Simple question. What is the future of Christianity in Europe? Does it have a future that can give life in modern Europe a new breath and depth, and how can European Christians prevent their faith becoming further distorted from its original truth or truths.
Do European Christians also fear the threat of modern secular/liberal movements as in some American Churches that could reduce the corpus of the European Christian Churches into nothing more than a series of despiritualised bourgeois organs, that will come more and more to resemble a business that can meet a customers needs?
Do European Christians have any longer that necessary yearning, love, and love for truth in particular, for the scared, for what’s both humble and also demanding, and for what ultimately gives one that inner life of true freedom. Can this message mean anything, in the important sense of giving a person both depth and breath, any longer? Has not the secular world of guilt free consumerism and unfettered capitalism banished all these old metaphysical ghosts for many modern people?
Finally (and I apologise for asking more than one question) why do many secular Europeans fear the growth of Islam? Is it to do with the fact that Islam represents a real fear to the comfortable bourgeois mentality (rather than anything to do with clashes of civilisations or terrorism) who cannot comprehend how a group of people can believe with such conviction and faith in a supreme being very similar to the one they have all since long ago ceased believing in?
First of all I’d like to thank you for sharing your thoughts. I have the feeling that many members of this forum avoid the ‘risk’ of speaking and prefer to just wait and read. Maybe this is also the price that we pay for having a forum that rejects superficiality, makes people think twice if they are going to post their views.
Let me try a first answer by re-phrasing your question: can Europe have a future, in case that Christianity has no future in Europe? To define our terms: a future of a civilization is not just to keep going, but to make spiritually richer the life of those who live in that civilization. If Europe was going to advance without Christianity, on what Spirit this advance could be based? The spirit of humanism is dead by definition, while it has also been proved dead in facts, if we think of nazism or communism. Humanists ‘forget’ that the ancients themselves became Christians! They want an antiquity-without-antiquity, having denied the most important choice that the ancients themselves made!
Another religion is impossible for us for obvious (I think) reasons, so that the question about a Europe without Christianity is equal to the question about a Europe without any God at all.
I wouldn’t agree that islam is ‘very similar’ with Christianity, but maybe I didn’t understand what you are saying. The expression itself of a ‘supreme being’ is an expression essentially non-Christian. If we set aside the Holy Trinity, Christianity has no meaning. The Trinity has nothing to do with the faceless islamic faith in a ‘supreme being’. Civilization is also influenced by this difference (one among many essential differences) between islam and Christianity, as we can see by the absence of Images of God in islam, which is based (and also results) in a devaluation of the person of each man, who, for Christianity, is born in the Image of God.
Your question is also a question about the Churches, because Christianity is not a system of beliefs, it is not an ideology, but the life of a Church, of a Community of people, of a Friendship based on their common and living knowledge of Christ. To ask about Christianity and Europe is to ask about the Churches and Europe, which means: if there exist today a thousand and more ‘Christian’ Churches, can we still speak about ‘a’ Christianity?
Consumerism (with or without guilt) is one among many falls, but we can’t expect an improvement based on abstract ideals: if we are unable to have one Church, how can we ever be able to have one political Community and real Friendship? We can’t. Since the eleventh century (the date of the official schism of the Church, thanks to the papacy), Europe and Friendship are antonyms. Since Europe did not die, but lives even to-day, after a thousand years from that date, she may also live another thousand years without Christianity and Friendship. From this aspect, Europe has a future, maybe an eternity as well, no matter if she becomes Christian again, or not. Hell also has an eternal future. The miserable people, politicians without a Polis, think that they can have peace and freedom in a European Union without Meaning. If this goes on, the only question that troubles me is just what will be the form of the new nazism or the new communism that is now being prepared?
This is indeed a very good question. The debate over whether to include Christianity or not in the Constitution had raged for years and is likely to continue for as many years.
In fact, adopting Christianity as our common heritage would greatly simplify the identity problem, would set cultural boundaries to the Euopean Union and would give European citizens a meaning to Europe. However, countries like France and, to a lesser extent, Germany, reject the introduction of Christianity in any constitution, in the name of secularism. Christianity is the second pillar of European cultural identity, the first being the Classical heritage. If Europeans leave out Christianity, they may as well leave out their Classical heritage. Then what would Europe be without an history?
Western secular countries do not reject Christianity in itself, they reject the mention of "God" in the European institution, because such mention would cause, to them, a threat to the separation of Church and State, a principle dear to the French Republic. This feeling toward the Church dates back to the Revolution and the creation of the Nation-state. In a sense, France is safeguarding the vision of Europe as a federation of nation-states.
Christianity shaped modern Europe. Europe would not be the same without the impact of Christianity. Denying this is removing a part of our spirit. Europe is a cultural entity, certainly not a geographic or political one. I believe in secularism, thatgovernments should not bring religion in political life. It is the best way to prevent division among peoples. But religion brings with it certain values. We can remove God from the constitution, we cannot remove what He has given us. Whether we acknowledge it or not, Christian values permeate our philosophy, our worldview. European consciousness would not be what it is without Christianity. Christianity brought about universal love, the Ancient leftus with humanism. Those two values are perhaps the most important values that have shaped the West.
