Tagle’s place in the coming conclave

Predicting the outcome of a conclave is always a purely speculative excercise. After all, it’s almost impossible to determine what’s on the cardinal-electors’ mind. As in all political events, however, an educated speculation is possible if all variables are carefully examined.

For instance, while the election of Karol Cardinal Wojtyla in the second conclave of 1978 had been very surprising to most; it was, in retrospect, not that improbable. At that time, there had been a bitter battle between the reactionary clerics, led by Guiseppe Cardinal Siri, and the liberals, led by Giovanni Cardinal Benelli. This bitter rift ensured that there would have been a gridlock — since neither of the blocs could have attained the required two-thirds majority — and that a compromise candidate would have had to be found.

Cardinal Wojtyla was not very well-known outside Poland then, but he had been widely-respected by cardinals and prelates in Rome and elsewhere. A philosopher and charismatic pastor, he had been a rising star in the Church, having first gained attention in Synods of Bishops and in several speaking engagements, particularly in the United States. Pope Paul VI even asked him to deliver the papal Lenten retreat in 1976. Vaticanologists should have considered him a papabili then, but they assumed that a non-Italian cardinal had little or no chance.

This blog was among the first, if not in fact the first, to point out that the popular Archbishop of Manila, Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, could become the first Filipino papabili. Almost all Vatican observers– from the relatively liberal American John Allen to conservative Italians Andrea Tornelli and Sandro Magister– now agree that the Cardinal is indeed a papabile in this year’s conclave. But how big, or slim, are his chances?

In many ways, the coming conclave is similar to the one that elected Cardinal Wojtyla. As in 1978, the conclave this year is completely unexpected, and there is no clear favorite to succeed Pope Benedict XVI, just a myriad of papabiles. Cardinal Tagle, too, is in many ways very similar to John Paul II. Like Cardinal Wojtyla, the Filipino archbishop is a rising star who has a serious reputation as a heavy-weight thinker and a charismatic pastor. Like the Polish pope, he gained fame for his performances in Synods of Bishops and in several speaking engagements, most notably his electrifying performance at the International Eucharistic Congress in Canada back in 2008.

There are several variables that must be considered in analyzing a conclave. The first of these would be the alignment of coalitions within the Church in general and the College of Cardinals in particular.

Pope Benedict XVI’s reign is in many ways a continuation of the Wojtyla regime. Having served loyally as the doctrinal enforcer of Pope John Paul II, this German pope is committed to preserving his predecessor’s theological legacy, which is relatively conservative. Most of the cardinals are part of this Wojtyla-Ratzinger coalition. Even within the Wojtyla-Ratzinger coalition, however, there seems to have been a lot of rifts and confrontations, most notably on the issues of the Pope’s attempt to reform the Vatican’s financial system and the sexual abuse scandal.

There have been reports that a conservative coalition led by the Secretary of State, Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone, and his predecessor, Angelo Cardinal Sodano, have been at odds with the Pope himself on how to handle the sexual abuse scandal. Pope Benedict XVI’s long-time student and assiduous “campaign manager” in the 2005 conclave, Archbishop Christoph Cardinal Schonborn of Vienna, for instance, has even publicly castigated Cardinal Sodano for dismissing the abuse scandal as mere rumors. The Pope, said Cardinal Schonborn, had wanted to deal with the abusive priests aggressively when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger, but cardinals Bertone and Sodano, who seem to have the entire Curia behind them, undermined him. There were also allegations that Cardinal Sodano, as John Paul II’s Secretary of State, protected his disgraced predecessor, Hans Hermann Cardinal Groer, who had been accused of molesting seminarians.

Cardinal Schonborn had since been gagged by Rome and his comments has led to the unofficial promulgation of the so-called Sodano Rule, which prohibits cardinals from publicly criticizing their fellow cardinals. The Sodano Rule, however, did not apply to Archbishop Jose Horacio Gomez of Los Angeles, who publicly censured his predecessor, Archbishop Emeritus Roger Cardinal Mahony, for coddling sexual offenders.

