Month: September 2008

Priorities

“I am Muslim first, Arab second, and American third. My relation to God is the core of my identity. It supersedes my relations to nations and peoples and is separate from my citizenship. Before I became a U.S. citizen, pledged allegiance to the Constitution, and carried a U.S. passport, I was a citizen of Sudan, obeyed its rules, and carried its passport. If I become a citizen of, say, China, and follow its rules and carry its passport, my relation to God will still be paramount. I am an Arab second because Arabic is my native tongue and the core of my culture; I think, talk, write, and dream mostly in Arabic. I have a foreign accent (and get tired of people asking me where I came from or to repeat myself, or praising me for speaking ‘good’ English). I don’t know how many innings are in a baseball game, I never played golf, I don’t understand most of Chris Rock’s jokes, and I can’t follow New Yorker-type fast talkers. To me, America inspires love first, allegiance second. My love for America started long before I came here, when I was reading, writing, thinking, and dreaming about America—in Arabic. My religion was never an obstacle; it was, rather, an incentive: dreaming of worshiping God in America the way I wanted, with no restrictions from the oppressive Islamic governments and medieval Shariah scholars. When I speak the words of the Pledge of Allegiance—‘I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God’—I say to myself, ‘God is paramount here, too.”

— American Journalist Mohammad Ali Salih

Via Fr. Richard J. Neuhaus, who remarks: “I’ve commented before on those alarmist reports about polls showing that Muslims in this country think of themselves as Muslims, not Americans, first. But of course. The same should be true of any Christian who has thought about the matter.”

Then again, I think Fr. Neuhaus would concede that Mohammad Ali Salih embraces with his American citizenship a distinctly American understanding of secular and religious authority, itself a far cry from the particular manifestation of Islam the “alarmists” are concerned about.

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Benedict, Sarkozy and "Positive Secularism"

A prevalent topic in Benedict’s apostolic journey to France is (understandably) the role played by religion within the context of France’s longstanding enforcement of secularity, or laïcité.

During a brief press conference on Friday, when asked whether “France is losing its Christian identity because of laicism” — Pope Benedict responded in the negative:

It seems evident to me today that laicism does not contradict the faith. I would even say that it is a fruit of the faith, since the Christian faith was a universal religion from the beginning. Therefore it did not identify itself with a state and it was present in all the states. It was always clear to the Christians that religion and faith were not political, but rather they formed part of another sphere of human life. … Politics, the state, were not a religion but rather a secular reality with a specific mission, and the two of them should be open to each other.

In this sense, I would say today that for the French, and not only the French, but also for us, Christians of today in this secularized world, it is important to joyfully live the freedom of our faith, live the beauty of the faith, and show today’s world that it is beautiful to be a believer, that it is beautiful to know God; God with a human face in Jesus Christ, show that it is possible to be a believer today, and even that society needs there to be people who know God and who, therefore, can live according to the great values that it has given us and contribute to the presence of these values that are fundamental for the building and survival of our states and societies.

Later, during a meeting with French politicians at the Elysée Palace, after reminding his audience of France’s Christian heritage and roots, the Holy Father again urged a rethinking of the relationship between church and state:

Many people, here in France as elsewhere, have reflected on the relations between Church and State. Indeed, Christ had already offered the basic principle for a just solution to the problem of relations between the political sphere and the religious sphere when, in answer to a question, he said: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mk 12:17). The Church in France currently benefits from a “regime of freedom”. Past suspicion has been gradually transformed into a serene and positive dialogue that continues to grow stronger. A new instrument of dialogue has been in place since 2002, and I have much confidence in its work, given the mutual good will. We know that there are still some areas open to dialogue which we will have to pursue and redevelop step by step with determination and patience. You yourself, Mr President, have used the fine expression “laïcité positive” to characterize this more open understanding. At this moment in history when cultures continue to cross paths more frequently, I am firmly convinced that a new reflection on the true meaning and importance of laïcité is now necessary. In fact, it is fundamental, on the one hand, to insist on the distinction between the political realm and that of religion in order to preserve both the religious freedom of citizens and the responsibility of the State towards them; and, on the other hand, to become more aware of the irreplaceable role of religion for the formation of consciences and the contribution which it can bring to – among other things – the creation of a basic ethical consensus in society.

Benedict’s discussion of the issue has found a sympathetic listener in the person of French President Nicolas Sarkozy. The Christian Science Monitor reports:

Unlike any French president in decades, Mr. Sarkozy sees a more open role for religion in French society. And he seized upon the conservative German pope’s four-day trip to directly challenge French secularism, one of the most prized traditions of La République and a strict legal and cultural sanction against bringing matters of church and faith into the public realm.

