November before last I wrote an article for the SBC website marking the fortieth anniversary of the death of Francisco Franco and comparing Spain when he governed the country to Spain now that it is no longer Catholic, no more than Ireland, France, Italy or any other country of Western Europe, except insofar as more Spaniards still identify as Catholic than as adherents of any other religion. The majority simply no longer live according to the beliefs they profess. With Franco-era laws no longer encouraging them to do so, they now live as men have been inclined ever since the Fall.
“If you polled Spaniards today,” I wrote, “asking them which they preferred, life in the country now or during the years 1939-75 when Franco ruled, who can doubt the vast majority would answer ‘now’? Of course they would. Ever since the Garden of Eden men have preferred to live according to their own will instead of God’s.”
I strike the same note in a book I have written and which is being published this month by Loreto Publications: “Ever since the Garden of Eden men have wanted to be ‘as gods’ – free to decide for themselves what is good and what is evil, and equal in the ‘right’ to do so. The desire is strong enough as to make it unlikely anyone but seriously practicing Christians would ever seek to curb it.” (Copies of my book, entitled As it is in Heaven; Christian Living and Social Order, will be available at the annual SBC conference in October, as shall I, God willing, to sign them.)
With liberalism having by political means spread the rebellion of Original Sin throughout society everywhere in ex-Christendom, it was inevitable that its depredations would be especially dramatic in countries that until recently were the most Catholic, like Spain. Thus a headline in the Wall Street Journal last June 8: “The Spanish Left Yearns for Deconquista.”
Did I say “dramatic”? Muslims from North Africa invaded Spain in 711 and eventually overran and militarily occupied most of its lands, but Catholic Spaniards did not stop fighting them. In an armed struggle that would last 700 years, they finally succeeded in driving the last occupiers out of the country at the end of the fifteenth century. This long and heroic struggle is known in Spanish history as the Reconquista, the Reconquest. “Deconquista” would be nothing less than its undoing. “Dramatic” seems hardly adequate for describing such a development. Is it possible? Could it happen? Allow me to quote from my book again.
“The Christian understanding that men are physical and spiritual has its difficulties. As long as Christendom existed and this understanding was general there was always tension between the demands of heaven and the need of men to keep their feet on the ground. However, the greatness of Western man when he was fully himself was located precisely in that tension. Once it was broken by the Enlightenment and rise of liberalism, Western man, truncated and reduced, was bound to become as he now is: supinely awaiting, even welcoming, being replaced. By whom or what? Multiculturalism? The millions of Muslim ‘refugees’ now flooding into Europe? The hybrid of men and computers some scientists strive to build?”
In the case of the Spanish, it looks like it could be Muslims abetted by native liberals. Now that they are nearly five percent of Spain’s population (to speak only of those who are in the country legally), the followers of “the Prophet” are starting to exercise political muscle, and with the support of leftist-controlled government bodies. Events in Cordoba in the Spanish region of Andalusia are illustrative. They were the focus of the WSJ June article. Muslims are demanding the conversion of Cordoba’s Catholic cathedral to a mosque.
Not long after Muslims invaded Spain in 711, they began construction in Cordoba of a so-called Great Mosque built on the ruins of a sixth-century church the invaders razed when they captured the city. Undeniably, the Great Mosque was a gem of Moorish architecture. Equally undeniable: When King Saint Ferdinand III of Castile, a hero of the Reconquest who always rode into battle with a statuette of Our Lady lashed to his saddle, retook Cordoba in 1236, he did not destroy the mosque but ordered it transformed into a church – today’s cathedral. This involved more than simply plunking down an altar in the building. Transepts were constructed to give the building a cruciform shape and other Gothic architectural features added. If the interior looks Islamic today, it is because many of the Christian features were stripped away by anticlerical secularist architects in the nineteenth century. In any event, in 1984 the building became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Of course by then, nine years after Franco’s death, television programs, films, books and magazines were presenting the public with a picture of the Reconquest’s warriors as “fanatics,” precursors of the “fascist” Franco. At the same time Islamic Spain was depicted as a haven of tolerance where Jews and Christians lived happily side by side with the Muslim occupiers. U.S. President Barack Obama picked up on this in his 2009 speech at Cairo University when he cited Andalusia under Muslim rule as a supposed example of “Islam’s proud tradition of tolerance.”
In 2013, 350,000 Spaniards signed a petition circulated by an outfit called “Platform for the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba”. It called for the public takeover of the property from the Diocese of Cordoba.
In 2014, the Socialist-led coalition government of Andalusia accused the diocese of “hiding” the building’s history. Then, last March, the Cordoba city council flat-out declared that the diocese does not legally own the building: “Religious consecration is not the way to acquire property.” The building’s true owners “are each and every citizen of the world from whichever epoch and regardless of people, nation, culture or race.”
The Bishop of Cordoba, Demetrios Fernandez Gonzalez, visited the U.S. late last spring, aiming to alert the U.S. public to the situation back home and framing his message in terms of religious freedom. (How else could he? To speak as he might have in Franco’s day would probably risk being charged with a hate crime.)
I don’t think the bishop’s visit can have been very successful because I’ve seen nothing about it in U.S. news media apart from the WSJ article. His chief point: Andalusian law will permit expropriation of the cathedral if a court decides the diocese has not adequately conserved and maintained the building. He also told the WSJ that Pope Francis has pledged to support the diocese if there is a court battle.
We may wonder how much papal support would count with today’s Spanish political and judicial authorities. More to the point, how much would keeping the cathedral matter to all the Spaniards who identify as Catholics but weren’t Catholic enough in recent years to stop the legalization of divorce, abortion and same-sex “marriage”?
I ask the question as someone who can look out his kitchen window in Washington D.C. and see the minaret of the National Islamic Center whose cornerstone was laid by Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s, Eisenhower who declared at Christmastime, 1952, “Our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply-felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is.”
Ike said that sixty-five years ago. The poor Spanish had to wait until Franco died before they could start to catch up with us. But then, they had the weight of a long Catholic history impeding their “progress” toward modernity. The U.S. was born modern. We have only had to become more so to be as “free” as we now are.