Another issue that divides Rome is the allegedly growing influence of Cardinal Bertone, who had been the target of the Vatileaks scandal. Critics say that he has been abusing his influence as the papal prime minister, undermining the Pope, who in turn had been too busy with his theological writings he has neglected his duty as Rome’s foremost administrator. Cardinal Bertone, for instance, is widely believed to have been behind the first consistory of 2012, which created twenty-two cardinals from Europe, dramatically altering the demographics of the College of Cardinals in favor of Italy and reversing the trend of internationalizing the College, ostensibly to pave the way for an Italian restoration in the papacy. Pope Benedict XVI tried to reverse him by calling for a surprise second consistory, the star of which, most agreed, had been Cardinal Tagle.

Another variable that must be considered is the crossroads in which the Church finds itself at the moment of the conclave. The challenges facing the Church would certainly affect the opinion of the cardinal-electors on what qualities the next pope should have.

For instance, the cardinal-electors picked Cardinal Ratzinger in 2005 partly because he was seen as the only person with the gravitas to fill the big shoes left behind by John Paul II. But more importantly, while there had been widespread talk then of a non-European pope– some say that Archbishop Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio of Buenos Aires placed second to Cardinal Ratzinger in that year’s conclave– at that time, as in now, the Church’s biggest concern was the rising tide of secularism and the erosion of Christian cultural identity in its own backyard, hence the need for a pope who knows Europe inside out (and true enough, most of Benedict XVI’s trips throughout his papacy have been in Europe).

Things are not much different this time around. The Catholic Church is still losing ground to secular forces in the West, and it needs someone who can continue Pope Benedict XVI’s drive to win it back. Aside from tackling issues like the clerical sex abuse scandal, engaging the secular world and leading the so-called New Evangelization, which was widely discussed in the Synod of Bishops last year, are being given importance. Therefore, perhaps the cardinals would look for someone capable of doing either, or both, of these.

The third variable would be demographics. The composition of the College of Cardinals definitely affects how it votes. The overwhelming majority of the cardinals have been appointed by Pope Benedict XVI, although some may insinuate that many this majority can perhaps be characterized more as Bertone babies rather than Ratzinger fans.

The biggest bloc comprises the Italians, who form around 17% of the total vote. The Americans, with 11 votes, are the second biggest national bloc. In terms of continents, Europe has 62 votes, Latin Americans has 15, Africa and Asia have 11 each, while Oceania has one.

As many in the media have already pointed out, many among the cardinals should by now already be exchanging views with each other, and looking up some of the candidates’ profiles. Cardinals who have had their moments in the spotlight, and those who have had regular correspondences with their fellow electors, have an obvious advantage. Media reports, both from the secular press and the Vaticanologists, are probably a factor, too.

Of course, how each cardinals vote would not be affected solely by geography. Who they interact with will also determine their views on what qualities the next pope should have. In this respect, we can say that perhaps many of the Italians look to cardinals Bertone and Sodano for guidance, although they won’t necessarily vote as a bloc. The Latin American group is also less likely to vote as a bloc, since it has among its midst many cardinals capable of wielding influence, which means no one cardinal can be a unifying force for the group. The same is true with the Africans. Perhaps the Americans, led by their primate, President of the American Bishop’s Conference Timothy Cardinal Dolan, would be more inclined to vote as a group. In Asia, meanwhile, Cardinal Tagle is no doubt the primus inter pares, although the counsel of the elder electors, like Australia’s George Cardinal Pell, would probably be sought as well. In short, the fourth variable to watch are the potential king-makers among the cardinals.

Currently, cardinals Angelo Scola and Dionigi Tettamazi appear to be the candidates leading the charge for an Italian restoration. They will be seen as candidates of the Bertone-Sodano coalition, which favors continuing the Church’s policy on the sexual abuse scandal, among others. Cardinal Schonborn, another papabili, would be the opposition to that coalition, and will favor stronger sanctions against erring priests.

