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!”