Monday, 24 August 2015

So You Want to Join the Backward Bigots? This is What It's Like (In France).

Hello, Internet! I'm back!

Yes, I left. 

Well, then pretend you did notice.

We were on holidays where no internet was to be had, hence the quiet around here. But I had lots of ideas percolating in my brain in the meantime. 

One of which was about being (trying to be) a faithful Catholic in this day and age, and especially how it compares to what I read about America on my favourite blogs.

Being a Christian in Europe is generally an extremely counter-cultural thing to do. It's not like America, politicians don't even pay lip-service to some vague deity. Being a Christian is an embarrassment as far as they are concerned.

So I figured I'd explain how it feels from the insider view, both in France and in England, and the challenges we face.


So, what is it like, being a Catholic in France? (In my limited experience, I did after all, live in England when I reverted).

Often, it is lonely. It's hard to find people who agree with your views, or are willing to consider them valid thoughts.

Catholics are sheep because they don't follow the majority opinion. It all makes sense now.

In France, Catholicism is still (just) the default religion for most people. There are a few Protestants, a few Jews, a growing number of Muslims, but culturally, it is a Catholic country (in name at least). Basically, if you are One of Them Bigots, people assume you are probably a Catholic bigot.

This means that you are not afforded the protection of a religious minority. Even though, really, you are. (If you are trying to follow some of the most controversial teachings of the Church, on marriage and contraception in particular, whilst believing in the Real Presence, you are a teeny tiny itsy bisty minute minoritette - that's smaller than a minority - basically, there are about three of you. On a good day. But I digress.) So, because you are perceived as a not-minority, you are fair game, in the way that Jews or Muslims are not (of course these groups also face discrimination, but it is more likely to be on a racist than a religious basis. I know, pick your poison.). 

What I mean is that it's ok for people who consider themselves broad-minded (they have a Muslim friend) and liberal (they have a gay friend), who hold for tolerance and freedom and sunsets, to hate you. 

Because Catholicism is perceived as a majority religion, people already KNOW it is a backward, women-hating, gay-hating, AIDS-propagating organisation of Evil. After all, they grew up with a Church in the background, celebrating Christmas and having chocolate eggs for Easter, they know all there is to know about Christianity. So they can dismiss you, and happily wait for you to recognise the errors of your ways, without ever actually listening to what you have to say. They will also be extremely violent in their rejection of you, since it is "allowed".

See? Catholics are preventing children from learning to read!

You also get to be marginalized by most other Catholics as an "Extrémiste". 

There is still a large number of people who will be in the above situation, already KNOWING that the Church is wrong, but still coming to church some Sundays (although their numbers are dwindling), still being involved in the running of the parish, whilst openly saying that they are against its teachings. I am not saying it's altogether a bad thing that such people are staying (I may not flout the Church's teaching on marriage and contraception, but I do it in other ways, every day - yes, there is a difference, because I am not asking the Church to change its teaching to accommodate my selfishness/laziness/fallen-ness, but the point stands) yet it remains true that you are going to be marginalized even in church, unless you go with the flow on divorce, gay marriage, women priesthood etc.

It's fun.

On the other hand, the still Catholic-in-Name-ness of the country means you can get beautiful services and beautiful churches (in the parish where I grew up, the newest church was from the fifteenth century). And some of the major Holy Days are also holidays. So that's nice. And you won't have to go too far afield to find a church where they won't hold hands during the Our Father, and you won't stand out too much (pun intended) when kneeling down for consecration. (Apparently Vatican II did away with all the pomp and ceremony. So I am told.)

Also, the "Tradis" (holding for a 2000 year old Tradition instead of the fashionable opinions du jour) have been discriminated and bullied on and off for two hundred years, so they are pretty well-organised. The Benedict option is alive and well in France, you just have to go find the hotspots (Versailles is generally a good bet, a lot of the Catholic resistance was organised and led by the put-upon nobility during the Revolution, so some of the largest communities of Tradis are where there were lots of old families congregated). 

Apart from such hotspots, there are some communities scattered about, generally gathering around a more orthodox priest. Typically, people will know which one is the "Tradi" parish, and avoid or join accordingly.

These groups are heavily stereotyped as royalists, wanting to return to nobility-run Ancien Régime, and refusing to welcome in anyone who does not agree with all the terms. I have no idea how true this is (I suspect not very) as I never stay long enough in France these days to actually get to know new people.

