Some French lefties say Notre Dame rebuild shouldn't be 'overburdened' with Christian meaning
It's hard to tell sometimes if liberals are saying something because they really mean it or whether they're just trolling the right, trying to get a rise out.
I say this because it's hard to imagine anyone being serious about rebuilding Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and not wanting to recreate its sacred past.
But the discussion is already underway to rebuild the structure along more secular, "modern" lines.
Over the course of the past few centuries, the cathedral has played a role in major historical events, from the coronation of kings to the crowning of Napoleon to the requiem mass of President Charles de Gaulle. And Notre Dame has served as a symbol of not just French historical identity, but Catholicism in general. "It has a double meaning," says Jean-Robert Armogathe, a French Catholic priest and historian who served as the chaplain at Notre Dame from 1980 to 1985. "It has been the center of Catholic life and of France for 800 years." As Armogathe points out, it is also quite literally the center of Paris: a gold star outside the cathedral marks Point Zero, the supposed center of the city.
But for some people in France, Notre Dame has also served as a deep-seated symbol of resentment, a monument to a deeply flawed institution and an idealized Christian European France that arguably never existed in the first place. "The building was so overburdened with meaning that its burning feels like an act of liberation," says Patricio del Real, an architecture historian at Harvard University. If nothing else, the cathedral has been viewed by some as a stodgy reminder of "the old city — the embodiment of the Paris of stone and faith — just as the Eiffel Tower exemplifies the Paris of modernity, joie de vivre and change," Michael Kimmelmann wrote for the New York Times.
The burning of a church with monumental historical and cultural significance "feels like an act of liberation"? Echoes of "burn, baby, burn" there. But did Notre Dame really represent "an idealized Christian European France that arguably never existed in the first place"? Of course it existed. At one time, France was a white, Catholic country — nothing "idealized" about it, and to say it didn't exist is to deny reality.
Catholicism: "Overburdened with meaning" since 33 A.D. What del Real and Brigniani really mean, I take it, is that the structure's religious significance has long since faded in post-Christian France, overtaken by its significance as a witness to 800 years of French history. Why not acknowledge that gradual desiccation forthrightly by turning it into a monument to, well, nothing in particular? One might imagine it becoming a monument to France writ large, to bolster the fading belief that a common French cultural identity still exists. If Notre Dame can't make Catholics of its admirers, perhaps it can at least make Frenchmen of them. But that's the opposite of what the pomo critics have in mind. Their point is that too much of France's cultural heritage is contemptible. The opportunity to remake Notre Dame is their opportunity to remake that heritage as well. As Dave "Iowahawk" Burge said after reading the Rolling Stone piece, "Boy howdy, that's some straight up Year Zero s‑‑‑ right there." Indeed.
If the goal of modern liberalism is to destroy tradition, bury the past, remove all symbols of national and cultural identity, this desire to rebuild Notre Dame as a "monument to nothing in particular" is completely understandable.
But I don't think it's going to happen. Even far-left French politicians favor rebuilding Notre Dame so it maintains its cultural significance and religious symbolism.
On this — and not much else — France appears to be united.