The Notre-Dame Cathedral Fire And Secularist Culture


Photo Credit: PBS News Hour

Religion is the cause of many things; and while it has created lots of problems throughout history, it has also inspired some of the world's greatest works of art. As Christopher Hitchens said “The great cultural project… may very well be to rescue what we have of the art and aesthetic of religion while discarding the supernatural.”

The Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris is an architectural and engineering masterpiece that has survived for hundreds of years through wars, the French Revolution, natural disasters and now it was gutted by fire. This building was not just a religious building, it was a high-watermark of medieval European civilization. The fire made a blow — not only to religion, but also to culture, art and architecture.

After disasters there are always questions about the responsibility and whether more could be done to prevent something like that. The thing is that France is famous for its secularist culture and the principle of secularity (laïcité) was and remained one of the founding principles of the French republic. Soon after the fire, there were already the first signs on social media to place some of the blame at the feet of French secularity; along with criticism that the Cathedral had limited government funding because it was a religious building.

According to Patheos, the French state contributes $2.4 million a year to the cathedral’s upkeep. But of course, a great deal more money was available for restoration and improvements. When the fire broke out, Notre Dame had been undergoing $12 million worth of repairs (paid for with public funds). Since long before the fire, the Archbishop of Paris, Michel Aupetit, had been trying with some success to shake loose more than $100 million from corporate donors and other well-wishers. Organizations like Friends of Notre Dame, based in the U.S., have also engaged in spirited fundraising. Notre-Dame is tricky to restore because in Gothic architecture “the elements all have dynamic structural roles.” Also (as Patheos reports), Vincent Dunn, a former New York City fire chief, says that for all their imposing majesty, “These cathedrals and houses of worship are built to burn. If they weren’t houses of worship, they’d be condemned.”

It seems like secularity has nothing to do with the fire, the disaster appears to be an internal accident due to renovations and the only thing left now is to restore The Cathedral. Regardless of religious sentiment or lack of it, personal beliefs and convictions, we all must agree that it is important to treasure world heritage.

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