Pope Francis' Views on a Favorite Target of Culture Warriors: Secularism
JSanford printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sat Sep 28, 2013 at 12:17:37 PM EST
Pope Francis' recent statements urging restraint by the Catholic Church on hot-button issues is a hopeful sign that he may be looking to modify the Church's behavior in the political sphere.  His words are likely a reaction to the hierarchy's tendency of late to identify with the political right and to use doctrinal litmus tests for determining the loyalty of Catholics. If one wants a true indicator of Francis' real intentions, however, it might be best to go beyond the general tone of his remarks and explore how much he seems to agree or disagree in specific instances with the worldview of his hard-line predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. In particular, where does he stand, as far as can be determined, on the broad issue of secularism in modern society, a favorite preoccupation of Benedict's.
Benedict and his allies on the Christian Right have made a point of exposing the so-called evils of secularism and, on that basis, justifying their hard-line positions on morality and the prerogatives of the Catholic Church. They reject the commonly held view that secularism in Western democracies enhances religious freedom by ensuring the religious neutrality of government, allowing for a level playing field for all beliefs. Instead, Benedict and his supporters see secularism, by virtue of its non-religious orientation, as a mortal enemy of Christianity. They commonly declare that it acts as a substitute for religion and that it aggressively, even conspiratorially, imposes its "anti-religious" values.

By holding to such claims, Benedict in effect endorses the culture-war framework of the Religious Right, which sees the world as divided into irreconcilable camps fighting to impose different versions of the truth. It thus becomes easy for him to view neutrality as impossible and tolerance as a false ethic used by secularists to obscure their "authoritarianism." He chooses to call their open-mindedness a "dictatorship of relativism" because, in his view, it forces religion to accept "passively" things it views as evil, such as same-sex marriage and birth control coverage in health insurance plans. Coexistence under such circumstances he views as out of the question.

To what extent does Pope Francis share these stark assumptions about secularism and culture war? The evidence so far is somewhat inconclusive. On the one hand, the new pope has not publicly rejected Benedict's stance. Shortly after becoming pope, he actually seemed to reaffirm some of  Benedict's framework. In a speech in March 2013, he briefly mentioned the "spiritual poverty of our time" and used the words "dictatorship of relativism," used by his "much beloved predecessor," to describe it. And he has since referred to the need to "work together to challenge the contemporary problems of secularism and disrespect for the human person."

It is very possible, however, that Francis was employing such words more as a signal of respect for his predecessor than as a full endorsement of their ideological import. There have been instances where he has, in fact,  appeared to take a flexible stance toward secularism and secular culture. For example, in a June meeting with politicians from France, a country that lives firmly by secular principles, he showed an appreciation of the openness of French society and its willingness to accommodate religious influences. He made clear that the principle of secularism in itself "shouldn't mean hostility to religious reality or the exclusion of religion from the social sphere and the debates that animate it." Clearly secularism here has a much less "authoritarian" face than in Pope Benedict's typical pronouncements.

Pope Francis' recent August interview with Antonio Spadaro is significant because it gives further evidence of his willingness to come to terms with secularism in many forms. He reveals in the interview a wide knowledge of secular culture and shows no inclination to reject it in categorical terms. He expresses an impatience with those who would simply condemn the evils of the prevailing order and states that a knee-jerk hostility to the world leads to a sterile conservatism. In his words:

"Complaining never helps us find God. The complaints of today about how `barbaric' the world is-these complaints sometimes end up giving birth within the Church to desires to establish order in the sense of pure conservation, as a defense. No, God is to be encountered in the world of today."

Francis opens his eyes to the world of today-the secular world-and shows his willingness to learn from it. "Even the other sciences and their development help the church in its growth in understanding," he declares. He takes a positive view toward the modernizing changes made under the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), usually minimized by today's conservatives, stating that the Council was a "re-reading of the Gospel in light of contemporary culture." And he suggests that those who persistently long for "doctrinal security" in a changing world turn faith into a mere ideology. Such statements seem a far cry from talk about the evils of a devouring secularism.

