France's Heavy Handed Secularism
There was another story in the news this week on which I wanted to comment because I think it is important and that is what is going on now in France in their struggle against religious radicals. I have said in the past that the problem with European secularism is that it lacks the spiritual resources to provide an alternative to radical Islam, which is growing in these countries. So the only recourse that the secular state has to deal with this is force – to threaten and to abridge civil liberties, particularly religious liberties, in order to squash these movements because there is no good spiritual alternative to them.
We’ve already seen this happening in France and now it seems to have been ratcheted up yet another step. From the Reuters news agency in Paris it says,
France will deport foreign-born imams and disband radical faith-based groups, including hardline traditionalist Catholics, if a new surveillance policy signals they suffer a "religious pathology" and could become violent.
So according to this new government agency, they are going to determine whether or not these religious groups are pathological – whether they suffer from a religious pathology and might become violent (not that they are violent but that they might become violent) and then deport people of this sort.
A French Islamist shooting spree last March that killed three soldiers and four Jews showed how quickly religiously radicalized people could turn to force, Interior Minister Manuel Valls told a conference on the official policy of secularism.
. . .
Valls and two other cabinet ministers told the conference on Tuesday evening the Socialist-led government would stress the secularist policy called “laicite” [which basiclally means “secularism,” that is the public policy in France - secularism] that they said was weakened under the previous conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy.
. . .
France's official secularism sidelines faith in the public sphere, but a trend towards a more visible religious identity among some Muslims, Jews and Catholics has made defending it a cause for the traditionally secularist left-wing parties.
Valls stressed the focus would be not only on radical Salafi Muslims recruiting among disaffected youths, but also on groups such as Civitas, a far-right lay Catholic movement that protests aggressively against what it calls insults to Christianity.
. . .
At a Civitas march against gay marriage in Paris last month, some demonstrators attacked a French feminist journalist and several Ukrainian feminists who came dressed as nuns or bared their breasts to mock the ultra-traditionalists.
So they were provoked into violence by the mockery of these feminists at the rally.
Now, I think we might have a certain sympathy in saying, certainly, if these religious groups are going to turn to violence then the state needs to step in and restrict them. No one would condone violence in the name of religion. Bu the concern here is that it now lies within the province of the state to say who suffers from such a religious pathology and whether or not this might be prone to violence and so merits state intervention.
The Reuters story goes on to say,
Giving examples of religious extremists, he mentioned creationists in the United States and the Muslim world, radical Islamists, ultra-traditionalist Catholics and ultra-Orthodox Jews who want to live separately from the modern world.
So these are the kinds of groups that might be identified as religiously pathological – creationists! Orthodox Jews! Ultra-traditionalist Catholics! This, I think, really does make you suspicious that this could be a threat to religious liberty in France.
The story concludes,
Announcing his initiative on secularism on Sunday, Hollande said the new observatory – a public agency to monitor policy issues and propose solutions – would also study ways to introduce classes on secular morality in state schools.
So now in the name of secularism, a kind of secular humanism is going to be propogated by the state.
So, it’s an attempt to discriminate between those who are pathological and those who are acceptable. I think that this underlines what I’ve said before – it is vital, I think, in the West, in the face of the threat of a militant Islam, that we have a vibrant Christian alternative to Islam that will be attractive to people and will give them the sort of spiritual fulfillment and nourishment that will make Islam seem like a paltry alternative by comparison. Then you will not need the state to try to suppress these groups by force because these groups will simply suffer from attrition and will not grow significantly because of the robust spiritual alternative. So this is a call, again, for us as Christians, I think, to be living out and supporting a robust Christian alternative – evangelism, social works, discipleship – that will help to diminish the threat of Islam in the West.
 Tom Heneghan, “Fance steps up struggle against religious radicals,” Reuters, December 12, 2012. See http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/12/12/us-france-religion-extremists-idUSBRE8BB0VA20121212 (accessed September 9, 2013).
 Total Running Time: 7:17 (Copyright © 2013 William Lane Craig)