God Is Back – in France

Source: The New York Times


PARIS — Much to our surprise in Europe, religion wasn’t a big theme in the 2016 presidential election in the United States, a country that proclaims its trust in God even on its bank notes. It may therefore be puzzling to some Americans to learn that God is back in the political debate on this side of the Atlantic. And that he chose, of all places, France, the sacred land of “laïcité,” the local version of secularism.

The man who brought God — or, more specifically, Christianity — back is François Fillon, a former prime minister who is running in the presidential election in the spring as the nominee of the main center-right Republican Party. Mr. Fillon’s initial platform included a drastic proposal to cut back on public health insurance that caused widespread indignation and forced him to backpedal; to persuade voters that he did not intend to hurt the poorest, Mr. Fillon explained this month that “I am a Gaullist, and furthermore I am a Christian,” and said that as such he would never act against “the respect of human dignity.”

Christian? Did he say Christian? In the media, other politicians were promptly requested to react. The centrist François Bayrou, while pointing out that he was himself “a believer,” was appalled, adding that “in France, for more than a century, the rule has been that you don’t mix politics and religion.”

A former adviser to Nicolas Sarkozy, Henri Guaino, said that Mr. Fillon had committed a “moral error.” And Marine Le Pen of the National Front, sporting around her neck, in lieu of a cross, a heart-shaped silver pendant, said that Mr. Fillon’s “opportunistic use” of his Christianity for political purposes had created “unease.”

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