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Christians in a post-Christian, post-secular, post-liberal society


Published in

Omnes Magazine

Ricardo Calleja Rovira

Professor of Business Ethics and Negotiation at IESE Business School and Master's Degree in Christianity and Contemporary Culture

For decades, the majority of Christians - and the magisterium of pastors - joined the great social consensus on the legitimacy of existing institutions, even if they could point out shortcomings. In this open society, Christians would propose, not impose, their ideas, assuming the rules of the game as one of the players. Confident in the power of truth and in the institutional channels of the political system, they aspired to convince by word and example. In this way, they hoped to preserve the foundations of common life, which they understood were not a matter of religious faith. They were confronting secularizing ideologies that eroded those foundations: the dignity of the person and of the family, the definition of marriage, the religious dimension of the person, care for the needy, and so on. What Benedict XVI occasionally called the "non-negotiable principles" (although the expression does not seem very happy to me).

But the conditions under which this was affirmed have changed significantly. This must be taken into account by those who wish to make an accurate diagnosis and propose - or carry out on their own - actions that are directly political or at the level of pre-political culture.

Even at the risk of being drastic, we can say that today - and certainly in the younger generations - we are no longer in a scenario of fundamentally Christian societies facing the tensions of the secularization process through the rules of the game of political liberalism. We are in increasingly post-Christian, post-secular and post-liberal societies.

Post-Christian because new principles of justice emerge that are no longer "Christian virtues gone mad" (as Chesterton said at purpose of the revolutionary triad of liberty, equality and fraternity). I am referring, for example, to the denial of the uniqueness of the human species, of the dignity of the individual, of rationality as rule of debates, of the presumption of innocence, etc.

Post-secular because the result of the progressive disappearance of Christianity is not a less religious society in general, but the replacement of Christianity by new civil religions. I am referring to ideological phenomena linked to identity politics, radical environmentalism, animalism, etc. These are not alternative ideas within the spectrum of free choices in a society, but the pretension to change the principles of common life at the root. Moreover, they are not expressed in a discursive way but mainly in an identity, emotional and collective way, and we would almost say sacramental. That is to say, with its rituals and fasts, its saints, its messiahs, its penances, its orthodoxies. A new religion -or set of religions- that demolishes the idols and statues of the previous one and establishes new taboos.

Post-liberal because the consensus on common institutions, the aspiration for a society of free and equal individuals, the importance of respect for the rules of the institutional game with its alternation in power and relative neutrality of the public space, and the social cohesion typical of prosperous middle classes are disappearing. We are witnessing attempts to occupy institutions with hegemonic eagerness, and the emotivist fragmentation of public opinion, which reduces the common places for meeting. Non-liberal forms of democracy are emerging -plebiscitary, caudillist, identitarian- and sympathy is growing for regimes closer to technocratic authoritarianism.

In the face of these scenarios, the synthesis mentioned at the beginning is no longer valid as a realistic possibility for social and political action, however much one may regret it or miss it. The uncritical assimilation of a context increasingly distant from Christianity does not seem a valid or attractive option. Mere expert commitment to institutions - in itself irreproachable - is not enough to contribute effectively to reinforcing the foundations of political life, which are permanently under attack. Even the most classical and rational liberalism seems to have neither electoral pull, nor the will to defend some fundamental substantive values from a Christian perspective.

In Christian intellectual and political circles, more identitarian options are emerging. Some promote a "withdrawal" from institutional political life, because of its corrupting force of the individual character and of the public discussion (along the lines of the Benedict option). Others, however, assume the conflictive tessitura and prepare to fight the cultural battle from the institutions. In both cases with the risk of reducing Christianity to an ideological or cultural identity that can be manipulated and is basically empty. And with the perplexity of having to renounce the more or less civilized rules of behavior of democratic politics to which we were accustomed. Because the way to make oneself present in the public space as a harassed minority is no longer cordiality or the simple discreet exercise of one's rights and obligations. Many Christians think that they must make their voice heard, even if it sounds strident, even if it earns them enmity in their social environment and generates conflict in the public sphere. And of course, there is always the temptation to become inwardly intolerant of those who do not fight the battles as we think they should be fought. Or simply with those who do fight them, if one thinks that confrontation should be avoided above all.

As Nietzsche wrote, he who fights a monster must be careful not to become another monster. Where is the limit? Does this promote social friendship and the common good, as proposed by Pope Francis and the entire classical tradition of politics? And at the same time, is not civic confrontation a more sincere way of meeting than the dialogue of the deaf or the silence of the lambs?

These and other questions related to the challenges of today's world are addressed at Master's Degree in Christianity and Contemporary Culture.