Skip to content

Church-State Relations in America and Europe (Part 2 of 3)

Robert Kraynak on the Different Paths of Development

HAMILTON, New York, MARCH 28, 2005 (Zenit) - European countries may appear to be more in line with Church teaching on many issues, but their motivation is much different, says a political scientist.

Robert Kraynak, professor at Colgate University and author of "Christian Faith and Modern Democracy: God and Politics in the Fallen World" (Notre Dame) shared with us how the United States and Europe have taken different paths in church-state relations and what roadblocks the respective nations have faced.

Part 1 of this three-part interview appeared Friday.

Q: Why have church-state relations developed differently in the United States and in Europe since the 17th century?

Kraynak: The paths of America and Europe leading to the present condition have overlapped and diverged in crucial respects. Both were shaped by the major currents of modernity that produced powerful liberal democracies with dynamic industrial economies; they also have a common alliance in NATO and shared commitments to world organizations such as the United Nations.

But the paths taken in Europe have been more violent and exhausting than in America -- leaving an older and more tired European civilization that is skeptical of grand causes and claims of ultimate truth.

For example, the Europeans experienced terrible wars of religion in the 1600s, which means that religious diversity can remind them of sectarian warfare rather than the robust pluralism of America, where the sects persecuted but never killed each other.

Religious establishment in Europe was a way of imposing civil peace, settling the issue by convention instead of claiming ultimate truth -- as in England, where Anglicanism emerged as a political compromise rather than a theological truth.

The Europeans also battled the Muslims, so the Spanish, French and Austrians are naturally suspicious of a religious pluralism that gives Islam an equal claim that could be converted into domination in a few generations.

Politically, the European democracies emerged from centralized monarchies, often by violent revolution, or from the defeat of totalitarian regimes. They also had colonial empires and fought bloody world wars on their soil with millions of casualties -- leaving them tired and quasi-pacifist, and suspicious of the strong claims of good and evil that Americans are fond of asserting.

The centralized welfare states of Europe are expressions of the desire for guaranteed social security, to which religion is irrelevant and even a danger. Culturally, the Europeans experienced radical forms of the Enlightenment from France and Germany, as well as morbid forms of post-Enlightenment existentialism and nihilism.

By comparison, the Anglo-American Enlightenment was always modestly progressive, maintaining a belief that truth will emerge from the free competition of ideas.

The overall result is that Europeans are tired and want to play it safe, so they are comfortable with lingering religious establishment and spiritual indifference. They have a deep fear of Islam exploiting religious pluralism because some Muslims have the passion for religious absolutism in a dangerous form.

It is possible that Cardinal Ratzinger underestimates the Islamic threat that Europeans sense but are paralyzed to confront head on -- as was evident from the howls of protest against Italian President Silvio Berlusconi's remark that Western Christian civilization is superior to Islamic civilization. The European reaction seemed to be, "Don't tap the hornets nest!"

Q: In spite of recent hostility to Christian viewpoints in Europe, many European nations have policies on controversial moral questions -- such as abortion -- that are closer to the Church's teaching, than does the United States. What accounts for this phenomenon?

Kraynak: In certain respects, European policies seem closer to the social teaching of the Catholic Church; but overall, I do not think that this is true.

On issues such as the death penalty, social justice, environmentalism, and support for the United Nations and the Palestinians, Europeans sometimes sound more in tune with the Vatican than Americans. But the motivations of the Europeans and even some of their policies are radically different from the Church's teaching.

Germany, for example, has articles in its Federal Constitution that call for protecting "the natural bases of life by legislation" as well as protecting marriage and the family and allowing religious instruction in state schools -- see Articles 6, 7, 20. But in reality abortion, divorce, birth control, gay marriage, stem cell research and artificial fertilization are readily available.

The most vital Catholic countries -- Ireland, Poland, Spain and Italy -- are in the process of changing their laws to reflect the permissive freedoms of secular society, despite opposition from the Vatican -- though Ireland remains staunchly anti-abortion, while permitting divorce.

On the other hand, marriage and family life actually may be more stable in Europe than in America because European societies are more stable than America -- there is less social mobility, less rootless individualism and less crime to weaken the bonds of family life.

