A credentialed photographer who covered one of the Masses celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI in May told me that he asked permission of a security guard, which he received, to leave his assigned station temporarily in order to receive Holy Communion; he had come, he explained, not only to take pictures, but also to participate fully in the Papal Mass by receiving Communion.
I recalled this when reading a story some weeks ago in the London Tablet about the secular policy of laïcité, in France, a curious political fiction that dates from a law in 1905, but is still religiously (?) embraced by so many Frenchmen.
Worshipping at the altar of secularism has evidently led to absurd behavior, the kind that freedom-loving Americans can hardly comprehend, much less honor. Examples cited in the Tablet article included that of General Charles de Gaulle, described as "a practicing Catholic," nonetheless declining to receive Holy Communion "in public religious ceremonies to avoid offending secular sensibilities," or that of Valéry Giscard dEstaing, who, while having admitted agnosticism and astrological superstition, still requested one funeral Mass for himself at the Cathedral of Notre Dame, in addition to another "privately" celebrated Mass in his home village, to be witnessed by his mistress. And Jacques Chirac, a staunch defender of laïcité, usually attended Mass "when on holiday" in Brégancon.
Meanwhile, the current President, Nicolas Sarkozy, continues to send confusing signals about religion. On the one hand, he favors an updating of the 1905 law on secularity, yet adds in the Tablet article "without making any major alterations." Among his most controverted utterances thus far was: "In transmitting values and distinguishing between right and wrong, the teacher can never replace the priest or pastor." Strident objections have been registered not only by the Freemasons (obviously no surprise) but by the major teachers union, which (in the Tablets words) "sees itself as a guardian of laïcité."
In the area of secularity, France today is again at a critical point in its history. Whereas secularism seems to have been born and bred as an attitude of absolute indifference to any aspect of Transcendence, it has evolved in Europe, especially in France, into an aggressive, intolerant antireligious ideology, so much so that it has "morphed" into its own godless religion (surely a contradiction in terms).
When an American views France today, therefore, he or she thanks God for our founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Interpreted correctly, these documents ensure that secularity can never be fully enshrined as integral to our governmental framework.
However, secularism is an insidious, dynamic virus affecting (and infecting) our culture as a people. Insidious, because often it disguises itself with the mask of liberty and costumes of philosophical, psychological, and sociological respectability. Dynamic, because it intrudes directly into the national scene by means of television, radio, and films, as well as academic classrooms. And its virus-like characteristics are discerned by its dire results on health of mind and soul: shabby and confused thinking, readiness to submit to mob-control, and a weakening of intellect and spirit, especially as regards moral values such as the sanctity of human sexuality and procreation, together with reverence for each and every human life, from the moment of conception.
Ironically, while the Western world, "Old Europe" in particular, toys with secularity and, consequently, is beginning to experience its destructive forces, the Islamic world a huge representation of mankind today remains cognizant of the true source of strength; specifically, a religious outlook at the center of culture.
Ironically, too, President Sarkozy granted all this last January in an address at Riyadh, in Saudi Arabia, an Islamic state: "I know of no country whose heritage, culture and civilization do not have religious roots. It is religion that has taught us the universal principles of morality and human dignity."
In his talk, which was severely criticized as "dangerous" by French political opponents, Mr. Sarkozy cited God 13 times, and described God as one who "does not enslave man but liberates him."
Secularity, incidentally, is totally lacking in philosophical underpinning which means that it cannot be supported by reason. Besides, its historical record is clear. Western culture in general is thoroughly invested in Judaeo-Christian thought; and the heart of culture any culture is religion. Cicero, who was a pagan, gave us a working definition that is still quite valid, that is, that religion pertains to mans relationship to God.
Msgr. David Q. Liptak is Executive Editor ofThe Catholic Transcript, and censor librorum for the Archdiocese of Hartford.