Catholic America as Secular Model

Secularism is often considered the result of atheism, but history disproves that myth. American Secularism is a form of public … Continued

Secularism is often considered the result of atheism, but history disproves that myth. American Secularism is a form of public neutrality about belief or unbelief. It is more about agnosticism and religious tolerance than about atheism and anti-clericalism. Pope Benedict XVI and Vatican officials are now promoting “Catholic Secularism,” and that might have profound effects on Catholic America and the separation of Church and State.

If proof from the dictionary definition were not enough to prove that atheism and secularism are different, the example of Cuba should suffice. In 1992, that country changed its constitution, replacing the declaration that “Cuba is an atheistic state,” to “Cuba is a secular state.” The result was an immediate resurgence of religion on the island and the successful papal visit five years later to “open Cuba to the world and the world to Cuba.”

In the United States, Catholics and Jews in places like 19th Century New York and Boston fought hard for secularism in the public schools. The idea was to prevent Protestantism from imposing its forms of Christian prayer and bible reading on everyone. Thus did “American exceptionalism” produce a Catholic Secularism that differs from the European “laicité,” with its virulent anti-clericalism and stale rants about medievalisms.

Recently, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, a respected conservative prelate close to the Vatican, embraced the United States’ model of secularism, linking it to Pope Benedict XVI’s praise of “positive secularism.” For the Cardinal, secularism is a necessary platform for the public forum. Catholics should not fear to be secular, said the prelate, because in its essence secularism requires only that Catholics use reason and logic to promote public policy. You don’t have to be an atheist to be rational.

“The decision of whether a way of arguing is rational, or perhaps more precisely plausible and convincing, is in a democratic system entrusted, in the last analysis, solely to the assessment made of it by the citizens as a whole in the appropriate forums, above all the electoral forums.”

I interpret this statement as encouragement for Catholics to vote as faithful citizens, basing their voting in a democratic society on rational arguments, not theistic ones. If I am correct in saying this is what atheists do, they now have strange bedfellows.

This promotion of American-style Catholic Secularism may be only a trial balloon; then again, it may be part of the current pope’s acceptance of President Obama and the Democratic Party’s agenda for Catholicism. This is important because Catholic Secularism would have much more electoral clout in the United States than atheism. While atheists abound in the blogosphere or the talk-show-buy-my-new-book circuit, few politicians curry the “atheist vote:” it is too small and insignificant numbers-wise. In the 2008 ARIS report, atheists account for less than 1% of people — 0.7% in the country, and are outnumbered 25 to 1 by Catholics. Catholic voters are another story, because we are widely considered the key swing vote in most elections.

While atheists should be delighted at their new rationalist allies among Catholics, the right-wing in Catholic America should be scared. The Cardinal, like this pope, have fully embraced the “liberal state” in ways that differ from the articulated positions of John Paul II, whose Polish experience probably colored his perspectives on this topic. The healthy secularism promoted by Pope Benedict and the reliance on rational thought in the public sphere run counter to the theocratic impulses of Protestant Evangelicals who use bible quotes to justify political decisions. It will be interesting to see if Catholics (e.g. Rick Santorum) who have hitched their wagons to Evangelical rejection of “secular humanism” side with the Vatican’s embrace of liberalism and secularism.

Liberals, however, should not consider Catholic Secularism as a slide away from the demands of faith or the rigors of belief. While admitting that “….religion is not only, and not even primarily, a source of ethical impulses,” Cardinal Ruini places the role of faith within one’s conscience. He says: “… the task is to find reasons to live… the mission most proper to Christianity … tells us first of all not ‘how’ to live, but ‘why’ to live, why to choose life, why to rejoice in it and why to transmit it.” Amen!

  • alanshapiro

    It is more than rationalism that we need. Our moral/ethical being is a product of our lives. It includes our parents, the religion that we grow up in, our schools and the teachers that we admired, the groups we become involved with, etc. None of this can we leave behind and not have be a basis of our reasoning; Our reason most give us secular reasons for what we think is right.

  • GordonHide1

    When the author of this piece refers to “secularism” I assume they mean “state secularism”. I agree that this is in no way equivalent to atheism and was, in the US, established in order to be even handed between all the denominations already present in the US. There was probably also the motive of avoiding religious conflict.However I find it very hard to justify any claim of “Catholic secularism” as it seems to me that the Catholic hierarchy is forever trying to get its moral tenets passed into law even where it is a minority religion. How can people professing a support for state secularism want to constrain those who don’t support their religious tenets by having them passed into law?