Cardinal Schonborn’s advantage is that he is seen as the continuation of the Wojtyla-Ratzinger regime. However, his public remarks against Cardinal Sodano, which was rebuffed by Rome itself, along with the rebellion of priests he is facing in Vienna, are a bane to his candidacy. At best, we can probably relegate the Austrian cardinal to the role of king-maker.

If it’s true that there’s a rift between the Bertone-Sodano clique and those who think like Cardinal Schonborn, then there would probably be a need for a compromise candidate to emerge. Gianfranco Cardinal Ravasi comes to mind.

Cardinal Ravasi’s role as the President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, where he tried to constructively engage the secular world, including the agnostics and atheists, has gained attention. While the Church is just beginning to learn how to engage the youth through social media, the Cardinal already tweets to tens of thousands of followers. He also led the papal Lenten retreat this year, a sign that he might have Pope Benedict XVI’s nod– the previous two popes were chosen to lead the retreat prior to their elections, too.

Reports alleging that Cardinal Ravasi is a vain man, however, might not sit well with some cardinals. Similarly, his being an Italian could be a bane, especially if enough voices in the conclave clamor for a non-Italian, or even a non-European, pope. If that’s the case, then the most viable candidate would be Canada’s Marc Cardinal Ouellet.

I’ve argued on Twitter that if the next pope would not be an Italian, then he will most likely be Canadian. Cardinal Ouellet has worked in the Curia long enough to be considered by the Italians as one of them, but still obviously not an Italian for everyone else. He has, willingly or unwillingly, developed a formidable power base as Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, which selects candidates to be archbishops and bishops all over the world. Demographics works well for him too, since he has cultivated intimate relationships with Latin American cardinals as President of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America. In other words, not only is he amenable to the Italians because of his Curial background, he could easily secure the support of the North American bloc, which has 14 votes, and the South American bloc, which has 13, too.

So, where is Cardinal Tagle in all these scheme of things? Unfortunately, his chances are very slim; but, then again, so were Cardinal Wojtyla’s in 1978.

Cardinal Tagle’s biggest disadvantage, it has often been said, is that he is the youngest among the Latin rite cardinal-electors and one of the six most junior members of the College. But this attribute could in fact be turned into an advantage.

Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation due to his advanced age may prod the cardinals to seek a younger and more energetic pope. There is, of course, a concern that electing a young pope would lead to a papacy that is too long; but, as Magister has pointed out, Benedict XVI’s precedent, which makes resignation an option for future popes, mitigates this. Moreover, there might be those in the College who feel nostalgic about John Paul II’s pontificate and would want to elect a charismatic pastor with a photogenic smile. It’s hard to find a cardinal now who’s more charismatic and photogenic than Tagle.

Moreover, as one of the leaders of the Synod of Bishop last year that drafted the Vatican’s policy of New Evangelization, Cardinal Tagle can be seen not only as a charismatic pastor who can lead the Church into the new world dominated by social media, but also a high-caliber thinker who knows where the Church is in the midst of growing secularism, and where it should go.

Polish priest Mieczyslaw Melinski, a friend of then Cardinal Wojtyla, once argued with the future pope that he would be elected in the 1978 conclave, which the then Polish cardinal naturally laughed off. But the priest’s arguments then were telling: Noting that the time had come for a non-Italian pope, he said, “the Archbishop of Krakow is not a bureaucrat, but a pastor and an intellectual who became known during the Council and then during the Synods of Bishops. You’ll be the next Pope!” He could have been talking to the Archbishop of Manila.

But there is one difference between Tagle and Wojtyla. The Polish cardinal was seen in 1978 as an acceptable compromise candidate because he was seen to be neither too liberal nor too conservative. Cardinal Tagle, on the other hand, has strong progressive credentials. His connections with the School of Bologna, a group known for its liberal interpretation of the Second Vatican Council– I argued last year that this had been the reason he was bypassed in the first consistory of 2012– have been a source of controversy, something that the eminent Filipino theologian, Father Catalino Arevalo, dismissed as merely a politically-motivated attempt by some in Rome to paint the Filipino as a “super-ultraliberal,” when in fact Tagle and Ratzinger have pretty much the same theological views.

