Book Reviews

25 fevereiro, 2007

101) Religioes na atualidade: mais presentes do que nunca...

Sacred Causes
by Michael Burleigh

Misplaced Faith
Why no one questioned the implications of bringing large Muslim populations into a secularizing West.

The Wall Street Journal, Thursday, February 22, 2007

Although many observers predicted that religion would enter a pattern of terminal decline in the 20th century, events took a different course. Religion not only revived but found expression in unexpected forms. The theologian Paul Tillich noted the way in which people invested worldly things, especially politics, with transcendent meaning. In a 1937 speech, Winston Churchill described communism and Nazism as "non-God religions" that aimed to reignite old religious wars. In "Sacred Causes," Michael Burleigh tracks the fate of religious and secular forces in the 20th century, registering their collisions and their effects on the culture we live in today.

By undermining European stability, Mr. Burleigh notes, World War I created a space for radical alternatives to the bourgeois norms that had gone before. He shows how the Protestant middle classes in Germany, for instance, distanced themselves from their churches, viewing traditional religious observance as the remnant of a discredited past. Science and culture, along with militant nationalism, filled the role that churches had once played, and the pattern replicated itself beyond Germany. A traditional outlook gave way to cultural pessimism, intensifying throughout the 1920s.

In such a cultural atmosphere, Adolf Hitler emerged as a prophet of neo-paganism. Mr. Burleigh highlights the sheer weirdness of dropouts in Germany who seized upon social disruption to make their fortunes, playing to an apocalyptic mood and crying for a purifying upheaval. Once Hitler took power, the Nazi Party became a new civil religion.

Marxist revolution marked a more direct challenge to the bourgeois order and traditional belief. Communism explicitly sought to destroy religion (an enemy to the new society) and enshrine itself as an alternative faith. Soviet leaders seized the property of the churches, including consecrated objects, and corrupted the church hierarchy by requiring political obeisance. With its Promethean faith in man's capacity for progress, the Communist Party made itself into a secular church, setting up its own "sacred" hierarchy and instituting its own rituals. Its opponents, though, were beyond redemption.

The 20th century's political religions, Mr. Burleigh argues, challenged the very existence of their God-centered rivals, and vicious anticlericalism often drove churches toward accommodation with brutal regimes. But he reveals a more complex reality. Churches that held fast to Christian teaching resisted corruption more effectively than their appeasing counterparts. Government reports on public opinion in the 1930s showed that many German Christians resisted Nazism. Opposing state control, some Protestant theologians insisted that "the Church must remain the Church." International ties gave Roman Catholics a stronger position from which to resist.

Mr. Burleigh defends the Catholic response to Nazism, noting that recent attacks on Pope Pius XII and the church's wartime role typically recycle anticlerical propaganda from the early Cold War and owe more to current anger over church teaching than to the historical record. The Vatican, he shows, regarded both Nazism and communism as alien ideologies opposed to Christian morality. It never saw Nazism as a barrier to godless Bolshevism.

Encyclicals denounced Nazi policies, and more than a few prelates and pastors openly resisted them. Catholics denounced the Holocaust and aided its victims; those like Slovakia's Father Tiso, who aided the Nazis, did so against Vatican instructions. Tiso faced the humiliation of being required to read a pastoral letter from the pulpit condemning his own actions. Mr. Burleigh contrasts the Orthodox hierarchy's accommodating response to Romanian anti-Semitism with Catholic actions elsewhere to show what collaboration really meant. Germany's Protestant hierarchy, it should be said, is much more open to criticism, often showing a willingness to truckle to its Nazi overlords and an eagerness to promote their racial views. Even so, Dietrich Bonhoffer and Martin Niemoller provide examples of resistance noted at the time. Such opposition, Mr. Burleigh argues, gave churches moral credibility in the aftermath of defeat.

After the war, religion played a key role in stabilizing Western Europe. Christian Democratic parties gave a structure to political activity that went beyond confessional boundaries. They also helped to anchor Italy and Germany in the Atlantic alliance. Communist repression strained the churches in Eastern Europe, but eventually they survived as the only sphere for independent civil society. Rather than become fading anachronisms, the churches challenged communist regimes, especially when the material underpinnings of the Soviet order eroded. "We want God" became the opposition rallying cry in the 1980s. Dialectical materialism offered a weak substitute for transcendent belief.

By the 1960s, Mr. Burleigh argues, consumerism in Western Europe and the U.S. had become a substitute faith. The effect was the kind of debased popular culture that we are all familiar with. But Mr. Burleigh is more concerned about another postwar development. He describes sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland as a portent for Europe's future. In the 1960s and 1970s, rival gangs in Northern Ireland seized the mantle of community leadership with appeals to atavistic, religiously based quarrels. Violence and rhetoric borrowed from the civil-rights movement led the state to withdraw from the province, ceding authority to leaders who radicalized their communities. Religion became a marker for tribal identity in a struggle for power.

What might seem to be a mere local echo of conflicts from Oliver Cromwell's day, Mr. Burleigh says, has a current parallel in Muslim ghettos across Europe. Alienated youths find meaning in Islam, and governments leave such communities to their own devices, allowing radical subcultures to grow. The 9/11 attacks, of course, brought political Islam into focus for many who had not given the matter any thought before. Mr. Burleigh asks why no one questioned the implications of introducing large Muslim populations into a secularizing West.

Absolute tolerance, Mr. Burleigh believes, makes Western societies particularly vulnerable to those who play by other rules, particularly when self-doubt hobbles Western leaders. Mr. Burleigh ends his fascinating chronicle by suggesting the new "sacred causes" are no less potent than the old ones, a truly troubling thought.

Mr. Hay is a historian at Mississippi State University and the author of "The Whig Revival: 1808-1830." You can buy "Sacred Causes" from the OpinionJournal bookstore.