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Mon Dieu … Is Back In France

Look at what François Fillon is doing: [1]

Much to our surprise in Europe, religion wasn’t a big theme in the 2016 presidential election in the United States, a country that proclaims its trust in God even on its bank notes. It may therefore be puzzling to some Americans to learn that God is back in the political debate on this side of the Atlantic. And that he chose, of all places, France, the sacred land of “laïcité,” the local version of secularism.

The man who brought God — or, more specifically, Christianity — back is François Fillon, a former prime minister who is running in the presidential election in the spring as the nominee of the main center-right Republican Party. Mr. Fillon’s initial platform included a drastic proposal to cut back on public health insurance that caused widespread indignation and forced him to backpedal; to persuade voters that he did not intend to hurt the poorest, Mr. Fillon explained this month that “I am a Gaullist, and furthermore I am a Christian,” and said that as such he would never act against “the respect of human dignity.”

Christian? Did he say Christian? In the media, other politicians were promptly requested to react. The centrist François Bayrou, while pointing out that he was himself “a believer,” was appalled, adding that “in France, for more than a century, the rule has been that you don’t mix politics and religion.”

A former adviser to Nicolas Sarkozy, Henri Guaino, said that Mr. Fillon had committed a “moral error.” And Marine Le Pen of the National Front, sporting around her neck, in lieu of a cross, a heart-shaped silver pendant, said that Mr. Fillon’s “opportunistic use” of his Christianity for political purposes had created “unease.”

More:

This fresh enthusiasm for Christianity has less to do with God, though, than with culture and identity. Polls usually show that close to 55 percent of French citizens describe themselves as Roman Catholics (the rest being divided among Muslims, Jews and Protestants), but only 5 percent to 8 percent go to church regularly. An Ipsos study recently commissioned by the Catholic media group Bayard has created a new category of believers: “committed Catholics,” people who don’t necessarily attend church but identify with the Catholic Church through philanthropy, family life or social involvement. This group is said to include 23 percent of the French population.

Though they represent a variety of opinions on matters from migrants to Pope Francis or political orientations, this group can be seen as a potential electoral bloc. “These cultural Catholics have been under the radar screen because polls did not identify them, and because secularized political and media elites did not see them,” Jean-Pierre Denis, the editor of the Catholic weekly La Vie, told me. The socially conservative Mr. Fillon, he said, “has been smart enough to spot them and tap into them.”

That’s fantastic news. While a practicing Christian has to hope that these cultural Catholics will return to a robust practice of their faith, given how anti-religious French culture has been, it’s a joy to see this. Samuel Gregg writes about “France’s Catholic moment” [2]. Excerpts:

So what has changed? How has it come to pass that movements of young and politically active Catholics such as the Sens Commun were able to openly mobilize center-right voters to support the forthright Catholic Fillon against the self-described catholique agnostique Juppé during the primary runoff? Why did Fillon, Juppé, and Sarkozy all consider themselves obliged to appeal directly to practicing Catholics during the primaries? Is France experiencing what might be called its own Catholic moment?

As with most developments at the confluence of religion and politics, immediate concerns and long-term factors are at work. Among the former is deep angst throughout French society about Islam, something accentuated by Islamist terrorism and the spread of Muslim-dominated “no-go” areas for non-Muslims throughout France. As the Catholic intellectual Pierre Manent demonstrated in his bestselling Situation de la France (2015), many French citizens are consequently asking one of those existential questions beloved by the French: What gives France its distinct character? Some, including many nonbelievers, have concluded that France really cannot be understood without Catholicism, and that the legacy of the Enlightenment and French Revolution has not provided much of a bulwark against creeping Islamization. Fr. Jacques Hamel’s brutal murder by two Islamist terrorists in July 2016 underscored this in a particularly poignant way for many French Catholics, and no doubt for Jews, Protestants, and nonbelievers as well.