In numerous Synods, Cardinal Tagle was unafraid to speak out on issues such as the shortage of priest, which was the premise of his call for the Church to debate celibacy. He also pointed out the need for the Church to address not only the issues of child abuse scandal, but also of priests who keep mistresses, particularly in the Philippines. Finally, in the last Synod, he called for a “humble, listening Church,” saying that the Catholic Church is turning people off because of its arrogant, “know-it-all attitude.” These could endear Cardinal Tagle to those who understand where he is coming from, but alienate him from those who are still conservative, if not in fact reactionary, in their orientation.

Some recent praises for the Filipino cardinal, however, could balance this. For example, popular conservative Vaticanologist Sandro Magister, who once criticized Tagle’s elevation to Manila in 2011, is now singing a different tune. He now says that the Cardinal, the only viable Third World papabili, is very balanced in his theological orientation and has the confidence of the Pope himself.

Indeed, Pope Benedict XVI, the patron of the traditionalists, seems to treat the young Filipino as a protege of sorts. Some even say the surprise consistory last year was done precisely because the Pope had wanted the Archbishop of Manila to be in the College before his abdication. Like cardinals Schonborn and Ravasi, therefore, Cardinal Tagle may be seen to be enjoying the esteem of the departing pope.

But I suspect that Cardinal Tagle’s candidacy could only be seriously considered if, like Cardinal Wojtyla’s candidacy in 1978, someone in the College, a king-maker if you will, pushes hard for it. In 1978, Franz Cardinal Koenig of Austria pushed for Cardinal Wojtyla as an alternative to cardinals Siri and Benelli, personally talking with individual cardinals to convince them that the Polish archbishop was the right guy. Cardinal Wojtyla was already well-known among the cardinals then, but it was Cardinal Koenig’s maneuvers that truly propelled him to front-runner status during the conclave.

This time around, the potential king-makers are Cardinal Dolan, who leads 11 American cardinal-electors and could therefore swing the vote for a particular candidate, assuming he is not himself in the running;  Cardinal Schonborn, who would probably look for a candidate who subscribes to Pope Benedict XVI’s legacy but is not part of the Bertone-Sodano axis; and Cardinal Ouellet, the front-runner himself, who could, as we’ve mentioned above, influence a large number of cardinals across different continents. Cardinal Ouellet, it should be noted, was quick to come to Cardinal Tagle’s defense when Magister criticized him for his connections with the Bologna school.

But would anyone of these king-maker throw his support behind the Cardinal from Asia? For now, it’s anyone’s guess.

UPDATE, MARCH 12: Based on reports in the Italian press, the biggest cleavage in this year’s conclave seems to be emerging between the Americans and the Italians.

The Americans, the second-biggest national bloc in the College of Cardinals, have been holding a daily joint press briefing, which had enraged the traditionalists so much the Roman Curia issued a gag order. The US cardinals are said to be pushing for a papacy that is not beholden to the Curia, and are fielding two of their own, Timothy Cardinal Dolan of New York and Sean Patrick Cardinal O’Malley of Boston. Their third choice is said to be Marc Cardinal Ouellet of Montreal.

Meanwhile, the Curial cardinals and the Italian bloc, knowing that they would lose if they field an Italian, is rallying behind Brazil’s Odillo Cardinal Scherrer. Cardinal Scherrer might attract the naive Third World cardinals who would see him as one of them, but the Brazillian is a Curial insider; perhaps as Italian as Joseph Ratzinger. The problem is that, according to Magister, he is not even popular in Brazil– the bishops there allegedly rejected his candidacy for presidency of their conference.

UPDATE, MARCH 15: Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, has been elected Pope Francis. 

Should the principle of separation of Church and State apply to atheist groups?

