Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The First Born Daughter

The Danger of Exculturation In this report on France, Gianni Ambrosio examines Catholicisme, la fin d'un monde [Catholicism, the end of a world], a book by Daniele Hervieu-Lager, who is described as a "a renowned sociologist of religion." Ambrosio is the general ecclesiastic assistant at the Catholic University of Milan. Hervieu-Lager describes the Church in France as being in a terminal decline, a decline she terms "Exculturation."
With each phase of its journey modernity distances itself from Catholicism and uproots it from the French cultural context. "Secular" France becomes "pagan" France. The France that was once her "firstborn daughter" no longer has room in its culture for Mother Church... As the author [Danile Hervieu-Lager] recalls, the term "pagan" is a recurring one in French pastoral literature. It is enough to cite to the well-known work "La France pays de mission?" by H. Godin and Y. Daniel, published in 1943. In it, they denounce the danger of dechristianization, understood as a return to paganism: the "new pagans" of the cities and the factories live in the social vacuum and the moral corruption of a society characterized by a purely materialistic vision of the world. Fifty years later, in a work that attracted a good deal of attention, "Vers une France paenne?", Hippolyte Simon, bishop of Clermont, revisited the question of paganism, updating it to meet the new reality. He writes, in fact, of a "new paganism," which consists of the passive acceptance of the world that just as it is: the new paganism is the slavery of fatalism. For Simon, this paganism could lead to the destruction of the French model of society, and of its secularity in particular. If the idea of justice found in French society is connected to the Christian ethos, and this ethos is diminished, then there is the risk that the very idea of justice would be lost. This tendency, Simon continues, certainly involves the Church and its mission. But above all it involves French society, which must defend its secularity. Because secularity is the arena for the realization, in a secularized form, of the values which have come from and been sustained by Christianity: the equality of persons, individual responsibility for the development of the rules for life in common, the distinction between the things of God and the things of Caesar. Thus, Simon concludes, "the real debate, the only one that matters, does not take place between believers and 'misbelievers,' as they call themselves. It takes place between those who recognize the dignity of the human person as the preeminent value that gives meaning to every personal and collective action, and those who are willing to make the person an instrument at the service of idolatry, of whatever nature it might be." So, according to Simon, the mission of the Church today does not at all involve the rejection of this modernity and the French idea of secularity. On the contrary, the Church today intends to safeguard these advances against the invasion of new forms of pagan belief that encourage individuals to fatalism. It is society itself that must collectively "shake itself out of it" if it wants to save itself instead of plunging into the pagan meaninglessness of modernity.
Where might Exculturation lead us? After all, some might find it hard to imagine how the idea of justice could be lost. Imagine that there is still something called justice, but that is bares little resemblance to what we now think of on hearing the term. Think of a court that rules largely based on the status of your victim group - what used to be called a "Clan." Couldn't happen? It is is fact not that unusual in many places in the third world. What is unusual is to see it making a re-appearance in the West. Like, say, in Italy. Limousine Libs around the world embrace a double standard when it comes to western culture. They seem to think it will withstand any number of kicks they choose to give it, while those branded 'victim' can't even be critically engaged. Whatever happened to the 'open society'? And justice for all? Why the alarm over Fallaci, and the yawn over everyday occurrences like these?

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