More, about the role that the late Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, Archbishop of Paris, did to revive authentic Catholicism, and public Catholicism:

Lustiger, and many of those who became priests (often known as génération Lustiger) during his time as French Catholicism’s public face, gave the Church presence in French society. Many of these men are now bishops: Dominique Rey in Fréjus-Toulon, Olivier de Germay in Corsica, Marc Aillet of Bayonne, the Paris auxiliary Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, the military bishop Luc Ravel, to name just a few. They come from professional families, and invariably possess credentials from France’s elite secular educational institutions as impressive as their counterparts in academia, business, and politics. These bishops are what the French call décomplexé. That means they are unintimidated by secular France and do not feel the need to acquiesce to the dwindling band of progressive Catholics and their views about how practicing Catholics and the Church should behave. In 2015, for example, Bishop Rey provoked controversy by inviting Marion Maréchal-Le Pen to speak alongside representatives from other parties in a discussion about Catholics in public life at his diocese’s summer university. In his response to criticisms, Rey pointed out the obvious: You can hardly have a serious conversation about Catholics in politics and exclude representatives of a political party which regularly receives millions of votes in France.

These génération Lustiger bishops, the priests they have formed, and their lay Catholic equivalents in leadership positions refuse to behave in accord with the expectations of the heirs of Voltaire and Rousseau who have been running French culture since the end of World War II. This independent and self-confident spirit helps explain the resilience of La Manif pour tous, which was more effective in mobilizing public opinion than pro-marriage groups in the United States, in large part because of its ability to put hundreds of thousands of people into the streets of Paris, many of whom are not Catholic. It was only a matter of time before this type of Catholic activism spilled over into party politics. Fillon’s ascendancy indicates that this time has arrived.

Read the whole thing. [2] There may be hope for France.

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40 Comments To "Mon Dieu … Is Back In France"

#1 Comment By Eric Mader On January 26, 2017 @ 9:28 am

Vive la France!

Though I have strong connections to France, my grad work having been on French Renaissance literature, for decades now I’ve been what I’d call an “ambivalent francophile”, given the thin materialism and laicism of the culture. But maybe French shock at realizing, after all these years, that they are in fact a European nation and not l’humanité universelle, maybe questioning their identity a bit more rigorously, which is to say taking off the heavy rose-colored glasses of Enlightenment–maybe these combined with a bit of grace means there is some hope for France. I’d love to see M. Houellebecq proven wrong.

#2 Comment By collin On January 26, 2017 @ 9:28 am

This fresh enthusiasm for Christianity has less to do with God, though, than with culture and identity.

This sounds like exactly the Trump run in which cultural Conservatives move towards a conservative strongman with little religious convictions.

#3 Comment By Winston Smith On January 26, 2017 @ 9:44 am

We can only hope for a renewal of the Christian faith

#4 Comment By mrscracker On January 26, 2017 @ 9:47 am

You hear a lot of pessimistic stuff about modern French culture, but the little bit of experience I’ve had with French exchange students/their families and teachers from a French school was very positive. Just lovely Christian people. And very family oriented.

#5 Comment By Reid E. Pagliaccio On January 26, 2017 @ 10:03 am

No hope for France. Fillon will be tied up with Spouse Gate for the rest of the campaign which will be won by a right socialist or–OMG–Marine LePen.

#6 Comment By M. F. Rose On January 26, 2017 @ 10:19 am

Read Chateaubriand’s *The Genius of Christianity*.

It’s all there.

#7 Comment By March Hare On January 26, 2017 @ 10:47 am

As we all wring our hands about the decline of religious values in the US, I think we need to keep the French model in mind. A similar future may await people of faith in the US. I don’t think that’s a terrible future.

I’m as secular as they come, but I recognize that you can’t possibly understand or participate in French culture without Catholicism. By like token, you can’t really understand American culture without understanding how we got the way we are, and that requires understanding America’s religious history. Yet many of my fellow atheists treat discussion of religion as icky, despite the obvious fact that their basic value system traces directly from America’s religious history.

