Liberalism and Relativism Seen as Fueling Secularism

Cardinal Poupard Addresses Ecumenical Meeting in Belarus

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MINSK, Belarus, DEC. 10, 2004 ( Secularism is a phenomenon whose roots are in liberalism and relativism, says Cardinal Paul Poupard.

The president of the Pontifical Council for Culture made that point today when addressing an ecumenical meeting in Minsk, in this former Soviet republic.

He focused on the topic “Christianity and the Challenges of Secularism, Unbelief and Religious Indifference,” in his keynote speech at a conference on “Christianity and Cooperative Good Neighborhood of Spiritual Values in Europe.” The event was organized by the Sts. Cyril and Methodius Theological Institute, and hosted by the Orthodox Church in Minsk. The conference ends Saturday.

In his address, the cardinal analyzed the contradictory situation of the Old World, where “Christianity has a curious place in the European project.”

“On the one hand it provides the philosophical, anthropological and moral inspiration behind the project,” he said. “On the other, due to various cultural shifts, it has often been sidelined or, worse, positively excluded.”

“The recent Rocco Buttiglione affair is a case in point. On account of his public witness concerning marriage and homosexuality, he was excluded from an important post at the European Commission. This reflects a developing separation in politics and the public square between the religious and secular.”

“Secularism is a trend that stems from liberalism,” Cardinal Poupard continued. “It is an evil side effect and demands correction. We can be confident because secularism will never exclude religion from the world, for the simple fact that each and every man is fundamentally religious.

“But it includes emotionalism and individualism among its defining values, as they are exemplified in the New Age of cultural abandonment and privatized religion and consequent reduction of the pursuit of the transcendental to mere technological progress and the feeling of well-being. And these have devastating effects on Europe.”

“Secularism also means relativism as it entails a denial of the Truth. This ideology has led to indifference and unbelief,” the cardinal lamented.

He continued: “It is an attitude that has led to the so-called designer dogma and stand-off between Spain’s Socialist government and the Catholic bishops concerning questions related to the value of life, solidarity and the family, and brings with it the evils of abortion, and the pointless civil marriage of homosexuals.”

Speaking to an audience that experienced religious repression under Communism, the French cardinal explained: “You, more than I, are aware of the perils of totalitarianism, but in Western Europe too, fundamental spiritual values have fallen prey to secularism.

“As a result, even in traditionally Christian countries such as France, England and Spain, the hierarchy of values has been overturned, and Truth, Beauty and Goodness have been relegated below individualized, relativized social values.”

“The centrality of the individual has been promoted but the real value of the human person has been forgotten,” the prelate said. “Such that democracy is now considered as a supreme value superior to the Truth, rather than a privileged means for discerning, reflecting and protecting the Truth.

“Another effect of this loss of Christian culture is seen in the fact that it is now necessary to offer basic courses on Christianity to students of the arts so that they can understand the great masterpieces and understand their own Christian culture. For without it, how can they appreciate the full value of Bach’s ‘St. John Passion,’ Handel’s ‘Messiah,’ Beethoven’s ‘Missa Solemnis’ or Michelangelo’s Pietà?”

“But let us be careful not to throw out the baby with the bath water!” he urged. “Secularism is not secularization, and not all that is not explicitly religious is evil. The transcendental reality can inspire us in other ways! A certain appreciation of art can come even to the atheist.”

“And this is the point of departure for today’s evangelization. The saints have marked history for 2,000 years — some have developed diverse expressions of Christian spirituality, others safeguarded our biblical heritage, others developed fundamental ideas about law and values, and others have been the source for the continual rebirth which has marked European history and her cultural developments.”

He added: “It is our task to follow in their footsteps, revealing the truth about humanity to our fellow men and women, to open the way to the transcendental source of all values, so that Europe can once more return to her roots.”

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