Tilting at minarets

21 12 2009

When I encounter the few times that people speak of me elsewhere on the Internet, I am always a little amused by what they think I am really like. So I will just clarify once and for all that in spite of all appearances, I am actually a “Lefebvrist”, at least in my theology. If I don’t hang out with those people, it is because my “lifestyle” wouldn’t gel with that crowd. In other words, I don’t expect my wife to be barefoot and pregnant and getting me my beer, I watch T.V. and like it, I listen to Hindu bhajans and not Gregorian chants when I write for my blog (as I am now)… in other words, I am a pretty modern and eccentric person. But when it comes down to theology, or rather, what I feel I have to believe in order to get to Heaven, I don’t take anything that was written after 1960 seriously, unless it sounds exactly the same as something that was written before that time. If it isn’t at least as old as my parents, I really don’t see why I need to listen to it, unless it has been laid down as the definitive, unchanging answer of the Church coming from a legitimate authority. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which came out when I was fourteen and is chock full of ambiguities, and of which I got a first edition back in the day, does not meet that criterion with me.

Via the Gregorian Rite Catholic’s blog, I found this article by John Allen Jr. regarding the recent constitutional ban in Switzerland against the construction of minarets. Of course, the conference of Swiss bishops and the Vatican came out against this ban, for the obvious reason that we have to defend the new party line of Dignitatis Humanae, which is really the same as the old party line of Quas Primas, but different… you see what I mean. Because we don’t want to seem unpopular or anything. If we give advantages to our own religion, even if it is the “true” one, people will think that we aren’t being fair, or worse, they may think that we are not “with the times”.

And what does the government know about religion anyway? The individual is ontologically superior to the State, and the individual good superior to the common good. People should be allowed to follow their conscience. Except when it comes to women deciding whether or not they should keep the babies in their wombs, or whether one sexual relationship entitles more rights than another, or any other judgments of morality that should be obvious to all people of faith and good will (except when they aren’t).

Thus, I have always found the Vatican’s line of “soft confessionalism” in Europe a bit precious and not a little patronizing. On the one hand, it wants Catholicism to appear to be a kinder, gentler version of itself as opposed to l’Action Française or all of those horrible people before Vatican II who the flower children of the 1960’s rejected. On the other hand, it wants a State that looks nominally Catholic, where the clergy are still influential over daily life, where the Faith is a decaffeinated, “lite” revision of the old brand. This is basically the premise of such “lay movements” as the Opus Dei, Communion and Liberation, the Focolare, the charismatic revival, and so on.

In my experience in Argentina, my friends told me that this was often the approach of the Opus Dei. They would invite kids from good middle class families and have them play in friendly soccer games in swanky, state of the art facilities. Then they would add on a brief prayer at the second match, a decade of the rosary at the third match, a meditation on the life of Msgr. Escriva at the fourth… in other words, drawing people in slowly but surely. This was the same tactic used in their founding of universities and other institutions. Call the university, “la Universidad Austral”, don’t make it look like a Catholic institution, but gradually give (affluent) people the “blind taste test”… Hey, then you find out you’re a Neo-Catholic and didn’t even know it. Just like finding out you’re a Unitarian!

It is sort of surprising to me that “conservative” prelates are left scratching their heads at why such tactics don’t work. Or that they are still flabbergasted that the average person, given the options of either going to Mass or sleeping in on Sunday and watching the local soccer club play on T.V., will chose the latter almost every time. Or that they are not rewarded for “playing fair” in terms of having a non-confessional state in Europe by “other faiths” that continue to have confessional states elsewhere (Turkey, for example). But we are the good guys, and Jesus taught that people should be allowed to follow any religion that they like. It’s in the Bible. Somewhere towards the back.

Of course, I am not saying that the old regimen of teaching what is called “the Social Reign of Christ the King” is a winning strategy. But it isn’t about a “winning strategy” is it? It is about right and wrong. Minarets are buildings of a false religion; banning them is a good thing objectively speaking. The post-Vatican-II Roman bureaucrats don’t see that because of their tortured ideologies that rob Peter to pay Paul. The under-catechized, secularized Swiss people do. It all isn’t going anywhere, but even the blind sometimes take a step in the right direction. Yes, the “old”, much more definitive looking doctrines of Catholic yesteryear look downright quixotic when we gauge our post-Christian situation. The Catholic confessional state is not making a comeback anytime soon. But such tilting at windmills makes my Latin heart sing. So I will applaud where applause is due.


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13 responses

24 01 2010
A Sinner

I have to second the sentiment that the banning of minarets came from Secularism and xenophobia, not any sort of pro-Christian agenda.

Until we have a truly Christian Society internally again, pushing for or celebrating externals like this is rather useless.

I think Arturo has said some brilliant things in this post, but I’m not one to celebrate empty gestures that selectively seek to limit the freedoms of other communities.

The existence or not of minarets…doesn’t affect my relationship with God in the least. And I don’t think we’re going to win any Muslims over to the Faith by trying to tell them what they can and can’t do if it isn’t hurting anyone. Probably just will build more resentment and persecution-complex.

“Objectively good”…sure, in some idealistic way. But that doesnt mean much in the world of subjective reality.

27 12 2009
AG

Ed, the Swiss did not ban mosques, they banned minarets. (The Christian analog is a ban on church spires or bell towers, not a ban on churches. Heh heh, I think that would be pretty obvious.) The Swiss group that led the movement for the ban did so on the claim that minarets are not in any way part of Islamic religious practice – according to its tenets – but are symbols of Islamic authority, as the commenter above wrote. Hence, it’s a bit of a stretch to say the Swiss in this move are limiting the practice of Islam and therefore could/would move to limit the practice of Christianity. As already stated, if the former was their goal, they could have banned the construction of new mosques.

