Is There Room for Religion in a Secularized Society?
The unsuccessful search for a balance between two opposite and apparently irreconcilable poles, seem to be the divergence of modern times: the autonomous vision of personal liberty that entails a disdain for all heterogeneous norms concerning individuals (Burke 2007, pp. 5-8), and the fact that this modern stance leads to the creation of a State that is increasingly blown out of proportion, and to whom the decisions entailing the most personal issues are trusted (perhaps because the State itself claims them). Issues such as forming the values that define the social ethos, the model of family that is propelled, the education that is offered to children, etc. In contrast to what the modern and “liberated” citizen hoped for, and to his dismay, it seems that models are imposed under the scope of “political correctness” and not coinciding with the individual’s personal view of the world.
I may be permitted to begin with a few general ideas. Social order is order in the way we live together. In its first, smallest form it is expressed in the peace which reigns between people or peoples who have no relationship other than this. To establish or maintain peace it is not necessary to have a common organization, only common good will. The same is true for relationships which may come about through friendship or on the desire for cultural exchange in a generic sense.
Difficulties tend to arise when an attempt is made to share a common system of ownership, which is not the same as a system of common ownership. If everyone could own something and make that property grow, without sparking conflicts with the other people he/she lived with, no legal system, and therefore no political counterpart, would be necessary.
But, in the human being, both means of acquiring property and those of maintaining and increasing it are socially and culturally conditioned. Normally, the family, or some kind of organization that fulfils similar functions, is the first place in which a human form of acquisition and ownership arises; and at the same time it is the first place in which socialization and education in the broadest sense are to be found. It is, therefore, the place where we start to form our own identity.
The human preconditions for acquiring and owning something are to have an objective knowledge of it and to desire it. It is relevant also in this respect to bear in mind the social condition and the basic functional unity of the human being. We develop learning (objective knowledge) and we desire things, always in our interwoven life with others.
A self-centered individual, who lacks profound social bounds, either is not interested in learning and owning – is more or less depressed –, or has some frenzy for wealth which does not generate a true sense of ownership.
Real ownership – acquired through learning and desiring – gives everyone his/her identity. A person that has nothing has no identity. We are, first of all, named by our first possession, that is, our parents; we are also identified by our city, profession, job, etc. The more superficial our possessions are, the feebler our identity is. Material property, on the other hand, is necessary and legitimate to the extent to which it is, at the same time, a true possession, that is, something which I take care of, and use in a social manner. This kind of property contributes also to form our identity.
As the home or family is not fully self-sufficient, it has to relate to others, thus broadening its basis for socialization and education, and thereby enriching the possible identity of the members of that community.
Is there, however, that we come up against greater difficulties. It may well the case that some people develop cultural styles that are more similar to those of people living in far-away places than to those of the people living closer together. Or that trading conditions are better with people a long way away than with immediate neighbors, and so on.
That is, as we can clearly see, when the system of property, culture and society is homogeneous, it is not very hard to organize political unity, as there is sufficient basis for identity within the population. But if homogeneity is lacking, as is increasingly the case, matters are not so easy.
Between the countries there are considerable differences. There is often no homogeneity in the subsystems which underlie the way that a given society is constructed, and which, Alvira (1993) asserts, are the following in this order:
In order to propose a thesis that can explain the practical contradictions between freedom and the State, it is necessary to analyze this subsystems –which especial emphasis on law, politics, ethics, and religion– as well as question itself as to what each person’s place and mission is within the mentioned social subsystems. Only once this argumentative basis is defined, a proposition for an adequate relation between religion and politics can be made.
The fact that all human groups that live in a given territory (Schmitt 1952, p. 7) need goods for survival and well-being is a reality that justifies the existence of the “economy” as a social subsystem. It is well known that every appropriation requires some set of rules establishing the means necessary to guarantee private property, to resolve the inevitable conflicts that arise, and to establish mechanisms that legitimize property, exceeding mere factual possession. This is the reason why law as a social subsystem is born –from a logical, rather than chronological perspective. In other words, in order for property to be legitimate and freely respected, law is need to recognize and protect it as “a fundamental need for the good of others” (Alvira 1995, p. 48), giving way to a fair “state” that justifies and generalizes economy in a prepositive manner.
