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Europe Needs Christians in Public Square

Interview With Professor Hans Maier

MUNICH, Germany, AUG. 28, 2006 (Zenit) - Christians have a responsibility to be involved in the preservation of freedom in the modern state, says political scientist Hans Maier.

Maier, 75, retired professor of Munich's Ludwig-Maximilians University, was minister of Education and Culture in Bavaria from 1970 to 1986, and president of the Central Committee of German Catholics from 1976 to 1988.

He has written some 30 books, including "Democracy in the Church?" (1970), in which he collaborated with Father Joseph Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI.

In this interview with the Italian daily Avvenire, published July 5, Maier speaks of the soul of Europe, its relationship with Islam and the role of the lay Christian in public life.

* * *

Q: Do you think a European culture exists?

Maier: There is not one European culture that can be studied in school. Just as there is no one European language, or one way of living that can be described as European.

However, there are common foundations and principles, manifested in the cultural specificities of each nation. And these unifying principles are Roman law, which led Europe to develop an efficient juridical culture; the Judeo-Christian belief in one God, which has imprinted itself on institutions and thought; the model of educational formation, which presupposes a certain conception of man and a specific way of situating himself before learning.

Q: The Greco-Roman and Christian heritage appear as constitutive of Europe and its cultural foundations. What kind of Islam can Europe have, without entailing an alteration of identity?

Maier: We cannot say that Europe is only Christian, but the Judeo-Christian heritage profoundly influenced its cultural and political soul. To import in Europe the same Islam that has been structured in Arab countries would mean the suppression of present-day Europe to create another, radically different continent.

This does not mean that we cannot have a Euro-Islam, an Islam adapted to Europe. But it presupposes on the part of Muslims respect for religious freedom, pluralism of thought and the distinction between religion and politics. It requires that the mullahs accept to live their faith along with the Jewish synagogues and Christian cathedrals. It is a process of transformation and maturation to which we must call Muslims, if they wish to be part of this Europe of ours.

Q: Europe has given origin to the worst totalitarianisms in history. Do you hold that one can also consider the concept of freedom as a constitutive part of European identity?

Maier: Certainly. Freedom is something typically European, and I would also say, typically Christian. The contribution made by Christianity to the development of freedom as well as of democracy, is very strong. As for the rest, the totalitarianisms of the 20th century, Communism, and Fascism especially in their National-Socialist expression, are the substitute introduced when there was an attempt to suppress religion in Europe.

They are "political religions," molded as religions in the vacuum created by the cancellation of religion. I would say therefore that Christianity is a kind of vaccine against attempts to suppress freedom. And in this regard, Christians have a fundamental role to cement freedom also in the modern state.

Q: What is the relationship between Christianity and democracy?

Maier: There is a very close link, and it begins with Christianity's computation of time, which is not a simple matter of the calendar, but expresses a conception of the world and of existence. The birth of a Christian chronology reflects a transformation of Christians' attitude in regard to "this world": in the measure in which the Christian interacted with the world, he identified himself increasingly with his own time.

The calculation of time in the Medieval convent was transformed into personal and collective responsibility. And this would later influence the organizational, administrative, and civic structure in the social and political life of communities. Herein lie the roots of modern democracy, which not by accident are Christian roots. That is why I say that the modern state is in need of Christians.

Q: What are Christians called to do in the modern state?

Maier: They are a fundamental element both of criticism as well as of legitimization of democracy. Political and social participation therefore becomes a responsibility that weighs on all Christians, especially in times such as our own, in which all withdraw in the first person from direct commitment.

To develop this task of theirs, Christians are called to unite, to seek ties with others. It must never be forgotten that one of the factors that led to the affirmation of Nazism in Germany was the division between Catholics and Protestants, who were unable to form a common front.

Q: The German jurist Ernst-Wolfgang Bockenforde holds that "the secularized liberal state lives on budgets it cannot guarantee." Can the state reproduce on its own that ethos on which it maintains itself?

Maier: The state can guarantee the conditions in which that liberal ethos that supports it can be reproduced, but it itself cannot reproduce it through politics and administration. It was the presumption of the modern totalitarianisms to decree values by themselves.

The "secular" state is also in need of values expressed by citizens. It lives from the impulses and binding forces that religious faith itself transmits to its citizens. Hence the reason why it is good for the state to recognize the role of religion. And in Europe this means to be aware of the importance exercised by the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Q: This calls for a greater public role of the Churches. How is this harmonized with the state's secularism?

Maier: The individuals must be distinguished. The actors of politics, of the economy, of the social are lay Christians. It corresponds to them to give body in the public sphere to what they live within the Church.

Priests are not concerned with politics, but with proclaiming the Gospel and celebrating the sacraments. Moreover, the Second Vatican Council was clear for those who have any doubts: "Political prelates" are not admitted, and thanks be to God, this has sent conflicts between the Church and sate to the back room.

Q: But, is there democracy in the Church?

Maier: The Church is not a democracy, but a communion. There are not some on top and others below, but among all believers there is a horizontal relationship.

Yet without being a democracy in which decisions are made by the majority of members, there are in the Church, nonetheless, democratic elements.

Since the first Christian communities a public opinion has developed within Church, an articulation of thought; and we also have elements of democracy in the election itself of the Pope.

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