There are other groups of course, this is only the "Versaillais" stereotype, but they are harder to spot (you have to start talking to people you don't know, and other terrifying activities, to find them out). There are also some seemingly irreconcilable divisions between Extraordinary Rite/ Novum Ordo groups, which is a real shame, as we are already a minoritette. 

Outside of the churches, France is an aggressively secular society (has been for a 150 years, one day I'll explain the history behind it, it's fascinating) - yes, with catholic holidays, because everybody agrees to more holidays - , and its laws don't allow for much religious freedom. 

This is one of the many newspapers entirely devoted to hating the Church which were about in the late 19th/ early 20th century in France. 

Many people have heard of the fact that in French public schools, it is forbidden to advertise your religious views, even by the way you dress. The idea is that everybody should agree to fit into the mold, and your conscience is your own private business.

There is no such thing as a conscience clause allowing you not to prescribe the Pill because it goes against your principles. 

 - On the other hand, people in France are much less likely to sue you over these matters, because they generally don't sue as easily as in America or England. So at least there's that. -

But good luck trying to get anyone interested in the conundrum you are facing! No-one cares much about the freedom of the employer, or the opinion of the tax-payer. 

As far as a large portion of the public opinion is concerned, employers are part of this Evil Group of Evil, so their rights are not a popular thing to uphold (one of the most often-used chant in demonstrations - the national sport - roughly translates to "just take the money from the bosses" -"l'argent, il y en a / dans les caisses du patronat"). 

No God, no master, no boss, no husband. An interesting, albeit complicated, lifestyle choice. (Via)

The fact that the free healthcare system is paid for by the taxes of people who may object to its practices has never been debated by anyone in my experience.

Education is also accepted as a State prerogative, and although homeschooling is legal, people are largely hostile to the idea of SAHMs which would enable it. People never question the fact that you are going to send your children to school or that the State should be in charge of its curriculum. 

More love from the French press for Catholic schools.

On a more positive note, it is considered extremely bad form for a teacher to share anything vaguely resembling political or religious ideas in a public school, and they typically don't do it, and avoid the difficult topics, like sex-education (as far as most teachers are concerned, it's not their job).

There is talk of introducing compulsory sex-education, but I am not sure how hotly debated it is, or if people will agree to it, or if teachers would do it, even if the law said so. In my experience, you learn about the reproductive systems as part of your biology classes around the age of 12-13 and that's it.

A more recent one to advertise the petition demanding that Catholic schools lose public subsidies unless they teach gender theory.

The private school system in France is slightly peculiar, as the best schools are typically state-run (it's a geography roulette) but even Catholic schools have to toe the line to a very large extent. 

So, where does that leave you, member of the Backward Bigots Fraternity?

If you want to raise your children with a good understanding of the Church's teachings, you are going to have to do it yourself. The media will be against you, your children's schoolmates will be ignorant-to-hostile, your own parish will likely try to undo your work because the catechesis they offer is a dire blend of love-rainbow-butterflies, let's-skip-that-difficult-bit-here and you-don't-REALLY-have-to-do-it.

So, your options are:

Either to take refuge in one of the Tradis hotspots where other parents will be reinforcing what you are trying to teach and the parishes are likely to be run by these same people. You will be cut out from the world to a certain extent, but you won't be alone.

Or try to take on the whole world on your own and start gathering a community around you to help you do it. It is hard, but probably do-able, provided you know enough people with similar views, are sociable (I'm not) and can take a few differences of opinion (I'm working on it).

But, if you are a French Tradi, you probably already grew up in this environment and your family is supporting you. I am yet to meet another French revert from Lukewarm Pick-and-Choosism. (Hi! Want to be friends?)

Feel free to disagree in the comments if you have a different experience.

Tune in next time for the English experience!


  1. Le tableau que tu dépeins est plutôt noir (mais mon anglais n'est peut-être pas assez bon pour comprendre tes nuances et le degré de ton ironie) et toutes les expériences de paroisse que j'ai eu m'ont laissées un meilleur aperçu de la France catholique d'aujourd'hui.

    Sur la vision anti-cléricales des non-cathos, je suis presque de ton avis (même si tes illustrations donnent un ton beaucoup plus violent que ton texte), même si en pratique on ne me jette pas de pierres et mes enfants, à l'école maternelle publique, n'ont pas encore été expulsés bien qu'ils parlent ou chantent probablement de temps à autres sur un registre que la loi interdit.

