There are Christians, and there are Christian fundamentalists, there are Jews, and there are militant Zionists. And of course, there are Muslims, and there are militant Islamists. Similarly, there are not only tolerant non-religious liberals (atheists or agnostics) but there is also a fundamentalist, intolerant and militant version of them, a kind of negative religionists that I (and others) call secularists. A contemporary Christian or Jew, and perhaps also Muslim, can politically and culturally coexist with the former, even if they gain dominance and power, but - as the Buttiglione case shows - not so easily with the latter.
Rocco Buttiglione, a lawyer and administrative judge, was the main reason why the EU President designate JM Barroso had to withdraw his 25 candidates for the EU Commission (Buttiglione was to be the EU Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security), before it was voted on in the European Parliament. It became clear that the Socialists, Liberals, Greens and other leftists, who together formed a majority, would vote against Barroso’s team. Buttiglione, a committed Catholic and a close friend of the Pope, was unacceptable to the secularists mainly because of his allegedly anti-gay statements: However, the opinion-forming media seldom quoted these. What Buttiglione actually said, when interviewed by MEPs in October, was this:
I may think that homosexuality is a sin but this has no effect on politics, unless I say that homosexuality is a crime. The state has no right to stick its nose into these things, and nobody can be discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation ... this stands in the Charter of Human Rights, this stands in the Constitution, and I have pledged to defend this constitution.
The rights of the homosexuals should be defended from the same basis as the rights of all other European citizens. If there are specific problems relating to homosexuals I am ready to take these into account … But I would not accept that homosexuals are a special category, and that the defence of their rights should rest on a basis that is different from that available to all European citizens as such … I consider it inappropriate to assume that all people must agree in all matters of morals. We can build a community of citizens even if we have different opinions about certain moral issues.
And this is the point where the intolerance of the new secularists becomes so frightening and reminds one of Orwell’s thought police. A loyal Catholic will also think that many other things are a sin (extra-marital sex, non-attendance of a Sunday mass, and so on) but surely that does not mean that a Minister of Justice or even a judge, who happens to be a Catholic, would discriminate against those who transgress these Catholic norms as long as they are sins (a concept meaningless to the non-religious) and not crimes defined by the written law as well as common, secular, moral norms.
The “old” European secularists rightly object to religious societies (for example Islamic, or medieval Christian) where this distinction is not being made, but they themselves do not want to recognise this distinction - made so explicitly by Buttiglione - between adherence to law and personal opinions or rules of conduct that follow some authority acceptable or unacceptable to the secularists. Some 50 years ago even the most ardent atheist, who for example ate meat on Friday, did not think he would be discriminated against just because the Minister of Justice happened to be a loyal Catholic. But in those times political correctness was an unknown phrase, and old-time atheists, being a minority, were more tolerant.
Of course, personal beliefs will always have some bearing on the way a Minister of Justice will carry out his or her duties, and of course, there are many topics, including homosexual rights, on which prospective candidates can hold a variety of personal moral beliefs. Any such belief will somehow influence the way he or she approaches public duty and interprets the law where it is open to interpretation; including the beliefs apparently held by Buttiglione, as well as those diametrically opposed to them, apparently preferred by the politically correct majority in the EU parliament.
However, one must ask: Why is the Catholic point of view considered so unacceptable that it would debar Buttiglione from public office, rather than being seen as one of many equally tolerated personal beliefs representing the various moral or cultural backgrounds of Europeans?
The Buttiglione controversy might have parallels with John F Kerry. Politically, both are losers and both for seemingly the same reason: separation of personal beliefs from political commitment to their prospective constituents. It is true, that Buttiglione was punished for his distinction by the secularist majority in the EU parliament, while Kerry was punished by those supporting Bush’s alleged religious conservatism, including some Catholic bishops. It is also true that in Buttiglione’s case the bone of contention was homosexuality, while Kerry’s controversy revolved mainly around abortion on demand. And that is the big difference.
Buttiglione (and the Catholic Church) regards homosexual activity as a sin but not a crime punishable by law. On the other hand, the Catholic position on abortion on demand is that it is murder. And murder is not just a sin, it is a crime recognised as such by everybody, including the secularists. I am not defending the Catholic position, just pointing out the difference.
When serving on the committee writing up the EU Constitution, Buttiglione allegedly opposed the clauses that would have enshrined the principle of non-discrimination on the basis of sexuality. This is hardly compatible with what he says in the quote above, but anyhow, why should the Constitution contain clauses against discrimination “on basis of sexuality”, and not, say, on basis of health, age, ethnicity, beliefs, education, height, body weight etc.? The list could go on and on.
The ideological intolerance manifest in the Buttiglione affair, surpassed in Europe’s recent history only by the Nazis and Communists, goes hand in hand with the recent omission from the Constitution of the EU of any reference to Christianity, even God (common to Muslims and Jews as well). A cultural self-denial, a rejection of one’s own roots because they are buried in a past incomprehensible to the pompous secularists. Is it so important for the European Constitution to contain a special reference to homosexuality but not to Christianity or even God? And if so, what is this indicative of?
Just recently I stood in the Aachen Cathedral next to the throne, where Charlemagne (742-814) - generally considered the “founding father” of a united Europe - sat. Until the middle of last century, (the times of Adenauer and de Gaulle), this was an idea of a united Europe based on Christian values (complemented, where necessary, by Enlightenment insights): And not the “plastic replicas” that have now replaced the originals.
Alfred Whitehead had observed, “the faith in the possibility of science, generated antecedently to the development of modern scientific theory, is an unconscious derivative from medieval theology”. In other words, no enlightened modernity - which also introduced the concept of tolerance - without the Christian Middle Ages that gave birth to it. One may add that this was a painful birth, as births usually are. And that it is the mother, not the offspring, who suffers.