Instead of ideological attacks on religions – disputes full of ideas!

Instead of ideological attacks on religions – disputes full of ideas!

The word "ideology" is often used in public discourse, explaining the intensity of social controversies when religious symbols are attacked, when someone offends, parodies and interrupts religious celebrations. Ideology is manifested in limiting statements, narrowing down the possibilities of expressing religiosity justified by the existence of "neutral fields" (the essence of secularism),

to which religious views should not have access, they should be left "outside". But as Charles Taylor showed interestingly in his book A Secular Age, it is not so much about removing outside what is religious or sacred, but about deactivating and dormanting it: religiosity and the sacred are still present in secular societies, but they are hidden deep and limited in their influence1.

All of this shows that the cultural changes which limit religious freedom are often ideological. This means that there is no conceptual dispute between atheists and theists, as it used to be in history. Such a dispute gave rise to arguments for and against the existence of God, religion was cleansing itself of superstition, and non-believers gained a positive image of believers as confreres looking for meaning, with whom, despite differences, they could cooperate for the common good2. Probably such a spirit accompanied the very optimistic reflections of the Second Vatican Council in Gaudium et Spes, which warmly encouraged this dialogue between believers and atheists and created institutional structures for this purpose.

What is needed, then, is conversation and argumentation, not ideological prejudices that destroy dialogue on both sides. Why is such a dialogue so difficult today? It seems that the problem is not the conversation itself and the emotions it evokes, but the lack of discussion about moral evaluation of human behavior. A cultural climate has prevailed in which any moral evaluation of social phenomena qualifies as an attack. Alasdair MacIntyre drew attention to this regularity of contemporary culture in his book After Virtue, foretelling difficult times for ethical discourse in the realities of dominant secularism, which, contrary to expectations and demands, does not help at all in dialogue3. For many philosophers, the cause of this state of affairs is the growing ideologization of social life, which carries out significant transformations, whereby antagonisms and polarities manifest themselves in their harmful forms.

The problem of ideology was thoroughly presented by Marie-Joseph Le Guillou OP (1920-1990), who pondered the causes of the crisis of Christianity in European culture in the second half of the XX century. In addition to a strictly theological diagnosis (in his opinion, loss of sense of theandry, i.e. the relationship between creation and the Creator, led to the creation of a specific spiritual vacuum in the world, so it is the contemporary Gnostic crisis that is the source of difficulties here), he drew attention to the entry by mankind into the era of ideology, when explaining the world is based almost exclusively on the political order. Ideology can be understood in a narrow sense as such a set of views / doctrines intended to lead to a complete transformation of society. This is a process that has had French, German and Russian stage since the Enlightenment. The common denominator was the conviction that ideology wants to restore the original state, which has been disrupted as a result of unwanted processes, and therefore demands radical social change, i.e. the introduction of a new world previously framed within the framework of ideology.

Le Guillou notes that what "betrays" ideology and allows it to be distinguished from other attitudes is the way of using language, which for ideology becomes not so much a medium for communication and exchange of views, but a way of gaining power and maintaining it. It is not about discovering the truth about the world, but about making social changes. The language is attributed with an almost magical power, and the form of introducing changes becomes compulsion explained on the basis of ideological foundations. Le Guillou points to three elements of ideology:


  1. It presents itself as the fastest way to introduce fundamental changes: the genius of the recipes it proposes pushes for quick implementation, and therefore it is characterized by an "infantile sense of omnipotence [...]. That is why the ideology does not take reality into account from the very beginning and in the long run it may become a kind of delirium”4. Contrary to Christianity, which emphasizes the long path to achieving goals through effort and with an awareness of limitations, ideology takes shortcuts. The devaluation of the existing culture, throwing it onto the dustbin of the history of ideas is to accelerate this process. Not surprisingly, many of the ideologies of the 20th century began by burning books, removing incorrect authors from libraries (Leninism), blocking discussion and academic freedom. As Le Guillou portrays it vividly, unmasking the fact that ideology gives only promises to culture, not its specific proposition: “the cathedral is demolished to make room for a future one: more beautiful and authentic. And nobody notices that by overthrowing the previous one, the model is lost and it will not even be possible to build a chapel ”5).
  2. It proposes a naturalistic perception of man as devoid of transcendent dependence, which Le Guillou identifies with fatherhood. The French theologian compares this state to a situation in which a child thinks that it was born only by the mother herself, so there is no reference to the mediation proper to the father. Naturalism leads to the belief that man has absolute power over himself. This is where Le Guillou sees the reason why Christianity is particularly exposed to attacks from ideology (including attempts to ideologize Christianity): “ideology opposes Christianity as a radical rejection of adopting sons. It can arrange man's relationship with his mother nature in a thousand ways [...], the ideologist will have his own knowledge for his father. It follows that nature, history, race, language, libido, etc. may be the guiding principle, but it will always be a doublet of the man himself and it will be possible to obey him and love him in the way of idolatry6”.
  3. Ideology protects the subject from fears, offering the illusion of control over processes or phenomena. This in turn leads to its fetishization. Ideology reacts in conflict to everything that appears next to it and does not fit into the conceptual framework it provides.


The challenge that could contribute to the reconstruction of the dialogue between believers and non-believers, who build the same society, is therefore the change of the format of contact and the return from the position of ideological dialogue to dialogue full of ideas. This conceptual dispute led to the creation of universities that were born in Christian Europe arguing about the shape of cultural synthesis - with the ambition to achieve universitas, and not only in the wide view of reality (in a multitude of interconnected sciences),

but in an attempt at a coherent, vertical approach to human life. Theology at universities fulfills this unifying function, it is a guarantor of coherence, ensuring that the detailed knowledge about the world reveals the big picture, even if part of this picture eludes the methods of the natural sciences. It is this image or description of the universe that allows for the multiplicity, which is not, however, a division into independent islands.


fr. dr hab. Piotr Roszak, NCU prof.

Nicholas Copernicus University in Toruń



  1. Taylor, A Secular Age, Cambridge-Massachusetts-London 2007.
  2. Huzarek, M. Fijałkowski, A. Drzycimski, Fenomen niewiary w świetle dialogicznej natury Kościoła, Toruń 2018.
  3. MacIntyre, Dziedzictwo cnoty. Studium z teorii moralności, transl. A. Chmielewski, Warszawa 1996.
  4. M-J. Le Guillou, Tajemnica Ojca. Wiara Apostołów. Dzisiejsze gnozy, transl. W. Szymona, Poznań-Warszawa-Kraków 2019, p. 201.
  5. Ibidem, p. 210.
  6. Ibidem, p. 206-207.
Autor: Laboratorium Wolności
Date: 13 October 2020
Financed from the Justice Fund, which is administered by the Minister of Justice
Pro Futuro Theologiae Foundation
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