27 June 2005

The uncatholic church



My sister-in-law, who studies in France, is visiting our house right now, and since she's Catholic, she's been attending the mass each Sunday. After visiting a number of U.S. Catholic churches, she was struck by the presence of the U.S. flag next to the altar of all these churches, which claim to be "catholic." She says a flag in a Catholic Church is unimaginable in France.

Jesus did say, "Render into Caesar that which is Caesar's . . ." and this statement has engendered a lot of controversy, yet no matter how much we twist the wording, it doesn't seem to be advocating a marriage of church and state. Which makes me wonder why Christians are so eager to place the flag so close to the church altar. Has modern Christianity irrevocably conflated the state, the capitalist economic system, and religion? Is being Christian now just another marker of one's identity as a full-fledged member of a broadbased club? Of course, it isn't just Christians who are pandering to nationalist sentiments. In Thailand, we have Buddhist monks blessing tanks, and in the Middle East, Muslims fighting for a veiled world that never existed (and never will). But the American fundamentalist movement is perhaps even more ominous since it tries to capitalize on the convergence of religious zeal, military force, and economic power. Among the advantages that religion brings is its capacity to serve as a counter-balance to unwholesome human tendencies (e.g., instincts that drive us towards greed, violence, and ignorance). Can it still perform this function when married to the apparatus of the state? And is the American Catholic church, with flags waving next to the pulpit, a great vehicle guiding the faithful through darkness, or has the church completely ceased to be catholic?

4 comments:

Glen Dean said...

Christians do not want to marry church and state. But they don't think that they should not have a voice in representative democracy because they are Christian. France is a horrible example of religious liberty. They even went as far as to ban religious headwear.
You just stated that Christian Fundamentalism is an even greater danger than Islamo-facsism. Surely, you don't mean that.

Karlo said...

I meant they have a greater danger in the sense of having greater potential for maliciousness. Islamic fundamentalists have very limited power for a very limited time (as long as the oil deposits last). Christian fundamentalists, being at the head of the world's sole hegemon, have a tremendous ability to mess the world up (e.g., in terms of economic equity, environmental sustainability, and so on).

Viking Zen said...

Hi Karlo- Interesting post. You might be interested in reading Regina Schwartz's The Curse of Cain since she talks about how the religions derived from the Bible have been distorted for all kinds of political and social purposes. It's very thought provoking.
When I lived in France, I did notice the occasional flag in a church- I've seen at it at both the Ecole Militaire (that may be more obvious) and Notre Dame, but I'll agree that it isn't the norm.
I also disagree with the statement about how France is a horrible example of religious liberty- the diversity of places of worship in a city like Paris is incredible: synagogues, churches, mosques, ashrams...That does not mean the coexistence is always harmonious, but it is more frequently than it is not. The laws concerning the right to wear the headwear, the controversial 'foulard,' emphasize the separation of church and state- they aren't allowed in public schools and such. But it is not just the foulard- it's crucifixes, stars of David, and other obvious religious symbolism. The idea is to keep these public spaces *neutral* and accessible to all at a time- and in this I agree with Karlo- when religion is so highly politicized. And I would like to further state that ANY type of fundamentalism is dangerous to the health of any country. Fundamentalists (and I emphasize fundamentalist, not someone pious, devout, or spiritual- there is a big difference although some people would rather not see it) think very similarly, regardless of whether they love Jesus or Mohammed...

Karlo said...

I'll look for the Curse of Cain in my local library.