Chantal DelsolChristians have the opportunity to be better as a minority".

Chantal Delsol, a French Catholic intellectual of great renown, has recently published a provocative essay: "The End of Christianity". With a critical vision, Delsol explains in this interview some aspects of this crisis, the confrontation with modernity, the ontological rupture and the forecasts of hope for Catholics.

Bernard García Larraín-March 30, 2023-Reading time: 7 minutes
Chantal Delsol

Chantal Delsos, French catholic intellectual (Wikimedia Commons)

It is not rash to say that Christianity is going through a time of crisis, in the truest sense of the word. Christians are living in a period of great change and, in many Western countries, they represent a minority and, in some countries, Christianity is "fighting for survival". Chantal Delsol, a French Catholic intellectual of great renown, has recently published a provocative essay: "The End of Christianity". With a critical vision, Delsol explains in this interview some aspects of this crisis, the confrontation with modernity, the ontological rupture and the forecasts of hope for Catholics.

How does Christianity differ from Christendom?

-Christianity refers to the religion itself, while Christendom is the civilization developed by the religion, just as we speak of Islam (religion) and Islam (civilization). To be in Christendom means to be in a space of civilization in which it is Christianity that inspires and imposes morality and common laws.

Is it possible to speak of Christianity outside Europe, and does it exist on other continents? 

Christianity is not, or was not, only European, but Western. It has spread or continues to spread throughout the two Americas, in addition to the European continent. For example, it is still alive, but in the process of destabilization, in some Latin American countries. It is in a situation of struggle for its survival in the United States. Outside these areas, some countries in Africa and Asia are home to many Christians, but also to other religions, and one cannot speak of Christianity.

You speak of a normative reversal (laws on marriage, life, etc.), which makes you note a change of civilization. How to understand, in this context, the new awareness of the condemnation of pedophilia or pornography?

-I insisted on "normative inversion" to show that, contrary to what we hear here and there, the collapse of Christianity does not lead to relativism, but to different norms. The case of pedophilia is very interesting. Until now, it has been tolerated in the Church as everywhere else, because the institution was always defended before the individual.

The new morality defends the individual against the institution, so the Church's new condemnation of pederasty marks its acceptance of a certain individualism. Moreover, it should be noted that the morality applied today, that of "care" if you will, is not only a morality of the individual, but also a morality of the community. It is what has been called humanitarianism, that is, a philanthropy without transcendence, a reworking of Christian morality but without Heaven. To such an extent that we end up joining the Asian morality: the universal compassion of Confucius.

This makes the condemnation of pedophilia more understandable. I would add one thing: since we no longer have a basis for morality, we have consequentialist morality. In other words, what is wrong is only what causes harm. In the case of transgender propaganda in schools or pornography, all these can be condemned if they are proven to cause harm to children.

Catholics have become a minority and their influence is diminishing. What should their attitude and priorities be? Benedict XVI encouraged them to be "creative minorities that change the world".

-Yes, Benedict XVI is right, when a minority is courageous and educated, it can change societies. It seems to me that today Catholics represent that minority in a country like France. The great danger from which these minorities must be protected, and to which they are so easily subjected, is extremism. If, horrified by the new society they see unfolding before their eyes, they take the opposite direction with a language of excess, they will never regain the upper hand. I think that is the most difficult thing: to maintain balance while fighting against extremes.

To what extent are Catholics responsible for the "end of Christianity"?

-It is a difficult question. In general, as I have tried to explain in my book, Catholicism has never admitted what has been called modernity (democracy, liberalism, individualism), at least until the Second Vatican Council, but by then it was too late. The modern claim that has developed more and more strongly over the last two centuries, to reach the present situation, has always been anti-Catholic. It will be said: but why should modernity win over Catholicism?

I believe that in our societies, since the Renaissance, there has been a very strong desire for individual emancipation that was willing to change everything to achieve it. But it must also be said that in our countries, Catholicism, in its legitimate and hegemonic position, has abdicated the humanity it should have shown to compensate for the rigidity of its principles. One example that strikes me: until abortion was legitimized by law, Christians did not create associations to help young pregnant and single women. Before that, in general, we were content to insult them. This obviously did not make people want to defend Catholic principles.

What do you think of the thesis of Rod Dreher's book "The Benedictine Option"?

