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“For an bold secularism that lastly takes our heritage into consideration”

FIGAROVOX/TRIBUNE – The circular of the Ministry of National Education of November 9 against attacks on secularism does not go back to the causes of the crisis of religious identity that our country is going through, regrets the associate professor of history and geography Ambroise Tournyol du Clos.

Ambroise Tournyol du Clos is Associate Professor of History and Geography and author of Transfer or Disappear, Manifesto of a Crafting Trainer (Salvators, 2021).


Can we ask more of secularism than what it is? A legal principle that calls for the separation of church and state and the neutrality of public authority. Can we expect more human warmth from her, a deeper understanding of religious phenomena? Can we even hope that it will help weave the political and social bond that eludes us? In its present form, secularism is like a cold border around which attitudes stiffen from one another. Either we overinvest it, like a surrogate spirituality, a “Religion of Leaving Religion” (Gauchet), the ultimate spiritual principle that compensates for the loss of others. This atheism in disguise, which rejoins the most radical version of Third Republic anticlericalism, the style of Ferdinand Buisson – whose spirits are still too often invoked – continues to have its adherents. These work on the elaboration of a holy republican, on the formulation of a secularized and universal morality in the Kantian style. From the top of their platforms, these profess a reductive and old-fashioned scientism in which common sense convinces itself that it liberates the mind through simplifying schemes. Either it is instrumentalized as a security tool to preserve the school as a haven without sanctity. The circular of November 9, 2022 seems to stick to this minimalist line, which brings us back to the spirit of the laws of preciousness without addressing the causes of this crisis of religious identity. Let it be said, now the “Wearing clothing that indicates religious affiliation” will be punished!

The fragility of the ministerial response shows how much our secularism is now up against the wall. This forms a triple wall against which the lyrical upheavals of declining secularism will not be enough to shake them. First, Muslim fundamentalism, which affects important parts of French Islam today. His followers, sometimes immersed in a large “cultural poverty” (A. Bidar) completely reject the secularist ideology of which the public school has become the Trojan horse. Her children cultivate double fidelity, but one can guess in advance which of the traces passed down in the family, or the cold values ​​of the republic that have declined in her EMC (moral and civic education) courses, will prevail. The second stronghold that can make all adherents of authentic secularism pale is that of ignorance. Faced with the complexity of religious facts, faced with the possible reaction of recalcitrant students, faced perhaps with the shortcomings of their own training, teachers are all too often tempted to evade the transmission of religious questions. For example, a 25-year-old colleague in the teacher’s room, with good and loyal earnings, explains that she would rather stay with the question of medieval Christianity, with art history (Romanesque, Gothic), on the fringes of any consideration Theologico thing”. But isn’t it pointless to reduce the Middle Ages to a vague aesthetic exercise in interpretation? Another philosophy teacher admits to me that the “religion” question dealt with at the end of the year often falls by the wayside, while not opening the program with the “subject” question is out of the question. ..

Based on the distinction between spiritual and secular orders, a secularism conscious of its dead ends would open up a new freedom for the churches and the state. It would provide the conditions for a renewed and peaceful dialogue between faith and reason.

Ambroise Tournyol du Clos

Current ignorance in matters of religion builds so “Secularism of Incompetence” (R. Debray), where we afford the luxury of despising what we profoundly know nothing about. This regime of strictness towards the religious – Péguy spoke of the “oil cloth” eliciting modernity’s isolation from the spiritual—can create a sort of collective obscurantism and, through rejection, feed religious fundamentalism. The third obstacle, and last but not least, that should make the last Voltaireans think, is the triumph of the market. How can we take away transcendence from our students when consumer society takes care of it with the power and effects we know: disorientation, individualism, despair? How can we abandon the great metaphysical questions when a cold and hopeless materialism freezes heart and mind? How can we not note the tragic coincidence of the fight against the nativity scene and the opening of shops on Sundays, which are in fashion qamis and the triumph of TikTok? One could not better prove the defeat of Marx and Voltaire when materialism has to lead to feeding capital and rationalism dissolves in the compulsive instincts of the people Shopping.

Can we then hope that secularism will have a different relationship to religion? A secularism that, aware of its dead ends, strives to define a fair and liberating framework. Based on the distinction between spiritual and secular orders, this would initially open up a new freedom for the churches and the state. It would provide the conditions for a renewed and peaceful dialogue between faith and reason, assuming that the school takes seriously the transmission of the great questions posed by the different religious traditions, starting with Christianity, from which we mainly inherit, in Reference to life, love, death, God, eternity… The atheist, agnostic or believing student would find there the opportunity to explore the relationship between faith and science, between the regime of faith, that of superstition and that of the Analyzing knowledge without this consideration leads elsewhere to a hierarchy that would allow the scientist to trample the man of faith.

The religious would escape the regime of argument like no other object, as Albert the Great (1206-1280), whom we celebrate on November 15, and his brilliant pupil Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) understood. in their time. Furthermore, this teaching would not imply watertightness between the two realms: the student could ask his religious questions, but would be invited to practice a process of critical analysis. Nothing would then personally prevent him from creating a dialogue between faith and reason. From Augustine to contemporary exegesis, the exercise has borne beautiful fruits for which Western culture is largely responsible.

A “Secularism of Intelligence” would make it possible for school and society to open up the question of meaning. By shedding a bright light on the great religious themes that does not reduce to listing meanings that escape us.

Ambroise Tournyol du Clos

This more ambitious secularism would also have the courage to recognize our heritage. Not the clean slate, cold and icy, that was supposed to draw the meaning of a story from which God would disappear, because we know that now “Death of God” (Nietzsche) is a fable but a banquet of plenty, warm and bountiful, where secular culture would profitably digest the deeply religious dishes of our western civilization, François d’Assise, Rabelais, Corneille, Dostoyevsky, Péguy, Claudel, Jaccottet. . This “Secularism of Intelligence” (R. Debray) Let school and society open up the question of meaning again without a shudder. By shedding a bright and broad light on the great religious themes, not limited to enumerating the meanings we elude (the Trinity, Paradise, the Holy Spirit, etc.), but the deep meaning of our fragmented and disoriented existences to lighten up. Where a secular replacement wave of morality has failed, solid cultural mediation, broad and clear, can succeed.

Aware that it is only the legal framework that promotes coexistence in a pluralistic society, secularism must allow suggestions of meaning to unfold in schools, in public debate and through the media. The return of fanaticism coupled with religious ignorance is now pushing secularism to provide an intelligent answer, in the name of secularization, to the questions it thought it was avoiding. Should we really settle for the ridiculous alternative into which our youngsters have fallen: theAbaja or pornography? Do we fear the possibility of a new hope, a restored and alive humanity? Are we fundamentally convinced that secularism can be a school of freedom?

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