Category Archives: Religion

The Crucifix in Every Building?

I am thinking through this one. I appreciate that a country is certainly shaped by it’s culture and religious history, but is this the best way to present it? But why should a people not want to retain their heritage? Hmm.

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BY FRANCIS X. ROCCA AND DREW HINSHAW
WSJ 9/10/2018

ROME—Lawmakers in Italy’s new parliamentary majority want a crucifix to hang in every government building as a “permanent reminder” of the country’s Christian identity.

Across Europe, nationalists and upstart politicians are promoting the use of Christian imagery as they seek to change the Continent’s established politics and define Europe as Christian in reaction to recent Muslim immigration.

Christian symbols have long been a visible part of public life in much of Europe, but the new efforts reflect a more emphatic embrace of Christianity as central to Europe’s identity.

The moves are stoking disagreement among Christian leaders and drawing criticism from allies of Pope Francis, who says that Christianity mandates generosity toward immigrants.

“The cross is a sign of protest against sin, violence, injustice and death,” the Rev. Antonio Spadaro, a close adviser to the pope and editor of a Vatican-vetted magazine, La Civiltà Cattolica (Catholic Civilization), said on Twitter last month, in response to the legislative proposal by lawmakers with the League, an anti-immigration party. He called the use of the crucifix for political purposes “blasphemous.” And he warned: “Hands off!”

Many antiestablishment parties, a rising force in European politics, say preserving their countries’ Christian identity requires sealing Europe off to Muslim immigrants. They are pulling voters from mainstream parties that favor a more secular style of politics.

For decades after World War II, parties that identified as “Christian Democrats” were a mainstay of center-right politics in Italy, Germany and the Netherlands. But the decline of that tradition has opened up an opportunity for nationalists and far-right parties to claim the cross as theirs.

“The Christian Democratic parties saw Christian identity as a way to unite their nations, not divide them,” said Rocco Buttiglione, a former Italian cabinet minister and lawmaker with a series of such parties. “But they weren’t strong enough in defending that identity. They watered it down in order to attract votes on the left, and that left an enormous void.”

In Eastern Europe, Catholic leaders have responded more favorably than in Western Europe to efforts by politicians to link Christian identity to nationalist ideas.

In Poland, where government offices are frequently decorated with 2-foot-tall crucifixes, many Catholic bishops openly sympathize with the ruling nationalist party’s restrictive policies on refugees. In October, church leaders supported a mass prayer called “Rosaries at the Border” that implicitly opposed Muslim immigration.

Few Hungarian bishops have objected as Prime Minister Viktor Orbán recasts Hungary as an explicitly Christian country, closed to non-Europeans and battling what he calls “Muslim invaders.”

Mr. Orbán uses the term “Christian democracy” in a new sense: to describe the “illiberal” governance he is ushering in—a model he has said was inspired by more autocratic nations like Russia and Turkey.

Many church leaders express support for Mr. Orbán’s priorities, including the anti-migration fence Mr. Orbán had built along Hungary’s southern border in 2015.

“I’m in total agreement with the prime minister,” Hungarian Bishop Laszlo Kiss-Rigo said at the height of Europe’s migration crisis in 2015, saying the pope “doesn’t know the situation….They’re not refugees. This is an invasion.”

Mr. Orbán, a Protestant, showers the Catholic Church and other denominations with millions of dollars in direct subsidies, and ends many speeches with the Latin expression “soli Deo Gloria” (“to God alone the glory”).

“It is not good, not healthy, and dangerous,” said Bishop Miklós Beer of Vác, one of the few Hungarian bishops to oppose Mr. Orbán’s adoption of Christian language for nationalist ends. “Separation of church and state is a very important basic principle.”

The picture is different in Western Europe. The leader of the southern German state of Bavaria recently mandated that all state buildings display a cross. Markus Söder, the Bavarian premier and a member of the Christian Social Union, said on Twitter in April that the requirement shows a “clear commitment to our Bavarian identity and Christian values.”

The move hasn’t reversed the CSU’s slide in opinion polls ahead of regional elections in October, or dented support for the far-right Alternative for Germany. But it has drawn fire from Germany’s leading Catholic prelate, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, another of Pope Francis’ top advisers, who accused the CSU of “expropriating the cross.”

“You don’t understand the cross if you only see it as a cultural symbol,” Cardinal Marx said.

In Italy, the idea of defining Christianity as a part of the national identity drew support from much of Italian society not so long ago. In 2009, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that crucifixes in Italian classrooms, where they have hung under legislation dating back to the 19th century, violated the “right of parents to educate their children according to their convictions.”