READER’S POST 

Auguste Comte, considered the father of Sociology and Positivism, proposed in his “Law of Three Stages” that societal development undergoes three stages: (1) Theological, where nature and the natural phenomena are sought and understood through mythical and supernatural explanations; (2) Metaphysical, where understanding of the origin of nature and the natural phenomena was through abstract and philosophical explanation; and (3) Positivism or Scientific,  where nature and the natural phenomena are explained and understood through scientific methods and means, and invalidated abstract or supernatural concepts as an explanation. For Comte, the third stage is the pinnacle of the development of human society.

This same understanding of human societal development as positivist and humanistic unites a group of people who call themselves variedly as humanists, atheists, agnostics, secularists, freethinkers, non-believers, naturalists, sceptics and non-theists. The more passionate of them are bonded through formal groups like American Atheists, British Humanist Association, International Humanist and Ethical Union and Secular Coalition for America, to name a few. They have created structures to manage, organize, fund and campaign for the propagation of secular-humanistic-atheistic values, ideas and ethics in society.

Many of them, like the British Humanist Association, have developed secular ceremonies for marriage, baptism and funeral as an alternative to churches. Others organize retreat-like camps like the Camp Quest where children are taught of humanist, secularist and freethought ideas.  Some have engaged in militant atheism, like Richard Dawkins who aggressively preach atheism and naturalism in the backdrop of the eventual eradication of religion. Evidently, signs that the theory postulated by Comte one hundred fifty years ago may seem to be dawning.

However, the changes and development in the dynamics on how the varied worldviews of irreligion are providing alternatives against the traditional turf of churches and religion is something that needs to be qualified. It is understood that the formal formation of various movements of irreligion are still in its infancy. But nonetheless, the ideas, beliefs and convictions they are rooting for are clear. Hence, qualifying irreligion in the level of religion is possible, and necessary in the context of liberal, constitutional democracy.

We will qualify irreligion in the level of religion in two ways, first as a worldview and second as an active structured organization motivated and founded on a worldview or a set of worldviews. Then, we will look at how this is a cause for us to re-think and expand the separation of Church and State principle as a democratic ideal in the light of new developments in human society.

Firstly, Worldview has been defined by Leo Apostel and his associates at the Center Leo Apostel for Interdisciplinary Studies (CLEA) of Free University of Brussels as “a map that we use to orient and explain, from which we evaluate and act, and put forward prognoses and visions of the future. Hence: (i) orient; (ii) explain; (iii) evaluate; (iv) act and; (v) predict are the basic aspects of a worldview”.  (Apostel, et al. World Views, from fragmentation to integration, 1994) He further elaborated the qualifying of worldviews through seven standards:

  1. A model of the world (What is the nature of the world? How is it structured?)
  2. An explanation model (Why is the world the way it is and not different? Why are we the way we are and not different?)
  3. An evaluation model (Why do we feel in our world the way we feel?)
  4. An action model (How can we and do we have to act and create in this world? How can we influence and transform?)
  5. A rational futurology (What kind of future is ahead of us? And what are the criteria that allow us to choose for the future?)
  6. A model of model construction (How do we have to construct a model of the world such that we can answer the above questions?)
  7. Fragments of worldviews as starting points (What are the partial answers that can be given to the above questions?)

So, in taking this approach, we can surmise that a worldview is a distinct body of knowledge and ideas that take its own approach in answering important human questions and understanding, whether philosophical, scientific, social, political or religious. This separates a mere idea or concept to a worldview. It is in this regard that humanistic-atheistic irreligion is a worldview, as much as various religions are also worldviews. Religion and irreligion are worldviews trying to answer the same questions of life and nature. They are competing to provide answers and truths. Hence, religion and irreligion are worldviews in equal footing.

The second qualification proposed in this essay is that irreligion like religion is active structured organization motivated and founded on a worldview or a set of worldviews. The church is the expressed system and organization of religion. It is the structure of religion that maintains, enriches, promotes and defends its worldview. Similarly, Humanistic-Atheistic-Secularist worldviews are now enriched, propagated and defended through emerging formal structures, which we can call as worldview-structures like the British Humanist Association and American Atheist. One saliency is the fact that worldview-structure is active, that it engages the society to propagate its own worldview. This is an important difference to a passive worldview, which is stuck in the theoretical realm, like, for instance, anarchy.