#8 Comment By Giuseppe Scalas On January 26, 2017 @ 11:18 am

Well, let’s not forget that the French President is honorary proto-canon of the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran in Rome, co-prince of Andorra (the other prince is the Bishop of Urgell) and he directly appoints the Bishop of Metz and the Arch-Bishop of Strasbourg.
In France faith is not dead. France is actually home of a very resilient, orthodox and lively Christianity, fortified by a 250-year long resistance against the domineering secularism of the State.

#9 Comment By Will Harrington On January 26, 2017 @ 11:56 am

Collin

In what way is a move among the French toward a Catholic identity without Praxis exactly the same as a move among American evangelicals toward supporting a President without Christian practice. They are starting from opposit places and heading in opposit directions. They may meet in the middle, but there is no reason to suppose that middle is the goal of the French Catholics or the American Evangelicals, nor is there any reason to assume that American Evangelicals are giving up there praxis (such as it is) just because they are supporting Trump.

#10 Comment By Charles Cosimano On January 26, 2017 @ 12:13 pm

It does not matter. They will still eat cow snout.

I would imagine the average Frenchman in the bistro is having the same reaction to this as the average American in the bar about a million idiot women dressed in pussy hats–laughter.

#11 Comment By James On January 26, 2017 @ 12:29 pm

I’ve lived in France for just over a year nor, before Fillon became a serious player in the presidential campaign, and undoubtedly this resurgence in Catholicism predates him. I think the Lustiger connection is key, and for many young people here (including my fiancée and future in-laws) the idea of being Catholic and *not* serious about it is plain weird. I attend the Anglophone parish here (being English with not-so-great French) and it has four Masses every Sunday that are standing-room only. When I visit my fiancée’s family and attend Mass there, it’s full to bursting at any service. There is a stirring of the faith in France, and I believe that Fillon is a symptom, not a cause as some might suggest.

It goes to show what a difference having courageous people can make at all levels of the church, from parishioners to priests to bishops. And hats off to Cardinal Lustiger for thinking longer than his own tenure!

#12 Comment By IowaGreg On January 26, 2017 @ 12:42 pm

And…right on cue it appears that Fillon will go down in corruption scandal:

[3]

#13 Comment By IowaGreg On January 26, 2017 @ 12:43 pm

Or maybe not…

#14 Comment By Lord Karth On January 26, 2017 @ 1:07 pm

When I hear reports of increasing numbers of French butts in Church seats, along with the ancillary stuff, then and only then will I begin to take these reports seriously. As of right now,, all this just strikes me as “flavor-of-the-month” noise.

Your servant,

Lord Karth

#15 Comment By Shelley On January 26, 2017 @ 1:25 pm

It would seem France is experiencing a shift a little earlier than we are towards religion. A lot of the people mentioned in the article are young people. Why the youth?

I’m beginning to see a shift in perspective among the young people, ages 18-22, on my social media accounts towards religion and or more traditional values. Mostly these young adults are NOT in academia, but are just regular Joes, working, community college, trade schools, military, or they got the 4 year degree and went right to work instead of into post-graduate studies.

I think two things account for it.
1. The rebellious nature of youth: These young people have watched their parents embrace and institutionalize progressive ideals. If mom is at the Women’s March, then daughter will have nothing to do with it and will argue the opposite perspectives just to vex mom. For example, I have two different young women on my FB arguing about the rights of men against sexual assault and against put downs just because they are men. They are also making statements about how silly the causes promoted by the Women’s March were! Both of these girls, ages 19 and 21, do NOT identify with the statements that came out of the march. It’s interesting to see them get in arguments with young men who are trying to be “on the right side of history” in support of “women’s rights.” These two girls think it’s all much ado about nothing and they are getting pretty beat up over that opinion. Neither of them are practicing Christians or in any way “conservative or on the “right”. One is white and the other is black. So normal categories don’t apply.

