November 10, 2009

"Christophobia," a Wall That Hasn’t Yet Fallen


East German border guards stand on a section of the Berlin wall with the Brandenburg gate in the background on November 11, 1989 in Berlin.
AFP Photo / Gunther Kern

Yesterday, the world celebrated the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and I would have liked to write about that historic event. Yet, browsing the blogosphere, I realized that there was such a quantity of wonderfully written tributes that I decided to give up. But today I would like to somehow make up for the lost opportunity. In fact, what this post will be all about is another wall.., a wall that, unfortunately, hasn’t fallen yet.

In two of my previous posts I wrote about the ruling by the European Court of Human Rights against crucifixes in Italian schools. A paradigmatic and emblematic case. In the second post I also mentioned the Buttiglione affair (October 2004): a distinguished Italian philosopher and politician whose views on homosexuality and abortion were claimed by a member of the European Parliament to be “in direct contradiction of European law” and consequently such as to prevent him from becoming European Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security. Buttiglione, in turn, reminded his inquisitor of the famous kantian distinction between morality and law, and made it clear that it was his firm conviction that many things considered immoral should not be criminalized. But it was in vain, and he ultimately withdrew when it became clear that too many Euro-parliamentarians (most of them Socialists) agreed with the claim that he was unfit to hold office. Yet another paradigmatic case.

Later on, Buttiglione was asked by an online magazine to further explain how can be defined the relationship between the two concepts of ethics and legislation and whether or not every moral value should be legislated for. Here is how he answered (I’m quoting from the English translation, provided by the magazine itself, from the original Italian text):

If all immoral acts were punished by law, there’d be few people left walking free on the street, we’d all be in jail, including myself probably. No, moral conscience is one thing, the law is another. We have to hold onto this difference. I can think that you are mistaken, but I have to be ready to give my life to maintain your right to make mistakes. I have to, though, have the right to say that you’re mistaken. This is the principle of the liberal society. Priests have to have the right to say that a sin is a sin. Laypeople [laici] have to have the freedom as well to say that a sin is a sin. Sinners have to have the right to sin, up to the point, obviously, where it doesn’t produce damage, at which point the law intervenes. The law doesn’t touch upon the morality of our behaviour, but it touches upon the defence of the rights of the other. It’s an old distinction that remains valid. Today there’s a tendency to deny this distinction. My case in Bruxelles is an example. I support non-discrimination for homosexuals, but I think, or at least I have the right to think - without saying whether I think it or not - I have the right to think, along with the catechism of the Catholic Church, that homosexuality is morally wrong. I’ve the right to think that. In Bruxelles, they questioned me not to find out what my politics were: they wanted to know what my moral convictions were. And they discriminated against me because of my moral convictions, which furthermore have nothing to do with politics, apart from the fact that in matters relating to the family, the European Union has no competence. It’s a competence of the State, and it’s as well that it remains a competence of the State.
[Italics mine]


Now, in my opinion, the “special treatment” to which Buttiglione was subjected—his being inquired about and discriminated because of his moral convictions—goes beyond a separation of Church and State, and becomes hostility toward any form of political and cultural relevance of religion. In other words, Buttiglione’s withdrawal was the triumph of what he himself described as the “new totalitarianism.” Which is not, I believe, an exaggeration. Six months later, in fact, the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger described the same phenomenon as “the dictatorship of relativism,” in a sermon opening the papal conclave of 2005. Of course, what is worst is that this new dictatorship marches under the banner of “tolerance,” “political correctness” and, needless to say, “human rights.”

Incidentally, the European Union Commission and the European Parliament had no problem when they accepted László Kovács of Hungary, a former career Communist official with decades of totalitarian experience, as a European commissioner (Taxation and Customs Union). Kovács worked closely—as Deputy Head of the Department of International Relations of the Hungarian Communist Party’s Central Committee—with the leadership of János Kádár’s sinister regime, “installed literally over the dead bodies of the Hungarian democracy activists killed by Soviet tanks after the 1956 popular uprising against the Communist Party’s monopoly of power,” as Samuel Gregg of the Acton Institute put it in a December 7, 2004, Washington Times article. Given that communist systems imprisoned, tortured and murdered millions of people, Gregg continues,

one might think Euro parliamentarians would be slightly concerned about how deeply Mr. Kovacs was involved in some of the darker aspects of Hungary's communist dictatorship.
Just as searching questions were rightly asked of former Nazi Party members seeking public office in postwar Germany, they might have queried speeches Mr. Kovacs gave in the 1980s, attacking Western institutions such as NATO and extolling the Soviet Union as the bedrock of Eastern Europe's "stability."
Instead, the Euro MPs confined themselves to grumbling about Mr. Kovacs' somewhat scanty knowledge of energy policy. Mr. Kovacs passed his confirmation hearings with flying colors and is now the EU taxation and customs commissioner.
Rocco Buttiglione never previously participated in a murderous regime. He is a worldly, mild-mannered, philosophy professor who can be defined as a classical liberal in the Acton-Tocqueville tradition. Yet Mr. Buttiglione was the focus of a tempest in the European Parliament. The same MPs who calmly evaluated the nomination of several ex-communists labeled Mr. Buttiglione a potential inquisitor, an intolerant zealot, and a stain on the political landscape. His views, they said, made him unfit for office.
All Professor Buttiglione did was articulate his beliefs and answer questions. A full reading of the confirmation hearings transcripts reveal a man with profound tolerance and a commitment to equality before the law and to the equal dignity of every individual. The transcripts also reveal his religious faith and his personal views on the family and homosexuality -- views Mr. Buttiglione stressed would not affect his official duties. His opponents, however, began a public campaign and maliciously quoted the transcripts selectively to caricature Mr. Buttiglione as a homophobe who believes women should be in the home with children (ironically, Mr. Buttiglione's wife is a successful working professional).


The transcripts to which Gregg refers, along with a wide selection of articles by and about Rocco Buttiglione, are available here.


The truth is—as the two exemples (that of Buttiglione and of the ruling by the European Court of Human Rights against crucifixes) demonstrate—that there is a wall that, as I said at the beginning of this post, hasn’t fallen yet. This is a living wall, made up of thoughts and convictions, and its name is “Christophobia,” a term coined by international legal scholar (and an observant Jew) J.H.H. Weiler to describe a phenomenon clearly prevalent in many parts of Europe: not merely a fear of Christianity and Christians, but the root of the refusal to acknowledge what Weiler himself regarded as obvious: that Christian ideas and values were one of the principal sources of European civilization and of Europe’s contemporary commitment to human rights and democracy. “Christophobia” is deeply rooted in European laïcité, as distinct from American secularism: it is not simply a “I don’t happen to believe in God.” It is, in Weiler’s own words, “a kind of faith in itself. It is a positive hostility to religion, which in Europe means Christianity.”

So, what to say about that other wall? Well, I must confess that this is a rhetorical question, since I had my answer ready before asking the question: “Europe, tear down this wall!”



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14 comments:

  1. Humanity seems destined to build walls, then dismantle them to replace them with others. The walls relatively recently erected are those cemented with bricks of what is now considered to be politically correct. Pluralism is also limited by these walls.

    One has the right to an opinion but if it's against the current of political correctness then it can only be a biased opinion.
    What is considered politically correct is an ever evolving way of thinking or conditioning. It evolves like fashion but unlike fashion which is a choice, political (and social) correctness becomes law dictated by institutions, the 'noble hearts clubs' convinced that they know what's best for every individual, every nation, Europe, the world and civilisation in general.

    An example of such evolution regarding the subject touched upon could be as follows: If one considers homosexuality to be abnormal, one would be accused of prejudice. If one then 'normalises' homosexuality but considers it wrong for two homosexuals to marry in a church, one would still be accused of having prejudiced ideas. If one then agrees that homosexuals have every right to be married in a church, but should not be granted the right to adopt children, then one would be accused not only of prejudice but of incoherence...

    It's a wall that's difficult to destroy because it's far too thick being constantly reinforced with generous, unextractable addendum.

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  2. Great post. Let's tear down this wall!

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  3. Jesus has promised that the Church will survive, not European Christians...

    P.S. Great post.

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  4. I'm starting to feel as I'm the official contrarian on this blog, but, also in this case my opinion differs from the other commentors.

    On Buttiglione: politicians are judged by the public (and by other politicians) on many aspects other than their politics: their oratory, their personal opinions, personal life, even their physical appearance, all this count. It's not fair, but I don't think it necessarily shows an anti-Christian bias.

    One of the missing factors in this story is the other candidate, who got the place Buttiglione aspired to: Franco Frattini, who is also a Christian (for all I know).

    Regarding the "Christophobia", I fear that, such a term would be used to label any opinion that's different from the one of the Catholic Church, in the same way that opinions contrary to any policies of Israel government are labeled by some as "antisemitic" or critics to any position of Obama are labeled by others as "racist".

    To put it in perspective, remember that from 1861 to 1922 the Italian government was openly hostile to the Church, and confiscated most ecclesiastic real estate. From 1945 up to at least the 70s, about 40% of the electorate identified with parties that were openly anti-Christian. Now those parties have to all practical effects disappeared.

    The Church is more secure now than it was in the last 150 years at least, yet you cry of mounting Christophobia. I don't see any, at least in Italy.

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  5. A correction: I don't disagree with all other commentors. I agree with all he wrote, especially this part:

    political (and social) correctness becomes law dictated by institutions, the 'noble hearts clubs' convinced that they know what's best for every individual, every nation, Europe, the world and civilisation in general.

    There are many such people in Italy, people that KNOW what's best for you, and moreover KNOW what's bad for you. And these bad, immoral acts are to be forbidden by law, even if they are the result of free choice by responsible adults, and are performed to no inconvenience whatsoever for anybody else.

    BTW, I think no one ever asked the Church to marry homosexuals: the Church is free to marry or not marry anyone as it chooses. All the question about same-sex couples is on what unions are recognized by the State (call it marriage or not, that's not the point).

    Now that you recalled it, the history the law about same-sex unions it's an example on how un-Christophobic Italians are.

    To start with, calling it "marriage" was politically incorrect, nobody even would have wanted to consider it. They called it "Civil Unions", it was a kind of "light" marriage, celebrated before a public official, with less requirements and less resulting rights than the ordinary civil marriage. It was open to same- and other-sex couples. The rights it conferred to the patners were fiscal and economic. Even so, it was deemed unpalatable for the Catholic majority, so they watered it down. The proposed arrangement was called PACS (some kind of Pact), it was a civil-law contract between two persons, before a notaio (public registrar).
    It was still too much for the social correctness, they watered down even more. They labelled DICO (Diritti dei Conviventi) "Rights of people who live together" and didn't require any special celebration or contract, only registration of the fact that two people lived in the same house. Nothing that even resembled a marriage. And even that was deemed too risky by politicians afraid of losing the support of the Church and voted down.

    So much for the Christophobia of Italians.

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  6. @StefanoC :

    ”I'm starting to feel as I'm the official contrarian on this blog…”

    Don’t worry, thoughtful dissent is always welcome, and I encourage it.

    ”The Church is more secure now than it was in the last 150 years at least, yet you cry of mounting Christophobia. I don't see any, at least in Italy.”

    That’s probably true

    ” yet you cry of mounting Christophobia. I don't see any, at least in Italy.”

    In fact christophobic attitudes and behaviors are quite uncommon here in Italy. Italy is not, in itself, “in the eye of the storm,” nor do I complain about it…

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  7. It could be described as 'watering down'. It might also be described as 'generous unextractable addendum'. The process of trying to normalise what is essentially abnormal.

    (Those that one can accept without any reservation are those that have come to terms with themselves. Those that are 'bien dans leur peau'). Because they know they are not normal, they accept their condition and they don't expect to be 'normalised' or blest by the State, or by the Church or by any other institution).

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  8. @StefanoC :

    I forgot: Yes, Frattini is a Christian, as far as I know, but he is not, so to speak, an outspoken Catholic, such as Buttiglione, who hasn’t been torpedoed because of his being a Catholic, but rather because of his being outspoken about traditional values, which besides remain at the core of the Catholic faith. There is a certain difference...

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  9. We're back to the conflict between religion and State. Europe has consistently shown a penchant for the State. A little over two thousand years ago was the totalitarianism of Rome, eventually replaced by Christianity. I think that submission to the State by much of Europe then, just laid the foundation for for gulags, fascism, Nazis, communism, world wars to impose those ideologies since. (The US has been trying mightily throughout the 20th century to get rid of religion and diminish our Constitution to follow Europe.)

    I think "God is Love". I think denial of Love is at the center of all these totalitarian movements. It goes beyond being anti-Semitic or Christophobic. I think the people enforcing tyranny are building a wall to deny Love. How could anyone with Love in their heart slaughter six million Jews? How could any of the Caesars have love in their hearts, and enslave the known world? How could someone with Love in their heart slaughter sixty million as in China, or create gulags?

    God is Love, and the State must deny Love to build and sustain itself. It must support euthanasia, killing a loved one. It must support abortion, killing a love one to be. Both are a denial of Love. It must use war and military might to oppress.The wall of separation between religion and State is being built by the State using bricks of tyranny to deny Love.

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  10. @rob:
    In fact christophobic attitudes and behaviors are quite uncommon here in Italy. Italy is not, in itself, “in the eye of the storm,” nor do I complain about it…

    Let's talk about Europe, then. Is there any country in Europe where Christians are discriminated, where they enjoy less freedom than people of other religions ?

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  11. @Mirino:
    It could be described as 'watering down'. It might also be described as 'generous unextractable addendum'. The process of trying to normalise what is essentially abnormal.

    I wouldn't base moral evaluations on "normality". Normality is a social construct. Remember that there was a time when owning slaves or torturing a person to death was normal. And there are places where mutilating the genitals of children is even now considered normal (and the unmutilated one are considered abnormal).

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  12. @rob:
    Frattini is a Christian, as far as I know, but he is not, so to speak, an outspoken Catholic, such as Buttiglione, who hasn’t been torpedoed because of his being a Catholic, but rather because of his being outspoken about traditional values, which besides remain at the core of the Catholic faith. There is a certain difference...

    Perhaps there were other differences, that made Frattini a better candidate for the job. I'm of a different political view, but even I must admit that the man is a born diplomatist. Every words he utters seems thought over twice or thrice. I don't know him to have ever made a gaffe.

    I think he's this generation's Giulio Andreotti (minus the wit).

    Moreover, Buttiglione turns out to be a sore loser. Five years have passed, and he's still brooding. To have refused him that oh-so-important eurocomissar job is to be against Christianism itself (!)

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  13. @StefanoC :

    ”Let's talk about Europe, then. Is there any country in Europe where Christians are discriminated, where they enjoy less freedom than people of other religions ?”

    But this is not the point. “Christophobia,” as I have already said, is deeply rooted in European laïcité, which is something quite different from American secularism. Let’s just re-quote what J.H.H. Weiler wrote to describe the whole thing: “[European laïcité is] a kind of faith in itself. It is a positive hostility to religion, which in Europe means Christianity.” Hence the refusal to acknowledge that Christianity—or better still some of its fundamental ideas, concepts and values—were among the principal sources of European civilization (Europe’s contemporary commitment to “human rights” and democracy included).

    Let’s say it once again: “hostility to religion, which in Europe means Christianity.” This means that it is not a question of whether or not there are countries, in Europe, where Christians “enjoy less freedom than people of other religions.” What is at stake is “religion” tout-court. That’s why, incidentally, the question should be formulated, if anything, as follows: “Is there any country in Europe where people who follow any religion are discriminated, where they enjoy less freedom than non-religious people?”

    If this is the question, well, I’d mention..—but do you really care what my answer is? ;-)

    Yet, whenever the question should remain the same, I’d point out that recently there have been many episodes in which it was made clear that what is meant by “political correctness” (with reference to religious issues) may slightly vary depending on whether you are a Christian or a Muslim… Is this just because Christians are expected to “turn the other cheek?” But, as I already told you, Crusaders—who, as it is well known, are not, by any means, “honourable men” (unlike the noble Brutus in Shakespeare’s famous play)—are not supposed to turn the other cheek. It’s terrible, I know..

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  14. Why even use the term Christophobia?

    Especially as Jesus was not in any sense a Christian, nor did he create the religion of Christian-ISM, the power and control seeking, would be world-conquering, religion about him.

    Which is to say that christian-ISM is primarily and only another power and control seeking ideology - its inevitable blood-soaked history proves this. See:

    www.dartmouth.edu/~spanmod/mural/panel13.html

    www.jesusneverexisted.com/cruelty.html

    www.logosjournal.com/hammer_kellner
    Yes Christians are being persecuted and killed because of their beliefs. Such is of course dreadful.

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