Moreover, the worldview-structures, including various organized religions, compete in the public arena to push for their own worldview regarding, for instance, the origin of nature. A Hindu, for example, will have a distinct worldview vis-a-vis an Atheist or a Scientologist or even a Communist. Hence, the actual confrontations of different worldviews happen in society through the worldview-structures. Some lobby the government, some do public demonstrations, some are involved in public discourses, while others, in the case of formal churches, propagate their views through their normal church services.

Thus, in light of the progress and development in human social stratification and grouping as motivated by their worldviews, we see a case where direct and indirect imposition of worldview in society and in state to be no longer an exclusive complaint against religion or church; instead it has progressed: irreligious groups are now imposing their worldview as the standard worldview as well. This new reality is what this essay scrutinizes.

The principle of the separation of Church and State in liberal democracy was practically founded on the idea that State will never espouse an established religion. Henceforth, legal frameworks were developed in various liberal democratic countries to uphold this idea. To cite a few, the “free exercise” and “non-establishment” clauses are enshrined in the First Amendment of American Constitution, while Article II, Sec 6 of the Philippine Constitution contain a direct expression of the separation of Church and State.

The motivation is to allow each individual to freely pursue his or her own belief without any prior restraint, fear or threat. It assumes also that the State should remain neutral, while the Church should keep itself mellowed down in relation to core state functions. This environment ideally provides healthy pluralism; no religion is given the privilege in the society.

However, this essay put into question the potency of the principle of the separation of Church and State not just as a political theory, but as a legal doctrine that has clear implications in society, in light of the analysis of the emergence of worldview-structures. In the legal framework of the separation principle, where do you place irreligious organizations, which, like the Church, forward a worldview to the society?

In American Jurisprudence, we find very few cases and citations about irreligion. In Torasco v. Watkins, Justice Hugo Black hinted that Secular Humanism could be considered a religion in the likes of Buddhism and Ethical Culture. However, Peloza v. Capistrano School District establishes that as far as the ‘establishment clause purposes’ in the First Amendment is concerned, Secular Humanism is not a “religion”. Still, in Washington Ethical Society v. District of Columbia and Fellowship of Humanity v. County of Alameda, the court granted the Ethical and the Humanist organizations tax exemption because they function like a ‘church’.

Clearly, there is a seeming confusion regarding the status of irreligious organizations that promote worldview-structures. Although Justice Black in Torasco v. Watkins rightly identified non-theistic belief systems as akin to religious belief systems, no law qualifies or defines irreligion and non-theism. This lack of qualification represents how liberal democracies have failed to anticipate the rise of these alternative worldview-structures.

Hence, the task at hand is overwhelming. The development worldview-structures has made it a necessity to re-think, and possibly expand, the current principle of separation of Church and State with the view of properly qualify the non-religious and irreligious worldview-structures. The political and legal implications are great. If this is not addressed, certain worldview-structures, like the atheistic-humanistic groups would have immense privileges in forwarding their worldviews to the state, at the expense of religions and churches, which in the current set up are effectively checked. This is fatalistic to the progress of liberal democracy. In the name of preservation of democratic ideals and of freedoms, we should start to re-think now.

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Militant secularism in Western Europe

In response to a landmark case in the European Court of Human Rights involving two British women who were dismissed by their employers for wearing crucifix while working, the government of the United Kingdom is set to argue that Christians have no right to wear the crucifix at work. British ministers will point out that since wearing of the said symbol is not a requirement of the Christian faith, the right to wear it cannot be invoked against the right of employers to set out a uniform policy that bans the wearing of the said symbol.

In accordance with Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right of individuals to manifest their religion or belief, some religious symbols like the Sikh turban, the kara bracelet and the Muslim hijab are given special protection against company policies. The government’s position, it seems, is to strike a balance between the right to manifest one’s faith and the right of employers to define what their workers should wear at work. The idea is that the prerogative of companies must be limited only when it adversely affect the practice of a worker’s faith, and, since Christianity doesn’t require the wearing of crosses, non-wearing of crucixes doesn’t adversely affect the practice of one’s Christian faith.

