Will Europe destroy itself?

Wlodzimierz Redzioch with Cardinal Paul Poupard, the Vatican 'minister of culture'.

This year Cardinal Paul Poupard, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, celebrates the 50th anniversary of his priestly ordination. Cardinal Poupard is one of the closest co-workers of John Paul II and one of the best-known figures of the Roman Curia. He was born in 1930 in Bouzill, France. In 1954 he received the Holy Orders. First he worked in a parish and was also a chaplain of students. Then he continued studies and received two doctorates: in theology and history. In 1959, John XXIII called him to work in the Secretariat of State. In 1971, Paul VI nominated him rector of the Catholic Institute in Paris. He performed this function till 1981 when John Paul II nominated him Pro-President of Non-Believers, Roman Curia. In 1982, after the reorganisation of the Roman Curia, he became the first president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, i.e. the papal 'minister and ambassador of culture'. Cardinal Poupard is well known for his books on theological, historical and philosophical issues. The fruit of his researches is the monumental Dictionary of Religions ('Dictionnaire des Religions'). His books have also been translated into Polish.

Wlodzimierz Redzioch: - Nietzsche, Marks and Freud predicted that the 20th century would be an age of 'the death of God'. Andre Malraux claimed that 'the twenty-first century will be spiritual or it will not be at all'. Chesterton thought that man who stopped believing in God would believe in everything. Which of them was right?

CARDINAL PAUL POUPARD: - Recently I presided over the 5th meeting entitled 'Poetry of faith in the age of the death of God', for which I invited, as usual, writers, poets, literary critics, believers and non-believers. This year the theme of the meetings was the Spanish literature whereas last year we discussed Eastern Europe: Norwid, Dostoyevsky, Soloviov. These discussions are the best testimony that the era, which was to be 'an age of the death of God', in fact, was the richest period in theological and christological works in the West.
Paul Riceur called Nietzsche, Marks and Freud 'maitres de soup on' - the masters of suspicion. Today we look at 'the masters of suspicion' with scepticism. This is an unexpected result of May of 1968 in France, which meant the end of the domination of Marxism in the Western culture.
As far as Malraux is concerned, I remember his interview when he was asked about these famous words. He said: 'I am too intelligent to proclaim such silly prophecies. I might have said once that I did not preclude that at the beginning of the new age there would be some new religious phenomenon'. It may be that Malraux thought about a new religious awakening, I would say, a new paganism of the type of the New Age.

- A propos paganism. In the West we see the spread of a new polytheism. The French anthropologist Marc Auge, in his book 'Le gnie du paganisme', expresses his sympathy for polytheism, which is to be an expression of opening. The American psychoanalyst James Hillman demands to appreciate 'pagan wisdom'. Michel Houellebecq strongly criticises Islam and other monotheistic religions, which are to be expressions of intolerance. Why do so many Western intellectuals fight against Christianity and even try to negate Christian roots of our civilisation?

- The Pontifical Council, which I preside over, deals with important issues related to the pastoral ministry of culture, and that is why we also analyse such problems. Recently we have been discussing the theme 'Christian faith versus the challenge of religious indifference'. We have analysed the contemporary forms of non-belief and the new religiosity, which does not take into account the truth and history - it is its characteristic. The new religiosity is a religion in which God has no face; it is a religion of 'ego' (myself). We can say that we deal with 'deconfessionalisation' of religious phenomena and 'depersonalisation' of God. Today, in the West there appeared another phenomenon: distrust of many people towards the traditional religious affiliation (which doe not mean that they are non-believers). I call that phenomenon 'faith without affiliation'. At the same time there is an opposite phenomenon: 'affiliation without faith' because some people recognise their Christian roots but they have lost faith. This phenomenon is best illustrated by the famous sentence spoken by the Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce: 'Why cannot we say about ourselves that we are not Christians?' So, as you said, we deal with new forms of paganism, which recognise some undefined cosmic power (holism). This phenomenon has its latest form - ecologism. Respect for nature belongs to the Christian tradition. Let it suffice the example of St Francis. But the contemporary ecologism is rather a new form of paganism, which believes in maternal nature of Gaia as the fundamental reality. Therefore, the protection of nature is the most important command for the 'believers' of ecologism and man is seen as a sponger, who rapes this nature.

- Why has neo-paganism appeared in traditionally Christian countries and not in Hindu, Muslim or Buddhist societies?

