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

3/28/2005 - 6:00 AM PST

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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 -- ...

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