This case involves several crucial questions regarding human rights: Does the right to manifest one’s belief in accordance with Article 9 apply only on manifestations that are ecclesiastically sanctioned and not on those that are personally-motivated? How important are company prerogatives when weighed against freedom of religion and freedom of expression? Indeed, can the State define what is a requirement and what is not within a religion, as the British government ministers are trying to do? It would be interesting how the European Court would resolve these questions.

But beyond these legal questions, I find this development very interesting because it represents resistance by proponents and defenders of religion against an overwhelming tide of secularism in the United Kingdom and beyond.

Most students of sociology would argue that there is a war between secularism and faith, and in that war both sides are more or less on equal footing– indeed, the very divisive and emotional national debate in Britain over the legalization of homosexual marriage is still too close to call. But I think this characterization is no longer accurate. For all intents and purposes, I think secularism has won. Despite the fact that the United Kingdom remains to be officially Christian– the Queen is the head of the established Church while the Lord Bishops, at least technically, help make laws as members of the House of Lords– the national discourse is already grounded on secularist principles. And this is true not only in Great Britain but throughout Western Europe as well.

For many staunch proponents of secularism, however, having the national discourse grounded on secularist principles is not enough. They are actively seeking to marginalize religion and remove it from the public square. As a result, Western Europe’s brand of secularism is increasingly becoming militant in orientation. Atheist thinkers, for instance, are actively calling for the eradication of religion, characterizing it as a threat that must be banished from society. And they are quite successful in influencing the public’s mood. Indeed, why else would companies be willing to risk a high-profile trial at a European court just to stick with their ban on crucifixes?

Last year, the world saw how oppressive militant secularism can be when France decided to ban the wearing of burqa, an Islamic clothing that covers a woman’s whole body, in public. The supposed intention of this ban is to combat what secularists see as a religious-based oppression of women; yet women who wear it willingly choose to do so as a matter of faith. As a result, many Muslim women are now forced to choose only one of two rights: freedom of religious expression and freedom of movement. Those who choose the former are in virtual house arrest, since they couldn’t venture outside their homes wearing burqa.

While religious fundamentalism is no doubt a threat to democracy and a hindrance to progress, viewing religion as inherently fundamentalist is dangerous. Indeed, by trying to sideline religion for fear of fundamentalism, staunch secularists become fundamentalist themselves; and secular fundamentalism, as we are seeing in France, can be as oppressive to liberty as religious fundamentalism.

In this respect, ironically, Turkish society is way ahead of its Western counterparts. Having gone through its own brand of secular fundamentalism, imposed by the Republic’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, that sidelined Islam for many years, it has now become confident enough to allow Islamic ideas to contribute to the forging of a vision for modern Turkey. Contrary to the fears of the West, this phenomenon has not led to the dilution of secularism or democracy. In fact, the Islamist Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is preaching secularism throughout the Arab world.

Clearly, militant secularism is the next hurdle in the evolution of Western European societies. Having achieved secularism only relatively recently, many are understandably very zealous in preserving the gains and preventing religion from again encroaching on many societal spheres. I think this is a natural part of the maturation process of the said societies. As an optimist, I think the natural direction of societal evolution dictates that, sooner or later, these societies would realize the folly of secular fundamentalism and its inconsistencies with democratic ideals.

The real question is, how long would it take Western European societies to get past their secularist zeal? I think this would depend a lot on how the leaders of the faiths would respond to the overwhelming secularist trend. Proponents of religions must continue to strongly argue for their cause, but their arguments, as President Barack Obama said, must be based on “universal, rather than religion-specific, values.” They must defeat secular fundamentalism not by showing that it is against their god’s will, but rather because it is against democratic ideals.

Unfortunately, religions themselves are yet to get their acts together, and many religious leaders remain too myopic to see the need for their churches to adapt to a changing society.