Friday, 26 March 2010

Secularism vs. Christianity

In recent weeks, Europe's secular media has launched what one Vatican official described as an "onslaught" on the Church, and clergy in particular, following continued revelations of clerical sexual abuse in various European countries over the past 50 years.

In the firing line have not only been clergy and bishops, but also Benedict XVI -- particularly in parts of the Italian, British and German press. The strength and unreasonableness of the criticism prompted Marcello Pera, an atheist philosopher, to write an open letter to the editor of Corriere della Sera last week.

 "There is a war going on," wrote Pera, who co-authored the 2004 book "Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity and Islam" with then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. "It's not just against the person of the Pope, because, on these grounds, it would be impossible. Benedict XVI remains impregnable because of his image, his serenity, his clarity, firmness and doctrine. It's enough for him to smile to defeat an army of opponents."

Pera, who is also a senator in the Italian parliament, noted that "the war is between secularism and Christianity." He said secularists know well that "if a fleck of mud lands on a white robe, the Church would be dirtied, and by soiling the Church, so too would be the Christian religion." That is why, he added, secularists question, without any evidence, whether the Church as a whole is capable of looking after children, educating them, or treating them in a Catholic hospital.

He warned that this is a "pitched battle of secularism against Christianity," adding that one would have to recall Nazism and communism to find a similar conflict. The means have changed, he wrote, but the end is the same: the destruction of religion. And he said it was "incredible" that secular Germany of all countries, while continuing to "beat its chest" over memories of wartime Europe, "forgets and does not understand that democracy itself would be lost if Christianity is again wiped out."

"The destruction of religion then entailed the destruction of reason," Pera wrote. "Today, it won't be secular reason that triumphs, but another kind of barbarism." He then listed what he saw as the various ethical and barbaric violations of today: "It is those who kill a fetus because his life would be detrimental to the 'mental health' of the mother. Those who say that an embryo is a 'clump of cells' good for experiments. It is killing an old man because he doesn't have a family to care for him anymore. It is about those who hasten the end of a child's life because he is no longer conscious and is incurable. It is those who think that Parent A and Parent B are the same as father and mother."

Political, secularist barbarism, he said, will lead to the destruction of Europe because what will be left will be multiculturalism, relativism and pacifism -- a Europe which says that it "mustn't have its own specific identity, but be a container of all identities."

"This war on Christianity would not be so dangerous if Christians understood it," continued Pera. "Instead, many of them participate in incomprehension." He cited weaknesses in the Church such as theologians "frustrated by the intellectual supremacy" of Benedict XVI; uncertain bishops "who believe any compromise with modernity" is the best way to promote the Christian message; and "cardinals who, in a crisis of faith, begin to suggest that priestly celibacy is not a dogma, and that perhaps it would be better to reconsider."

"The war of the secularists will continue," Pera wrote, "if not because of a Pope like Benedict XVI, who smiles but does not shrink one iota." He ended by calling on all those who understand why the Holy Father remains steadfast to "take the situation in hand" and not to wait "to take your next shot." Those who hide and limit themselves to being merely in empathy with him, he said, "don't understand why it's necessary."

Pera is one of a number of prominent European atheist intellectuals who are sympathetic to the Church's battles with radical secularism, post-modernism and cultural relativism. Perhaps the most famous is J├╝rgen Habermas, the German sociologist and philosopher, whose debates with Cardinal Ratzinger were published under the title "The Dialectics of Secularization" in 2007.

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Edward Pentin is a freelance writer living in Rome. He can be reached at: