November 5, 2009

A blow against Europe's Christian heritage? Well, yes, actually

So the European Court of Human Rights ruled against the use of crucifixes in classrooms in Italy last Tuesday, and this because, according the seven judges ruling on the case, the compulsory display “in premises used by the public authorities” of a particular religious symbol “restricted the right of parents to educate their children in conformity with their convictions, and the right of children to believe or not to believe.”

It also seems that the decision was taken unanimously, which is perhaps more emblematic than the ruling in itself. Now, although I am a conservative Christian (Catholic), I don’t want to be too harsh and/or too categorical on this.

Well, I am convinced that the display of a symbol which is deeply rooted in the conscience of so many Italians is nothing but the recognition of their own cultural identity, and that the principle of the secularity of institutions is something else than the denial of the role of Christianity in the formation of the Western civilization and of the Italian identity. But, at the same time, I concede that there is much to ponder and discuss about the issue of religious symbols in public school classrooms, and that the question in itself is a very broad and debatable one.

Yet, politically speaking, I wonder whether that decision is well-timed and “appropriate to the context,” I mean, I wonder whether it is a suitable and a wise one today, in this period of our history, although I won’t say, along with Prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, that the European Court of Human Rights makes us doubt the common sense of this Europe.. However, one thing is to decide not to display the crucifix where there hasn’t ever been one, and another very different is to rule against the display of crucifix where there is a long tradition of displaying the central symbol of Christianity.

That’s why, even apart from my religious beliefs, I cannot but agree with Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, who told La Repubblica newspaper he could not understand the decision:

“When I think that we are talking about a symbol, the crucifix, an image that cannot but be the emblem of a universally shared humanity, I not only feel disappointed but also sadness and grief.
The crucifix is the sign of a God that loves man to the point of giving up his life for him. It is a God that teaches us to learn to love, to pay attention to each man ... and to respect the others, even those who belong to a different culture or religion.
How could someone not share such a symbol?”


And that's also why I think the Italian government, which said it would appeal the European Court's verdict, is definitely right.



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20 comments:

  1. The principle of conformity or uniformity is valid in schools that profess to be laic, especially when the pupils are of mixed origins and religions. But decisions such as removing or to continuing to display crucifixes, should be the school authorities' to make and no other institutions' including national government or European parliament. A school has its own traditions and principles to uphold. If it allows or prohibits Muslim students to wear veils, for example, that would also be its own prerogative, no one else's.

    One chooses the school considered suitable for one's child, and the fact that there still is and should always be a choice is a privilege to safeguard.
    If conformity (and non conformity- such as prohibiting the wearing of a particular school uniform) are allowed to prevail generally, all schools would cede their heritage, their traditions and perhaps their methods to end up the same. This comes down to standardisation which might also suggest the acceptation of everything and the defence of nothing.

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  2. A few points.

    First, in my opinion, the question is overrated.

    Polls show that while at least 80% of Italians claim Catholicism as their religion, only 40% or less are practicing, and even less are following all the Church positions in moral aspects.

    I don't think the mandatory display of religious symbols in schools would change the situation.

    Secondly, if Catholics are allowed by the State to impose their symbols by law, I wonder how could other citizens (eg. Geova's Witnesses, which are the second religion among Italians, but also even more minor sects) be prevented from adding theirs, given that the State cannot discriminate on religion.

    Thirdly, I wonder what the government response would be if some Fundamentalist Christian asked for the removal of the crucifixes as contrary to the Bible: the First Commandment explicitly prohibits to make images and worship them...

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  3. BTW, if the sentence was a blow, aren't Christian supposed to turn the other cheek ?
    :-)

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  4. @ StefanoC:

    ” if Catholics are allowed by the State to impose their symbols by law, I wonder how could other citizens (eg. Geova's Witnesses, which are the second religion among Italians, but also even more minor sects) be prevented from adding theirs, given that the State cannot discriminate on religion.”


    But weren’t we talking about the display of a symbol which is deeply rooted in the conscience of millions of Italians (the vast majority of them) and which is part of their cultural identity?

    ”if the sentence was a blow, aren't Christian supposed to turn the other cheek ?”

    Well, er, Crusaders never turn the other cheek … ;-)

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  5. To StefanoC

    Not discriminating on religion works both ways. In my view the State should not interfere with the traditions, cultural and religious policies of individual schools.
    Whilst Europe may be increasingly preoccupied with setting such educational standards in schools, banalising as though they were dealing with common market fruit and vegetables, supposedly in order to generously accommodate ethnical integration, Muslim schools would seem to be going in the opposite direction.

    If this is true and the trend continues, and supposing that it's only a question of time before 50% of Europeans are Muslims, it would stand to reason that there wouldn't be any cultural and religious educational alternative other than theirs.

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  6. @rob:
    But weren’t we talking about the display of a symbol which is deeply rooted in the conscience of millions of Italians (the vast majority of them) and which is part of their cultural identity?

    I don't like this kind of reasoning. It's as the majority could impose their view on minorities. The rule of law should protect the minorities.

    Consider football: surely is part of the identity of millions of Italians, more people follow the Sunday games that take part in Sunday Mass, more people buy and read football newspapers than read the Osservatore Romano or the other Catholic press combined.

    Would you favor then that a poster picture of the National Team should be displayed by law in all school rooms and public places ? Or perhaps it should be the team favored by the majority of the students of each single class ?

    The State doesn't mess with sport opinions, it shouldn't mess with religion opinions too.


    Crusaders never turn the other cheek … ;-)

    Another example of the Church's own moral relativism...

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  7. Not discriminating on religion works both ways. In my view the State should not interfere with the traditions, cultural and religious policies of individual schools.

    I think you misunderstood. What we are talking about are public schools run by the State. Of course private schools are free to display whatever religious symbol they choose.


    Whilst Europe may be increasingly preoccupied with setting such educational standards in schools, ... to generously accommodate ethnical integration, Muslim schools would seem to be going in the opposite direction.

    Again, we are not talking about integration of immigrants of other religions, but of Italian citizens who asked the State to comply to the State-Church separation that is written in its own Constitution.

    Note also that if we make the public school an hostile environment for pupils of minoritarian religions we end up strenghtening the confessional schools.


    it's only a question of time before 50% of Europeans are Muslims

    In this perspective, it's even more important to reinforce the principle that the majority cannot impose by law their religion on everybody, and that the State must be non-confessional.

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  8. Stefano - It is indeed somewhat hypocritical on our part to be outraged by it when we don't even bother to go to church. We're only reacting because there are "barbarians at the gates" now. In the United States, it's different. They're rolling their sleeves and taking a stand.

    Mirino - As long as the rules stay the same for all. I don't see that. I see the laws being strictly applied to the host but not to our fellow citizens who take religion far more seriously than we do and who further ask for special treatment from time to time. Again, we react to this.

    The question of conformity and non-comformity is becoming more and more complex. For example, years ago here in Canada the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) were challenged by a Sheik who didn't want to conform to their traditional uniforms. It became a dispute between their heritage versus the values of multiculturalism at large.

    The RCMP agreed. It wasn't a very popular decision if I remember correctly.

    What I find irritating is we had the crucifix in our school yet it didn't seem to dent our commitment to secularism. In fact, we were forever questioning religion in class.

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  9. Here in the US, the Government continually attempts to pass legislation to outlaw home schooling and private religious schools. The removal of the Cross is emblematic of removal of Christianity from all aspects of life. Totalitarian States must remove religion to create a vacuum that it can fill. As to the Cross, if it's always been there, and it's not been a big deal, then leave it. For the Secularist, it's another chip to repress and destroy Christianity. Looking at Europe right now, more tolerance is being shown toward Islam than Christianity. For StefanoC, Christians don't worship the Cross. It's a symbol for belief or faith. The earliest Christian symbol was the fish. Neither was the fish worshiped. Turn the other cheek is problematic. Do you think Christians should just lie down and let people beat the crap out of them? Pacifism is one interpretation. The other is in historical context, when turning the other cheek was in response to an act of authority from superior to subordinate, or upper class to lower class. The hit was with the back of the hand. Turning the cheek force the hitter into a dilemma. The left hand was used for unclean purposes, so a back-hand strike on the opposite cheek would not be performed. The other alternative would be a slap with the open hand as a challenge or just hit the person, but this was seen as a statement of equality. By turning the other cheek the person that was hit was demanding equality. I had an Akido master tell us the good book never said anything about being there at the end of the slap in the first place.
    Ultimately this is about the Secular State removing all vestiges of Christianity to empower itself. The Cross hurts no one, and represents nothing evil. Leave it if the people want it.

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  10. The crucifix taken down, will leave it's shadow on the paint-work. The wall would have to be whitewashed. The minds of those so used to seeing it and cherishing it in its timeless place might also subsequently need to be 'washed' to allow for the alternative (but maybe temporary) void.

    The paragraph you refer to, StefanoC, was naturally a generalisation. To try to be more precise: In my view European parliament shouldn't interfere with the traditions, cultural and religious policies expressed by individual schools whether they are private or State run, particularly when they are also such an integral part of the heritage of a nation (in this case Italy).

    Re. integration. I believe that this issue is extremely pertinent. Obviously Nato isn't perpetuating the Crusader wars, even in Afghanistan, but that doesn't mean to say that certain Moslems reason the same way. Some would argue that it's their bound duty to impose Islam wherever they possibly can. Where there's a void, it follows that there would be all the more opportunity to fill it.

    As we all know, Islam isn't just a religion. It's a controlled way of life. We see and have seen that under certain circumstances it can become totalitarian thus rigourously strict.

    It seems incredible to me that so many people are still not aware of the danger. Europe, pressurised by the Utopian ideals of 'standardisation' for the 'good of mankind', are so intent on showing their generosity by accepting the moeurs, and even the laws of other cultures, especially Islam, that they seem to be prepared to create a religious vacuum to allow even greater free rein. In a way it could be compared to pulling down churches to build mosques.

    The war in Afghanistan and elsewhere isn't simply to preserve the 'Karzaian Afghan democracy', it's also to preserve the afghan traditions and way of life. But it's not limited to Afghanistan. Let them win there would virtually mean let them gradually win everywhere.

    This is why the subject is pertinent and why European values, culture and traditions should also be defended. It might mean nothing to some of us, but it's a far better alternative that what others would like to impose given the opportunity- which in some places already seems to be the case.

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  11. Totalitarian States must remove religion to create a vacuum that it can fill. As to the Cross, if it's always been there, and it's not been a big deal, then leave it.

    The crucefix it's not always been there. It was put in school rooms by the Fascist state, about 1929.

    Turns out not all Totalitarian States want to remove religion. Some try to swallow it and use (pervert perhaps) to their advantage. "God, Country and Party", they piously proclaim. Then somehow the order of priority gets reversed...

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  12. We're only reacting because there are "barbarians at the gates" now. In the United States, it's different. They're rolling their sleeves and taking a stand.

    Yes, the US are being "invaded" by all those pesky, Catholic Latinos. Who know what they'll demand once they are majority ? To put crucefixes in school perhaps...

    :-)

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  13. @Mirino:

    As we all know, Islam isn't just a religion. It's a controlled way of life.

    So is any other religion. Even Christianity. Do you think Chistianism is "just a religion", something you do for an hour on Sunday and has no impact on what you do in the rest of the week ?

    All religions try to control the way of life of their believers. The problem arises when they try to control also the life of _other_ people. That's why we need laws to assure freedom of (and from) religion.

    Would a confessional State assure religious freedom ? Some do (the UK, Japan), but I wouldn't count too much on it. Even the two examples I found are only _nominally_ confessional, but pratically secular.

    A secular state is better for the minorities. And it would be better for Christians also, that might become a minority. And not because of Islam (how many convert from Christianity to Islam after all ?), but because of practical atheism, which doesn't need any conversion, and is much too easy to embrace.


    Europe, pressurised by the Utopian ideals of 'standardisation' for the 'good of mankind',

    I don't think that freedom of religion amounts to standardisation: to the contrary, standardisation would be if everyone was forced to follow a single religion.



    European values, culture and traditions should also be defended.

    Come think of it, what is the aspect peculiar of European culture, that is so rare to find in others ?

    I'd say its pluralism, especially religious pluralism. It started with the Protestant Reform, perhaps the better thing to come to Europe in the last millennium, that claimed that you could read the Bible and make out for yourself what it meant for you. So a lot of different confessions were founded. At first they were at war with one another, but after a few centuries it became obvious that you cannot impose your particular form of religion to others with the force, and some kind of religious tolerance was instituted almost everywhere.

    Some states (like the US) are _founded_ on the principle of religious freedom.

    (Some say that what Islam needs is more pluralism, and perhaps some kind of Protestant Reform)

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  14. I hadn't heard about the Court decision regarding display of crucifixes in Italian schools. It's absurd. The people of Italy are perfectly capable of making their own decisions on things like this, and they should do so. Let it be appealed, if necessary, but if the appeal is denied, the ruling should be ignored.

    This is the downside of permitting a group of nations to override the sovereignty of a specific nation.

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  15. To StefanoC

    I'm all for pluralism too, but on the understanding that it includes religious tolerance also meaning the right to leave a crucifix on the wall where it has always been, and especially when that is a preferred choice.

    The religious control that you must be referring to would date from the Middle ages in Europe. As you know, Christianity no longer has any real hold, including political, on our way of life. It is a free choice within our democracies. One can't say the same thing for Islam.

    Despite efforts to separate the Moslem religion from political affairs after the first world war (in Turkey and even in Afghanistan), Islamic extremism seems to have had an influence in reversing the tendency, even in 'moderate' Islamic States.

    Freedom of religion must also be recognised by Moslems, certainly Moslems who live in Europe.

    The European values, culture and traditions are obviously those that each nation of Europe has to offer. Italy is particularly rich in such traditions and culture, and the Italians would be right not to bow to whatever Brussels thinks up on the spur of the moment and then dictates as a set standard.

    Tom Carter is right. 'Europe' doesn't mean that all aspects of national sovereignty must be sacrificed for the sake of an institution that hasn't yet properly defined itself in terms of values and culture.

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  16. @Metaphysical:
    Christians don't worship the Cross. It's a symbol for belief or faith.

    Don't know about Christians in general, but Catholics definitely do.

    The crucefix is treated as "special" as an object in itself, not simply as a symbol.

    Let me try a test. Suppose the wood of a crucefix has become rotten, and it has cut in small pieces in order to burn it. It's a little heap of firewood. Would you spit on it ? I think most Catholics would balk at the thought. They wouldn't have any problem in spitting on a heap of firewood that wasn't a crucefix.

    It's no more a symbol, it's not recognizable as such. Yet the material that made it has some magic taboo associated with it.

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  17. @Tom Carter:
    This is the downside of permitting a group of nations to override the sovereignty of a specific nation.

    Why should the sovereignty be at the level of "nation" and not above (or below) ?

    If a decision at European level is imposed, so could be a decision at national level.

    There are in Italy some places were the majority of people are non-Catholic. Wouldn't a pro-crucefix national law be unfair to them and their culture ? Following your reasoning, they would be allowed to ignore the national law.

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  18. @mirino:
    I'm all for pluralism too,

    Well PLURALism means that more than a single point of view is represented.


    religious tolerance also meaning the right to leave a crucifix on the wall where it has always been

    It seems that the only point in favour of having a crucefix in school rooms is that it has "always" been there.

    That isn't always the case. I remember that is some rooms, when I was in school twenty-something years ago, there was no crucefix. Perhaps it was removed for repainting the wall and was not replaced, or was mislaid. Nobody noticed its absence. Even now, turns out that some school principal realizes that some of the rooms in their school have no crucefix, and scramble to buy some and hang them.

    Suppose a school has had no crucefix for years. Noone complained. Then, suddenly, it becomes _necessary_ to have a symbol of our culture on the wall.

    What symbol would you choose ?

    You agree that

    Christianity no longer has any real hold, including political, on our way of life.

    yet you too would prefer a Catholic symbol ?


