Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

How to be disingenuous

I've been reading posts at America magazine's blog about the Middle East Synod, the latest of which is Synod: how to persuade Islam of the value of religious pluralism? by Austen Ivereigh. Here's a quote from the post ...

[...] I asked both to respond to the Synod's call for the Church to advocate a "positive secularism" (or laicite) in the Middle East, implying a degree of separation between the state and religion which would guarantee equal rights to freedom of conscience and to manifest religion. Both Al-Sammat and the Ayatollah said they wanted better to understand what was meant by the concept. Ayatollah Mohaghegh Damad said in Iran it was the people who elected their leader, not God -- this, surely, was secularism.

What I found interesting was this concept of "positive secularism" being proposed by the Catholic Church .... is this not the opposite stance taken just a month ago when the pope (he said secularism caused Nazism) and Cardinal Kasper (he disrespected the UK's pluralism) criticized the UK for being so secular and pluralistic? As Austin goes on to write ...

And now, of course, it's hard to argue for a "positive secularism" without raising the spectre in Muslim minds of what Pope Benedict in the UK called "aggressive secularism" -- the idea that the state should be "neutral", or that there is no ethical horizon beyond the wishes of the democratic majority or the enlightened elite.

I think this is an instance of the pope creating new terms, "positive secularism" and "aggressive secularism", in order to facilitate having his cake and eating it too. How am I ever supposed to respect these guys? :(


Anonymous Henry said...


You end your post by asking: How am I ever supposed to respect these guys? Well you might start by not engaging in straw man arguments!

I think you are smart enough to know that when engages in a straw man argument one is attacking a distorted version of a position instead of the actual position. Moreover, we were probably both taught the same thing – present the strongest case of your opponent’s argument and then refute it.

Well, for example, citing a newspaper article instead of the Pope’s actual talk – which is much more nuanced that the article makes it appear - fails to do that, etc.

Lastly, greater minds than ours – even his opponents - have acknowledged the Pope’s brilliance and it’s unjust to him and to you to not take the time to actually understand what he is trying to convey. Case in point, secularism, like anything, has good and bad features. Certainly one would expect that a person who believes in a Being we call God would say that the attempt to deny His/its/hers existence is a bad thing – no surprise there! Moreover, it should also come as no surprise that that same person would say that a positive aspect of secularism, that one should be free to switch and/or deny a religion should not be killed if they do so. After all, it is a fact that if you or I went to a Muslim country and even accidently caused someone to decide to become a Christian we could be killed.

I know that you are expressing your opinion (and that you do it well) but sometimes a little balance and nuance wouldn’t hurt you know.

Pax mi amiga,


10:58 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Henry,

Ok, i looked up a quote from his talk ...

Even in our own lifetime, we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live. I also recall the regime’s attitude to Christian pastors and religious who spoke the truth in love, opposed the Nazis and paid for that opposition with their lives. As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a “reductive vision of the person and his destiny”

What it seems to imply is that the Nazi's were all atheist (not so much true), that only religious people spoke out against the Nazis and were punished for it (also not so much true), that the bad extremism of the 20th century was athesit (he forgets Franco, apparently), that excluding God from public life is the same thing as excluding virtue (not necessarily so), and finally that atheism = a reduced vision of the person and his destiny (that's an assumption).

I know he's smart, but that's not what's in dispute. He really seems to equate atheism and secularism with a hrooible kind of nihilism and lack of virtue and ethics. You say there are good and bad kinds of secularism - I agree - but I'm sorry to say that I think the pope's criteria for the goodness and badness of a secular society isn't based on its level of ethics and how it treats its citizens but on how well it's willing to accommodate the Catholic church.

Sorry, I really am so disappointed in him, that it comes out as anger. Not mad at you :)

2:01 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...


I know you are angry but many times when one is angry reason goes out the window – at least it does in my case! Thanks for letting me know that you are not angry at me though! : )

I am sorry but I am challenging your method, which I think is flawed because I think it is too myopic in this case. A talk, like a building, is built brick-by-brick and so it has a structure. And, like a painting, one has to see the whole first and then zero in on the particulars. So there are two paragraphs ahead of the one you extracted and some after which I believe clarify what he is saying.

Now, you think he is looking back at the Nazi’s only, I think he is talking about atheist extremism of the twentieth centuryin general.

OK, see below – my comments are in bold:

“What it seems to imply is that the Nazi's were all atheist (not so much true), that only religious people spoke out against the Nazis and were punished for it (also not so much true) I don’t see this at all!, that the bad extremism of the 20th century was atheist (he forgets Franco, apparently) that’s not what he said, he said "atheist extremism" but he could as well have said “religious extremism”, I think the important note is “extremism”., that excluding God from public life is the same thing as excluding virtue (not necessarily so) that’s your assumption! I have read almost everything he has written and he has never implied this nor actually said it. Also, he lists three things and says that the exclusion of those three leads to X., and finally that atheism = a reduced vision of the person and his destiny (that's an assumption).” Here’s where we could have a good debate! What is an atheistic understanding of this thing called “humankind.” I intentionally did not use the word “person” because that concept comes from Christianity!”

Anyway, I wish you peace Crystal, much peace! How is the retreat going?



3:30 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

The retreat - maybe I should post something about that instead of always focusing on the negative :) It's week 3 in which we are supposed to think and pray about our purpose for being. Ignatius thinks our purpose is to praise, reverence, and serve God. A lot to think about - as usual I'm all conflicted.

5:21 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...


Retreats are a time of grace – a time when Christ whispers in our ear the words of a song we sang in my parish this Sunday: “Come back to me with all your heart, don’t let fear keep us apart… Long have I waited for your coming homing to Me and living deeply our new life.”

Retreats can also be a time that provokes us to begin again the journey of metanoia – something we all defend ourselves against. Don’t! Christ longs to fulfill the desires of your heart in a lavish way – get out of the way and let Him do it!

I pray that you encounter Him again in a powerful way during your retreat.



11:07 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Thanks for the encouragement, Henry. I'm cautiously hopeful something good will come of it.

1:22 PM  

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