It is difficult to praise religions today!
Assassinations, violence, terrorist acts committed in the name of God, but also sexual abuse in the Church… So many facts that push our contemporaries to have a very negative view of religions. For the philosopher and Jesuit priest Paul Valadier, if religions “are capable of the worst”, “they are not only that”. His “Praise of religion” (ed. Salvator, 2002), is not, he specifies, a eulogy of Catholicism but “of religion in general”.
However, “it is very difficult to praise religion”, admits the Jesuit. And if we were all the more angry with the institution that we can go after it without difficulty? “Especially since the institution in general does not respond: you can fire red balls at the institution, it is rare for someone to defend it!” Former editor of the journal Studies and professor emeritus at the Center Sèvres, Paul Valadier emphasizes that “we are no longer in the time of Léon Bloy or Bernanos or Mauriac, who had the courage to cross swords all the same!”
The rise of spirituality
It is common today to oppose spirituality and religion, we favor the first to criticize the second. This strong attraction of the spiritual has a vague and confused character, as Paul Valadier analyzes it in his book. Is spirituality without religion possible? What is spirituality? “If we talk about the life of the spirit, thought, imagination, everyone has spiritual life”, admits the Jesuit. “We must not forget that at least in Catholicism there are schools of spirituality: the risk of giving oneself one’s spirituality is to fall into sentimentality, into emotion… The spiritual life is a difficult life is an adventure, it’s an adventure that you don’t lead alone.”
Thus, because one cannot seek “God or the absolute” alone, spiritual life and religion are inseparable. “As soon as one enters the interior life, one can be the object of illusions. And when one reads Teresa of Avila, one realizes that this holy woman spends her time wondering: is I’m under no illusion? We need texts, a community of believers, witnesses… In the Catholic religion, “we have the chance to believe in the communion of saints: that is to say, we are never alone” . Where, we tend to believe, in an “individualistic” society that we “can reign alone, that we have rights to ourselves alone”…
Worse than criticism, indifference to religions
More than the current criticism of religion, what “worries” Paul Valadier is “indifference”. “To say:yearI’m not interested, I have nothing to do with all that, I keep busy, I play tennis, bike, paint, but religion doesn’t interest him…” An indifference which is the sign that we are “in a soft society”, deplores the Jesuit. A society largely ignorant of religion. “The youth is in a completely fatal ignorance with regard to religions in general and that which has nevertheless marked our country, Catholicism.”
Which does not prevent this society from turning to the sacred. Or rather, to “sacred” sometimes “soccer players, movie actors”, or “possibly politicians”. Anyway, “we will not escape the sacred”, assures Paul Valadier. “The problem for the believer is precisely to realize that despite the appearances of religious indifference, there is always something sacred that is there and that one must know how to deal with it and not despise it of course.”
With Christianity, the end of religion?
Who does not know the famous formula of Marcel Gauchet, for whom Christianity is “the religion of leaving religion”? “I believe that indeed Christianity, while being a religion, is also the output of religion, if we understand by religion an attitude which covers the totality of social life.” Thus, there are in Judaism or Islam, “rules for all things in common life, from marriage, to burial, to political life, etc.”, analyzes Paul Valadier. Conversely, “Christianity does not give rules to apply to society”, specifies the Jesuit. But there are, however, in Christianity sacraments, rites and founding texts…
What actually threatens the institution is closure, withdrawal, believing that we form an inter-self of the chosen, the saints, the predestined. “Any institution has the tendency to sag…to stiffen up until it has no more breath. And obviously, the Church, as we well know, is no exception to this.” The Jesuit quotes the initiator of the Reformation in the 16th century, Martin Luther, for whom the Church is semper reformanda, that is to say “always to reform”. So when Paul Valadier makes a “Praise of religion” it is first of all to recognize that any religion is obliged to take a critical look at itself. “The first critic of religion was Jesus anyway!”