ascinating article on First Things, Jean Duchesne wrote about the longstanding tensions between the French and the faith. I am no expert on the French and must defer those historical judgements to others but I do see some implications for the present day in his estimation of the growing secularism and the antagonism toward Christianity in France. We tend to assume the big enemies we have to deal with are those who come threatening with weapons and persecution. They are indeed enemies and Christianity has no shortage of them today but we tend to forget that the decline of the faith is just as effective under the guise of indifference toward religion.
Hostility to the Church is not new in France. Some historians point out
that the country has never been thoroughly evangelized. Missions in the
provinces were necessary until the nineteenth century, when growing
secularism eventually forced the clergy to retreat on defensive
positions. After the baptism of the Frankish king Clovis by bishop Rémi
of Reims in 496 A.D. (considered the birth of the nation), the Church
tended to bank on royal power, providing the monarchy in return with an
aura of sacredness (sometimes against the pope in times of
“Gallicanism”) and obedient subjects. The founding alliance between
throne and altar was challenged—first during the Reformation (when
Protestant aristocrats threatened the national unity laboriously
achieved in the Middle Ages under the kings), then more seriously in the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with the rise of the bourgeoisie,
the new wealthy merchant class.
According to Duchesne, the French people were not as deeply evangelized as the rulers and the ruling class was less evangelized than it was befriended (in recognition of a sort of common self-interest). In other words, unlike in England where the common folk were deeply attached to Roman Catholicism, the French peasants seemed to be ripe for a reason to cast aside their faith. Unlike the English, the French "middle class" was not given a voice or a place in the government and so they were more than willing to find a cause for rebellion -- even one that rebelled against the faith.
In recent decades, the belief that Catholicism is not only outdated
but harmful has been based on sex rather than politics. Modernity
considers its fights for divorce, contraception, and abortion decisively
won, and now it seeks to impose the acceptance of all kinds of sexual
activity in the name of the rights of minorities. In these
circumstances, the Church is more than ever the enemy.
Most French citizens are not actively hostile to Christianity.
They are simply indifferent to a religion they know less and less about.
But there exist a few very effective lobbies eager to discredit the
Church. This eagerness to eliminate religion now bumps into the
unforeseen expansion of Islam, which formally denies that secularization
is irresistible. But this is no reason to spare Catholicism, since it
cannot help control Muslim fanaticism and remains an easier target.
The indifference of the French has been at least as effective as organized opposition in the rebellion against the faith and the church. The lack of catechesis means that the French know less and less of the doctrinal content of the faith and therefore are less pious in their expression and practice of that faith. The real problem is that this lack of knowledge and this indifference to the faith is easily translatable into the adoption of a moral compass that renders the faith no longer tenable. Since the French (and most other moderns) have lost any understanding of the rationale for the sexual ethic of Christianity, Christianity itself is rejected because they have chosen a sexual ethic incompatible with that Christianity. Unlike the US, where so-called Christian denominations have long ago abandoned any connection to the sexual mores consistent with Scripture and tradition, France does not have the same diversity of religious expression. So in rejecting the sexual ethic, the French are also rejecting Christianity (not just the Roman Catholic expression to which they are most familiar but all Christianity).
So what does this mean for us in the US? Our greater enemies are not always those most easily identifiable by their violent opposition. No, those indifferent to Christianity soon become hostile when their sacred cows are incompatible with the faith. We find that today in America. Our greatest enemies are those who will reject the faith because they cannot let go of the sexual morality they have chosen. The answer does not lies, as some presume, with adjusting Christian sexual morality so that it is more reflective of where culture and the population are. That would lead only to a radical disconnect not only with the commandments of Scripture and the consistency of tradition in expressing that morality but also the loss of our very identity. We may fear those who come at us with torches and swords but they are only the obvious enemies of the faith. The more careful focus will reveal that those who feign indifference to the faith but who refuse to consider a faith which conflicts with their personal preferences and choices will gut the faith of its content if they choose to keep it and reject such a faith as hateful, misogynistic, homophobic, or intolerable if they don't. That is about where we are at. Those who keep the faith are being urged to keep it privately and those who refuse the faith cite its intolerance toward their sexual ideals as cause for their intolerance of the faith itself.