Secular Europe, Religious America: Religion, Politics, and the Transatlantic Divide


Page 1  2  3  4  5

Session Four

Professor Otto Kallscheuer

In his presentation, Professor Kallscheuer focused specifically on the two forms of the church in Europe after World War II. Organized and institutionalized religion in the form of the church made a tremendous contribution to reestablish European unity after World War II. But this form of religion also had its secular sides.

Upon closer examination of this phenomenon it must be stated explicitly that there are two ways to understand the concept and "nature" of today's church in Europe. Professor Kallscheuer did not limit the concept of the "church" to the institution of the Catholic Church but instead focused more on the "popular church."

To understand this interpretation of church we need to differentiate between a territorial church and an individualized church leaning toward and inspired by the mystical. This represents the great difference from America: America does not know a sole, single institutionalized territorial church whereas Europe does indeed. It has been this very institution that has influenced politics in Europe and has strengthened politics in many areas. As was mentioned in previous presentations, France represents an exception here. Yet, this institutionalized church is not necessarily spiritual but may be just as secular under certain circumstances as any other secular institution; spirituality, inspiration and mysticism are replaced by management and organization.

In contrast, America almost exclusively knows the second model of church: the inspired, spiritual, and mystical form of church, which has prevailed despite all potential institutionalization that can also be found in America among the more traditional denominations.

Dr. Harvey Sicherman

Dr. Sicherman discussed the questions of to what extent US foreign policy is influenced by religion and to what extent there is an interchange between the two. It is mainly two elements that play a role in US foreign policy:

First, there is the demand for values and virtues in foreign policy: this may also be seen as the religious element in politics. In general, politics and especially any foreign policy action are to be based on virtues and values. It should be noted here that American values are not and need not necessarily be religious but represent human values in general. Nevertheless, US foreign policy has one unusual characteristic: It considers itself to be supported by God and in communion with God. America has a special ally: God, in all its actions.

Second, foreign policy is to be pragmatic and is to fulfill its chosen purpose as quickly as possible. In many foreign policy conflicts in which the United States is involved the religion, the religious beliefs and even the culture of the respective other party have been completely ignored and are often seen to be more of an impediment to a quick resolution process. The only important thing here is to know enough about the other party's religion in order to avoid causing any additional foreign policy problem areas.

Virtue and pragmatism therefore do not always appear to go hand in hand; quite to the contrary as the above description shows, they seem to preclude each other at first sight.

The model favored by Sicherman presupposes cooperation and mutual complementing of virtue and pragmatism: politics undoubtedly needs values and virtues, they need not be specifically religious (so that the element of being God's chosen people is eliminated), but need to guarantee appropriate behavior toward the other party in any foreign policy action. Beyond this, politics must be assessed from a pragmatic point of view with respect to its results. A commitment to pragmatism then is designed to achieve a result from value-based political action rather than from a possibly abrupt pragmatic action per se. It is only in this way that an action can subsequently be viewed as both appropriate and pragmatic.

Dr. Luis Lugo

In his presentation Dr. Lugo discussed the question of the ethics of war. To be able to research this topic it is necessary first to consider a country's definition of itself and characterization of itself. For this purpose Dr. Lugo presented the results of such a study for America: How does America see itself? And what position vis-à-vis other countries results from this, especially with respect to armed interventions by the United States in other countries?

Americans consider their country to have been blessed by God so that as a consequence the US has a very special place in the world. The use of American power is morally justified under certain circumstances. It is a good idea to spread American influence worldwide.

Due to its position and its characteristics, the United States is valuable for the world and assumes the lead responsibility in international relations whenever it participates in any action. Yet, America should keep its main focus on its own people and should only then turn to other nations. America plays an important role in bringing about peace in the world.

Such views are endorsed by a majority of Americans. It should be noted, however, that the actual figures for these majorities varied from statement to statement; and contrary views need to be taken into consideration.

Do such views permit the conclusion that war (when initiated by the United States) is justified? The results of the opinion polls permit this conclusion only with qualifications. Public opinion in the United States has continued to believe that war is justified only in some cases and under very specific circumstances. During the last three years public opinion about the war in Iraq has changed in the US. Whereas a majority of Americans considered the Iraq war to be justified and necessary in 2003, today only barely 40 percent of Americans still have this opinion. The lack of compelling moral justification for the Iraq war explains the split opinion and negative numbers.

Americans also have a skeptical view of Islam, but importantly, majorities hold a positive view of Muslim Americans. This attests to American confidence in the ability of their country to integrate immigrants and give them the benefit of the doubt.

Go to page 5 >>