In January 2017, two books were published, both authored by two French public intellectuals, whose public image has in common the declaration of their Catholic faith.
Erwan Le Morhedec, known as koztoujours, a lawyer by profession and a pivotal figure of the cathosphère – the name given in French journalistic jargon to the websites and social media attached to the Catholic Church – in his book Identitaire: Le mauvais génie du christianisme fiercely castigates a perception of Catholicism as a constituent element of the French national identity, and its utilization as a certificate of “genuine Frenchness” with the purpose of distinguishing the “real French” from the inhabitants of France who are of immigrant descent.
The central message of the book is that the perception of Catholicism as an ark of the national identity and criterion of categorizing citizens as “genuine” or “second class” constitutes an abandonment of the universalism of the Christian Gospel.
On the contrary Laurent Dandrieu, editor-in-chief for culture at the ultraconservative political weekly Valeurs Actuelles, in his book Église et immigration: Le grand malaise-le pape et le suicide de la civilisation européenne, believes that the open attitude towards refugees and immigrants advocated by Pope Francis is a betrayal of the European Christian civilisation and leads Christendom to suicide because of the aggressiveness of the migratory waves from Islamic countries.
Both writers consider that they remain loyal to the teachings and the tradition of the Catholic Church, which they nonetheless interpret in a manner that leads to totally opposing conclusions.
This paradox could be explained through a quotation of an insightful observation included in a book written by the late Greek philosopher and intellectual Panagiotis Kondylis.
In his book Power and Decision. The making of world views and the question of values, he writes:
“It can generally be said that the relation between the existential actors and the theoretical contents of ideas is symbolic.
“The declaration of faith in an idea does not result in an automatic, logically unproblematic, conditioning of the behavior of the subject by the content of the specific idea.
“Usually, in most cases (when it is not the case of specific moral and practical instructions), from the declaration of faith in an idea or a whole system of ideas it is impossible to derive any rule of behavior whatsoever.
“The subject’s behavior is linked to content of its ideas not directly and logically but indirectly and symbolically”.
In plain English, the fact that two public figures and opinion makers declare that they are faithful Catholics does not in itself guarantee whether they love or hate refugees and immigrants.
It simply reveals their attachment to a socioideological grouping with common references, known to harbor in its bosom irreconcilable differences.
At his popular and influential blog koztoujours, Erwan Le Morhedec had written on the 2nd of August 2016:
“No, the Pope is not the leader of a clan, the leader of a party, he is never a war leader in wartime. The Pope is not the the leader of Christendom on a Crusade, he is the Vicar of Christ, the Prince of Peace”.
Dandrieu on the other hand writes in the introduction of his book that in the magnificent Sala Regia, in which every January the Pontiff addresses the diplomats accredited to the Holy See, two frescoes by Vasari depict the naval Battle of Lepando.
In 1570, Dandrieu writes, Pope Pius V – reacting against the invasion of Cyprus by the Turks – took the initiative to cement an alliance among the Papal States, the republic of Venice, Spain, Genova, the Duchy of Savoy and a few other minor powers in order to counteract the Turkish expansion.
The Pope blessed the banner of the League and throughout the whole of Christendom, crowds prayed the Rosary in order that Virgin Mary would grant them victory against the Turks, as she did.
The courage and dynamism of Pius V then, the author compares unfavorably with the naïveté boarding on treason of Francis during his visit to the Greek island of Lesbos, about four hundred and fifty years later, when together with the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and the Greek Orthodox Archbishop Ieronymos, he prayed and addressed a message of hospitality and openness towards refugees and immigrants which resonated throughout the world.
The title of particular text in Dandrieu’s book is “From Lepando to Lesbos: the Church succumbs to the worship of hospitality”.
This particular perception of religious faith as a mechanism of reassembling against a common enemy reminded me of a text written by professor and political scientist Nikos Marantzidis about the rallies made in Greece concerning the Macedonian Ouestion published on Greek information and opinion website Protagon:
“It is obvious, to me at least, that the conservative base of New Democracy and mainly the basic bulk of its traditional cadres and elected representatives, which belong to what we are used to call the popular Right, does not stomach the liberal co-ordinates; that the president of New Democracy tries to implement [as an important part of conservative Catholics in France, Europe and worldwide does not stomach the liberalising tendencies Pope Francis strives to introduce – ed.].
“Those people do not search for moderate and reforming political leaders; they long for tribal leaders or founding fathers calling them to a military expedition. Those people strive for premodern emotions in politics as an organism dependent on substances”.
There is an element of truth in the conclusions of Professor Marantzidis, although at least according to Carl Schmitt, the distinction between friends and enemies is a permanent feature of politics and not a remnant of premodern times.
If anyone brings forward the distinction of religion from politics, I will have to point out that the individual seeking God within the four walls of his home may not bother or even interest anyone.
But when religion is constituted as a community of the faithful in the public sphere – and at least Christianity, without a community (that is the Church) and public witness is not a faith, but a hobby seeking to be recognized on the public space and even mould social life – political results are produced and religion becomes a sign of contradiction.
The liberal-libertarian elites in France as well as in my own country, Greece, condescend to the insistence of a portion of the plebeians to remain attached to ancestral mores and practices, as atavistic or at least outmoded, but their stance intellectualises social experience and is somewhat arrogant.
Let’s see another fear of religious and social conservatives as portrayed vividly in the following extract from Dandrieu’s book:
“Another aspect, unfortunately spectacular, of the clash of civilisations, is the case of mass sexual aggressions that took place in Cologne during the 31 of December 2015, perpetrated by immigrants, and untied the tongues concerning other similar incidents in other places in Europe, that remained opaque because of the fear of political correctness (as well as a series of sexual aggressions during a music festival in Sweden, in the summer of 2015, perpetrated by a group of Afghan asylum seekers).
“The above-mentioned pointed out the violence resulting from the sudden and abrupt entry in a society of sexual emancipation of hundreds of thousands of immigrants coming from cultures that profess a certain puritanism going along with hypocrisy, combining the relentless oppression of sexual desire along with the relegation of the emancipated woman to the level of sexual prey”.
This text is undoubtedly alarmist but the sole invocation of love by liberal Christians and the mantra of the liberal-libertarian elites “we are all human beings and nothing divides us” – as well the characterisation of those having more conservative views as hypocritically faithful or as retrograde and atavistic people closer to the ape than to modern civilized human beings -does not solve always all the practical issues arising from human diversity.
Even when the refugees and immigrants are Christian and not Muslim, issues continue to exist, as the following statement included in a journalistic survey by Pierre Jova (Les Chrétiens face aux Migrants: Accuellir ou rejeter?) about the attitudes of French Christians towards newcomers reveals.
A seventy-year-old white parishioner of a Roman Catholic Church in the 18th arrondissement of Paris, now served by colored priests and having a majority of African faithful, said to the journalist:
“I have nothing against Africans but they are so much more expressive than we are! I did not feel at ease anymore, therefore I went to another parish”.
Is it possible that the real and imaginary obstacles that exist between residents and newcomers will be surmounted?
A confession by a friend of Pierre Jova which is included in the final pages of his book seems to strike the root of the problem.
I quote the original French in order to maintain its resonance: Les migrants me font peur, comme tous les pauvres (“I fear the migrants, as I fear all the poor”).
Can Christian charity or even secular humanism solve that problem? Only time will show.