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French press review 13 November 2013

Will the French president reshuffle his cabinet? That's the key question on this morning's front pages, where several different answers are available, depending on the political leanings of the various publications.


Right-wing Le Figaro says "Hollande is not for turning", despite the deepening social and political crisis and a clamour for change even from within his own Socialist majority.

And what would be the point anyway, asks Le Figaro.

Why sack the current prime minister if his replacement is simply going to follow the same political line? Why name a government of combat if they go on fighting on all the wrong fronts?

What needs to change, says Le Figaro, are the inefficient policies of the current regime, especially the use of taxation as a form of punishment. That would be against basic socialist principles but, says Le Figaro, given the parlous sate of the Socialist Party, maybe now's the time to have the courage to break some outdated ideological borders.

Business paper Les Echos says Hollande will avoid any talk of a reshuffle because he believes in his political line and is not going to sack those who are helping him to enforce it. That sounds reasonable but it's probably shorthand for political suicide.

Especially when you see the front page of communist L'Humanité, with its rousing call for nothing less than a social and fiscal revolution. This follows the decision by the hard left to organise a demonstration in Paris on 1 December, calling for a radical change of direction.

Left-leaning Libération follows the same line of thought, wondering what would happen if the various groups protesting against the ecotax, against factory closures, changes in education, increases in taxation were to unite their forces

The struggling president is in free-fall in the popularity stakes, having lost a further five points in the latest opinion poll. Only 24 per cent of French voters think favourably of François Hollande right now.

Against this background of chaos and discord, Catholic La Croix gives pride of place to the fact that this is World Kindness Day. The La Croix main headline asks whether a little attention to the needs of others might not help defuse the current climate of unrest.

It's a nice thought but, with all due politeness, it's terrible guff.

Which brings me to a story in Le Monde's science supplement.

Headlined "God, DNA and depression," the article looks at a branch of neuroscience which attempts to understand the relationship between religious belief and brain structure.

Clearly these neurotheologists are working in dangerous territory. No ardent believer wants a white coat with a test tube to tell him his faith comes down to a question of genetics.

But there are some remarkable findings.

Would you say that people with a serious religious belief are less likely to suffer from depression? Yes? Well, that's what has been commonly accepted by the scientific community. But it's a mistake.

A recent study carried out at University College London covering 8,000 people in seven countries showed that believers are more than twice as likely as unbelievers to suffer from depression. And the authors of the research go on to suggest that, perhaps, people with a genetic predisposition to severe depression are attracted to religion because it helps them to avoid suicide. Natural selection does the rest.

It's all very tentative, of course, but it's interesting to note that Buddhists in general, and the Dalai Lama in particular, have been very enthusiastic about the research. The Tibetan spiritual leader addressed the American Neuroscience Conference on the topic of the biological basis of belief in 2005.

Le Monde suggest that Buddhism could well be the religion of the era of biotechnology. Forgetting that Buddhism is not strictly a religion but a philosophical system, more robust, perhaps, than the mystical religions in the face of sceptical science?

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