    Par contre sur ta vision de l'Eglise, je ne te rejoints pas du tout. Est-ce parce que je n'ai que des expériences de centre-ville (Paris et Lyon) ? Est-ce qu'on a eu du bol à chaque fois ? Peut-être suis-je sans le savoir dans une des catégories que tu évoques (Tradi ou chacha à donner la main au notre père et à rester debout pour la consécration) ?

    Je n'ai pas eu à chercher de groupe, ou à parler avec des gens pour dénicher la bonne paroisse : l'église la plus proche hébergeait à chaque fois une communauté accueillante, ouverte sans être dans la béatitude de "tout le monde est gentil, tout le monde a raison", avec des paroissiens plus pieux qui veulent du solennel et du sacré, d'autres plus bougeant qui veulent du rock et des actions sociales. Je suis vraiment curieux de comprendre pourquoi nos visions diffèrent tellement.

    1. Je suis contente que tu me donnes ton point de vue, je me demandais justement dans quelle mesure mon impression était biaisée.
      Je pense que la géographie joue un gros role, et que les centres-villes sont en effet (assez logiquement) un des "hotspots" dont je parlais. Ceci dit, j'ai peut-etre simplement eu une expérience particulierement négative dans la paroisse ou j'ai grandi, et c'est peut-etre une exception!
      En tout cas, ton commentaire me rassure un peu, si on revient en France dans quelques années! (Et pour les illustrations, je sais, je sais, c'est la dix-neuviemiste en moi qui a pas pu résister ;-) )

  2. I missed you! :-) I have just finished reading The Church Under Attack by Diane Moczar, who had absolutely NOTHING good to say about Charles de Gaulle and the French Resistance, and I very much wondered (as I was reading it) what your thoughts would have been. I am not very informed on French history, but I am working on it.

  3. Oh thanks! I'm chuffed to be back :-)
    And I am quite curious now about the book and what it has to say! I can't vouch for the Résistance, which was mostly communist, but De Gaulle was technically Catholic (he's actually a relation of ours!) although French politicians take the separation of Church and State VERY seriously.

  4. Ma très chère sœur,

    Mon anglais (notre en fait puisque nous lisons tes articles à 2), n'est pas toujours très bon, mais certains aspect de ta rhétorique m'interpelle.
    J'avais plutôt tendance à considérer tes prises de position comme conservatrices (ça n'est pas un gros mot dans ma bouche), mais à te lire ici tu te rapproches plus du néolibéralisme (toujours pas un gros mot). Si j'ai bien compris, tu contestes la participation de l'Etat dans la vie de ses citoyens, (l'Etat providence) en contestant le régime (obligatoire) de sécurité sociale, d'éducation etc... Mais à la différence du "Tea paty" par exemple, tu ne contestes pas l'idée de cette participation, tu en contestes la source. Tu sembles considérer que l'église serait plus à même de fournir la providence nécessaire à notre société. Ça n'a rien d'inaudible de mon point de vue. La où j'ai plus de difficultés, c'est que tu reviens sur la loi de 1905, qui contrairement à ce que semble montrer les caricatures que tu exposes, n'a jamais fait consensus et a été longuement débattue. C'est l'un des principaux enseignements que donne marine chaque année dans ces TD de droit constitutionnel. C'est finalement démocratiquement, et en pesant bien le pour et le contre que cette décision a été prise par nos députés, passionnés certes, mais modérés nécessairement, au regard des difficultés que soulevaient cette question. C'est le consensus qu'il faut percevoir et non les combats dans un sens comme dans l'autre. En t'attardant sur ces caricatures tu fais de leurs auteurs tes adversaires dans le débat, cet amalgame est aussi extrémiste que leur position (la c'est un gros mot). Fais donc attention à tes propos, ceux-ci sont souvent plein de sens, et nous aimons les suivre (marine et moi), mais ne te trompe pas d'adversaire. Le débat raisonné ne se fait qu'entre gens raisonnés (ta position m'avait déjà gêné quand tu avais repris les positions de la "manif pour tous" (GPA mariage gay tout ça) sur un précédent post, vas donc voir ce qu'ils prônent aujourd'hui, on est loin des messages de tolérance que tu revendiques).
    Une fois encore ton article nous donne matière à réfléchir, nous t'embrassons!

