The rebellious no : variations on a secular theology of language


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It is a vision that derives from the culture of rights which treats religion as a private matter by equating freedom of religion with freedom of speech, of belief, and of association. But then Weiler asks this crucial question: can one accept that Christianity be consigned to the realm of the private by the secular authorities of the State?

That question is not to imply that Weiler does not believe in the liberal constitutional order with its guarantees of democracy and freedom.

He does indeed, but he also believes in a vigorous and articulate religious voice and viewpoint in the public spaces guaranteed by constitutional democracies. The conundrum here boils down to this: many Catholic scholars have confused the public disciplines of constitutional democracy with a private discipline of religious silence in the public sphere. Worse than that, Christian scholars have internalized the notion that to integrate Christian thinking and Christian teaching into their reflections on constitutional law, on political theory, on social science, is a betrayal of their academic standing, of their objectivity, of their scientific credentials.

Another reason adduced by Weiler is fear.

Toward a Post-Secular Europe? A Review Essay

Precious few in the intellectual classes have read, studied, and reflected on the teachings of the Church, even less those of the current pontificate, its encyclicals, the apostolic letters, etc, with the same assiduousness that they study the latest offering from the secular intellectual icons of our generation. Weiler maintains that while it is shocking that the explicit request of the Holy Father would be denied by the Convention, it is even more shocking that the call of this pontiff to the laity to be the messengers of Christian teaching in their own private and professional lives goes in many cases equally unheeded.

The lives of those touched by faith cannot, once they exit the sphere of home and family, become identical with those not touched by faith. This is true for the shopkeeper in the market, for the conductor on the train, for a minister of the republic, as well as for those whose work is, in one way or another, a reflection on the public policies of public authorities. One is led by the above reflections to inquire as to what is the relevance of Christianity and Christian teaching to the narrative of European integration.

Weiler finds it laughable not to recognize Christianity as being a hugely important element in defining what we mean by European identity—for good and for bad.

The Rebellious No

In art and in literature, in music and in sculpture, even in our political culture, Christianity has been a leitmotif—an inspiration as well as an object of rebellion. There is no normalcy within secularism in affirming this empirical fact; there is only normalcy in denying it. Weiler goes on to explain that while Christianity is a sociological and historical phenomenon, it is also a living faith based on revealed truth. Here is where Christian teaching becomes relevant. The reader may now ask: what has all of this got to do with European integration?

Weiler, speaking as a scholar and not merely as a believer, insists that indeed a great deal is at stake, that the narratives of history such as the story of European integration have no inherent meaning. They have the meaning we give them. What is at stake is what meaning we want to give.

A Christian Europe is not a Europe that will endorse Christianity. It is not a call for evangelization. A Christian Europe is one that can learn from the teaching of Christianity. To reflect, discuss, debate, and ultimately assign meaning to European integration without reference to such an important source is to impoverish Europe. For lay people and for non-Christians, this becomes a challenge to match. Well, the encyclical Redemptoris Missio is a profound statement on how to think, to conceptualize a respectful relationship with the other.

The Catholic teachings expressed in this encyclical are concerned with tolerance, respect, and inclusion, concepts inextricably connected with freedom and democracy. On the one hand, the encyclical bravely eschews the epistemological and moral relativism of post-modernity by affirming that which it considers to be the truth. But at the same time, it treats with the utmost respect those who do not share in that Truth. One cannot truly respect the other if one does not have respect for oneself, individually and collectively. Much can flow from this insight in the various debates on European integration.

For Dr. Weiler, the marketplace is another core issue of the European Union. Some would even argue that it is the core issue. Here again, Weiler points out that the encyclical Centesimus Annus offers one of the most profound reflections on the virtues of a free market but also of its dangers to human dignity. Europe need not espouse the teachings of the Church in this matter. But why exclude them from the debate? And there are many other examples in the book. The other side of that coin seems to be the main focus of this book and it is this: the challenge to the taken for granted theory on the part of Western intelligentsia that secularization is the inevitable result of modernization.

The book concludes that that secularization is a particularly European experience. In fact, a dialogue between world religions remains an urgent and necessary cultural task of our times. In his recent address at Cairo University, President Obama suggested as much. There are important implications for foreign policies and western attitudes towards Islamic countries still embedded, unfortunately, by the Voltairian anti-religion virus.