In general, European nations are more communal or corporatist than America, and that means more limits on competitive individualism and greater social cohesion. Hence, environmental restrictions and workers' protections are more in line with Catholic teaching, as well as the virtual elimination of the death penalty and opposition to wars, like the war in Iraq, without strong U.N. approval.

But these European laws and policies are not motivated by Catholic natural law, or Christian charity, or anything particularly noble. They are motivated by the secular materialism of the social welfare state that seeks safety and security in "this world" at all costs.

In the worst cases, Europeans have lost sight of the highest human aspirations and the courage to seek them -- leading them to seek a risk-free world where it is too strenuous to work hard, to marry, to have children, to go to church, to pursue high culture and even to fight for their survival.

If this goal is fully realized, Europe will go the way of the Roman Empire, with Muslim immigrants playing the role of conquering barbarians.

Q: In the late 19th century, Pope Leo XIII condemned the heresy of what he called "Americanism." Has the Church's perspective on the American experiment changed since Leo's time?

Kraynak: It is not entirely clear if Cardinal Ratzinger's cautious endorsement of the American model reflects a change of attitude about the American experiment since Pope Leo XIII.

That is partly because Leo's condemnation of Americanism was not a rejection of American democracy or religious liberty per se -- which he said could be acceptable under certain circumstances. Leo defined Americanism as the tendency to trim the Catholic faith to fit the fashions of the time -- something that today is called cafeteria Catholicism or progressive Catholicism.

I think Cardinal Ratzinger is fully aware that Americanism in Leo's sense is still present in America and in every other modern democracy.

One can even trace the devastating sex-abuse scandals in America to this tendency. They were caused by seminaries that let in the sexual revolution of the 1960s under the belief that the Church's teaching on sexual ethics was outdated and by bishops who lost confidence in their authority to discipline and punish abusive priests.

I do not think that Cardinal Ratzinger and Pope John Paul II have any illusions that Americanism in this sense has disappeared. Nor are they uncritical of many features of American society -- such as consumerism, inequalities of wealth, Roe v. Wade and American unilateralism.

So, Pope Leo XIII was not rejecting the American model of democracy in all cases, and Cardinal Ratzinger and John Paul II are not endorsing it wholeheartedly, either.

What may be new is an acceptance of the American principles of disestablishment, God-given natural rights, and religious pluralism as the best arrangement for Christianity in the future. There is also a sense that the future lies in Africa and Asia, for totally different reasons.

The Church, after all, has always distinguished the Two Cities -- the city of God and the earthly city -- and held that the eternal truths of the spiritual and moral realm are compatible with changing prudential judgments in the temporal and political realm.

In the present circumstances, the newer American model looks comparatively better than the older European one; but the American model also has weaknesses that may lead it down the path of Europe and Canada.

In that case, we will have to devise different strategies for spiritual renewal amidst a variety of hostile forces -- a situation that will look a lot like the early Church and that will require similar kinds of martyrs, saints, and heroes to begin rebuilding the city of God on earth.

[Tuesday: Catholicism and Americanism]

Contact

Catholic Online
http://www.catholic.org CA, US
Catholic Online - Publisher, 661 869-1000

Email

info@yourcatholicvoice.org

Keywords

Church, Religion, America, Europe, Relations, State, Tocqueville

More Catholic PRWire

Showing 1 - 50 of 4,718

A Recession Antidote
Randy Hain

Monaco & The Vatican: Monaco's Grace Kelly Exhibit to Rome--A Review of Monegasque-Holy See Diplomatic History
Dna. Maria St. Catherine Sharpe, t.o.s.m., T.O.SS.T.

The Why of Jesus' Death: A Pauline Perspective
Jerom Paul

A Royal Betrayal: Catholic Monaco Liberalizes Abortion
Dna. Maria St.Catherine De Grace Sharpe, t.o.s.m., T.O.SS.T.

