Democracy should banish God. Some considerations after the new provocation by Paolo Flores d’Arcais.

Now that the dust has settled a bit, I would like to return to the theses argued by Paolo Flores d’Arcais, who sustains that “democracy should banish God”. I don’t believe it suffices to respond with an appropriately ironic comment such as “democracy should eject Flores d’Arcais”, nor repeat what Jacques Maritain said many years ago. Perhaps it’s not even enough to recall what John Paul II affirmed in  Centesimus annus,  this being that a democracy without values turns into a form of insidious totalitarianism.

Not to be overlooked is the fact that in the 19th century the pontiffs had condemned democracy, and nowadays Catholics have espoused it completely. Is this a matter of two extremes? Or is there something we have yet to understand? In his book “Memory and Identity”, John Paul II wrote: “Catholic ethics supports the democratic solution in principle because it better responds to the rational and social nature of man. Let it be clear, nonetheless, that this is far from canonizing this system”. Therefore, there is still room for some attentive and perceptive thinking about all this as a result of Flores d’Arcais’  provocative assertion.

What he basically did was to flag what is already happening in practice. In fact, democracy has already banished God from itself. All Flores did was to bring this phenomenon to public notice. In no aspect of democratic life in Italy today is there any reference to God, beginning quite naturally from what is being done by pro-democracy Catholics. The ferocious attack against the natural family and nature in general, including human nature, is actually an attack against God. People want to rid themselves of nature, but the true aim is to thereby rid themselves of what is above nature. Pro-exile maneuvers and endeavors are already being implemented on a broad scale.

God is being systematically banished from democratic life today: from democratically elected school committees to our democratically elected parliaments and city councils, from the democratically elected bodies representing professional and labor concerns to the democratically elected senior management of international organizations. Democracy is unable to remain neutral. The banishing of God demands intellectual and moral courage at least on a par with the affirmation of God. Democracy is not sitting on the sidelines; it is a player in the match and is playing against God. The match underway today permits no one at all to be a mere spectator. Underway is a battle that takes no prisoners. Democracy as pure procedure does not exist, and perhaps has never existed, despite Kelsen, Rawls e Habermas.

If there were a truly lay and secular place, but open to God as well, perhaps there would be room for a democracy that does not pursue the exile of God. But such a place just doesn’t exist, and even atheists cannot permit themselves the luxury of being so without engaging in anti-religious militancy. It is the selfsame flow of the democratic process which forces them in that direction. Jacques Maritain had deceived himself and us as well. A “secular democratic faith” such as he had proposed has never existed. There have always been two secular faiths: one open to God as its very foundation, and one that wanted God banished from its presence. Flores is last in line, certainly not the first. But he compels us not to settle for the analyses thus far fielded, but go deeper and deeper. In order to avoid the banishment of God by democracy it isn’t enough to theorize about how democracy itself is nourished by values it doesn’t generate on its own. Militant democracy couldn’t care less about that and is only interested in daily praxis, which is where God is systematically and institutionally being banished. To speak about God in a democratic forum of any kind is fraught with risks. Being applied is powerful, preventive censorship, which from the very outset sets its own limits out of fears regarding what may be the ultimate outcome.

Despite the words of John Paul II, Catholics have “canonized this system” – by that I mean the democratic system – but have never really reckoned with it because they have all too hastily discarded what had been of such concern to 19th century pontiffs. The post-Conciliar social doctrine of the Church must renew and tighten its links with pre-Conciliar social doctrine, because otherwise lacking would be any healthy suspicion regarding modernity. This also concerns the democratic system. The three bills now before the Italian parliament – the  Scalfarotto, Cirinnà and Fedeli bills – are democratically proposed, democratically under debate, and may be democratically approved, but they will banish God. Is there something in democracy that essentially banishes God, or does this happen by accident? Is anyone aware of a democracy that has not systematically corroded the public presence of the Catholic faith? These are the true issues we have to discuss. We all see that democracy banishes God and we just pretend not to notice. Let’s at least start doing some serious thinking when  Mr. ‘same old’ Flores publically asserts what we should have already understood all on our own.

Stefano Fontana