I think the irony that Arturo alludes to is that Christian states used to practice something similar all the time – no building could be higher than the town’s church’s bell tower, places of worship of other religions could be built (in the 20th century), but they could not be higher/bigger than the Christian place of worship. Thus, the Church asserted her authority in the public square, and her members recognized the importance of these visible symbols of authority. It was important to influence public debate in this manner – souls were at stake. Now it seems Church leaders have forgotten this in favor of “individual dignity” and the presumption of the mercy of God on those who are not members of the Church.

The Swiss ban on minarets may have been more motivated by xenophobia than anything, but hey, banning visible signs of Islamic authority is still fine in my book.

27 12 2009
Ed

I think you don’t quite grasp the reasoning behind Curial objections to the minaret ban (as well as Curial cautions about the Mohammad cartoons, which you could have easily brought into it.) It’s about tit-for-tat, role reversal, and the possibility of the shoe being on the other foot.

If a democracy can ban minarets, it can ban churches. If it can limit the practice of Islam it can limit the practice of Christianity. Seems pretty obvious to me.

23 12 2009
Lue-Yee Tsang

I don’t know, Arturo. To me the minaret prohibition seems more to be one of those yokes you put upon people just to inconvenience them and annoy them a little than a thing to restrain idolatry.

I’m not really about the fair play of the religions, but I think a constitutional ban on minarets is next to pointless, even if minarets connote the establishment of a Muslim (or even Islamic) society by standing as public towers calling all the people to salat.

23 12 2009
The Scylding

Not to forget that even the Icelandic transition from pagan to Christian, while relatively peaceful, had the then-pagan leader Thorgeir proclaiming :

“Our first principle of law is that all Icelanders shall henceforth be Christian. We shall believe in one God — Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. We shall renounce the worship of idols. We shall no longer expose unwanted children. We shall no longer eat horsemeat. Anyone who does these things openly shall be punished with outlawry, but no punishment will follow if they are done in private.”

from Njal’s Saga. This followed by the comment –

The heathens felt that Thorgeir, one of their own priests, had betrayed them, but they had pledged to follow his proclamation, and thus Christianity became the religion of all Iceland.

Read more here:

http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/njal100.html

22 12 2009
Vince

“Gregorian Chant is pretty good and scientific studies indicate it has health benefits.” Wow! were did you get that watching the view. This seems like a good reason to bring back Gregorian Chant. Forget about all that religious stuff, I mean, it has health benefits and that is what good religion is all about!
Vince

22 12 2009
Adrian

That’s provocative, should we rebuild the pyres of the Plaza Mayor? Are you trying to “epater la bourgeoisie” and scandalize your American middle class readers, or are you a bit evil?

22 12 2009
Arturo Vasquez

I guess we should condemn St. Boniface cutting down Thor’s tree in Germany or the Spanish friars razing the altars of human sacrifice in Mexico because it violated the people’s “human dignity”. That’s some nice Monday morning theological quarterbacking.

Read what the CCC has to say about the death penalty, and then read what Catholic societies did for about two millenium, and then get back to me about ambiguity.

Lots has been written about the rights of man in the last fifty years, little about the rights of God. It’s as if the magisterium prior to 1960 spoke another language. And what does the Church have to show for it?

22 12 2009
Michel

Gregorian Chant is pretty good and scientific studies indicate it has health benefits. It helps me relax. Although obviously it is spiritual and the prefferred music of the Church with place of primacy.

What about the Catechism (current) do you think is ambigous? I think it is pretty good and clear and very helpful. I teach younger ones out of the St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism but see no objection to the Catechism.

Even if it is not for the reasons of human dignity–there are practical reasons to allow others to practice their religion. If there is a population of another faith than they certainly have individual and legal rights and in a system like the Austro-Hungarian Empire they would have group rights (the Catholic Empire). Do you want the Muslims in the lands where the new churches are to ban them? shut them down? Is there a reason architecturally why there should not be minarets (they are not banning mosques)
The idea of human dignity is not bad either and freedom of conscience—maybe go earlier than some encyclicals to the Early Church Fathers and positive interaction with other theological traditions. Your position could be extrapolated to violence or even killing people (and certainly has been in history) Perhaps since the Taliban thought they were right and error has no rights that blowing up the Buddha statues was a great thing (and a blow against idolatry and false religion)

Your post is ridiculous and you would be the a very strange Lefbeverist even with your definitions.

22 12 2009
Leah

This is probably an unpopular thing to say, but I think that the Europeans only have themselves to blame for this “Eurabia” situation. If they’re too lazy to make babies and too bored to defend whatever passes as culture these days, who’s fault is that? Plus, you can’t go around making posters like this (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:French_Colonial_Nations.jpg) about the “Mother Country” and then act shocked when some of the former “children” start showing up.

22 12 2009
Vince

The truth doesn’t require a whole lot. I learned it from largely uneducated Catholics like myself. What gets complicated is when you start dancing around the truth. Then the verbiage starts to flow.

21 12 2009
Manuel

I am no “Lefebvrist” (and hardly a theologian). I admit I am a product of Vatican II Catholicism but you’re right about the ambiguity in so much documents. I cannot read John Paul’s encyclicals straight through. Yet John XXIII’s and before I find are clear and for the most part concise. Benedict XVI’s latest is a good example of a modern encyclical. I am still not quite sure what to make of it.

21 12 2009
Lucian

I don’t expect my wife to be barefoot and pregnant and getting me my beer

Contraceptist!! 8)

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