    1. Coucou grand frere! (Et Marine)
      C'est gentil de venir me lire!

      Alors, pour répondre a ta question, le secret est dans le contexte.

      Comme je le dis au début de l'article, j'essaye de comparer la situation francaise aux Etats-Unis (d'ou sont la plupart de mes lecteurs). Les catholiques aux Etats-Unis sont aujourd'hui inquiets sur 2 plans: la facon dont l'Obamacare force les employeurs a payer une assurance maladie a leurs employés sans qu'ils puissent choisir de ne pas payer pour les choses auxquelles ils s'opposent moralement (il y a en ce moment une longue poursuite judiciaire contre les Little Sisters of the Poor a cause de ca) et le fait que l'Etat subventionne Planned Parenthood, (le principal organisme pourvoyeur d'avortements). Donc, si tu compares a cette situation, en France, en effet, la question ne fait meme pas débat (ce qui est tout ce que je dis). Il me semble que les gens ont choisis d'accepter un bien (un systeme de santé plus ou moins gratuit) au prix d'un mal (accepter que leurs impots payent pour des choses qu'ils n'approuvent pas). Je ne remets pas en cause l'état providence (personnellement je prefere de beaucoup meme a l'Obamacare), j'en souligne juste les limites.

      Pour l'éducation, encore une fois j'essaye juste d'expliquer le systeme francais de laicité. Je dis d'ailleurs que les profs, typiquement, ne se melent pas de politique ou de religion, mais que ca a l'air de vouloir etre changé avec l'histoire de la théorie des genres (je ne donne pas de détails, parce que, comme je le dis, je ne les connais pas). Pour un lecteur Anglo-Saxon, l'idée que l'école ne fournisse aucune éducation religieuse est étrange, et donc je souligne qu'il faut que les parents s'en chargent tous seuls, en allant a l'encontre de la culture populaire sur beaucoup de sujets, ce qui n'est pas facile, mais plus simple que la réalité anglaise dont je veux parler pour le prochain billet, ou l'école donne une éducation religieuse, mais qui doit miraculeusement plaire a tout le monde (spoiler alert: ca ne marche pas).

      Pour les illustrations, j'entends ce que tu veux dire, et je reconnais que je ne les ai pas franchement choisies dans un esprit de fair-play comme je disais a Pascal plus haut, je n'ai pas pu résister (je te rappelle que je faisais un doctorat sur cette période, et que oui, je connais assez bien les débats sur la loi 1905).

      Pour la Manif Pour Tous, je n'étais déja pas tres au point a l'époque et je ne suis pas plus a jour maintenant, ce que je te donnes c'est la position de l'Église (et puis on c'était plutot engueulés sur la relativité morale, non?)

      Enfin bref, j'espere que ca vous rassure un peu!

      Plein de bisous

  5. A French revert from Lukewarm Pick and Choosism ;-)25 August 2015 at 13:31

    Hi Isabelle !

    I've been reading your blog for a while now, thanks for adding a "European voice" to the list of catholic blogs i read :-)
    I especially enjoy your analysis of the "Lukewarm, pick and choose" catholicism in France because...i know what you mean !

    But i do not fully agree with this article, mostly because some points are not very, :
    - Who are the "tradis" you keep refering to?
    - French Catholics actually DO mind that social security is paying for the abortions etc.
    - Actually, most good schools in France are private...and catholic ! I think this is a very VERY important point that distinguishes us from the US and UK : most students at catholic schools are not catholic at all. They're just here because their parents can afford to pay for a better education, and just like catholicism is the "default" religion, catholic schools are the "default" private schools. Which means that attending a catholic school does not mean you will receive a catholic education.

    As for catholics actually following the teachings of the Church, as said in a previous comments, it mostly depends on whether you live in a rural or urban area. In my experience, young, urban catholics tend to agree with the teachings of the Church whereas the older rural counterparts are more..."pick and choose".

    All in all i think the main problem with your article is that you deal with too many topics at once (atheism, laïcité à la française, minority religions, sociology of the French catholics, Vatican II, tradis, etc etc etc) which makes it confusing because each of these topics could be an article in itself :-)

    Quoiqu'il en soit, cela m'aura donné l'occasion de commenter sur ton blog, pour une fois que je maîtrise un peu le sujet :-)
    Et félicitations pour le petit frère ou la petite soeur de Patapon !