Secular Theology

The future reality is that religious people cannot and will not do this as we learn to live in a post-secular society. It appears that such a scenario will result in a post-secular Europe. This view is not only held by the authors of this book but none other than one of the most authoritative philosophers of contemporary Europe, Jurgen Habermas, who is prominently quoted on pp.

So far secular citizens have not been expected to make a similar effort. He is not alone in that challenge. What the concept of multiple modernities implies is that Western especially European modernity is not the only conceivable one. It can come with indigenous differences. It would be enough to consider India, the largest democracy on earth which enshrines religion as part of its heritage and cultural patrimony.

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If one takes a careful look at the world outside the West one immediately notices that it is religion which defines the aspiration to an alternate modernity. Those modernities are not illusions, as the old classical secularization theory tended to imply. Perhaps the greatest surprise of all might be that, as hinted above, that in many parts of the world the West is perceived in a pejorative way, as propagating a decadent, hedonistic culture of irreligious materialism.

Such a perception is reinforced by both the influence of intellectuals, usually heavily secular, and the omnipresence of the Western mass media, much of whose content can indeed be defined as materialistic and irreligious. If that be true, it ought to be of great interest to the practice of diplomacy of Western democracies. Might this question make a difference in the kind of paradigm that we construct in the West to better understand the nature of the modern world, be it European, American, Asian or African?

Which is to say, is the Enlightenment still to enlighten itself? Besides Habermas and Eisenstadt, there is also an eminent American voice expressing the same ideas regarding a post-secular Europe. Such a provocative statement is of course a mere metaphor rooted in a sad reality used purposefully by Dr.

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Weiler to jolt people out of their complacency. It should also be prefaced at the outset that Professor Weiler is neither a Christian nor a Catholic but a practicing Jew. What exactly does Dr. Weiler mean by the internal walls of the European Christian ghetto? This fact for Weiler is even more striking than the refusal of the EU Constitutional Conventions to make an explicit reference to Christianity. None of them had a single allusion in the index to Christianity and its values.

Weiler then writes that we ought not be too surprised that the Convention failed to make a reference to the Christian heritage of European integration, given that the Christian heritage has not been proclaimed, explored, debated, and made an integral part of the discourse of European integration by Christian scholars themselves. This is puzzling indeed. Weiler has three possible explanations for the phenomenon. Freedom of religion is of course guaranteed and rightly so is also freedom from religious coercion.

But on top of that there is the steadfast conviction that there can be no allusion or reference to religion in the official public space of the State, that such allusions are considered a transgression. A transgression of what exactly, we may ask. Weiler considers this false on two counts: first, there is no neutral position in a binary option. For the State to abstain from any religious symbolism is no more neutral than for the state to espouse some forms of religious symbolism. The religiosity of large segments of the population and the religious dimension of the culture are objective data.

Denying these facts simply means favoring one worldview over the other, masking it as neutrality. The second explanation is that to accept that view of the relationship between State and religion is also to accept a secular basically 18th-century definition of what religion in general and Christianity in particular are.

This view that the Constitution is a bold assertion of popular sovereignty is often countered by pointing out how elitist some of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention were and how allegedly undemocratic the document they drafted was. Only the members of the House of Representatives were initially chosen directly by voters. Senators were to be chosen indirectly by state legislatures, and the President by electors appointed by the state legislatures. This criticism confuses an admittedly elitist preference for government by the able with a theory of power emanating from above.

The Constitution not only rejected monarchy, but all forms of hereditary privilege and arbitrary rule. It established fixed rules that delimited the powers of the governors, not the rights of the governed. It is to the citizens and the states, not to the executive, that legislators are answerable. The source of all legislative and executive power can be traced, directly or indirectly, to the people. And in the early years of the American republic, the people in question were deeply suspicious of power. There was considerable opposition to the Constitution as initially drafted, both in the state conventions called to ratify it and among ordinary Americans.

RESTORING THE SACRED IN A SECULAR AGE: #2 Secularism in the Church Today

Opponents believed that a centralization of authority would lead to tyranny and argued either for outright rejection or, at a minimum, for amendments to limit the powers of the new government and safeguard liberties. In such an anti-power environment, few Americans wished to see their new rulers claim, as European rulers did, that their authority was divine in origin. In creating a political order based on popular sovereignty, the Founding Fathers thus turned prevailing European political theory on its head. In place of the divine right of monarchs, the Declaration asserted the divine rights of all men, and both the Declaration and the Constitution source the legitimacy of political rule exclusively in the consent of the governed.

