Vendredi 22 janvier 2021
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Over the last years Italians have started realizing they have to pay out of their pockets for the unsustainable weight of their sick public economy, while simultaneously growing eager on asking ‘their Church,’ the Roman Catholic Church, to share the burden. The ‘ICI’ affair exposed the discontent of an upset public opinion urging the Church to stop benefiting from ingenious tax exemptions. The new government led by Mario Monti has begun shaping fairer regulations. Will he truly succeed or will the change be purely cosmetic? And will the ‘ICI’ case awake Italians, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, to the need for healthier attitudes in Italian politics and law towards the Catholic Church?

L’académicien Félicien Marceau, de son vrai nom Louis Carette, est mort à Paris ce mercredi 7 mars. La presse se fait l’écho de sa brillante carrière d’auteur de romans et de pièces de théâtre. Les journalistes les plus avisés rappellent qu’il fut condamné par contumace à la déchéance civile et à 15 ans de travaux forcés par l’État belge, à la Libération, pour avoir réalisé, en tant que directeur du département « Actualités » à Radio-Bruxelles (aux mains de l’occupant), des émissions aux propos ambigus. Cependant, lorsque son parcours est retracé, son engagement dans le personnalisme chrétien n’est jamais évoqué. Pourtant, non seulement il fut l’un des principaux animateurs de ce mouvement en Belgique, mais cette implication permet de mieux comprendre ses prises de position.

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En Wallonie, la question de la réaffectation des églises est actuellement débattue au Parlement, à l’initiative de deux députés socialistes. Ceux-ci ont déposé une proposition visant à réaliser un cadastre des biens classés affectés à l’exercice d’un culte, première étape vers une désacralisation et une réaffectation de certains d’entre eux. Cette désacralisation est considérée comme nécessaire vu l’importance du coût de l’entretien d’édifices dont la fréquentation ne cesse de baisser. La chef du groupe PS Isabelle Simonis et le député Daniel Senesael ont déposé une proposition de décret « en vue de réaliser un cadastre des monuments classés affectés à l'exercice d'un culte ». Selon la députée, le projet est justifié par le coût élevé des travaux réalisés sur ces édifices : pour l'année 2012, sur un budget de restauration du patrimoine classé de 38 millions d'euro, 5 millions seraient exclusivement consacrés à la restauration des édifices classés ouverts au culte.

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The prominent place of religion and of religious references in American public discourse is one of the most salient differences between the US and Europe. From elected officials taking the oath of office on the Bible, “In God We Trust” on coins and bills, “God Bless America” at the end of every speech and candidates speaking candidly about their beliefs, religion is seemingly everywhere.

This impression is strengthened when one looks at the numbers. Indeed, according to the Pew Research Center, 50% of Americans consider religion to be very important in their life while only 21% of Germans and 13% of French people feel the same way. And 55% of Americans attend weekly services. However, if one takes a less western-centric perspective, Europe is the secular exception in a world that remains religious to a large extent.

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In a number of twentieth-century critiques of Methodism (and notably in E.P. Thompson’s Making of the English Working Class), John Wesley’s discourse has been represented as an instrument in the conversion of the factory proletariat to the industrial work ethic, symptomatic of an emerging ideological paradigm heavily conditioned by the demands of increasing industrialization. While the data adopted as evidence by the critics are authentic, an analysis of the discourse in context reveals that not only have the instances of Methodist discourse been selected and combined to tie in with a particular reading of reality – religion as the opiate of the people – but also that the value judgment fostered by this partial representation has been applied indiscriminately to Methodism as a whole, with blatant disregard for the positive transforming power it exerted both on individuals and on society.

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Even though “religion as the opiate of the people” is one of the oft-quoted (albeit occasionally misunderstood) tenets of Marxist criticism, nowhere in the 1,800 or so pages of Michael Toolan’s Critical Discourse Analysis (2002) can one find a study denouncing a use of religious discourse seeking “to shape people's perceptions, cognitions and preferences in such a way that they accept the existing order of things, [...] because they are made to value it as divinely ordained and beneficial.” (S. Lukes: Power: A Radical View, 1974). Theolinguistics is, then, called upon to fulfill a new critical mandate today, as the very status of religious language, i.e. the manner in which it is to be read, received, understood and believed has become an issue in a number of debates which have over the last few years captured much public attention and polarized opinion, opening a new battlefield in the culture war. Biblical, theological, literary and linguistic scholarship have offered insightful and well-informed answers to most problems of religious language; but even so, religious discourse (mainly, but not exclusively Christian) has remained a problematic and controversial topic. One reason for this seems to be that no theory of religious language, no matter how open-ended, can accommodate the full variety of religious temperaments.

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As a matter of intellectual honesty, the use made of Scripture must remain faithful to the original text and intention (inasmuch as these may be retraced). At the point where religious language comes to be fraught with ideology (or vice versa), the emerging discipline of Critical Discourse Analysis may prove useful inasmuch as it (re)places instances of language within their full co-text, con-text and inter-text and seeks to denounce cases of manipulation wherein texts are read according to a system or set of values altogether extraneous to it, or alienated from their original meaning or purpose.

I would like to illustrate this point by means of the case example of George W. Bush's recourse of religious language and categories to justify (notably) U.S. foreign policy and beyond that, to serve his own electoral purposes.

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