2. As youth have watched progressive ideals instituted by the older generation, they have also seen how the lives of the 40-60 year old population has gone….not so great. I think it is beginning to dawn on them that these ideals do not allow for human thriving and that maybe there is something that does. Hmm. What might that be? Maybe religion? Maybe traditional roles? Maybe stability? French Catholic identity?

The pendulum always swings. Maybe it went too far left recently (the last 30 years, especially the last 5). Maybe the folks who just watch the pendulum swinging can see that; and are thinking about how it might be better in the middle.

#16 Comment By Nom On January 26, 2017 @ 1:32 pm

So French Catholics and the Islamists have a common enemy in France, namely Secularism. Can they actually work together against this common foe? Time will tell.

#17 Comment By JonF On January 26, 2017 @ 2:13 pm

Re: This fresh enthusiasm for Christianity has less to do with God, though, than with culture and identity.

(sigh) In which case it;’s nothing but a passing fad and is not a sign of any true revival of faith in France.
Let me know when Mass (or Protestant attendance for that matter) numbers start climbing.

#18 Comment By Xenia Grant On January 26, 2017 @ 2:22 pm

Holy priest martyr Jacques, pray for France and all of us!

#19 Comment By Seraphim On January 26, 2017 @ 2:59 pm

When the French are fervent, they can be the best. And as to Cardinal Lustiger (about whom some trads did have issues, one admits), and even more, the Ratisbonne brothers and Ven. Francis Mary Libermann, the re-founder of the Holy Ghost Fathers (whose superior general in the 1960s was a certain Archbishop…), Jewish French Catholics can be the very best.

#20 Comment By Sykes Five On January 26, 2017 @ 3:40 pm

I think it remains to be seen whether M. Fillon and his supporters have simply stumbled on to an effective political stance or if there is something more to it.

#21 Comment By Jack Waters On January 26, 2017 @ 5:13 pm

Cultural Christianity can more dangerous than secularism, because it pretends to be of God, when it really has nothing to do with Him. While I hope France can find their moral compass, I want it to be because of changed hearts and minds due to the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, not the temporary political winds. The South, while I love it so, has sadly compromised Christianity with their love of Republicanism, and made true evangelism nearly impossible, because everyone thinks they’re saved (and their not). As much as I love politics, I would give it all up if it would lead another to the Cross.

#22 Comment By Du Bartas On January 26, 2017 @ 5:26 pm

This whole Fillon thing took me by surprize. I’m very glad for it, and I would probably have voted for him if I could have just because I had a good impression of him when he was PM. Maybe I was too focused and keen on Hervé Mariton (another values-centric politician) to take note of Fillon’s goings and doings but I had no clue Fillon was being “ostentatious” with his Catholic faith. I’m in a parish in the eastern and less affluent suburbs of Paris and in my very limited and relatively information-poor circles of Catholics, the surge of Catholicism in French politics has not been a topic of conversation – or even known. Maybe we’re still too “low-energy” or just too busy slogging it through from day to day in order to take notice of this movement in the build-up to the election in May.

#23 Comment By Noah172 On January 26, 2017 @ 6:06 pm

Nom wrote:

So French Catholics and the Islamists have a common enemy in France, namely Secularism. Can they actually work together against this common foe?

No, because the Islamists and secularists hate Christianity more than they hate each other.

#24 Comment By Dave D’Alless On January 26, 2017 @ 7:53 pm

The France-based publisher Bayard, which the NYTimes writer cites as the sponsor of the survey identifying committed but not necessarily practicing Catholics, is old, big and still strong. It might even be something of a sleeping giant. In the U.S. Bayard publishes Catholic Digest, which has become inspiringly small-o orthodox, and refreshingly readable, under editor/publisher Danielle Bean over the past few years. L’espoir vit!