  • ccnl1

    The real swing vote: Obama rode to the Blood-Red House on the backs of 35+million aborted womb-babies!!!(The fastest growing USA voting bloc: The 70+ million “Roe vs. Wade mothers and fathers” of aborted womb-babies” whose ranks grow by two million per year.)i.e. the Immoral Majority now rules the land and will do so in the foreseeable future. How very sad and disturbing!!!

  • Carstonio

    Gordon,Whether Catholicism is a minority religion or a majority one is irrelevant. You have a point about religions trying to write their doctrines into law. But that’s not precisely the issue here. The issue is whether those religions will translate those doctrines into nonsectarian principles. That’s a necessity in American political discourse, and to his credit Cardinal Ruini seems to recognize this. I see nothing wrong in principle with a religion advocating public policy, as long as it does so using reason and logic as Ruini said. One wouldn’t have to be a member of that religion to appreciate the arguments. But I do object to a religion using only its doctrines as a basis for advocating public policy. That was the problem with Mike Huckabee’s “God’s standards” concept.

  • tojby_2000

    From the Article: “While atheists abound in the blogosphere or the talk-show-buy-my-new-book circuit, few politicians curry the “atheist vote:” it is too small and insignificant numbers-wise. In the 2008 ARIS report, atheists account for less than 1% of people — 0.7% in the country” ___________________________________________________ There is no greater self-inflicted mark of Cain for an American then a declaration of atheism. We have a selection of dodges and euphemisms to deflect the looks of disgust reflexively administered by believers. Terms like Secularist, Skeptic, Free-thinker and even Agnostic help us pass. If you’d like a better estimate of the number of folks who eschew superstition, read on…

  • GordonHide1

    Carstonio,Thank you for your thoughtful reply. While you mirror my thoughts exactly on how religious groups should go about participating in the political process, if their political agenda does not recognize the philosophical and moral pluralism of the society in which they exist, they will be undermining state secularism.What the Catholic church is often trying to do in getting its moral tenets reflected in law may be legitimate but could hardly be described as in support of state secularism.Where Catholics are in the minority they are always in support of government neutrality on religion. I will believe they have some pretensions towards state secularism when I see them calling for disestablishment in a Catholic majority country.

  • norriehoyt

    “While atheists abound in the blogosphere or the talk-show-buy-my-new-book circuit, few politicians curry the “atheist vote:” it is too small and insignificant numbers-wise. In the 2008 ARIS report, atheists account for less than 1% of people — 0.7% in the country, and are outnumbered 25 to 1 by Catholics.”Yes, but the same ARIS report states that 34.2 million people (15% of the U.S. population) say that they have “no religion”. Presumably most of them don’t “believe in God” either by way of atheism or agnosticism.That national percentage of nonbelievers has almost doubled since 1990.The 2008 ARIS report found that my state of Vermont, with New Hampshire, had only 54% of its population that believed in God (the lowest in the country).Nationally, 29% did not believe in God according to the report.So the “atheist vote” is unlikely to be as low as Professor Stevens-Arroyo suggests.Perhaps the low level of God-belief in Vermont is why the state is so civil and progressive.

  • coloradodog

    norriehoyt lumps all “nonbelievers” in with atheists. I’m no atheist but I’m a nonbeliever in the Catholic Church bullying its way into American politics and moralizing to the rest of us about abortion and gays while several hundred pedophile priest walk the street in the US and Mexico.”Nonbelievers” in what? The tooth fairy? Cardinals in $10,000 red dresses? Tell us Norrie what don’t the “nonbelievers” believe in. Tagging all “nonbelievers” as atheists is like tagging all priests as perverts who use their position to f**k sweet innocent little boys.

  • ccnl1

    Hmmm, it appears some don’t like to be lumped into the “Immoral Majority”??How about “Intercourse No Matter the Consequences” Majority???

