May 2, 2005
Scholar warns against mixing religion and
By Scott Rappaport
Gary Leaseinterim dean of humanities at UCSC and an internationally
recognized expert on the history of religionhas been studying
the relationship between politics and religion for more than
Gary Lease met the future Pope
Benedict XVI years ago in Munich.
Photo courtesy of Gary Lease
He recently returned from Tokyo where he presented his research
at a conference of the International Association for the History
Ive been looking at an unstudied elementthe
secretaries of state at the Vatican during the 19th and 20th
centuries, Lease observed. And the results have
been very revealing. My conclusion: youre asking for trouble
when you confuse religion and foreign policy."
When you start making foreign policy based on religion,
and particularly when its fueled by religion based on
absolute beliefs, you get some horrific results, said
Lease. The new pope is going to suffer from this problem,
Lease cited examples such as the policy of the Vatican during
World War II, noting the controversy over whether Pius XII and
the Roman church did enough to help the Jews in Europe during
Hitlers reign. Religion tells you that you are primarily
responsible for those who believe what you do, Lease explained.
For those who dont, its often tough luck for
themtheyre left on the margins.
He said that his many years of work on the relationship between
religion and Germany's National Socialism also have led him
to the same conclusions.
Lease also cited Vatican foreign policy in Palestine. There
you have Christian Arabs on one side and Jewish Israelis on
the other, he said. What you find is a diplomatic
leaning on the side of your co-believers. And that is, in essence,
a moral judgment.
The same thing has happened with Iraq, which has been
portrayed as a battle against evil and Saddam Hussein,
Lease added. History has shown, when you get into that
kind of language and it becomes ingrained into your foreign
policy decisions, the results are disastrous.
Lease studied in Germany at the University of Munich, eventually
earning a doctorate degree in theology in 1968. His expertise
covers a remarkable range of fields including early Christian
archaeology, Vatican foreign policy and canon law, German intellectual
history, German Judaism, and religious/cultural evolution. In
2001, Lease returned to the University of Munich as a guest
professor, occupying the renowned Romano Guardini Chair for
Theory of Culture and Religion.
I met Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) when I was
a student at Munich, Lease noted. Based on his remarks
of the last 20 years and the last two months, it appears he
will continue to mix religion with foreign policy, which will
in turn lead to troubling results.
Lease joined the faculty at UCSC in 1973 and was chair of the
History of Consciousness Department from 1998 to 2004. He has
also chaired the UCSC Religious Studies Department, served as
director of the Education Abroad Program in Goettingen, West
Germany, and was dean of the UCSC Humanities Division from 1990
Lease served as the executive secretary of the North American
Association for the Study of Religion from 1995 to 2005 and
was recently reelected treasurer of the International Association
for the History of Religionsthe presenter of the Tokyo
conference that was attended by more than 1,700 scholars from
around the world.
Email this story
Return to Front Page