#25 Comment By Art Deco On January 26, 2017 @ 8:02 pm

The discredited President has elected to retire, but none of the four pols competing for the Socialist banner do any better in public opinion surveys when matched with the other candidates running. As of now, the surveyed support of a miscellany of splinter candidates sums to 10% of the electorate, the most popular of the Socialist candidates receives 10%, the neo-communist candidate about 12%, a technocrat / Europhile screwball receives 19%, and M. Fillion and Mlle. Le Pen clock in at around 27% each. The trouble the National Front has had for more than 30 years is the party is no one’s second choice. Mlle. Le Pen could get 27% in the 1st round and 29% in a two-candidate runoff. Unless he’s caught with a dead girl or a live boy, it’s a reasonable wager M. Fillion will be the one sworn into office next spring.

#26 Comment By Art Deco On January 26, 2017 @ 8:05 pm

This fresh enthusiasm for Christianity has less to do with God, though, than with culture and identity.

Do you have any idea what you sound like when you make these kind of ex cathedra pronouncements?

#27 Comment By Hound of Ulster On January 26, 2017 @ 8:43 pm

If it stops Le Pen and her band of knuckleheads, I’m all for it. Out of curiosity, what is the health of the Orthodox community in France? I saw the Russian Church opened a cathedral in Paris, so it must be growing?

#28 Comment By Glaivester On January 26, 2017 @ 10:51 pm

There is evangelical growth in France as well.

[4]

“Ever since it was brutally suppressed in the late 1600s, Protestant Christianity has been a tiny minority in France. But now it is estimated that eight to ten new evangelical congregations are started every week.”

#29 Comment By Lea On January 26, 2017 @ 11:11 pm

And here in the US, my son just got a tattoo on his chest of a Bible chapter and verse. My friend commented that she didn’t realize he was so religious. “He’s not,” I said. “It’s the spirit of The Crusades.”

#30 Comment By Tom G On January 27, 2017 @ 5:20 am

I’m very surprised that there is no mention of the French 1.5 million March against Gay Marriage, back in 2013, March.

[5]

In Slovakia, there was a successful push to get the Slovak constitution amended so that marriage is between one man and one woman.

The homosexual lobby, heavily supported by the elites, has won “acceptance” of their sinful behavior, but not yet domination of the culture to make it officially illegal to call their behavior sinful.

Hatred of the elites has been hugely heightened by the anti-hetero LGBTQ+ agenda — and many are sympathetic to Putin for pushing man-women marriage and traditional values in Russia.

In Putin’s case, very political. In Trump’s case, not talked about so much, but his pro-life conservative judge choices are likely to be very politically consequential. In Fillon’s case, maybe more sincere, but like so many successful political Christians, a little or a lot of inconsistent, even hypocritical, behavior.

There is also the possibility that sexual promiscuity is about to be honestly identified as one of the biggest influences contributing to poverty — and the biggest one that is under control of the individual.

Individual morality as an important social reality leads to more Christianity.

#31 Comment By Luc Lalongé On January 27, 2017 @ 11:00 am

Bonjour Rod,

François Fillon has un dangereux scandale potentiel with that supposé paid job for his wife.

The BBC says that Fillon would drop off the presidential race if he were criminally investigated.
Source : [6]

Is it un piège (a trap) from his ennemies or is it true?

Dieu, protège la France !!!

#32 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On January 27, 2017 @ 12:37 pm

The trouble the National Front has had for more than 30 years is the party is no one’s second choice.

The thing that’s different now is that the National Front has moved left on economic issues, Fillon is far-right on economic issues, and France like the rest of Europe is more upset about immigration and specifically Islam than they have been before.

I know more than a few people (admittedly, they’re not actually French voters) who would vote Communist in the first round and Le Pen in the second. As would I: I’d consider Le Pen much preferable to Fillon.

Tom G,

You do know that outside of the single issue of homosexuality Russia is not particularly conservative on sexual ethics?

The number of people who say “sex outside of marriage is morally wrong” is much lower in Russia than in the United States, as judged by public opinion surveys, and my anecdotal evidence from a friend who lived there confirms that.

