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Understanding America

Built on the foundations created by the free churches, it adopts a rigid dogma of separation between church and state. Above and beyond the single denominations, it is characterized by a Protestant Christian consensus that is not defined in denominational terms, but rather in association with the country’s sense of a special religious mission toward the rest of the world. The religious sphere thus acquires a significant weight in public affairs and emerges as a pre-political and supra-political force with the potential to have a decisive impact on political life. Of course, one cannot hide the fact that in the United States, also, the Christian heritage is falling apart at an incessant pace, while at the same time the rapid increase in the Hispanic population and the presence of religious traditions from all over the world have altered the picture.

Perhaps here we should also observe that the United States is involved to a large extent in promoting Protestantism in Latin America and hence in the breakup of the Catholic Church through the work of free church formations. It does so out of the conviction that the Catholic Church is incapable of guaranteeing a stable political and economic system, since it is considered an unreliable educator of nations. The underlying expectation is that the free churches model, instead, will be able to create a moral consensus and to form a democratic public will that are similar to those of the United States.

To further complicate the picture, we have to acknowledge that the Catholic Church today represents the largest single religious community in the United States, while American Catholics have incorporated the traditions of the free church regarding the relationship between the Church and politics, believing that a Church that is separate from the state better guarantees the moral foundation of the country. Hence the promotion of the democratic ideal is seen as a moral duty that is in profound compliance with the faith. In this position we can rightly see a continuation, adapted to the times, of the model of Pope Gelasius. – from Without Roots (with Marcello Pera, 2007)