Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Healthy Secularism

4/30/2008--Pope Benedict was quoted today in the Catholic News Agency reflecting on his trip to the United States. This was the Pope’s overall comment—I’m not actually sure what is an exact quote and what is a paraphrase: The United States “in its multicultural plurality and founded on the basis of a ‘happy marriage’ of religious principles, ethical and political rights, is an example of a healthy secularism.”

This is rather astounding statement from the Pope. The Pope is not speaking of religious believers. He is addressing a culture he recognizes as pluralistic. And the Pope is characterizing this culture as secular at base, rather than oriented to a religion, or even religion in general.

But, he implies, to be healthy, such a secularism must be oriented to religion in a sense. The culture must have an understanding of the holy, or the infinite, or the beyond, or simply the ontological reality of human rights—that rights are not the gift of the powerful but have substance in and of themselves.

Of course this is what I mean by Hallowed Secularism. This is the only kind of secularism that is healthy, and thus sustainable.

Contrast the Pope’s vision with that of Issac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore, in their book, The Godless Constitution (2d ed. 2005). They describe “secular politics” as involving “individual interest and happiness”. There is no basis in such an individualized secularism for genuine community or human solidarity. Everyone in such a world is a use value for everyone else, serving my individual interest and happiness.

Give me the Pope’s vision of secularism any time.

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