The New French “Civil War”

This morning I was somewhat taken aback by a report from Emma Jane Kirby on BBC World News Today ( A quick search around the Internet appeared to verify Ms Kirby’s report that Catholicism in France is on the rise, particularly among French youth. Most reports confirm that the rise in Catholicism’s popularity parallels the rising popularity of Marine Le Pen’s Front National (FN), whose aim is to repackage French fascism in the anti-fascist garb of the national resistance to the Nazi-Vichy collaboration of the 1940s. In Ms Kirby’s report, a defender of republican rule is heard to declare that should the wall protecting the republic from the Roman church be removed, it would almost certainly result, as it always has in the past, in “civil war.”

The report took me back some twenty years to my dissertation at Chicago where I predicted that the same form of spirituality that was then sweeping across the United States and Asia would also begin to make inroads in England, Germany, and even France. This I argued was because the ground of this new spirituality is “immanent” to the more dynamic, free-market capitalism, which, I then concluded would also make headway in Europe. Sadly, it has and the consequences can be seen in a heightened attraction among European youth for militant forms of spirituality eager to discipline bodies for the wants and excesses produced by neoliberal policy.

The rise in Roman Catholicism among young people in France should not therefore be mistaken for genuine Christian revival. To the contrary. We need to recall that at no time in either Germany or France was this peculiarly violent and hateful form of Roman Catholicism more popular than in Hitler’s Germany or Vichy France. When in the 1950s and 1960s, by contrast, French and German working families enjoyed superior education, improving health, and the benefits from a broader and deeper safety net, their hostility towards those on the outside also began to retreat. So began the so-called “dark days” for the Roman church on the European continent.

So is a continental civil war similar to that experienced in Europe in the aftermath of World War I on the horizon today? The increasing popularity of post-democratic and post-republican regimes across Europe and the rise of more violent and hateful versions of Christianity certainly give us reason to believe so. Here, Christian leaders — not least the Roman Pontiff himself — bears much of the blame, but therefore much of the responsibility for averting the impending disaster. The Bishop of Rome must continue to make clear that no ethnic, national, religious or sexual grounds for exclusion will be tolerated among the faithful; that such exclusion is evidence of apostasy. Beyond the Roman Church, other faith communities must embrace and broadcast this message. No faithful Lutheran, Reformed, Orthodox, or Independent Christian will make nationality, ethnicity, religion, or gender preference a grounds for exclusion from national life.

Should our religious leaders fail to turn their communities, then I fear civil war is inevitable; and, once again, faithful Christians will side, as they did in the 1930s and 1940s, with the anti-fascists and partisans.

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