-Yes, I know Rod Dreher and have talked to him about this. He is much less radical than his book suggests. On the other hand, he is well aware that our situation cannot frankly be compared with that of his hero, Vaclav Benda, who lived in a totalitarian country.

Of course we have to reflect on our new situation, that of a group that is now in a minority, while for almost two thousand years we have been in the majority and hegemonic. But it does not behoove us to shut ourselves up in a fortress. And we should not understand the Benedictine option in this way. What Rod means is that, in order to survive, we should not barricade ourselves in, but settle down next to a well. That said, when it comes to passing on our beliefs to our children, the degree of protection to be offered to children is a very personal matter, linked to individuals and circumstances.

You say that the West has lost the philosophical basis for opposing certain trends (surrogacy, euthanasia) inspired solely by individual will. Are these battles lost in advance? In your opinion, does an initiative such as the Casablanca Declaration for the universal abolition of surrogacy make sense when we see the aggressiveness of the global surrogacy market?

-Of course, these battles are not entirely lost, but if some of these measures are rolled back, it will not be for reasons of principle, but for other reasons. It will no longer be a question, for example, of rolling back the practice of surrogacy in the name of human dignity, but in the name of women's equality. In some cases like this one, Catholics may find agreement with other groups for different reasons. In associations fighting against transgender advertising in schools, there is a very small percentage of Christians (who are against it because they believe in the "human condition"), and a very large percentage of consequentialists (usually psychologists, who are against it because they see the harm it causes in their patients). As far as euthanasia is concerned, I am more pessimistic: I do not see what other than Christian principles, or what threat to consequences, could change the minds of our societies.

Of course the Casablanca Declaration makes sense, as does any initiative with a universal vocation that brings diplomatic influence. We are a minority, yes, but we do not have to let other minorities take us over.

In the UK and northern European countries, authorities are seeing the harm of sex change in minors and are backtracking. Can consequentialist morality offer a bulwark against certain experiments?

-I will only add one detail to what I have said above on this subject. Yes, consequentialist morality offers a substitute. But, in order to face up to the damage caused and take it into account, a minimum of pragmatism is still necessary in the societies concerned. When societies are strongly ideological, as is the case in France, it is the principle that counts and the consequences carry no weight. So transgender associations refuse to look at the harms, and only ideology counts. In Scandinavian countries, whether it is about transsexuals or immigration, they tend to look at the reality and reform accordingly. In France, generally, we are only interested in theory, and reality does not count for much: if it is shameful, we simply look the other way, and the damage accumulates.

If we are living through the end of Christian civilization, what civilization are we heading towards? What will it be replaced by?

-We are currently living at a point of rupture in which many new situations are possible, because very different currents of thought are fighting, crossing and eliminating each other. In addition to a minority remnant of Christians, we will probably have an ecological religion of a pantheistic type with all kinds of more or less extreme currents, a strong Islam, which we do not know if it will be radical or not, a remnant of Marxism represented today by the Woke current, which we do not know if it will become extinct or spread; and another remnant of Marxism that produces a permanent social revolt, seen as a kind of religion (what Martin Gurri calls "the revolt of the public").

What strikes me is how profound the diversity of beliefs is: it affects not only religious bonds, but also ontological beliefs. If I take up Descola's four categories, it is clear that we move from naturalism (between animals and humans, there is a similarity in physicality and a difference in interiority, animals do not have our soul), to something like totemism (similarity of interiorities and physicalities: animals are not essentially different from us).

In other words, we live at a point of rupture in which the primordial ontological choices - concerning the meaning and place of man in nature, the nature of the world and of the gods - are being overturned. This process began a long time ago (since Montaigne?). It is the end of what is called dualism, typically linked to Christianity, and the beginning of a monism. In this way we join the Asian ontological beliefs. But that is another subject.

What place is there for the virtue of hope in this context of the end of Christianity?

-Have we to lament the loss of power in society? Has this hegemonic status made us greater? Has it not made us arrogant, cynical and careless? I believe we have the opportunity to be better as a minority than as a majority, at least temporarily - because our vocation remains mission. Perhaps later we will take on this mission more intelligently and less vainly (I am appalled by the vanity and procrastination of our clergy. For now we can bear this loss of influence with humor, after all, as Roger Scruton said, since the loss of paradise we have had a great experience of loss.

The authorBernard García Larraín

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