The ruling drew protests from the Vatican and from politicians across the spectrum who said the crucifix exemplified universal values such as human rights. The court reversed its decision two years later, reasoning that the Italian policy didn’t amount to a “process of indoctrination,” since a “crucifix on a wall is an essentially passive symbol.”

Mixing church and state has become more divisive in Italy as antiimmigration politicians advance and clash with Pope Francis.

Several of Italy’s high-profile church leaders have criticized Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, the leader of the anti-immigration League, for brandishing the Bible and a rosary at political events.

The bill that would mandate the display of crucifixes in Italian government buildings was introduced by lawmakers from the League in March. It would cover “all offices of public administration,” including polling places, prisons, hospitals and airports, though it isn’t specific about where in the buildings the crucifix would need to be displayed.

The League’s embrace of Christian symbols is opportunistic, said the Rev. Rocco D’Ambrosio, a professor of political philosophy at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University. “It’s a kind of attempt to defend itself, to say ‘we are Christians, we want the crucifix in all public spaces, so you can’t accuse us of not being Christians.’ ” —Anita Komuves contributed to this article.

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How Martin Luther Advanced Freedom

WSJ – 10/27/2017

Martin Luther was an unlikely revolutionary for human freedom. When the Augustinian monk hammered his “Ninety-Five Theses” to the Wittenberg Castle Church on Oct. 31, 1517— and unleashed the Protestant Reformation—he was still committed to the spiritual authority of the Catholic Church and retained many of the prejudices of European Christianity.

Yet Luther’s personal experience of God’s love and mercy—“I felt myself to be reborn”— supported a democratic approach to religious belief. In his theological works, Luther introduced a radical egalitarianism that helped lay the foundation for modern democracy and human rights.

Born into a German peasant family in 1483, Luther came to despise every form of spiritual elitism. He sought to replace rigid church hierarchies with “the priesthood of all believers,” the proposition that there are no qualitative differences between clergy and laity. “Just because we are all priests of equal standing,” he wrote in “An Open Letter to the Christian Nobility” (1520), “no one must push himself forward and, without the consent and choice of the rest, presume to do that which we all have equal authority.”

It was a message at odds with the vast superstructure of 16th-century Christendom. Only the monastic orders, with their vows of celibacy and poverty, could produce the spiritual athletes of the church, the thinking went. But to Luther the monasteries were hotbeds of avarice and pride. He wanted them abolished, writing in “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church” (1520) that “pretentious lives, lived under vows are more hostile to faith than anything else can be.”

Luther applied the same logic to the doctrine of Christian vocation. Resisting the stark divisions between “secular” and “religious” occupations, he dignified all legitimate work. “A shoemaker, a smith, a farmer, each has his manual occupation and work; and, yet, at the same time, all are eligible to act as priests and bishops,” he wrote.

Luther took an ax to the legal culture that shielded priests and bishops from criminal prosecution simply because they held church offices. “It is intolerable that in canon law, the freedom, person, and goods of the clergy should be given this exemption, as if the laymen were not exactly as spiritual, and as good Christians, as they, or did not equally belong to the church.” Here was a religious basis for the principle of equal justice under the law, a core tenet of liberal democracy.

Perhaps Luther’s most subversive act was his translation of the New Testament into German, a feat scholars estimate he accomplished in three months. The papacy had controlled the interpretation of Scripture, available almost exclusively in Latin, the language of the clergy

and the highly educated. But Luther wanted the Bible translated and read as widely as possible: “We must inquire about this of the mother in the home, the children on the street, the common man in the marketplace,” he explained in “On Translation: An Open Letter” (1530). “We must be guided by their language, the way they speak, and do our translating accordingly.” Luther always elevated the individual believer, armed with the Bible, above any earthly authority. This was the heart of his defiance at the Diet of Worms: “My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand.” Neither prince nor pope could invade the sanctuary of his conscience. This, he proclaimed, is the “inestimable power and liberty” belonging to every Christian.

It would be hard to imagine a more radical break with centuries of church teaching and tradition. Luther’s intense study of the Bible—part of his anguished quest to be reconciled to God—made these great innovations possible. Convinced that the teachings of Christ had become twisted into an “unbearable bondage of human works and laws,” he preached a gospel of freedom. Salvation, he taught, was a gift from God available to everyone through faith in Jesus and his sacrificial death.

In 1520, some three years after publishing his theses, Luther released “On the Freedom of a Christian,” his manifesto on the privileges and obligations of every believer. It became a publishing phenomenon. “A Christian has no need of any work or law in order to be saved,” he insisted, “since through faith he is free from every law and does everything out of pure liberty and freely.” Christian liberty of this kind provided no excuse for libertinism. Just the opposite: “I will therefore give myself as a Christ to my neighbor, just as Christ offered himself to me.”

