Pope Sees a Fragile but Inspirational America
Father Roger J. Landry of the Diocese of Fall River has some thoughts on the meaning of Pope Benedict’s recent visit to the U.S. (h/t). In particular, he focuses on how the Pope called on our own founding traditions to reinvigorate us.
He came to speak to all Americans: to remind us who we are, what our particular cultural and political inheritance is, and inspire us to treasure, protect and advance it.
For Benedict, the greatest part of that inheritance is the way our constitution and culture has protected religious freedom. In an interview on the plane coming to our country, the Holy Father said that America’s founding fathers understood and applied a crucial paradox: that the best way to preserve religious freedom was to have a secular state.
Father Landry notes that the Pope, in a seeming echo of Edmund Burke, makes a critical distinction between the “positive concept of secularism” held–and handed down–by the American founders and the “negative European secularism flowing from the French revolution.” The Pope believes America can serve as the “’fundamental model’ for Europe,” but that many Americans believe in the European model instead of that of their own heritage and they must be persuaded to re-think their position. Why?
If this corruption of the positive American secularism continues — whereby faith becomes a civic virtue rather than leads to moral virtues — then the entire American experiment in self-government is endangered. This is not an exclusively papal insight, but, as the Pope himself noted, the clear conclusion of Presidents Washington and Adams as well as Alexis de Tocqueville. The 265th pope quoted the first president, who in his farewell address said that “religion and morality represent indispensable supports of political prosperity,” and added, “Democracy can only flourish, as your founding fathers realized, when political leaders and those whom they represent are guided by truth and bring the wisdom born of firm moral principle to decisions affecting the life and future of the nation.”