Embrace every moment as sacred time
Mary Regina Morrell

My Dad
JoMarie Grinkiewicz

Letting go is simple wisdom with divine potential
Mary Regina Morrell

Father Lombardi's Address on Catholic Media
Catholic Online

Pope's Words to Pontifical Latin American College
Catholic Online

Prelate: Genetics Needs a Conscience
Catholic Online

State Aid for Catholic Schools: Help or Hindrance?
Catholic Online

Scorsese Planning Movie on Japanese Martyrs
Catholic Online

2 Nuns Kidnapped in Kenya Set Free
Catholic Online

Holy See-Israel Negotiation Moves Forward
Catholic Online

Franchising to Evangelize
Catholic Online

Catholics Decry Anti-Christianity in Israel
Catholic Online

Pope and Gordon Brown Meet About Development Aid
Catholic Online

Pontiff Backs Latin America's Continental Mission
Catholic Online

Cardinal Warns Against Anti-Catholic Education
Catholic Online

Full Circle
Robert Gieb

Three words to a deeper faith
Paul Sposite

Relections for Lent 2009
chris anthony

Wisdom lies beyond the surface of life
Mary Regina Morrell

World Food Program Director on Lent
Catholic Online

Moral Clarity
DAN SHEA

Pope's Lenten Message for 2009
Catholic Online

A Prayer for Monaco: Remembering the Faith Legacy of Prince Rainier III & Princess Grace and Contemplating the Moral Challenges of Prince Albert II
Dna. Maria St. Catherine Sharpe

Keeping a Lid on Permissiveness
Sally Connolly

Glimpse of Me
Sarah Reinhard

The 3 stages of life
Michele Szekely

Sex and the Married Woman
Cheryl Dickow

A Catholic Woman Returns to the Church
Cheryl Dickow

Modernity & Morality
Dan Shea

Just a Minute
Sarah Reinhard

Catholic identity ... triumphant reemergence!
Hugh McNichol

Edging God Out
Paul Sposite

Burying a St. Joseph Statue
Cheryl Dickow

George Bush Speaks on Papal Visit
Catholic Online

Sometimes moving forward means moving the canoe
Mary Regina Morrell

Action Changes Things: Teaching our Kids about Community Service
Lisa Hendey

Easter... A Way of Life
Paul Spoisite

Papal initiative...peace and harmony!
Hugh McNichol

Proclaim the mysteries of the Resurrection!
Hugh McNichol

Jerusalem Patriarch's Easter Message
Catholic Online

Good Friday Sermon of Father Cantalamessa
Catholic Online

Papal Address at the End of the Way of the Cross
Catholic Online

Cardinal Zen's Meditations for Via Crucis
Catholic Online

Interview With Vatican Aide on Jewish-Catholic Relations
Catholic Online

Pope Benedict XVI On the Easter Triduum
Catholic Online

Holy Saturday...anticipation!
Hugh McNichol

Never Miss any Updates!

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers.

Information
Learn about Catholic world

Catholic Online
Inform - Inspire - Ignite

Catholic Online Saints
Your saints explained

Catholic Online Prayers
Prayers for every need

Catholic Online Bible
Complete bible online

Catholic Online News
Your news Catholic eye

Daily Reading
Today's bible reading

Lent / Easter
Death & resurrection of Jesus

Advent / Christmas
Birth of Jesus

Rest of Catholic Online
All Catholic world we offer

Services
Products and services we offer

Catholic Online Shopping
Catholic medals, gifts & books

The California Network
Inspiring streaming service

Advertise on Catholic Online
Your ads on catholic.org

Catholic Online Email
Email with Catholic feel

Catholic Online Singles
Safe, secure Catholic dating

The California Studios
World-class post production service

Education
Learn the Catholic way

Catholic Online School
Free Catholic education for all

Student Classes
K-12 & Adult Education Classes

Catholic Online MasterClass
Learn from experts

School Teachers
Teacher lesson plans & resources

Catholic Media Missionaries
The New Evangelization

Support Free Education
Tax deductible support Free education

Socials
Connect with us online

Catholic Online on Facebook
Catholic social network

Catholic Online on Twitter
Catholic Tweets

Catholic Online on YouTube
Enjoy our videos

Catholic Online on Instagram
Shared Catholic moments

Catholic Online on Pinterest
Catholic ideas style inspiration

Catholic Online Logo

Copyright 2017 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2017 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.