May 15, 2019

The Holy See vs. secular “soft totalitarianism” that excludes religion

By Andrea Gagliarducci
A crucifix during Pope Francis' meeting with religious and clergy at the athletic field at St. Mary's School in Nairobi, Kenya on November 26, 2015. / credit: Martha Calderon / CNA
A crucifix during Pope Francis' meeting with religious and clergy at the athletic field at St. Mary's School in Nairobi, Kenya on November 26, 2015. / credit: Martha Calderon / CNA

The Abu Dhabi declaration on “Human Fraternity,” co-signed by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al Azhar Ahmed al-Tayyeb, sparked controversies because it stated that “the pluralism and the diversity of religions, color, sex, race, and language are willed by God in his wisdom.” 

Pope Francis claimed that the declaration was analyzed by Fr. Wojciech Gyertich, Theologian of the Pontifical Household and that he found it “ok” in doctrinal terms.

According to an internal source, the Theologian of the Pontifical Household actually suggested an amendment to the declaration: he asked to include in it a reference to religious freedom.

Religious freedom is, in the end, the key. The Holy See always claimed that the respect for religious freedom is the “litmus test” of every society. 

After a Holy See proposal, a paragraph dedicated to religious freedom was included in the 1975 Helsinki Declaration that was at the origins of the establishment of the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe. That paragraph on religious freedom is considered one of the items that contributed to the dissolution of the iron curtain. 

It is no surprise, then, that the International Theological Commission dedicated its latest document to the theme “Religious freedom for the good of all.” 

The document sheds light on the fact that the gravest threats to religious freedom come from secular states that proclaim themselves neutral. 

According to the document, there is “a soft totalitarianism” of the self-proclaimed neutral State, as in the name of this neutrality, the State “does not seem able to prevent that professed faith or religious belonging are considered an obstacle for the full cultural and political citizenship o people.”

The document also underscores that religious fundamentalism is a reaction to the modern State, “because of its ethical relativism and indifference toward religion.”

The text is, in the end, a strong allegation against the society that marginalizes religions as well as against the humanistic rhetoric that “appeals to values of peaceful cohabitation, of individual dignity, of the intercultural and interreligious dialogue.” 

The document should be read in its entirety, but some highlights might help to understand the analysis of the Holy See. 

The document notes that religious radicalization cannot be considered “a mere and more practicing return to traditional religiosity.” 

Radicalization opposes to the liberal State and to its “soft totalitarianism,” described as “open to ethical nihilism” that is officially based on “procedural rules of justice,” but de facto set aside “every ethical justification or religious inspiration.” 
The International Theological Commission denounces the “ideology of neutrality,” that imposes “the marginalization, if not the exclusion of religion from the public sphere.”

The public sphere is then “only neutral in appearance, while civil liberty is objectively discriminatory.” 

The document also notes that civic culture is then brought “to self describe its humanism by removing the religious component of human being,” in the end “removing decisive parts of their history.” 

Within this system, many find “justified” to get to a “desperate fanatism,” either atheistic or theocratic, with “violent and totalitarian forms of political ideology and religious militancy that seemed to be history now.” 

The hidden reference is to many phenomena: from the uprise of the self-proclaimed Islamic State to the terrorist attacks all over Europe, until the attacks to churches in France (according to the Observatory for Christianophobia, last February was the last month).

In the end, people are not returning to religious, because, the International Theological Commission notes, the return to religion is often detached by “the authentic tradition and the cultural development of the great historical religions.” 

The document mostly targets the secular environment. It asks that culture “overcome the prejudice of a purely emotional or ideological view of religion,” and at the same time it commits religions to “elaborate their views in a language humanistically understandable.” 

The document also stressed that “every attempt of exploiting the political power must be repudiated,” and that “evangelization is aimed today at its positive evaluation in the context of religious and civil freedom of conscience.” 

The document also notes that “defending the inalienable rights of every individual is a reaction against the traumatic expression of totalitarianism,” defends the right to the objection of conscience, underscores that family is marginalized though they are the first factor for the evangelization.

In the end, the International Theological Commission reiterates that the Catholic church “is not a private entity competing to affirm its privileges,” though it participates in the public life, without being identified as a mere opinion group.” 

The International Theological Commission stresses that religious liberty is a two-way path, and so “everyone has the right to religious freedom is necessarily linked with the acknowledge of the same right.”

The document finally underscores that the missionariety of the Church follows “the rationale of the gift, i.e., of grace and liberty, and not that of contract and impositions.” The Church’s mission, in the end, cannot be confused with “the domination of people of the world and the government of the earthly city” and considers an evil temptation “the claim of reciprocal exploitation of political power and evangelical mission instead.” 

In the end, the document concludes, there is no a reason to choose another way of testimony, nor there is any “reasonable argument that compels the State to exclude religious freedom from participating to the reflections on and promotion of the common good.” 

The document, in the end, fills a void left with Abu Dhabi declaration. After Benedict XVI’s Regensburg lecture, it can be considered one of the most potent accusations to the secular society.

In the end, Benedict XVI spoke about a dictatorship of relativism, while now the document stresses a soft “totalitarianism” of the secular State.

This totalitarianism is, in fact, a “unilateralism,” that excludes any idea of a different kind.

It is no surprise, in the end, that Pope Francis praised multilateral diplomacy in his traditional new year’s speech to the corps of diplomats. 

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.