Table of Contents
Articles in this issue
From the Editor:
Blogging on the Religion Beat
Religion and the Supremes
Intelligent Design On
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 clichés
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
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.
Emilio Gentile responds:
If I were to reply in Weigelesque style, I would start by
saying that George Weigel has simply recycled clichés
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 clarity...as 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