This is one of the best articles I've read regarding Pope Benedict's position on the growing secularism in Europe and society at large.
Benedict's post-secular vision
Phillip Blond and Adrian Pabst
International Herald TribunePublished: November 29, 2006
LONDON: The pope in Turkey
Two months ago, Pope Benedict XVI sparked a furor in the Islamic world when, during a lecture at Regensburg, he quoted a Byzantine emperor who described some of the Prophet Muhammad's teachings as "evil and inhuman." After worldwide condemnation and violent protests, he expressed regret for the pain his comments had caused, but stopped short of a full apology.
During his visit to Turkey this week, Benedict is expected to avoid controversy and seek a diplomatic rapprochement with Islam. Indeed, his talk of "dialogue, brotherhood and understanding between religions," as well as the reversal of his objections to Turkey's EU membership has been widely interpreted as a gesture of goodwill toward the Muslim faithful. As such, his declarations appear to be a concession to his liberal and religious critics alike.
But the papal visit is not primarily an attempt to pacify relations between Christianity and Islam. Instead, Benedict is there to engage with Islam and Eastern Orthodoxy in the hope of persuading both to join his project of overcoming secularism.
The Pope, far from being sectarian, wants to inaugurate a new religious renaissance in Europe that opposes both secular and religious fundamentalism. This apostolic journey is of a piece with the logic of the Regensburg address, rather than a belated act of repentance for it.
Benedict opposes secularism because it is both absolute and arbitrary. In the name of being neutral with regard to values, secular ideology eliminates all rival world views from the public sphere. By denying the existence of objective moral truths, it elevates self- assertion as the measure of all things. Social life is reduced to the arbitration of conflicting self-interest — a process in which the most powerful always win.
Ultimately, this arbitrary absolutism produces a society ruled by an unholy alliance of utilitarian ethics and the proxy politics of the managerial class. This collusion destroys the very idea of common action and a binding collective discernment. Thus does the pope attribute the failure of Europe's common political project to the growing secularization of European culture.
Benedict's religious alternative is not some form of theocratic absolutism. On the contrary, the Pope is a staunch defender of secularity — the separation of church and state. Benedict wants to disentangle the church from the state, but without divorcing religion from politics, because only a religion freed from subservience to the state can save modern culture from itself.
Thus Benedict's true purpose in Turkey is that of uniting all the monotheistic faiths against a militant and self-consciously destructive secular culture. To that end he will seek a new political communion with Bartholomew I, the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople — the symbolic leader of the world's 250 million Orthodox Christians. Even the Russian Orthodox patriarch, Alexei II, who rejected overtures by the late Pope John Paul II, has indicated that he would now welcome talks with Rome.
Nor are the pope's attempts to produce a concerted monotheistic alliance restricted to Christians. On the first day of his visit, Benedict quoted an 11th century pope, Gregory VII, who talked about the duties that Christians and Muslims owe each other "because we believe in one God."
Far from being anti-Muslim, the pope views Islam as a key cultural ally against the enlightenment liberalism that for him corrodes the moral core of Western society.
It is important to realize, however, that Benedict recognizes a mutual problem in this explicit project of religious realignment around shared critiques and common discernment. Secular conceptions of race, state and nation have corrupted all the faiths, too often turning them into a vehicle for nationalism or racism.
Accordingly, the denunciation at Regensburg of scripturally authorized violence by Islam is wholly in line with Benedict's call to the faiths to abandon their respective perversions. Hence the papal demand Tuesday that all religions "utterly refuse to sanction recourse to violence as a legitimate expression of faith."
It is a genuine cause for celebration that Benedict seeks to make common cause with other universal faiths to confront an aggressively supremacist Western culture of forced unbelief and relentless consumerism.
Phillip Blond is a senior lecturer in religion and philosophy at St. Martin's College, Lancaster. Adrian Pabst is a research fellow at the Luxembourg Institute for European and International Studies.