  • paarsurrey

    Paarsurrey says:I am an Ahmadi peaceful Muslim

  • ccnl1

    Paarsurrey, Paarsurrey, Paarsurrey,You still are a Muslim after twice taking the Free Five Step Method for Deflawing and Deprogramming Islam ??Once again for your benefit:Are you ready? Using “The 77 Branches of Islamic “faith” a collection compiled by Imam Bayhaqi as a starting point. In it, he explains the essential virtues that reflect true “faith” (iman) through related Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings.” i.e. a nice summary of the Koran and Islamic beliefs. “1. Belief in Allah”aka as God, Yahweh, Zeus, Jehovah, Mother Nature, etc.” should be added to your cleansing neurons.”2. To believe that everything other than Allah was non-existent. Thereafter, Allah Most High created these things and subsequently they came into existence.”Evolution and the Big Bang or the “Gib Gnab” (when the universe starts to recycle) are more plausible and the “akas” for Allah should be included if you continue to be a “creationist”.”3. To believe in the existence of angels.””4. To believe that all the heavenly books that were sent to the different prophets are true. However, apart from the Quran, all other books are not valid anymore.”Prophets were invented by ancient scribes typically to keep the uneducated masses in line. Today we call them fortune tellers.”5. To believe that all the prophets are true. However, we are commanded to follow the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) alone.”Mohammed spent thirty days fasting (“Ramadaning”) in a hot cave before his first contact with Allah aka God etc. via a “pretty wingy thingy”. Common sense demands a neuron deletion of #5. #5 is also the major source of Islamic violence i.e. turning Mohammed’s “fast, hunger-driven” hallucinations into horrible reality for unbelievers. Accept these five “cleansers” and we guarantee a complete recovery from your Islamic ways!!!!

  • paarsurrey

    Hi friend CCNL1I am an Ahmadi peaceful Muslim

  • ccnl1

    Paarsurrey, Paarsurrey, Paarsurrey,(if that is your real ID)As you know we have gone through this exercise before. Unfortunately you suffer from a severe case of the Three B Syndrome i.e. being Bred, Born and Brainwashed in Islam. Review the previous notes and get back to us when you feel you are cured.

  • darling_ailie

    ‘Thus did “American exceptionalism” produce a Catholic Secularism that differs from the European “laicité,” with its virulent anti-clericalism and stale rants about medievalisms.’What are you talking about? I have six kids who are at present in the French public school system, grade school, high school, university, and graduate levels, and there are no “stale rants” in their education. Unlike the US, however, the system here does educate the children, so along with the kings, wars, and the rest, they learn about the historical excesses of the Church, also a powerful force in French history. That is the way it is in a fully secular country. The Church doesn’t get to make the rules or re-write history. Medieval history isn’t pretty. May as well get used to it, boyo.In Ireland, Scotland, the US, Canada and other lands the Church has shown she can NOT be trusted. Naturally, I pity the victims, but also victims are the good priests and nuns who want only to do good and serve, and who were, and are, powerless to stop the evil and corruption they see around them. I am happy living in a secular Catholic country. One might say it is the best of both worlds.

  • coloradodog

    Meanwhile, the ranting red-faced-alcoholic Irish Catholic stereotype Bill Donahue of the O’Reilly Catholic League rails against the appointment of Kevin James as Obama’s Safe Schools Czar. Seems James wrote something Donahue didn’t like and, in return, received a typical O’Reilly Catholic outburst of intolerance. If Donahue were really concerned about homosexuality he would rant and rave to put several hundred pedophile priests now free in the streets of the US and Mexico in prison.At the risk of becoming a CCNL1 cutter and paster, Catholics who moralize to the rest of us while they deny, hide, aid, abet and otherwise try to snivel out of their responsibility over this elephant in the basilica (usually by saying, in a shrill adolescent voice, “Other people do it, too”) are no more “the Brothers of Christ” than Jeffery Dahmer or John Wayne Gacy. May the karma of those who protect pedophile priests while moralizing to the rest of us be that they are brutally raped by their clergy in their next life. 14 would be a good age – it was young enough to terrorize me pretty well. The only difference for me was the priest was not part of my clergy – I was visiting CYO with my Catholic friend because young Catholics and Protestants had to stick together in oppressive, intolerant Mormon Utah.

  • coloradodog

    No, ccnl1, you twisted my words to say something I didn’t. I didn’t say “they” meaning all Catholics. I said “Catholics who” (which includes many bishops and cardinals). You added the “they” to imply I was stereotyping all Catholics. Of course there are some Catholics, like your sister, who denounce this practice just as there are a few, but not many, Muslims who denounce their murderous terrorists. Anyway, thanks for the link. I’ll take a look at it.

  • coloradodog

    OK, ccnl1, I checked out the Church’s article posted in Wikipedia and two things strike me as making a case in point from my original post:”In defense of this practice, some have pointed out that public school administrators engaged in a similar manner when dealing with accused teachers[27], as did the Boy Scouts of America.””Some sources have asserted that most of the victims were between the ages of 16 and 17, making the sexual abuse instances of hebephilia rather than pedophilia. These sources argue that, by failing to make this distinction, the media has fostered a misconception of the problem.”Ask you sister about Father Nicolás Aguilar Rivera, a pedophile priest Cardinal Norberto Rivera passed to Cardinal Mahoney because families in Mexico threatened to kill him for molesting their boys and who Mahoney subsequently passed back to Rivera as a fugitive to US justice for the exact same thing. Ask her why he is still serving as a Padre in the Mexican State of Puebla.