To be sure, Francis' openness to present-day experience is not meant in his eyes to lead to relativism or put in question the truths of Christianity, and he seeks to protect himself from that criticism. By reason of his leadership position, he clearly feels obliged to hedge whatever might appear to be a major departure from orthodoxy. It would thus be premature to celebrate any abrupt changes in his approach to secularism and the secular world. But it is surely a good sign that he is beginning to demonstrate his independence from the more dogmatic ideological constructions of his predecessor.




Display:

WWW Talk To Action


Cognitive Dissonance & Dominionism Denial
There is new research on why people are averse to hearing or learning about the views of ideological opponents. Based on evaluation of five......
By Frederick Clarkson (5 comments)
Will the Air Force Do Anything To Rein In Its Dynamic Duo of Gay-Bashing, Misogynistic Bloggers?
"I always get nervous when I see female pastors/chaplains. Here is why everyone should as well: "First, women are not called to be pastors,......
By Chris Rodda (4 comments)
The Legacy of Big Oil
The media is ablaze with the upcoming publication of David Grann's book, Killers of the Flower Moon. The shocking non fiction account of the......
By wilkyjr (0 comments)
Gimme That Old Time Dominionism Denial
Over the years, I have written a great deal here and in other venues about the explicitly theocratic movement called dominionism -- which has......
By Frederick Clarkson (4 comments)
History Advisor to Members of Congress Completely Twists Jefferson's Words to Support Muslim Ban
Pseudo-historian David Barton, best known for his misquoting of our country's founders to promote the notion that America was founded as a Christian nation,......
By Chris Rodda (6 comments)
"Christian Fighter Pilot" Calls First Lesbian Air Force Academy Commandant a Liar
In a new post on his "Christian Fighter Pilot" blog titled "BGen Kristin Goodwin and the USAFA Honor Code," Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan......
By Chris Rodda (0 comments)
Catholic Right Leader Unapologetic about Call for 'Death to Liberal Professors' -- UPDATED
Today, Donald Trump appointed C-FAM Executive Vice President Lisa Correnti to the US Delegation To UN Commission On Status Of Women. (C-FAM is a......
By Frederick Clarkson (2 comments)
Controlling Information
     Yesterday I listened to Russ Limbaugh.  Rush advised listeners it would be best that they not listen to CNN,MSNBC, ABC, CBS and......
By wilkyjr (4 comments)
Is Bannon Fifth-Columning the Pope?
In December 2016 I wrote about how White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who likes to flash his Catholic credentials when it comes to......
By Frank Cocozzelli (3 comments)
Ross Douthat's Hackery on the Seemingly Incongruous Alliance of Bannon & Burke
Conservative Catholic writer Ross Douthat has dissembled again. This time, in a February 15, 2017 New York Times op-ed titled The Trump Era's Catholic......
By Frank Cocozzelli (2 comments)
`So-Called Patriots' Attack The Rule Of Law
Every so often, right-wing commentator Pat Buchanan lurches out of the far-right fever swamp where he has resided for the past 50 years to......
By Rob Boston (1 comment)
Bad Faith from Focus on the Family
Here is one from the archives, Feb 12, 2011, that serves as a reminder of how deeply disingenuous people can be. Appeals to seek......
By Frederick Clarkson (6 comments)
The Legacy of George Wallace
"One need not accept any of those views to agree that they had appealed to real concerns of real people, not to mindless, unreasoning......
By wilkyjr (6 comments)
Betsy DeVos's Mudsill View of Public Education
My Talk to Action colleague Rachel Tabachnick has been doing yeoman's work in explaining Betsy DeVos's long-term strategy for decimating universal public education. If......
By Frank Cocozzelli (7 comments)
Prince and DeVos Families at Intersection of Radical Free Market Privatizers and Religious Right
This post from 2011 surfaces important information about President-Elect Trump's nominee for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. -- FC Erik Prince, Brother of Betsy......
By Rachel Tabachnick (21 comments)