    In fact, I think you're right on one point. Perhaps the factor that started the all this pro-crucefix fad is immigration.

    We're scared of all these people who speak a different, incomprensible language, that wear different clothes and pray in a different way (or rather, that pray while we don't). Since we are scared, we look for something to reassure us. Looking back to a time before all this, we remember of old religion and symbols that we disused, that in fact mean nothing for most of us anymore.

    It's not about culture, nor "roots", it's not even about religion. It's us-vs-them. If the immigrants were Catholic (as in the USA), perhaps the same people that now clamour to have crucefixes not only in schools, but in every public place would clamour to remove them, in order not to appease the "invaders".



    It is a free choice within our democracies. One can't say the same thing for Islam. [...] Freedom of religion must also be recognised by Moslems, certainly Moslems who live in Europe.

    Absolutely agree with you. Freedom of religion is wanting in all Islamic countries. Only I don't think that the way to stimulate _them_ to become more free, is to make _us_ less free.

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  19. To StefanoC

    I think that basically we agree. But there's a lot of splitting hairs. This issue isn't that complicated. It isn't a question of defending Christianity against the invasion of pagans, Philistines and Saracens. One is simply suggesting that external institutions shouldn't have the authority to dictate, among other issues, that crucifixes shouldn't adorn the walls of any schools in any European nation. All schools, including State schools, should be allowed the freedom (which is also your concern) to continue to uphold (or to cede if so wished) whatever traditions and values they maintain are an essential part of their heritage.

    Pluralism must also take into account the principles of democracy. If a school gives priority to a religious symbol because this has always been the case, the issue could be settled by the authorities of the schools concerned by referendum. Let the majority of pupils and/or their parents decide what they think would be best for their school. Let them have the freedom to set their own standards.

    Sovereignty can only be at the level of a nation regarding territorial integrity. It's not up to European Parliament to oblige Italy, for example, to allow free entry to illegal immigrants. It's not their prerogative to dictate to Italian wine producers how they should cultivate their vineyards and make their wine.

    If European Parliament was allowed European sovereignty and their aspiration was to make each nation conform to set standards sadly conceived in Brussels, Europe could end up with every nation producing the same three apples. The diversity, traditions, culture, arts (including culinary) and values of each Nation represent the richness of Europe. What Europe has that is most precious.
    This is what is being defended, symbolised by the right to leave (or take down if so wished) a crucifix from where it has always been for such a long time, and long before European Parliament ever existed.

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  20. It isn't a question of defending Christianity against the invasion of pagans, Philistines and Saracens.

    For people who think like you (and me). For most people in Italy that was scandalized of the ruling, the issue is exactly that.


    All schools, including State schools, should be allowed the freedom (which is also your concern) to continue to uphold (or to cede if so wished) whatever traditions and values they maintain are an essential part of their heritage.

    I went back and read more carefully the BBC article linked by rob. In fact, it seems that your view is more compatible with what the European Court said, than with the position of the Italian government (and of rob).

    To explain: on the issue, there are three positions possible:

    A) the crucifix is mandatory

    B) the crucifix is forbidden

    C) the laws mandates nothing on the subject

    The current Italian law, and the position of the Italian government is (A). The court ruled that (A) is wrong, but doesn't mandate (B), so your position (C) is also compatible with their ruling.

    BTW, _my_ position would be to allow the students to decorate the walls with what they want. Or perhaps the State could provide poster pictures of some great Italian work of art (religious and not) or natural views, to decorate the empty walls. Foreign students could provide images of art from their culture, to be added to the Italian ones.


    European Parliament to oblige Italy, for example, to allow free entry to illegal immigrants. It's not their prerogative to dictate to Italian wine producers how they should cultivate their vineyards and make their wine.

    Well, no. As there is free movement of people and goods between the states, what Italy decides on immigration, agricolture or industry has impact on the other states, and therefore it becomes into European jurisdiction.

    (I'm talking about basic safety norms here, I know that the EU often overdoes it and goes on legislating on how much cocoa must be put in chocolate or how large green peas must be.)

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