Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Et tu Brute...

Friends, Romans, Countrymen,
lend me your ears;
I come to bury Secularism, not to praise it.

The pope has had his visit and said what a wicked third world, sorry secular world, we are. (“Kasper, Kasper, shhhhhhh...” It is Fortunate Fr Lombardi was close by to translate “third world” as “a cosmopolitan reality, a melting pot of ordinary humanity and all of its diversity and its problems". Kasper himself was unable to comment being laid out in bed with gout that week, only emerging to attend a dinner in his honour at the German embassy.) ...And Christendom is terribly pleased because the atheists and the National Secular Society all looked a bit silly.

My personal highlight was watching Richard Dawkins lay out all the terrible abuses of the Catholic church, including spluttering that the pope didn’t even recognise Anglicans as having real priests! What a bastard. Hooray for Dawkins, defender of the faith.

Now the Pope didn’t say that atheist were just like Nazis. But there can be no doubt that by first talking about the Nazis as those who “wished to eradicate God from society” and only a breath later warning against “aggressive forms of secularism”, he intended to link the two, and for anyone who’s had anything to do with Radical Orthodoxy this won’t be an entirely surprising move. Even today I was speaking to the Bishop of London who argued the same choice: it’s either Faith or Nihilism.

So the catholics would have it that the good is interred with Christianity’s bones while the evil of secularism is that which lives after it, the festering parasite of Christ’s un-resurrected corpse. And Secularism has become ambitious leading to a ‘truncated vision of man (sic) and of society and a reductive vision of a person and his (sic) destiny’.

Only history tells a different story. For was it not the man who became Pius XII who made a concordat with Hitler establishing freedom of catholic religious practice and education in return for the Vatican insisting upon the withdrawal of all catholics from social and political action? And while, under the Vatican’s pressure, the last remaining democratic party collapsed, was it not Kaas, a Catholic and close personal friend of the pope to be, who agreed to the Enabling Act in exchange for the Reich Concordat?

If ever there was a Faustian moment for the church that was it.

So the noble catholics have told us that Secularism is ambitious, a grievous fault as they claim. But under leave of these honourable catholics, and they are all honourable men - I would like to speak at Secularism’s funeral.

The pope says Secularism is ambitious, and the pope is an honourable man. But hasn't Secularism brought us human rights, which attempt to legislate basic freedoms for all people. Did this in Secularism seem ambitious? And Secularism has brought about equality legislation in the attempt to make society fairer. It has developed a suspicion of power and an interrogation of those who presume entitlement. It has put down the mighty from their seat and exalted the humble. When the poor have cried in Latin America and Africa, Secularism has wept. Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:

Yet the Pope says Secularism was ambitious; and the Pope is an honourable man.

The truth is that Secularism is the younger sister of Christianity. It is a necessary force of Reform which continually calls the church to order. Its foundations are in Christianity and without its care it might fall into the abyss of nihilism, but that is only the more reason to tether this force to its older sibling. It is the natural counterpoint to the elements of authoritarianism and conservatism in the church. It can be fresh, creative, unbounded in its analysis, and at its best uncovers the undisclosed sins of faith and leads the way in societal reform and social justice.

For the church to cut off the secular and retreat back to its bones is to fail the people the church is called to serve. It would be to become isolated, out of date and cultic. Worst of all, it would risk a return to an authoritarianism that would once again put the church on the wrong side of the cross.

O judgement! thou art fled to brutish beasts and men have lost their reason. Bear with me; my heart is in the coffin there with Secularism, and I must pause till it come back to me.

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