“True secularism versus false controversies”

Emmanuel Macron and Philippe Jost visit the nave of Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris, December 8, 2023. SARAH MEYSSONNIER/REUTERS

COUNTERPOINT – The Republic should feel sufficiently sure of itself not to believe itself threatened by a lit candle or a blessing recited within its walls.

Quite a symbol. Emmanuel Macron has, reluctantly, “rekindled” the very French debate on secularism, the day before he entered a Notre-Dame cathedral which was recovering from another fire. Firefighter of religions or arsonist of secularism, the President of the Republic? One day’s controversy confirms the difficulty for politicians to approach religious matters in a way that is both adjusted and peaceful.

In three months, Emmanuel Macron has twice offended the scrupulous proponents of “pure sugar” secularism. In September, by attending the m celebrated by Pope Francis in Marseille, and this time by attending – without doing it himself – the lighting of the Hanukkah candlestick. In both cases, attending is not participating personally, and even less on behalf of the country, in a religious celebration.

Secularism in danger?

Often, the contestation of a simple presence at a religious event hides the refusal of the visibility of religions themselves in the public space. Macron did not celebrate Hanukkah on Thursday…

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