Friday, September 12, 2008

Pape, Paris, Pap

The Pope has been met at Orly by Nick and Carla. He will "address artists, intellectuals, and scientists" at the Elysée. Cardinal Vingt-Trois, the archbishop of Paris (and no relation to the late John XXIII, despite the name), said that the Pope was "not coming to deliver a pep talk" to the French, even though only 7 percent of nominal French Catholics practice their religion regularly. There will be the usual hyperventilation about threats to laïcité, the Pope's willingness to consort with a twice-divorced politician, etc. And then the Pope will be off to Lourdes, that Disneyland of faith, to commemorate the miracle that allegedly occurred there when that part of France that still believed in miracles needed one to counter that part of France that didn't. Now most would settle for GDP growth above 2 percent, which neither the Pope nor Christine Lagarde can deliver.

Quite apart from this circus, the decay of Catholicism over the course of the 20th c. in France is a subject that deserves more serious thought than it is often given. One has a tendency to accept Tocqueville's judgment that the Church was so intimately entwined with the Ancien Régime that it suffered a near-fatal blow with the fall of the latter:

Ecclesiastical lords enjoyed the same advantages, because the Church, which had a different origin, destination, and nature from feudalism, ultimately became intimately involved with it. Although the Church remained an alien body in the feudal system and was never fully incorporated into it, it penetrated so deeply that it remained encrusted within. (AR II.1)


Then, in a belated attempt to apply Tocqueville's dictum that religion can survive only if not tainted by temporal power, the separation of church and state in 1905 killed it off--an iatrogenic demise consequent upon a surgery delayed too long. But this is far too simple a tale, and as so many other countries endure fitful revivals and seem to find religion difficult to do without, France remains proudly aloof, despite the best efforts of its president to sell opium to a people that prefers, if not lucidity, then at least derision. La gouaille aura eu raison de la religion.

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