Luther offered more than a theory of individual empowerment. He delivered a spiritual bill of rights. Generations of reformers—from John Locke to Martin Luther King Jr.— would praise his achievement. Half a millennium later, his message of freedom has not lost its power.

Mr. Loconte, an associate professor of history at the King’s College in New York, is author of “God, Locke, and Liberty: The Struggle for Religious Freedom in the West” (Lexington, 2014).

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Where’s the Pope on Syria?

I really wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, but this probably ends that hope forever.
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WSJ 12/27/2016

If you are like this columnist, you may have missed the recent prayer vigil in front of St. Peter’s, which featured Pope Francis leading tens of thousands of the faithful in protest of the sickening Russian military strikes in Aleppo that have targeted hospitals, aid convoys and innocent civilians.

Surely there must have been such a vigil, right? And at least as prominent as the one in September 2013? Back then Pope Francis led a muchpublicized vigil aimed at dissuading President Obama from launching airstrikes on Syrian President Bashar Assad’s military assets after the strongman had gassed more than a thousand people in the suburbs of Damascus, including hundreds of children.

Remember those heady days? The tweets from the Holy Father himself: “War never again! Never again war!” Or his letter to Vladimir Putin during the G-20 meeting in St. Petersburg, in which Pope Francis implored leaders there (read: Uncle Sam) “to lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution.”

Not to mention Mr. Putin’s own use of Pope Francis in an op-ed that appeared shortly after in the pages of the New York Times. There Mr. Putin put it this way: “The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders.”

So surely if the Holy Father was outraged in 2013 by what Secretary of State John Kerry emphasized would be an “unbelievably small strike,” he must be even more indignant over the cynical way Mr. Putin has used the entree the pope helped give him in Syria to use Russian air power to launch his own deadly strikes.

But somehow there are no Pope Francis vigils over the war crimes committed by Mr. Putin’s war planes.

Then again, we didn’t see the vigil candles come out at St. Peter’s when Mr. Putin invaded Crimea. Nor when Russian-backed separatists shot down a Malaysia Airlines jetliner over Ukraine.

To the contrary, as Russian forces declare victory in Aleppo, the pope has been reduced to telling the world not to forget Aleppo and entreating Mr. Assad to play nice.

Now, at the time President Obama was proposing his military strike, even some hawks opposed it on the grounds it was only a gesture meant for show. This was a solid and reasonable objection.

But this was not the objection of Pope Francis. True, both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI had urged against American military action, the former with regard to Iraq and the latter with Libya.

But this pope’s objections have been coupled with a softness toward Moscow hard to imagine coming from either of his two predecessors. And the argument that Mr. Putin’s use of force is welcome because it is protecting the Christians of Aleppo—who feel safer under Assad than under ISIS—does not work for Pope Francis: He’s insisted all along there are no military solutions, even as Mr. Putin has now imposed one.

“The Catechism of the Catholic Church” holds that the “use of arms must not produce evils and disorders greater than the evil to be eliminated.”

A sound principle. But what about the evils produced when those who have the arms won’t use them to protect those who have no defense? In short, there’s a reason that when Thomas Aquinas discusses just war, he does so in his chapter on charity. To put it all in biblical terms, what would have been the obligation on the Good Samaritan if he had come across his victim as the man was being beaten rather than afterward?

Aleppo is not Pope Francis’ fault. It is the fault of those who have willfully chosen atrocity to advance their larger goals, whether this be the ISIS forces who hope to impose their brand of extremism on Syria, or Mr. Assad, who has reduced Aleppo to rubble to eliminate any opposition to his brutal regime. Not to mention outsiders such as Mr. Putin and the Sunni supporters of ISIS who have enabled these evils.

At the time Pope Francis took his stand against U.S. intervention in Syria, an article in the National Catholic Register framed it this way: “The Pope has positioned himself as the foremost champion of finding peaceful solutions to the conflict, and Putin has demonstrated in recent days that he has the capability to deliver diplomatic alternatives to the punishing military strikes favored by Obama over Syria’s chemical weapons.”

Let’s hope what has followed in Aleppo might occasion some papal modesty, and perhaps a more ecumenical outlook when it comes to regarding the use of force by global powers. For the essence of civilization is this: The strong protect the weak. When the use of force is taken off the table, the strong prey on the weak.

In September, the pope thundered that those bombing civilians in Aleppo will one day have to “account to God.” Until then, the moral undermining of American intervention has guaranteed they will account to no one.

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