Is a Christian world still viable? Account of Prof Chantal Delsol’s lecture
In a world of cosmotheism (sometimes designated as pantheism or polytheism) man feels at home in a singular reality that encompasses both the sacrum and the profanum; the sacred-profane dichotomy. Whereas with monotheism man partakes in a world considered to be immanent in which he finds himself longing for another type of world. For the monotheist our world is but a temporary place for stay. Yet for the cosmotheist – it is indeed his home. By now it seems the postmodernist sensibility has had enough of the provisionality that comes with this! An enduring abode is needed by him, in the full sense of this meaning. He apprehends the fundamentals of cosmotheism anew, since he is faced with the yearning to unite with our world as a person fully enfranchised, not as the noted foreigner we associate with the Christian described in the anonymous epistle to Diognetus – commented Prof Chantal Delsol during her lecture held as part of the John Paul II lecture series.
On Thursday 15th April the next in our series of lectures was held by the St John Paul II Institute of Culture, at the Angelicum in Rome. The lecture was titled ‘End of the Christian World’ and was delivered by Prof Chantal Delsol, a philosopher, writer, Professor of Political Philosophy and member of the French Academy. She is an award winner of numerous prizes including the Academy of Ethical and Political Sciences Prize (1993, 2002), the Mousquetaire Prize (1996) and the French Academy Prize (2001).
This next lecture as part of our John Paul II series was announced by Father Piotr Janas, O.P. from the Department of Social Sciences at Angelicum, who proceeded to thank patrons of the institute and following this mentioned our coming events. He passed the floor to Dariusz Karłowicz, who introduced our guest to the listeners as well as the issues up for discernment.
Prof. Chantal Delsol began her lecture with the affirmation that we are presently facing the spectre of a dwindling Christian civilization. The death throes of which we have been seeing for twenty years now, which has been putting up a heroic fight to stem this tide. A key moment of this lengthy process can be traced to the French Revolution. As Chantal Delsol points out, which could only have taken place as a reaction in opposition to Christianity – as since its dawn until this very day Christianity has been a recurring threat to the tides of modernism.
Our speaker next highlighted the particulars of this revolution in contrast to other European political revolutions. Its uniqueness lied in its total divorce from religion. The effect of which has been the continual war and tension between the state and the Church which haven’t been able to coexist amicably ever since, unlike the outcomes with other revolutions in European history. In accordance with Delsol’s observation, politics that is stripped of its spiritual dimension and responsibility will ultimately fall victim to volatile and dangerous unpredictabilities. Furthermore the Church, having been inverted to a role of a public enemy that continually resists and undermines ever changing laws and customs associated with the state, gradually begins to wane and die away in its significance.
Delsol next brought attention to the creation element that the role of the Catholic Church gave us as a foundation, which is in fact the underpinnings on which the civilization of Christianity was founded. This imminent culmination of the conflict between modernity and the Church was something entirely inevitable, the moment would come that the Church would begin to wane. According to our speaker, any attempt to appropriate the Church to modernity’s ends would end in a dire way for the Church. Later stages of modernity and movements later to come in the 19th and 20th centuries only served to solidify the unfortunate outlook for the Church.
In the next part of our lecture Chantal Delsol called to mind memorable words of André Malraux who prophesied that the 21st century would indeed be a ‘century of religion’. Truly, in a certain sense this has come to be, however not with respect to Christianity. As a truism of our times Delsol called up the many religious systems concocted by societies, and indeed this is the case today. She explains moreover how the gradual fall of the Christian world didn’t usher in expected atheistic movements, rather she notes that something of the sort doesn’t de facto exist. We have therefore a scenario wherein a civilizational paradigm shift is taking place, and which is taking place according to the following scheme. According to Prof Delsol the imminent epoch ahead of us is, as it happens, one of wisdom and paganism. This is a transcendence within which paganism is discovered and understood anew. Since the diagnosis according to Delsol here is that we presently live in actual revolutionary times – in the literal sense of the word – where the metamorphosis currently taking place affects morality as it does ontology. The most pertinent moment of this revolution was of course the decade of the 1960s.
Our speaker proceeded by giving various examples of a phenomenon which we see in societies that we might describe as prescriptions of social norms and as a true reflection of widely understood philosophical choices. She noted meanwhile, that Christianity was established as a result of a duly ‘redirected twist’ in the opposite direction. Delsol called to mind the lack of harmony between the Christian world vision and the ancient Roman system and the tension that arose between these two in the 4th century AD. In turn the revolutionary movements of the 18th century marks the moment for the beginning of the end of the Christian world. It was at this point in time that the West began initiation of this process in doing away with its civilizational roots.
