Believe it or not, Christianity is returning to the centre of public life. In Poland, Christ has been crowned as king. In Hungary, the Holy Crown of St Stephen has been moved to the Parliament building and enshrined in a new constitution. In the US, Trump won his campaign in part by asserting that Americans should say “Merry Christmas.” And in Bavaria, the cross is being hung in government buildings. The nations are moving to acknowledge Christ’s reign.
In strict formal terms, all of these jurisdictions remain more secular than a country like Britain, where the head of state is also supreme governor of an established church. So it seems a bit overwrought when the rather moderate measures of Poland and Hungary are denounced as illiberal. If the critics of “populism” really want to defend democratic liberalism, they should depose Britain’s kindly old Queen.
Of course, there is a deeper logic to their apparent inconsistency. For the liberal true believer, it is the trajectory of secularisation that really matters. A nation may have an established church as a kind of vestigial organ – but not as its beating heart.
So it was no surprise when Bavaria’s move to put crosses in public buildings was met with denunciation. Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the German bishops’ conference, criticized the order as an act of cynical political manipulation, one that “has caused division, unrest and is pitting people against each other.”
Cardinal Gerhard Müller took a different view. In an interview with Bavarian radio, he said that “no matter whose initiative it was” he supported the move: “I prefer politicians who hang up crosses to those who take them down.”
Rudolf Voderholzer, the Catholic bishop of Regensburg, and Hans-Martin Weiss, the city’s Protestant bishop, agreed. Their joint statement hailed display of the cross as a necessary comment on the sacred source of all authority. “A liberal-democratic society lives on prerequisites and builds on foundations that it itself cannot guarantee,” the two bishops wrote.
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