Under the underlined scope, it becomes crucial to realize that the content of law does not depend on mere sociological factual criteria or procedures, but rather on a material content that is justified by its ordination to the common social good and the personal development of its citizens. Furthermore, the law must be effective and based on man’s reality and the society to which it’s called to form, keeping in mind its constituting, historical and cultural traits. That is to say, to work in such a manner so it can fulfill its social purpose, law cannot consist of mere formal declarations whose ability to coerce is doubtful. Ordinarily, this will mean taking a margin of independence from the judicial branch –which is not in it of itself auto sufficient– in order to have a stronger executive branch.
In law, in order to ascertain what is just, the virtue of prudence –i.e., a rational judgment, and not a cold use of techniques or strategies– is necessary (d’Ors 1963, p. 20). In this sense, there is nothing more farther from law than to conceive it as a forceful enforcement of the common good by the political power by means of establishing law; this stance that identifies law with a job of “adjusting” behavior-rule (Kant 1989, p. 42 and Kelsen 1987, p. 74, cited in Gallego 2003, p. 45). On the contrary, law is the result of prudential wisdom that seeks the “good resolution of conflicts that arise between men, and consists mainly in useful opinions to judge concrete cases” (d’Ors 1973, p. 37): it is “what judges approve in respect to personal services socially acceptable” (d’Ors 1996, p. 513).
Opposing this idea, modernity has elaborated a new idea of law that is characterized by, among other elements, a gradual absorbance of law (ius) by rule (lex), limiting the sources of the law; the loss of the idea of exception to the rule as a consequence of conversing juridical law into physical law; the transition from a diachronic interest to a synchronic interest, leaving behind the ever-existing realities; a rupture between what is juridical and what is moral (understood as merely juxtaposed, and not reciprocal, normative orders); considering subjective law as the center of the whole juridical order; the diffusion of a new juridical vulgarism that is characterized by the sociological predomination and by the renouncement of jurisprudence, regarding juridical conflicts as social phenomenon’s considered under statistical parameters, etc. (Innerarity 1992, p. 2).
Beyond law, and in order to assure its fulfillment, resides the social subsystem of politics, which is the place that power occupies in accordance to what is established by the enforced legislation Politics means the decision (Schmitt 1979, p. 15) by which laws should be applied here and now within the scope of multiple options that the carrying out of what is just in a political community signifies. It is how the implementation of the political virtue of prudence is manifested, whose roots lie in the law and its diverse alternatives, especially through case-law.
Politics is closely bound to freedom, not only in the scope of political liberty per se. Politics, as the science that configures human action, has the mission to ease by means of an aquitectural organization of society, by the personal individual development of its citizens and social groups. In this sense, before referring to political freedom, other aspects more closely linked to freedom must be considered. Freedom must be viewed as a radical quality of the human person (Polo 2005, p. 58) because, in fact, it is the human person itself who will later manifest when called to act politically.
In the political sphere, decisions regarding politics and freedom do not always go hand in hand. To understand this, we must simply look at the indiscriminate use of the myth of the popular’s will, a concept which is legitimized through majorities not clearly defined, carrying along with it, more often than not, the drowning of freedom. The technisism which tends to impose and tyrannize personal and social liberty under the appearance of a burocratic state is yet another block in the road towards political liberty (Possenti 1991, p. 336).
Political legitimacy, which is a requirement in order to speak of a political action respectful of freedom, is a topic on which much has been spoken and written, even though no substantive justification of it is frequently offered. Legitimacy establishes the necessary requirements for an individual to hold office, and to justify that power remains in that individual and that individual alone. The criteria for the aforementioned varies on how a political community sees itself; this is why judging the legitimacy by means of applying formal laws or legal procedures is impossible. Answering this question requires calling on more than mere rules, and on reasons of a non-formal nature: traits, values, and aspirations which are deeply rooted and owned by a political community. For this reason, both legitimacy and mere legality are not the same, and the former cannot be reduced to the latter.
The question regarding legitimacy has special importance as do the questions surrounding who dictates the law. This is important considering that law is not only reason but will as well. Hence, law as a form of carrying out actions, as a means or guideline for citizen action, must be rational; it must be directed for the common good of the people. However, and regarding will, the law requires the precise determination of the individual of whom this will regards: the law calls for a legitimate power.
Political order is an order of a practical reality, of an action: human life in community. The rationality of what is done or practical rationality, is the rationality of the will, of the decision and of the action; not a rationality that eliminates the will, that leaves the will without substance (Martínez Echevarría 2005, p. 60). In fact, there is no rationalization conveying the certainty and oneness that are characteristic of the theoretical and scientific rational.
The measure of practical rationality, that is to say, of the right action to been carried out, presents itself much clearer, in a unique and precise way, the worse the situation which we are faced with, is. In these types of situation, what is to be done appears as evident and singular because in such a situation, the action becomes a reaction. Nevertheless, society is not permanently in such a border-line situation. Society is in a context of authentic realism where there is a plurality of actions, of practical means that are rational –this is, actions that are oriented towards the good at stake in a particular situation: the common good of society (Burke 2007, pp. 88-89). And this pluralism, or rather indetermination, is increasing the better and more stable the conditions in society result.
The next subsystem, ethics, is that which brings guidelines to the governing individual when making decisions. It consists in the wisdom that allows the governing individual to discover, within the reality with which he is faced, those institutions of a natural trait, that facilitate a harmonically given dialogue between the diverse manifestations of the human praxis, so that it may lead to the virtue of human sociability: friendship (Aristotle 1894, VII.1).
For this to happen it is necessary that, above the people that decide on political issues, the truth of the objective reality and good prevail (Ratzinger 2005, p. 103). This means knowing about man, what his purpose and traits are, and that the political society discover as its own aim, facilitating the means for mans perfection. This is about nothing less than offering an ethos that favors justice within the infinite diverse conditions of its citizens.
Furthermore, from a metaphysical perspective, it is impossible for politics to make a choice that does not imply an ethical assessment, even if it is not more than a mere “interpretation” of the popular will that is presumably represented.
Justice, understood as a cross between reciprocated services in the heart of society, and thus as the sphere of happiness—that as self-given, is love’s way—is an absolute good that is obtained, however, through very diverse means and actions. That’s where freedom intervenes when it chooses, amongst the different human paths, the way that is most convenient (because it perfects it more), as long as, first of all, it is convenient for all of society. That is why human freedom is limited and measured, and that is also why it is closely linked with the responsibility and dimension of service in which each person finds themselves —because of their free way of functioning responsibly—linked to others and, thus, called to serve (Innerarity 1992, p. 23).
Only under a scope of truth is freedom feasible—that’s why it is essential to ascertain the connection between freedom and truth. All in all, truth is what legitimizes liberty (Burke 2007, pp. 11-12). Without truth, there is no possibility of stripping those bonds that lead to behaviors that are paralyzing or unworthy, be this on a personal level (internal or external) or on a collective level. For these reasons, both the modern ethics of consensus—ethics that are voided of true meaning and reduce themselves to mere formalities—and the dogmatic meaning of tolerance, as well as the degradation of ethics to social forms more or less wide-spread that intend to convert philosophy into sociology, all of these end up impoverishing political ethics and along with it, the very way of a good life for its citizens (Ratzinger 2005, p. 35).
In fact, if we imagine the polis as something purely instrumental and formal, political action cannot be considered as a moral action because shaping that instrumental exterior that would be the polis, cannot consist, eo ipso, in a self-shaping process. Furthermore, for that very same reason, it is impossible to grant things that are moral, a political nature, because the polis is unable to constitute a new purpose, good or a better way of living, to obtain truer and more perfect virtues.
Ethics in political life supposes the recognition of moral contents—beliefs, demands, and habits—referred to the most specifically political actions, that is to say, that concern the individual as a political agent. This concerns the ethics revolving around practical excellence that as citizen’s, is possible and therefore directed towards the common political good.
If the quality of the polis depends on the moral excellence of its citizens within the respective concrete scopes in which their lives evolve, it is logical that the political society encourage that same moral excellence. The virtue of each citizen in different spheres (family, business, medicine, and school, among others) implies their participation—insofar as they are part of those scopes—in virtue and politics or, in other words, in political ethics. This is because the placing of oneself towards the particular good under those scopes, in fact, and at the same time, places oneself, in a mediate form, for the good of the polis.
This is why the belief that the polis is a merely formal order, morally neutral and does not work towards perfection, that it does not encourage virtue or moral perfection is, in fact, the equivalent to affirm that the political society doesn’t need stability or improvement in the virtues of its citizens—this is, that it is politically irrelevant because the polis is an organization that is structured so that its objective is to avoid the need for its citizens to be virtuous. This image of a political society sends out a moral message that is clearly negative. When moral order is not institutionally supported by virtue, when no vision to be morally better is perceivable, all the ethics of the citizens ends up weakening.
Ethics completely free from politics that brings forth no moral reason for being politically active, is an invitation to fare free from the common good, to be absent from public activism and to avoid political compromise (Innerarity 1992, p. 25). This is where social conformism—the deadly resignation when faced with political change—comes from, and, in short, this is what creates the ideal climate for the appearance of despotism or totalitarianism.
The abovementioned situations imply “privatizing” morals. The real implication of this problem is not only the demoralization of politics, but also the erosion of the foundation of morality itself and the exhaustion of the sources that feed its vitality. Privatizing morals is the equivalent to initiating the process of its progressive subjectivization (Del Barco 2005, p. 19). This supposes centering morals on that which is closest and resulting and, thus, reducing it to an emotional and intimists morals. These morals consider that human being’s identity, authenticity and moral quality are the only valuable and decisive aspects of life, fond mainly in the surroundings of an individual’s intimacy. The decadence of the “civic self” has given way to the “emotional self”; and while the former conceives life in “acting” in the public arena and developing within a shared world of mediations and intersubjective meanings, the latter sees life and action as only a pure expression of the internal self, of its subjectivity (Ratzinger 2005, p. 49). These ethics of the intimacy have been criticized by authors such as MacIntyre (2001), Taylor (1994) and Sennet (1976), among others, within a broader critique of the modern political philosophy.
The subsystem of religion—cornerstone of social and political architecture, and at the same time transcending it—emerged ni the political society as an answer to the need for ethics to be concrete and effective in practice, so that when counting with a religious perspective, each one feels rationally moved to live according to the ethics proposed.
The question of death, eternity, and the subsequent judgment by an Infallible Judge is what leads most individuals to an ethical life, especially when circumstances are complex. The Spanish jurist Álvaro d’Ors makes reference to the subsequent judgment as law by excellence, that will express par excellence the truth that law is “what the judge’s say it is”, in this case the Universal Judge (Guardini 1994, pp. 24-25). He points out that “for human judges, this last Divine Judgment is similar to a definite appeal from the most superior court, but the Divine Judge does not reduce to what mere human judges may pass verdict on, but rather all conduct (...). The Divine Judgment shall affect (…) all men that act against the natural law, and in an especially severe form those who have forced laws or other models of conduct against this natural law” (d’Ors 1995, p. 26).
It is precisely from this perspective that the religious prism is what makes good faith, trust, complying with contracted obligations, and so many other indispensible dimensions for life in society, possible. They also make the complying with obligation for those who hold public office easier (Baldinelli 2005, p. 23). This is a responsibility especially grave due to its nature and the length of the tasks assigned to these people, without forgetting those responsibilities entailed to the citizen as a member of society (Guardini 1994, p. 72).
Religion involves a personal, eternal and omnicomprehensive bond, and that’s why freedom as a condition for its existence and development is crucial more than in any other scope. Only the individual that freely wills so, lives religion wantingly, while it is wanted; all of this in one’s own conscience. It’s clear that one cannot be compelled to believe. One of the greatest rights, religious freedom, resides in the reality mentioned above. Also, history shows us that an individual’s natural capacity to rationalize is a reality that neither the most powerful person can overcome, nor the cruelest weapons can violate.
In truth, everybody has some sort of “religion”, be this faith in God, reason, techniques, money, nature, nation, or future progress. We may even “have faith” in the very affirmation of the void of existence, because in that case since no one knows if there is no meaning to life, all that there is, is a mere belief that there isn’t: faith is always present (Alvira 1999, p. 120). In all these cases, there ends up being not an annulment of faith, but rather a substitution of faith in God, for faith in something else. Faith cannot be disregarded, no one can do this because every person needs to put their safety in something and in the value that that thing has, more valuable shall that life be. Mere reason is unable to give reasons to support its same self, and thus it needs to follow its path in faith.
- The relation between ethics and religion
D’Ors states that in order for a political community to be established, ethical unity is indispensable (1995, p. 79). Given the current situation in society, so far from d’Ors thesis, the question as reside in the need or lack thereof of religion for a political community to adopt and promote ethical values. If ethics refers to the good life, and this good life can be seen through the development of personal and civic virtues, then why recur to religion? Is it not enough to have individuals that are ethically valuable, especially regarding those who hold public office?
