This is the first in a series of posts on the decline of the Catholic Church in Europe.
The term faitheist was invented several years ago to denote in individual who, despite having no belief in the supernatural, instead views a general belief in religion as a positive factor in society, in other words an atheist who has “belief in belief”. Well, you can take your Chris Mooney, your Michael Ruse and your Chris Stedman, for I think we’ve found the ultimate faitheist.
Meet Marcello Pera, an atheist so friendly to religion that the forward to his new book was written by none other than the Pope!
Pera, the president of the Italian Senate from 2001 to 2006, and a member of Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, published Senza radici: Europa, relativismo, cristianesimo, Islam – Without Roots: Europe, Relativism, Christianity, Islam with the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 2004. In that book the double act of Pera and the prefect of the Vatican’s Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith proceeded to argue against relativism and for a positive role for the European church. Pera, in particular, saw Christianity as a bulwark against an expansionist Islam and sought to promote an explicitly Christian version of the European Union.
Dominico Pacitti, reviewing that book in 2005, commented:
Pera’s reasoning requires little comment beyond the observation that believers and non-believers alike could well find themselves thanking God that the EU is there to restrain him.
Pera has also written of his lament that his proposal to insert references to Europe’s Christian roots into the preamble to the European Constitutional Treaty was rejected
Pera’s new book, for which the now Pope Benedict XVI has written an introduction, is entitled Why We Should Call Ourselves Christians: The Religious Roots of Free Societies.
He expands on his thesis that Christianity is both a vital part of European history and a necessary element in its future, arguing for a civil religion based on Christianity.
Unsurprisingly, this stance is being enthusiastically hailed by conservative Catholic groups – for example the Iona Institute, a right wing Catholic think tank based in Dublin, who described Pera as
An atheist our own atheists might care to learn from.
The enthusiasm shown for Pera’s views, however, hides a deep malaise within European Catholicism – something a recent series of polls have highlighted and which I shall cover in future posts.