I believe Europeans should acknowledge their Christian heritage as well as their Classical heritage. Thus only would we know who we are. There is no friction between secularism and the acknowledgment of Christianity as one of the pillar of Europe. You do not have to be born in Europe to be European, you just have to embrace the Calssical and Christian heritage.
Flaubert writes about Christianity that “this religion lasted 2.000 years and here she is now exhausted. She is not enough any more, we despise her. Her churces fall, at her graveyards the dead make pills and overflow. And us, what religion are we going to have?” (Memories of a mad man).
If Flaubert understands Christianity as exhausted, we can’t just wish our politicians were more ‘gentle’ and mention it in the Constitution. There is a deeper problem here. And if Christianity is a problem for a secular state – (btw, what is the meaning of a ‘secular’ state, other than a state without principles, or, better, with survival as the foundational principle) – what is the problem with Thucydides?, the mention of whom appeared in the Constitution and then was erased?
I could not but agree wholheartedly with Flaubert. Christianity is, in Europe at least and in its Roman form, exhausted. We may not think ourselves as Christians, but neither do we think as the Ancient did. Yet both have shaped Europe in the form it is now.
What is a secular state? In the French as well as in the American mind, a secualr state is a state that does not recognize and that is not involved in religion. Secularism is a principle which separates Church and State as two differnent entities. The State exists to serve the entire body of citizen, regadless of their religious beliefs. Hence the State must alienate any religions and therefore is neutral. It is up to each citizen to find his/her own spiritual comfort and practice the religion he/she wishes to. A secular State is far from being a state without principles or lacking any ideology. Religious principles are replaced by secular principles, for example "life, liberty and the right to pursue Happiness" , in other words capitalism in the United States, Marxism and the universal proletarian revolution in the Soviet Union are all instances of secular principles that hold the people together. The secular ideology, first tied to the free market, and of which Marxism is but an offspring, is indissociable from the nation-state it serves.
What Europe do we want? Do we want a federation of Nation-states, as Joschka Fischer and Lionel Jospin believed, or do we want a Europe that destroys the nation-state? The capitalist ideology, the very ideology that make up our values, born with the invention of the Nation-state, has shown its limits.Jeremy Rifkin, in "The European Dream," argues that the European Union is the first post-capitalist and post-market political entity to have been created, because it supercedes the traditional nation-state. To him, Europe is setting the stage for a new era in human history.
The nation-state has evolved into two bloody, destructive World Wars for Europe. Therefore the nation-state must go. How will Europe destroy it? By acknowledging her common Classical and Christian heritage. More than that, it must recognize the role played by the Celtic, Germanic and Byzantin civilizations, which all have given Europe her incredible multi-cultural and diverse heritage.
If Christianity, at least in Western Europe, seems to belong to history, so do all other cultures. Yet all make up Europe's unique identity in the world, and for that reason all must be given equal recognition in our constitutional document. The case of Thucydides being erased from the constitution proves that Europe lacks an identity. Europe will not really take her adult form until she remembers her roots.
Even if different than the Ancients because of our Christian past, as you say (rightly), yet why did we lose the reason of this difference? What is going to happen with this difference now that we lost its reason? - and: we must be, for the moment, without any reason at all, therefore: worse than the Ancients.
I won’t agree that a secular state/ideology can hold people together. We saw how the Soviet Union collapsed, and we have also seen nazism in Europe, a jungle instead of a society in the USA (which is ready to collapse too).
Even if we accepted that a secular state and ideology can hold people together: what kind of togetherness are we going to have? What would it mean for our society to have a police officer as our prime minister? Because, if the duty of the secular state is to keep order without spiritual union with its people, then we won’t have politicians as our leaders, but police officers.
I agree with you that capitalism is not just an economical theory, but also an ideology about the ‘whole’ of life. Especially as such, it doesn’t start with the nation-state, but rather with the birth of the Western type of university back in the 12th century, the growth of bourgeoisie at about the same time, and I would say, even before, with the division of western monasticism into Orders by the infallible Pope.
Nation-state and nationalism are problems, but the major problem is behind them – their cause, whatever gave birth to nationalism, and primarily, the collapse of Christianity in the West.
If our classical heritage was enough to save us, why did this heritage let us end to our present condition? It wasn’t able to help us in the past: why will it be able to help us in the future?
Christianity is not a culture, it’s a faith. You have faith as the meaning of your life, or you have not. You can’t make of a faith a factor with equal value with other factors. It is the supreme one, the unifying element that gives meaning to all other aspects of life – your relationship with God himself, the creator of everything, your real Father.
If we keep going as secular societies, what will be the meaning of recognising our Christian and Classical past? A courtesy!? To recognize and reject simultaneously?
I hope these questions help our conversation – with special thanks to Laellius for raising such important issues.