Respect for Others? or Political Correctness?
The term "political correctness" as used by Conservatives and Republicans has often puzzled me: what exactly do they mean by it? After reading Chip Berlin's piece here-- http://www.talk2action.org/story/2016/7/21/04356/9417 I thought about what he explained......
MTOLincoln (5 comments)
Fear
What I'm feeling now is fear.  I swear that it seems my nightmares are coming true with this new "president".  I'm also frustrated because so many people are not connecting all the dots! I've......
ArchaeoBob (6 comments)
"America - love it or LEAVE!"
I've been hearing that and similar sentiments fairly frequently in the last few days - far FAR more often than ever before.  Hearing about "consequences for burning the flag (actions) from Trump is chilling!......
ArchaeoBob (6 comments)
"Faked!" Meme
Keep your eyes and ears open for a possible move to try to discredit the people openly opposing Trump and the bigots, especially people who have experienced terrorism from the "Right"  (Christian Terrorism is......
ArchaeoBob (8 comments)
More aggressive proselytizing
My wife told me today of an experience she had this last week, where she was proselytized by a McDonald's employee while in the store. ......
ArchaeoBob (5 comments)
See if you recognize names on this list
This comes from the local newspaper, which was conservative before and took a hard right turn after it was sold. Hint: Sarah Palin's name is on it!  (It's also connected to Trump.) ......
ArchaeoBob (3 comments)
Unions: A Labor Day Discussion
This is a revision of an article which I posted on my personal board and also on Dailykos. I had an interesting discussion on a discussion board concerning Unions. I tried to piece it......
Xulon (5 comments)
Extremely obnoxious protesters at WitchsFest NYC: connected to NAR?
In July of this year, some extremely loud, obnoxious Christian-identified protesters showed up at WitchsFest, an annual Pagan street fair here in NYC.  Here's an account of the protest by Pagan writer Heather Greene......
Diane Vera (3 comments)
Capitalism and the Attack on the Imago Dei
I joined this site today, having been linked here by Crooksandliars' Blog Roundup. I thought I'd put up something I put up previously on my Wordpress blog and also at the DailyKos. As will......
Xulon (2 comments)
History of attitudes towards poverty and the churches.
Jesus is said to have stated that "The Poor will always be with you" and some Christians have used that to refuse to try to help the poor, because "they will always be with......
ArchaeoBob (13 comments)
Alternate economy medical treatment
Dogemperor wrote several times about the alternate economy structure that dominionists have built.  Well, it's actually made the news.  Pretty good article, although it doesn't get into how bad people could be (have been)......
ArchaeoBob (5 comments)
Evidence violence is more common than believed
Think I've been making things up about experiencing Christian Terrorism or exaggerating, or that it was an isolated incident?  I suggest you read this article (linked below in body), which is about our great......
ArchaeoBob (7 comments)
Central Florida Sheriff Preached Sermon in Uniform
If anyone has been following the craziness in Polk County Florida, they know that some really strange and troubling things have happened here.  We've had multiple separation of church and state lawsuits going at......
ArchaeoBob (2 comments)
Demon Mammon?
An anthropologist from outer space might be forgiven for concluding that the god of this world is Mammon. (Or, rather, The Market, as depicted by John McMurtry in his book The Cancer Stage of......
daerie (2 comments)
Anti-Sharia Fever in Texas: This is How It Starts
The mayor of a mid-size Texan city has emerged in recent months as the newest face of Islamophobia. Aligning herself with extremists hostile to Islam, Mayor Beth Van Duyne of Irving, Texas has helped......
JSanford (3 comments)

More Diaries...




All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective companies. Comments, posts, stories, and all other content are owned by the authors. Everything else 2005 Talk to Action, LLC.