Secularism, or laïcité, is central to the modern French identity. It’s a result of hundreds of years of efforts to remove the influence of the Roman Catholic church from French institutions and reduce its moral authority. French media don’t discuss religion. At offices or work, most French believers don’t tell colleagues they are going to mass or church. It is seen as a private matter.

Yet here on Friday Sarkozy and his wife, Carla Bruni, broke protocol and met the pope at the airport. They hosted the pontiff at the Élysée Palace, attended a papal talk at a newly restored Cistercian monastery in downtown Paris in front of 700 intellectuals and artists – where Sarkozy openly argued that while secularism is important, it should not be a hostile force that forbids all talk of God, faith, and transcendence. Sarkozy called for a “positive laïcité” that allows religion to help forge an ethical society.

“It would be crazy to deprive ourselves of religion,” remarked Sarkozy, condemning such repression as “a failing against culture and against thought” (Zenit News Service):

Religion, began Sarkozy, “and in particular the Christian religion, with which we share a long history, are living patrimonies of reflection and thought, not only about God, but also about man, society, and that which is a central concern for us today, nature.”

It would be crazy to deprive ourselves of religion; [it would be] a failing against culture and against thought. For this reason, I am calling for a positive secularity,” he said. “A positive secularity offers our consciences the possibility to interchange — above and beyond our beliefs and rites — the sense we want to give to our lives.”

The president explained the areas in which this vision of secularism could take root: “France has begun, together with Europe, a reflection on the morality of capitalism.

“Economic growth doesn’t make sense if it becomes it’s own objective. Only the betterment of the situation of the greatest number of persons and their personal fulfillment constitute legitimate objectives.

“This teaching, that forms part of the heart of the social doctrine of the Church, is in perfect consonance with the challenges of the globalized contemporary economy. Our duty is to listen to it.”

“Positive secularism, open secularism, is an invitation to dialogue, to tolerance and respect,” Sarkozy acknowledged. “It is an opportunity, an encouragement, a supplementary dimension to the political debate. It is an encouragement to religion, as well as to all currents of thought.”

According to the papers, Sarkozy is twice-divorced and a “lapsed Catholic”, in light of which I find it most encouraging to see him taking a stand in this manner against stiff opposition from militant secularists.

Related

Michael Gerson on the New Eugenics and ‘Trig’s Breakthrough’

Trig’s Breakthrough, by Michael Gerson. Washington Post September 10, 2008:

The wrenching diagnosis of 47 chromosomes must seem to parents like the end of a dream instead of the beginning of a life. But children born with Down syndrome — who learn slowly but love deeply — are generally not experienced by their parents as a curse but as a complex blessing. And when allowed to survive, men and women with an extra chromosome experience themselves as people with abilities, limits and rights. Yet when Down syndrome is detected through testing, many parents report that genetic counselors and physicians emphasize the difficulties of raising a child with a disability and urge abortion.

This is properly called eugenic abortion — the ending of “imperfect” lives to remove the social, economic and emotional costs of their existence. And this practice cannot be separated from the broader social treatment of people who have disabilities. By eliminating less perfect humans, deformity and disability become more pronounced and less acceptable. Those who escape the net of screening are often viewed as mistakes or burdens. A tragic choice becomes a presumption — “Didn’t you get an amnio?” — and then a prejudice. And this feeds a social Darwinism in which the stronger are regarded as better, the dependent are viewed as less valuable, and the weak must occasionally be culled.

The protest against these trends has come in interesting forms. Last year pro-choice Sen. Edward Kennedy joined with pro-life Sen. Sam Brownback to propose a bill that would have required medical professionals to tell expectant parents that genetic tests are sometimes inaccurate and to give them up-to-date information on the quality of life that people with Down syndrome can enjoy. The bill did not pass, but it was a principled gesture from Rosemary’s brother.

Yet the pro-choice radicalism held by Kennedy and many others — the absolute elevation of individual autonomy over the rights of the weak — has enabled the new eugenics. It has also created a moral conflict at the heart of the Democratic Party. If traditional Democratic ideology means anything, it is the assertion that America is a single moral community that includes everyone. How can this vision possibly be reconciled with the elimination of children with Down syndrome from American society? Are pro-choice Democrats really comfortable with this choice?

“Must read” article of the day.