Ethics & Public Policy Center

Advice for Europe – And For Us


George Weigel

Distinguished Senior Fellow and William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies


At an international symposium in honor of the late Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, held in Paris on February 11, I offered closing remarks on what the Church might do to combat aggressive secularism in Europe. As the same prescriptions apply in the United States, let me share them with an American audience:

[1] Intolerance in the name of “tolerance” must be named for what it is and publicly condemned. To deny religiously-informed moral argument a place in the public square is intolerant and anti-democratic. To identify the truths of biblical morality with bigotry and intolerance is a distortion of moral truth and an intolerant, uncivil act, which must be named as such. To imagine that any state…has the authority to redefine marriage, a human institution that [is prior to] the state ontologically as well as historically, is to open the door to what John Paul II called…”thinly disguised totalitarianism” — and this, too, must be said, publicly. This will require [western] Christians…to overcome what [sometimes] seems to be a deeply-engrained and internalized sense of marginalization within contemporary society.

[2] We must speak openly…about the empirically demonstrable and deplorable effects of the sexual revolution on individuals and society, while calling our contemporaries to a new appreciation of the dignity and nobility of human love. In John Paul II's Theology of the Body, believers and unbelievers alike have a more compelling account of our human embodiedness as male and female, and the reciprocity and fruitfulness “built into” that embodiedness and differentiation, than theories of human sexuality that reduce sexual differentiation to a question of plumbing and human love to another sport…Young people, deeply wounded by a culture of promiscuity that tells them simultaneously that they must be sexually active and that sex could kill them, are yearning for the truth about love, as the remarkable impact of the Theology of the Body on…university campuses and in marriage-preparation programs demonstrates. This weapon in the conversion of culture [must] be fully… deployed: and if that requires making the public claim that the Catholic Church understands human sexuality better than the prophets of sexual liberation, then so be it.

[3] The reduction of Christian history to the Crusades, the European wars of religion, Galileo's trial, and the Inquisition must be publicly challenged, for these “black legends”…put obstacles in the way of the conversion of culture… Contemporary scholarship has deepened our understanding of the Crusades as a legitimate, if often mismanaged and brutal, response to Islamic aggression, even as it has demonstrated that such horrors as the Thirty Years War were far more about politics than about the fine points of the theology of justification. As for the Inquisition, the Church has repented, publicly, of this and other unsavory alliances with state power; when will the [western] Left apologize for communism, which killed more men and women in a slow week than the Inquisition did in centuries? As for science, absent Christianity and its convictions about a world imprinted with the divine reason…it almost certainly would not have developed as it did in Europe (or anywhere else). I raise these matters of historical record, not to score debating points, but to suggest that part of the challenge we face today is to recognize…that the West is suffering from a false story about itself, and about the relationship of biblical religion to its formation and its history.

[4] The Catholic Church, while enriching its interior life through a deepened encounter with the sources of its faith in the Bible, the Fathers, and the sacraments (ressourcement), and while developing ever more winsome ways to make the Church's proposal to a post-Christian Europe (aggiornamento), must also join forces with men and women of conscience who may not be believers, in order to challenge publicly the [encroaching] dictatorship of relativism of which Cardinal Ratzinger warned [in April 2005]. The Church's engagement with…culture and politics, in other words, must be less diffident, less defensive, and more assertive — not in the sense of aggression, but of truth-telling “in and out of season” [2 Timothy 4.2].

George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow and William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

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