There is also the possibility that sexual promiscuity is about to be honestly identified as one of the biggest influences contributing to poverty

Um, the United States is one of the more conservative industrialized countries on sexual morality, and also one of the most economically unequal.

#33 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On January 27, 2017 @ 12:44 pm

Do you have any idea what you sound like when you make these kind of ex cathedra pronouncements?

Now THAT is a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black… or maybe calling the stainless steel black.

I’m beginning to have a hunch that Marine Le Pen could win this time. I don’t think she’s capable of calling off the next election and trying to rule for life, so, the next election might see a wholesome unification of the French left, wiser, sobered up, and focused on things that really matter… it’s the economy stupid.

#34 Comment By HP On January 27, 2017 @ 1:42 pm

Well, turns out he gave his Brit wife a fake job paid with real taxpayer money. Au revoir François, je t’aimais bien, tu sais.

#35 Comment By Art Deco On January 27, 2017 @ 4:37 pm

Well, turns out he gave his Brit wife a fake job paid with real taxpayer money. Au revoir François, je t’aimais bien, tu sais.

No, he was accused of that by a newspaper which trades in scandal and you like the idea. The Telegraph‘s summary:

But Le Canard said that despite the fact Penelope Fillon was officially employed as a parliamentary assistant between 1998 and 2002, noone at the parliament its reporters spoke to had ever met or seen her at work.

Did they actually ask anyone who worked for the National Assembly 15 years ago? Did they ask anyone who might have been likely to cross paths with her? If the Assemblie is structured like the U.S. Congress, it has thousands on its staff.

#36 Comment By Du Bartas On January 27, 2017 @ 6:18 pm

Interestingly enough, la Civilta Cattolica has put out an article examining the state of Catholicisme in France: [7]
(speaking of monthly or quarterly journals, la Civilta Cattolica merits a look-see)
There is a brief overview of this article in the French newspaper, La Croix.
[8]
Some quotes which resume the tenor of the article by M.Rastoin, SJ:
– « Confrontée plus précocement que d’autres Églises à la sécularisation, l’Église de France constitue une sorte de laboratoire ». The Church in France has been having to deal with secularism for a long time, she provides for a sort of laboratory experiment in how to handle secularism
-« Le lecteur étranger sera peut-être perplexe : du verre à moitié vide – l’incontestable effondrement sociologique – au verre à moitié plein – le dynamisme des catholiques pratiquants, que faut-il retenir ? On ne peut que lui recommander de garder les deux yeux ouverts,
A foreign observer may be left perplexed – on the one hand, the glass is half empty due to the obvious collapse in numbers of regular mass-attending Catholics, on the other hand, the glass is half full due to the dynamism of practising Catholics. What is the take-away from all this? Well, just to remain lucid and keep your eyes open to how things really are.

#37 Comment By John Chrysostom On January 27, 2017 @ 10:50 pm

What a time of change we are living in!

#38 Comment By Joan On January 28, 2017 @ 10:23 am

@Tom G: “Individual morality as an important social reality leads to more Christianity.”

This sounds to me like a big fat load of wishful thinking. If large numbers of people quit having non-marital sex (perhaps with the help of those antidepressants that have suppression of the sex drive as a side effect) for reasons of social pressure and upward mobility, how on Earth will that lead to more people coming to believe that the universe has a Creator, that the Creator loves them, and that He will take them to be with Him for all eternity if they just submit to His will in this life?

#39 Comment By HP On January 30, 2017 @ 12:50 pm

@ Art Deco: Le Canard’s politics are what they are, but they are seldom proven wrong on the facts. And frankly Fillon’s reaction is proof enough that this thing stinks. Anyway, I’m always amazed at the French Right’s capacity for self-destruction.

#40 Comment By Steve On February 2, 2017 @ 1:09 pm

Fillon remains enmeshed in scandal:

[9]