The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution do not therefore represent competing views of the existence of a Supreme Being or its role in American political life.


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They are two sides of the same coin. Is it really true that no other country venerates its founders like the United States? How do other countries born out of colonialism in South America, Africa, and Asia remember the leaders of their liberation? How do American attitudes toward politicians of the late s compare to the personality cult of Mao in China and similar reverence for individuals elsewhere?

The sad reality is that for the large majority of former colonies independence was followed either immediately or within a few years by despotism. Far from being venerated, some of these men are widely reviled today. But unlike Americans, who see the Founding Fathers as the men who led the fight for independence and then created a stable political order that fostered liberty and prosperity, many Latin Americans and Africans look at the hopes and dreams of independence, see the authoritarianism, corruption, economic underperformance, and frequent bloodshed that followed, and ask what went wrong.

Meddling by Americans and Europeans is often assigned a portion of the blame, but flawed founders and flawed regimes are frequently cited as well. You mentioned Mao.


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  • Though certainly respected by large numbers of Chinese, he is by no means universally loved. It will be interesting to see how Mao is regarded by ordinary Chinese should the censorship ever be lifted. Canada has its Fathers of Confederation. In they united four British North American colonies, soon to be joined by other provinces and territories, to create a free, stable, and prosperous country.

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    Nor do they get the same respect:. The Fathers of Confederation, on the other hand, should have been horsewhipped. Maybe it was the champagne at Charlottetown, or the rain at Quebec. Excellent, provocative article! Religious neutrality and a government answerable to the people has been bedrocks of our pluralistic society.

    As you point out, there are a prodigious number of books and political references to the US founding fathers. Rightly so we are proud of their courage in breaking away to found a new government, one that has beneficially evolved and prospered. Although the European colonies in the Americas may not be great examples, other countries take pride in their founders including Indians who revere Gandhi, South Africans Mandela and Israelis Ben-Gurion. These more recent founding leaders will likely stand the test of time and will be venerated by future generations much like American do for their founding fathers.

    It is a great thing to be proud of those who founded our nations. This frankly seems like a selective evaluation. Politicians in all those countries invoke their early predecessors with the same sort of respect, or perhaps even more, that our American politicians express when alluding to the US Founders. And other countries, such as Turkmenistan or North Korea, suffer from state-enforced personality cults. The American situation differs from both of those. Does American exceptionalism count? A very fair-minded view of the Declaration and Constitution — a rarity, it seems, in these days of a political agenda-filled society.

    Thank you. I agree- an excellent, unbiased view of the two Great State Papers; too often the Fathers are misquoted on religion- Mr. Thanks to allthingsliberty for posting what I think is one of the best, brief, non-academic and non-partisan articles on this subject. Or not. Because drafting the Constitution was headache enough, and the various Christian denominations could never be unified, religion was left to the states.

    God is in every state constitution. These godless constitution memes skip over that. Indeed some states, for example Virginia, acted first and served as an example for the federal approach. With the exception of Connecticut and Massachusetts , disestablishment was complete by the end of Religious restrictions on voting were likewise repealed in every state where they had once existed by Freedom of conscience is guaranteed in every state. Religious tests as a requirement for holding public office were also abolished one by one, beginning in Georgia Constitution of , Delaware Constitution of , and Vermont Constitution of Seven states still have constitutional provisions disqualifying persons who deny the existence of God from holding office, but these provisions by and large ceased to be enforced in the early years of the twentieth century and were unanimously ruled a violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments by the US Supreme Court in The references to God In the state constitutions largely imitate the ones made in the Declaration.

    These references are almost always found in the Preambles, side by side with an unequivocal expression of popular authorship, and sometimes an enumeration of secular objects, that echoes the Preamble of the federal constitution.

    The rebellious no : variations on a secular theology of language The rebellious no : variations on a secular theology of language
    The rebellious no : variations on a secular theology of language The rebellious no : variations on a secular theology of language
    The rebellious no : variations on a secular theology of language The rebellious no : variations on a secular theology of language
    The rebellious no : variations on a secular theology of language The rebellious no : variations on a secular theology of language
    The rebellious no : variations on a secular theology of language The rebellious no : variations on a secular theology of language
    The rebellious no : variations on a secular theology of language The rebellious no : variations on a secular theology of language

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