemble Soviet-era Russia by "limiting freedom of religion to the freedom of private conscience and worship."

"In the United States, the primary danger to democracy comes not from religion, but from philosophical secularism," Cardinal George said, adding that some of the wounds have been self-inflicted. Jews embraced secularism, he said, to show that one "did not have to be Christian to be American," and, likewise, Catholics embraced secularism to prove one "did not have to be Protestant to be American."

But matters have been carried too far, the cardinal said, "when a preacher can be tried in Scandinavia ..., and even in Chicago, for saying that the Bible says homosexual activity is immoral."

Cardinal George said another danger can manifest itself when "democracy doesn't remove religion, but democracy replaces religion: 'The homeland deserves our love.'" At times, he said, "it can be replaced by asserting that the mission takes on a religion dimension."

Alexis de Tocqueville, whose travels in the United States in 1831 resulted in the widely quoted book "Democracy in America," "loved this country but was afraid for its future," Cardinal George said. The French writer wondered whether democratic ideals would "be undermined by the same forces that give democracy its rise."

"What kind of democracy promotes freedom? Ours, if it becomes totally free," Cardinal George said. "What kind of democracy destroys freedom? Ours, if it becomes totally secularized."


Christian movements plan meeting to show European churches have life
By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

ROME (CNS) -- Europe may not be as obviously Christian as it once was, but vibrant new movements and communities have been born among Catholic, Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox churches, said members of those movements.

Representatives from several of the larger movements met in Rome in mid-February to finalize preparations for "Together for Europe," a May 10-11 meeting in Stuttgart, Germany, of at least 3,000 leaders from more than 170 groups representing a wide range of Christian denominations.

"We want to send a strong signal that Christianity remains alive in Europe and that diversity is valued, including among Christians," said Marco Impagliazzo, president of the Catholic-founded Community of Sant'Egidio.

Gerhard Pross, head of a coordinating council for 130 new Lutheran movements and communities in Germany, told a Feb. 16 press conference, "We live at a time when the Spirit of God is bringing about new things all over Europe, in all churches.

"You cannot imagine the diversity among us," he said. While each group values the spiritual spark that makes it unique, "we want to come together to renew our churches and society."

Christophe D'Aloisio, the Belgian president of the international Syndesmos organization for Orthodox youth movements, said, "The movements are a witness that the churches are alive."

He said that by coming together the movements want to share their experiences and spirituality with each other, but even more they want to find concrete ways to show European society and the rest of the world how much can be accomplished when people focus on what unites them instead of on their differences.

The Stuttgart meeting will include several sessions on promoting faith-based and government-based aid to Africa, strengthening marriage and family life, promoting Christian unity, welcoming immigrants, the religious importance of ecology and defending human life.

D'Aloisio said it is obvious different Christian communities take a different approach to some of the issues, including those dealing with abortion, homosexuality and marriage; the Stuttgart gathering will be an opportunity to discuss the differences, but also to build on common values.

For example, he said, "as an Orthodox, I say the church should not feel threatened by any political project" regarding legal recognition for unmarried couples, "but rather must continue to acknowledge and teach the importance and uniqueness of Christian marriage."
Tags: constitutional, cultural, europe, middle east, photography, political, secularism/modernity, theological notebook

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