    1. Hi! I'm so glad I'm not alone!

      I agree with you that Catholic schools tend to be better than your average state-run school, but they are not all the best schools. Where I grew up (banlieue parisienne Ouest), the state-run schools were just as good, and closer, so parents only sent their children to private catholic schools for status reasons or in the hope that they would get some religious education. But my point is too general, I agree, as it would be very different in a different area (aaah, la carte scolaire...)

      As an aside, English Catholic schools have exactly the same issues! In fact more so, as the "carte scolaire" battles are even more cut-throat around here, you see countless people coming to church for a few months before school allocation time and then mysteriously disappearing.

      I am also mostly reflecting the Banlieue Ouest upbringing when I talk of the Versaillais "tradis", which was typically who faithful catholics were around me growing up. I'd actually love to know more about the different groups in different regions! (You and Pascal are slowly restoring my hopes for French Catholicism).

      But I wholly agree with you, this post suffers from being such a broad overview, and can only reflect my limited experience, so caricature was inevitable, I apologise!
      I intend to write some more on the historical side of it all (mostly because I can't keep away from a good historical topic for very long).

      (Et merci!)

    2. Zoé (not my real name but shorter than AFRLPC !)25 August 2015 at 16:57

      About the English Catholic schools : my cousin's children are attending one, and my understanding is that it is quite different from French Catholic schools : you said it yourself, you actually have to show up at church to get in ! I'm not saying that it's a good thing but it would be unimaginable in France...And they pray every morning etc. But i still get your point about the english "carte scolaire".
      I'd actually be very interested to know more about the Catholic church and catholics in the UK as my knowledge of the situation is very limited, I hope you'll cover the topic someday :-)

      I will not get into the different "types" of catholics because i would be too long but i can email you about it if you want. The most important thing to remember is that you SHOULD have hopes- espoirs - and Hope - espérance - for the French Church, it is not that bad i promise ;-)
      I think our generation of catholics is starting to feel like the minority that it is, and thus is rediscovering its true identity. As opposed to some parts of Germany for instance, where the youth are often "catholics" as opposed to "protestant", and go to Church occasionally while heavily criticizing the Church's position on gay marriage etc. Or the Philippines where basically everyone is a practicing catholics but most young people do not understand why anyone should oppose contraception.

      ..starting to think i should start my own blog, i still have so much to say about this...once you get me started there's no stopping me

    3. I think you definitely should, I for one, would love to read what you have to say!

  6. A French revert from Lukewarm Pick and Choosism ;-)25 August 2015 at 14:36

    Me again, just reread you article and I'd just like to add that there IS sex education in public schools. It just consists in saying : "hey, here is a condom, and btw did you know you can get the pill without your parents knowing about it?"
    And I would certainly not say that people are hostile to SAHMs. Actually the French system is very "pro-children", in that it make it easier for mothers to work outside the house. And that is why we have more babies than our German neighbours (or so i've heard) so i wouldn't say it's a bad thing, because some mothers do have to work. Of course that means people will also be surprised if you decide to be a SAHM because it's definitely not "mainstream" in our generation, but i wouldn't say that there is any hostility towards SAHMs...

    1. Fair enough! I wouldn't say pro-children = pro-SAHMs, though, but it is certainly true that the laws are not any impediment whatever. Public opinion however is not exactly supportive (but maybe I am once again betraying more of my own experience than I imagine!)

    2. I'm certain I read an article recently on motherhood in France, where they said that a common appellation for women with several children is "mere d'oeufs", which when spoken can sound very similar to a rather nasty phrase. Now, I do not remember the source of this information at all, and it may be completely wrong, but that certainly didn't leave me with the impression that French society tends to respect women who choose motherhood as their vocation. I mention this only to ask if it is a fair commentary, since I know you and your readers are in a position to know? (Please excuse my lack of accents - I've never figured out a simple way to do them on this computer.)

    3. It would indeed sound like something not very nice, but I've never heard it used (nor could I find anything on Google).
      "Mere poule" is for mothers who are too involved in their children's life, but it is not particularly disparaging.
      It wouldn't surprise me, however, you should have heard what people said to me when I mentioned wanting to be a full-time mum! (I won't even go near the reactions to our desire to home-educate!) What is expected of mothers is that they will have children, then go back to work full-time 3 month after their babies are born. The State does provide a lot of help towards that, and does do a lot to encourage people to have more children, whilst mothers still go to work.