- I think that the West is lost. It does not want to let its conscience know what is going on in the world, namely that the former colonies of the Western countries reject Christianity, perceiving it as 'the soul' of colonialism. It is a paradox because the contemporary media culture of the West has little in common with Christianity. On the contrary, the culture is biased against Christianity or even openly hostile. On the one hand, the world does not tolerate the people of the West because all of them are perceived as Christians. On the other hand, we have Christians in the West, who are ashamed of their faith. Whereas in many Asian and African countries there is a process of a second Islamisation and Hindusation of societies. It is absurd that people of the West, who owe everything to Christian civilisation, criticise Christian values, the Catholic Church, the Pope, the Apostolic See, and they uncritically praise other cultures, even those hostile to Christianity.
Lately I have been to the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. I talked to many politicians. I had the impression that Europe wanted to destroy itself. It wants to 'commit suicide'. It slanders itself; it does not want to acknowledge its Christian roots and has lost hope for future (the best proof is the low birth rate). However, Europe would not be what it is now without Christianity. I mean art, literature, painting and law, politics, science and technology. There is rich and 'childless' Europe north of the Mediterranean See, which shows contempt for itself and in the south of Europe there are poor countries with high birth rate and societies proud of their Islamic character.

- For two centuries Western Europe has been dominated by anti-Christian ideologies, especially anti-Catholic ones, which claim that religion cannot make terms with liberal democracy. Because of this any influence of religion on political and social lives is attempted to be eliminated and religion is limited to a purely private sphere. According to this logic the secularisation of societies is something positive and desirable because it is an expression of modernisation (the United States, where religion has always had a strong influence on social and political lives, are regarded as an exception). But in spite of theories of secularism the world is becoming more 'religious' (sociologists speak about the phenomenon of 'desecularisation'). Thus Prof. Peter Berger, Boston University, claims that today the secularised Europe, headed by France, has become an 'exception'. Why has the Old Continent, or rather its Western part, been secularised so deeply?

- The differences between Europe and the United States are very deep although Europeans are not aware of this. Let us take the example of secularity of the state, which is the separation between the state and the Church. For over one thousand years all spheres of life in society, including politics, law and science, were dependent on the Church. Then various fields of life slowly became emancipated. Unfortunately, in Europe this process provoked conflicts, I mean religion was rejected in the name of secularity (this phenomenon is called secularism). Pilgrim Fathers, [the first English colonists, Puritans, who arrived in America in 1620 in the 'Mayflower'] escaped from Europe because of religious persecutions and they founded a country on a religious basis in order to preserve their religious identity. I particularly remember one fact from my first trip to the U.S.A., namely that a chaplain began a meeting of the Congress with a prayer. It is natural that American politicians and public personalities also mention God and religion in their speeches (it would be unthinkable in France).
To sum up, we can state that in Western Europe the separation between the state and the Church occurred with conflicts, which led to a phenomenon I would call 'separation between the Church and the society'.

- In Poland the European Union is seen as a threat to the religious life of the nation, as some way to secularise those countries, which are still deeply Catholic. Are these fears justified?

- Every threat is a challenge. We should be aware of our identity and we should act. I strongly emphasise that changes should be urgently introduced in the process of building the Union. Up till now the domineering model to build the Union has been the English, Nordic, Protestant one. The Mediterranean tradition, which is Catholic, with its humanism, has been systematically rejected. When I was in Berlin in 1984 as the papal minister of culture, I signed the document of the Council of Europe, together with 22 other ministers. This document stated the cultural objectives of Europe and it mentioned European humanism in two fragments in its double form: the secular one and the religious one. Several years later the French Prime Minister Jospin telephoned the members of the convent, who prepared the project of the constitutional treaty, informing them that France would not sign it if there were some references to religion. How can one negate the reality? How can the Prime Minister of the country with 80% Catholic population refuse to sign a document only because it makes references to religion? We should add that except France the authorities of Belgium protested against any reference to religion in the constitution. It is a real scandal! And the scandal is even bigger because other countries tolerated this blackmail. Politicians speak about compromise. But why was it agreed that all countries accepted the position represented by only two countries?! Why did they not make a compromise, which would reflect the position of the majority being for the reference to Christian roots of the continent? For speaking about Europe without Christianity is speaking of the geography of Europe without mentioning the Alps!
Politicians often have the word 'democracy' on their lips. So let us make a democratic thing. Let us ask the EU citizens in a referendum whether they want the reference to Christian roots of Europe in the constitution. During World War II, in exile, Jacques Maritain wrote the book entitled 'Christianity versus democracy', in which he justified - in a convincing and factual way - that democracy was born of Christianity.
One more digression: democracy cannot live without values and at the same time it cannot create its own values. Where can we find the foundation of all values? In Christianity because Christian values reflect the nature of human being.

- Thank you for the conversation.

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl