A conservative news and views blog.

Location: St. Louis, Missouri, United States

Sunday, November 20, 2005

France Adopts a New State Religion

Here is a nice essay about the French inability to balance the Seperation of Church and State in First Things:

Joseph Bottum writes:

Liberté, égalité, fraternité is the motto of the French Republic, but the fraternité seems to have gone up in the smoke of burning cars over the last few weeks. And so the French government has appointed a commission to see whether another distinctive mark of modern France shouldn’t also be set aside: laïcité, the official and nationally enforced secularism of the state. In particular, the French are looking into state funding of mosques and government employment of Islamic clerics.

France may once have been the eldest daughter of the Church, but she has never managed to hold a clear idea of Church-State separation. Before the French Revolution, the royal court insisted on its powers to name bishops and generally treat the Catholic Church as a state-run enterprise. (Remember the Avignon captivity?) Come the Revolution, and the French promptly swung to the other extreme, confiscating schools, hospitals, monasteries, and anything else they could get their hands on. What existed in neither case was anything that, say, the American founders would recognize as religious freedom. The French version of the Enlightenment, carried down from Voltaire to the laïcité that became fundamental French law in 1905, was not just neutral toward religion. Rather, it feared religion as the great danger both to the state and to enlightened thought.

Some while back, several observers predicted that the French, faced with its angry and active Muslim population, would remove the legal disabilities that currently hobble believers. But last year the government moved to enforce laws that limit the wearing of religious dress in public by prohibiting Muslim girls from wearing head scarves to school. And it seemed as though the French were actually going to hold to the abstract, all-religions-banned-equally language of their laïcité.

So what are we to make of the new commission that will examine changes in the law to allow state funding of mosques—a commission, it should be noted, appointed by the more conservative member of the government, interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy?

If concessions denied to Christians are granted to Muslims, it will obviously demonstrate what the counter-Enlightenment always claimed: The French version of the Enlightenment wasn’t anti-religious; it was entirely anti-Christian—born, in its deepest sense, from a hatred of Europe’s past.

But there may be something else signaled as well. The commission’s goal, Sarkozy said, will be “to separate French Islam from foreign influences”—to build, in other words, a distinct and government-controlled form of Islam in France.

We have a name for that. We call it a state religion. A curious state religion to be held by the eldest daughter of the Church, certainly, but in reality only the swinging back of the pendulum to where the nation was before the Revolution. Once again, the French are getting the relation of religion and the state wrong. Perhaps we’ll eventually see an Avignon captivity of the imams in France, the youngest daughter of Mecca.

Weblog Commenting and Trackback by