There is no doubt that the answer in today’s secularized society is the negation of the necessity of religion. It is said that there is no need for religious motivation in order to obtain ethical conduct for the simple reason that the majority of people that act righteously don’t do it for transcending reasons but rather because they want to be “good people”. Theoretically, this possibility exists. Nevertheless, in fact, there are a series of arguments that demonstrate the necessity of religion in the structure of the political and social ethos, on a personal and communitarian level, for at least the medium and long term.
This is of course not about an empirical or verifiable demonstration, because there has always been a religious reason to social life. That being the case, for a “scientific” demonstration, the near impossible would be necessary: fast forward to at least the year 2050 in order to see if a “post-Christian” o “post-religious” society and see if the political community remained with high ethical values or not. Regardless, what remains clear is that in order to speak of a post-christian or post-religious era we are indeed affirming that before a “post” there was a religious society that influenced culture and generated customs, concepts and behaviors that constitute a collection that, even until today, society nourishes off of (Ratzinger 2005, p. 38).
Before going deeper into this matter, there is an observation, that although may seem obvious, is also pertinent because it is an argument used by those who oppose a relation between ethics and religion: the intention in this is not a comparison between individual conducts, but rather observing the influence that religion has from an institutional and social perspective and the consequences for ethical life in society. We are in no way affirming that those who claim to be believers have a better moral conduct than those who are not believers, even though, mostly, it is the case.
The main argument used to maintain the influence of religion on the spread and practicing of an ethical conduct lies in religion providing the community of stimulus that are not at the reach of a secularized society. Ever more, those societies that find themselves far away from religious principles live under the shadow of the religion that they used to live by, the religion that formed them.
There is no doubt that religion, in the “post-christian” societies, has left a mark and it is this ethos that maintain in them many concepts and conduct that, without this undertone, would make no sense. The explanation of this phenomenon is due to the fact that, in society, religion is the main factor in the creation of a set of values. That is why, when religious life is abandoned, there is still some share capital left; certainly, the present historical moments can be characterized as the ones where ethical conduct finds itself “living off of rent”. It is important to remember that all capital, including ethical capital, ceases to exist if it does not grow; however, the decline is slow because it is integrated in culture and customs.
There is no doubt that a social practice is lasting over time, independently of the enacted law. This very phenomenon is also applicable to moral issues as well. In fact, values that are part of a person and a culture have an important religious component that even though they have a degree of stability and durability higher than that of laws or individual decisions, if left uncultivated they will not last forever (González Quirós 2005, p. 87). Although on a purely earthly level, the abovementioned shows the value of religion for the sustenance of social ethics.
Likewise, religion gives way to sacrifice, an important element for obtaining all goals that require hard work. Because of man’s limited nature, the need to be subject to limits, restrictions and exertion is always present (Gregg 2007, p. 41). Once accepted, this situation stops being a merely restrictive phase because the doors to a much wider horizon open and this is unattainable without the mentioned restrictions which are many times enforced and other times accepted (Guardini 1994, p. 263).
Religion constitutes the principal motivation in accepting limits that a secularized society does not accept. Those restrictions, then, yield a reservoir of values that someone who has no transcendental vision of the world cannot have. Consequently, in a secularized society the option for an ethical life is ultimately motivated by a fragile personal interest of being an honest person, mainly to avoid a possible social punishment. A religious individual seeks to be honest for at least three reasons because, in addition to the aforementioned, there exists the fact that they know of the existence of a final judgment that will take into account all of their life including those actions that were deceitful action was “successful”; in other words, those actions that were not discovered, and thus the idea of being an honest person was conserved thus suffering no punishment. That is why, “it’s not the institutions that maintain the ethos in their members (…) but rather it is they who are sustained by their ethos” (Spaemann 1997, p. 45). The same can be said for the political society, because in fact this is the one who benefits from the religious condition of its members: when its citizens “obey not only because of the punishment, but because of their conscience” (Rom., 13,5), laws and police become unnecessary.
All in all, the emphasis that d’Ors places on the significance of the Final Judgment and its respective “juridization of morality” is explainable also because while a human judge is only concerned about actions that are susceptible of being proved and eventually punished, God who is fully committed to man and seeks his well being, looks at the intrinsic goodness of the person and that is why, asks and corrects as many times as is necessary and also in those scopes which human judges are not interested not authorized to seek into. That is why the Final Judgment, says d’Ors, will be truly complete: not only actions will be taken into account, but also thought, words, wishes, intentions, omissions, and actions as well. For this reason an ethics that does not take into account God, cannot really claim anything. It cannot be expected to establish a human demand based on a responsibility that is not a responsibility, ultimately, before God (Del Barco 2005, p. 21). This is why responsibility implies an answer to someone that requires myself: the final end, which is God (Alvira 1991, p. 257).
- Laicism: the Caesar defines God
The distancing of man from God, mainly manifested in the uprising of a humanism more autonomous day by day, as expressed by de Lubac (1995, p. 14), Weigel (2005, p. 93), Taylor (2009, p. 299), and other contemporary political philosophers, in no time at all was politically expressed in Europe as by the massive ideologies of the 20th century: communism, fascism and nazism. There is no doubt that all of these have their roots in Comte’s positivistic principles (empirical science is the only trustworthy guide of humanity), of Feuerbach’s subjectivism (“God” is a mythical projection of mans aspirations), Marx’s materialism (the spiritual world is pure illusion), and Nietzsche’s radical stubbornness (the use of the will of power is the greatest portrayal of human “greatness”). It is clear that the “self-mutilation”, as called by Solzhenitsyn, that has lead man to “forget God”, has its origins in the misconception of human liberty understood as “freedom” from all heteronomy (Innerarity 1992, p. 15). Humanism of the 20th century excluded God and is characterized by its ironclad determination to exclude Him and all reference to anything transcending from the cultural, social and political scope.
The ousting of God is the specific trait of secularism or “dechristianization”, which consists in the collapsing of a transcending horizon in which, until then, inscribed moral judgment in European public life. This secularism, fruit of a decision, was transmitted from the most elite sector, turning it into a automatic belief shared not only by sociologists, but also by the greater part of the population, that today has resulted in an undisputed and “politically current” stance. Whoever opposes this stance is a political heretic who must be punished by the authority in order to protect society from “fundamentalisms” by at least isolating them from the rest of the people (Spaemann 2005, p. 137).
Overall, the secularization process has come to convince the western man that in order to be free and modern he must be radically secular. To obtain this, he must forget his story, his culture, believe with increasing faith in the democratic dogmas, and establish as a vital objective, his own selfish and materialistic wellbeing (this cannot be any other way within a society of mere individuals). As Dawson sustains, the consequences are, however, lethal; “a secular society whose only goal is its own satisfaction is a monstrosity, a progressive cancer that ends up destroying itself” (1998, p. 118).
An attentive look at the prevailing laicism shows us that, in fact, Christianity doesn’t imply an irrelevant factor in the unfolding of public life; on the contrary, the strong opposition that it suffered —Weiler calls is “christphobia” (2003, p. 91)— has its roots in the stance that was, and is still, in the current thought inspired by the Age of Enlightenment, a true obstacle in a unfolding of a peaceful Europe, leader in human rights that knows how to democratically govern itself.
Nowadays, there is a constant intent to impose laicism under the argument that social change, due to growing immigration, requires policies that favor the encounter of diverse cultures; hence, religion would be established as a disturbing element. The problem would resided in a “dangerous dosage” of religions. In light of this, laicism is offered as a solution.
Two solutions are brought forth for the changes produced by immigration: multiculturalism that is seen as the combined living of diverse groups (coordinated ghettos), and an integration that implicates the loss of one’s origin and identity in order to adopt the origin and identity of the chosen country. Without judging the possibilities or the advantages and disadvantages of each solution, what we can see is that laicism doesn’t seem to favor either. In the case of multiculturalism, the religious elements are not discarded; rather a rawlsanian overlapping consensus is caused, that offers no solution on immigration issues. On the other hand, although religious freedom is protected in the constitutions of most Western countries, today, the pretended solution today is tolerance—that is to say, the conception of religion as something that does not deserve respect, but rather permission.
Turning into a different matter now, we must remember that trying to situate religion only in the private sector, because of the public sector’s “neutrality”—a space chemically free of any religion—makes any intercultural dimension impossible (Innerarity 1992, p. 32). This is because immanentism isn’t neutral and neither is transcending, and therein lays the main deceit of laicism: it begins from a false a priori and forces a “one and only” culture of thought that imposes immanentism.
On the contrary, laicity has a Christian origin: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12,17). Religion—within its scope—advocates for the importance of reason, for recognizing natural law (known by man when exercising his rationality), for the respect of the rightful autonomy of the political and civil spheres —in which are assumed scopes of prudence and rationality, thus honoring practical racionality—pointing out limits of the intolerable, from those that in law are defined as public order and gives existence and life to law, who’s reason of existence resides in the establishment of convictions according to an existing order.
All in all, the argument based on immigration and cultural changes to favor laicism is, in fact, misleading. Europe itself does not feel at ease with its own Christian culture, and thus suffers from an internal multiculturalism born in the midst of its own society.
Nowadays the problem reside in that Caesar is the State, and more precisely, an ideological group that has attributed to itself the powers and public resources and that, instead or serving the common good and respecting religious plurality, uses power and money to impose—from the same State—its own dogma concerning religion.
From a practical point of view, this dogma upholds that the presence of religion in a political scenario is an attack on a State’s sovereignty and an intolerable intrusion in the independence of a democratic and laicist State. For this reason those who have faith must keep it undercover and in secret, without any manifestation whatsoever in social and political life. This pretense clearly shows that for the State, believers are not free individuals but are rather subjects under a regime that intends to govern their actions and influence on their conscience.
Laicism aims towards “pure politics” in a similar style as the Kelsen’s “pure theory of law” or Kant’s “pure reason”, and consequently killing the religious phenomenon by means of indifference which is clearly hostile and belligerent so that all religious influence is completely separate from the civic scope. Laicism, raving in neutrality, fears those who uphold beliefs because “they posses or can posses convictions” and requires that they liberate themselves from them for the pretended political freedom so as to avoid contaminating a democratic consensus (Del Barco 2005, pp. 11-14). This is a situation that clearly ends up in a consensus considering only non believers. Those who believe end up being second class citizens in many cases because they themselves interiorize this criteria in such a manner that they feed a “self assumed laicism” (Ollero 2005, p. 30). Becoming the only possible scenario, laicism ends up being a single and only confessional doctrine for all citizens that is defended from all alternative possibilities.
When all is said and done, the question that arises is whether Caesar can play God, if the State is the last horizon in personal life and most intimate realities, or whether there is more; and if that “more” is within the freedom of each individual, of his legitimate way of living within the family, profession and public scopes without the intromission of Caesar.
Herein lays the modern man’s greatest desire: possessing absolute and unlimited liberty. Reason being for the need to ideologically renounce this nature-negate it-so that each persona, individually considered, may “create” the ends towards which to guide one’s life. In order for this to take place, he first renounces rational knowledge, to the truth (Ratzinger 2005, p. 55).
The problem is that the lacking of a religious outlook, the “beyond”, is replaced by a desperate search of ever high goals in the professional, economic, family and similar scopes. This uninterrupted search for happiness by means of transitory good things with the pretense that they will satisfy transcending desires cannot lead to anything more than a never ending disappointment and a life filled with nothing but putting off problems; because all this leads to is a skipping of one thing to another, yet none of which has the capacity to satisfy the thirst for plenitude. Overall, man becomes a slave of all that is transitory because he continuously needs things, triumphs, recognitions, etc, to keep going.
The “difficulty” presents itself because although happiness and love of God are inseparable, man is faced with the search of a general good, but this does not refer directly and clearly towards God. This is because every action compelled by will must be preceded by knowledge-rather, both actions should go hand in hand, although one may prevail over the other depending on the kind of action in question-and that is why, to love God explicitly, we need to know Him, and God cannot be known in all his splendor, because of the human limitations.
Keeping the aforementioned in mind, man must choose his ultimate end; and this entails a choice that must be radical, meaning, it must implicate the impossibility of rejection. And so, from this choice, the carrying out or thwarting of the human tendency towards the good in the personal life, is pending.
In contrast with the modern urge to have an unlimited freedom of choice and the contradiction of one’s actual choices with what one desires, true freedom does not look at the quantity of options that are presented, rather it seeks the true obtainment of good in which resides life’s reason of purpose. This is why while the choice is a secondary act of freedom (because it may lead to unhappiness), the primary act, is an act of love.
Herein we can truly appreciate that religion cannot exist without freedom, and there is no room for force in the decision made to love God, which is not only the focal decision, but, also, the most intimate.
Alejandra Vanney, PhD
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