Winter 2006, Vol. 8, No. 3

Table of Contents
Winter 2006

Quick Links:
Articles in this issue

From the Editor:
Blogging on the Religion Beat

Libert, Equalit, Islam

Religion and the Supremes

Intelligent Design On Trial

Special Supplement
A Symposium

After Katrina

Winning Hearts and Minds in Kashmir

No Peace for the Church

Tokyo's Dr. Phil

Letters to the Editor



Letters to the Editor
Italian Culture War?

To the editor:

I'm afraid that Emilio Gentile's report on the June Italian referendum in the Summer 2005 issue of Religion in the News simply recycled clichs from the Italian Left about that dramatic event. It also missed several key aspects of the story:

1) The strategy of urging a non-vote was devised by Cardinal Camillo Ruini a year or more ago, and Ruini got the agreement of the Italian Bishops Conference to go down this particular road. If anyone deserves credit (or blame, depending on your point of view) for the result, it's Ruini. Gentile seems quite innocent of all this.

2) For once (and unlike the divorce and abortion referenda), Catholic Church leaders didn't make arguments from authority in this instance ("Do X because we say so"), but genuinely public arguments that believers and non-believers alike could engage. Thus a referendum on the technologization of reproduction and on the moral status of the embryo pivoted on the correct issue, public justice, rather than the wrong issue, personal "autonomy." Gentile seems to have been oblivious to this, too; perhaps he prefers the old authoritarianism, which is much easier to defeat electorally?

3) The use of the terminology "neocons" in the Italian context strikes me as either lazy or deliberately provocative.There is little in Italy that resembles the general configuration known as "neoconservatism" in the United States, although papers like La Repubblica are happy to use the term to summon up presumably frightening images of the Great Ogre Bush and his minions.

4) Post-referendum editorial comments like that quoted from La Repubblica do little else but illustrate the determination of the Euro-left to make Europe a naked public square (to use a familiar phrase). They certainly don't illuminate the public role of religion in the current changes underway in Italian society.

George Weigel


Emilio Gentile responds:

If I were to reply in Weigelesque style, I would start by saying that George Weigel has simply recycled clichs from the American Right, using Christianity as a political weapon against the familiar image of a secular humanist conspiracy to ban religion from the public square. But since the Weigelsque style is quite the opposite of my own, I will confine my comments to the pallottole di carta ("paper bullets," in Cardinal Ruini's words) of his critique.

First, my article did not pretend to tell the whole story of the Italian referendum. It was about the referendum as a chapter in an ongoing, self-styled "culture war" waged by a number of intellectuals and politicians in Italy, who are commonly referred to as "neocons" or "theocons." Some of them, indeed, embrace these labels, though many prefer to be called "liberal." As I pointed out, while most define themselves as atheists rather than Catholics or Christians, they 1) claim to be fighting to restore the Christian roots of Italian national identity; 2) talk about Catholicism as civil religion for Italy and/or the European Union; and 3) want to undermine the separation of church and state by recognizing the primacy of the Pope as a moral guide in the political and secular realm.

While I agree that there is "little in Italy that resembles the general configuration known as neoconservatism' in the United States," Weigel would do better to address his clarification to the Italian culture warriors themselves, who claim to draw inspiration from American neocons and theocons. The writings of the latter often appear in their newspapers, and they openly declare that George Bush's America is their ideal. While he's at it, Weigel might also caution Cardinal Ruini against his proposal to have Catholicism function along the lines of the American civil religion. I personally do not argue against the presence of religion in the public square, but I do believe that making Catholicism into a civil religion would corrupt it intellectually, politically, and morally, transforming it into a political ideology or a patriotic idolatry.

As for the Vatican's intervention in the referendum campaign, Weigel insinuates that "perhaps" I prefer "the old authoritarianism, which is much easier to defeat electorally." What I prefer is intellectual and moral Jesus put it in the Sermon on the Mount, "Let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay." But inasmuch as abstaining from voting, especially on referendums, has been a powerful trend in Italian electoral behavior since the 1980s, giving Ruini credit for the result is equivalent to giving a surfer credit for the wave he is riding.

Finally, readers interested in illumination of the evolving role of religion in Italian society today can consult my article not only for the editorial comments of La Repubblica but also for a wide spectrum of post-referendum reaction from Italian politicians and media outlets.




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