Further, Prof Delsol noted how Christians who strive to defend our traditional morality are in fact fully aware of the ‘unchristian reasoning’ which purports that their dogmas are no longer to be listened to or heard by anybody anymore. Processes are dawning upon us which are entirely contrary to what had been mentioned as to the start of the 4th century, as Delsol notes, the cycle has indeed run its course.
The revolution in our midst in accordance with the reasoning presented here by our speaker is an outcome of the changing foundations of earlier moral underpinnings. We have now been led to the overturning of previous ontological norms and rules which were once the fundamental truths as the foundations of the Christian world. After an inevitable fall at some point, these transient and novel laws, with their new cultural norms, will only for a time manage to be justified. Purely by habituation will they be implemented, however such a state of being naturally can’t stand the test of time and will have to eventually fall victim to the accusations of illegitimacy. Since what shapes a civilization isn’t truth as many might suggest, but rather, being fully convinced by the truth. It is this ability to be convinced by truth which guarantees the withstanding of the foundational cultural and moral norms – explains Delsol.
To help depict this situation that is here presently being considered by the reasoning put forward, we may draw comparisons between cosmotheisms i.e. religions that are more primitive in nature, and monotheisms i.e. religions that are more complex in nature. The second of these dwindles away, when we abandon the effort that is required for its upkeep. Here Delsol reveals the mechanism which is taking place. A latent self-existing cosmotheism has been kept dormant for a time by monotheism. Yet lying at the wait is its opportunity to awaken and exert its influence as though with a vengeance, as it were.
Next Chantal Delsol went against the current modes of thinking which purport that singular forms could replace the Christian framework as negative forms, namely atheism and nihilism. She considers such convictions to be tantamount to claims of irreplaceability. As by now we are facing something rather different in nature – in place of Christianity we don’t see voids of nothingness, sooner we see familiar and more primitive historical forms almost uncouth in their nature. In place of a fallen Christianity – we can expect stoical morality, pagan orientations, and likewise various offshoots of atheistic spiritual ideologies. In effect we do in fact have phenomenon that are characterised by their immanence, that are seeking a full sense of life in life itself. As Delsol notices, the postmodernist man is keen to do away with differences in classification, as though making overuse of the notion of inclusion, and indeed making overuse of the adjective ‘inclusive’. Hence cosmotheism transpires naturally for this reason, since it parts with the earlier and established notion of dualism which is the bedrock for Judeo-Christian culture. In agreement with the issues here presented for deliberation, we live in times which have in a sense harnessed the truths of the Gospel while removing the fundamentals which they rest upon – recent modernism has accepted the Gospel whilst getting rid of its transcendental elements.
In the last part of her lecture, Prof Delsol puts out a question of the fate of our Church within the spectre of a fallen Christian world. As a common reaction amongst clerics, she points to resignation and reluctance. Likewise highlighted here is the case for certain contemporary clergymen who take on the role of today’s somewhat hidden or concealed apostles. In concluding this thought, our speaker related likewise to secular world situations, whereby Christians are designated to a somewhat gutted status in being defeated soldiers. Delsol diagnoses the present situation pessimistically, as a bleak struggle on the scale of war, where focus has come on the perfunctory as opposed to relying on faith as a legitimate means. She exhorts us, that we ought to seek a return to Christianity, to the inherent dignity of each and every living embryo, as only then will you be able to put a stop to abortion. Attempting to render this in any other way would be akin to forcing deep faithfulness upon those who are not catholic, which would in effect come across as an absurdity, terrorist in scale. Faith and adherence to morality precede the legitimacy of laws and rules. And furthermore she adds, that if you are not able to exert authority as a ruler, you ought to set by example as novelist Camus famously noted.
In closing, Delsol noted how she still perceives a certain kind of lacking which results in a further withdrawal from the Christian world. She next posed a rhetorical question: does mission necessitate conquest?.. thereby suggesting that perhaps we should take the Tibetan monks as a template for Christianity, though not the philosopher and theologian Sepulveda. This highlights the fruitfulness offered by a silent witness as a concealed agent of God, a phenomenon ever so rarely met nowadays. In concluding: experiencing the fruits of the Church Fathers gives certainty to the assertion that the Gospel shouldn’t dictate rule over the state, but rather in the words of St. Exupery ‘to slowly head towards the well..’.
The last part of our meeting gave us the opportunity for questions and answers with our speaker Prof Delsol. The audience here was largely interested in the issue of de-Christianization within the context of the waning perception of human dignity, and likewise of interest was the issue on whether the prevailing processes underway in Europe which our lecture focused on, may yet be overturned.
We invite you to the next in our series of John Paul II lectures titled The relevance of art in Christianity of our present world which will be held by Rémi Brague on the 18th May.
Translated by Tomasz Sosnowski