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Europe, Immigration, and Merkel’s Christian Values

By Samuel Gregg

It’s not often senior European political leaders make politically-incorrect statements, but Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel has recently made a habit of it. The subject has been the touchy question of Muslim immigration and the challenges it poses for European identity. Not only has Merkel upset the European political class (especially the Left and the Greens) by saying what everyone knows—that multiculturalism has “utterly failed”—but she also argued that the issue was not “too much Islam” but “too little Christianity.”

“We have too few discussions about the Christian view of mankind,” Merkel claimed in a recent speech. She then stressed that Germany needs to reflect more upon “the values that guide us, about our Judeo-Christian tradition.” It was one way, Merkel maintained, of bringing “about cohesion in our society.”

Merkel: Multikulti not working for Germans

On one level, Merkel is surely stating the blindingly obvious. How can Europeans ask Muslim immigrants to integrate into European society and respect European values without Europeans themselves being clear in their own minds about what values are at the core of European identity and where these values come from?

And as much as significant portions of European society would like to deny it, it’s simply a historical fact that the idea of Europe and European values such as liberty, equality before the law, and solidarity did not suddenly appear ex nihilo in the late seventeenth-century with the various Enlightenments. Central to the formation of European identity and such values was the synthesis of Athens, Rome, and Jerusalem achieved by Christianity following the Roman Empire’s collapse in the West in 476 A.D.

Indeed there’s plenty of evidence that the antecedents of most of the various freedoms and genuine achievements of the various Enlightenments are to be found in Christianity. There is increasing recognition, for example, that the idea of human rights was first given concrete expression by medieval canon lawyers.

Yet it is hardly a secret that the Judeo-Christian heritage sits very loosely on many European societies. We find this in a type of secular-fundamentalism—exemplified by Spain’s current Socialist government—that has become fashionable among sections of the European Left. But the ambiguity also manifests itself in the persistence of historical legends that diminish, distort, and denigrate Christianity’s contributions to European civilization.

A good example is the mythology of the so-called “Dark Ages” that permeates popular and elite discussion of European history. Most of the moral, political, and legal foundations of modern market economies, for instance, were established in Europe well before the sixteenth century. Likewise the scientific method was born in the Middle Ages. Medieval thinkers such as Albertus Magnus made crucial contributions to the development of the natural sciences. Yet despite these facts, many persist in claiming that market economies are essentially a post-Enlightenment phenomenon, or that Christianity is essentially “anti-science.”

But the problem is not only with secular opinion. Since the 1950s, many European Christians have gradually reduced their Christian faith to a vacuous humanitarianism worthy of the best EU-funded NGO. One difficulty with “liberal Christianity” (or whatever’s left of it) is that it isn’t especially interested in affirming any Christian values that go beyond sentimental platitudes about tolerance and equality which are routinely emptied of any specific Christian content. It’s goodbye Thomas Aquinas, hello John Rawls.

This makes it even more ironic that increasing numbers of secular European thinkers believe Europe can only reinvigorate its distinct identity and values through reengaging its Judeo-Christian heritage. This is certainly the conclusion of one of Germany’s most prominent intellectuals, Jürgen Habermas.

A self-described “methodological atheist,” Habermas has been insisting for some time that Europe no longer has the luxury of wallowing in historical denial. As Habermas wrote in his 2006 book, A Time of Transitions: “Christianity, and nothing else [is] the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy, the benchmarks of western civilization. To this day we have no other options. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source. Everything else is postmodern chatter.”

It follows that any serious discussion of Europe’s Christian values in the context of contemporary immigration and identity debates will require many Europeans to go beyond their often-truncated understandings of European history and Christianity. There’s something paradoxical about this being facilitated by the increasing numbers of Muslims living in Europe. But such an engagement is arguably being made even more urgent by the economic reality that Europe will need even more immigrants if its present demographic winter persists for any significant period of time.

What Chancellor Merkel herself understands by “the Christian view of mankind” was not clear from her remarks. Nor is it evident that particular Christian ideas are always compatible with some Muslim positions. Despite the interfaith babble to the contrary, there are some fundamental theological differences between Christianity and Islam, many of which have implications for subjects ranging from religious liberty to the nature of the state. Merkel, however, is undoubtedly correct to insist that any discussion of immigration in Europe should involve Europeans worrying a little less about Islam and paying far more attention to knowing the truth about their own heritage and Christianity’s place in it.

The truth doesn’t just set us free. There’s no future without it.

Dr. Samuel Gregg is Research Director at the Acton Institute. He has authored several books including On Ordered Liberty, his prize-winning The Commercial Society, and Wilhelm Röpke’s Political Economy.


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  • Roger McKinney

    Nice! In a way, I feel sorry for secular Europeans. They destroyed their Christian culture, but don’t like the Islamic one offered by immigrants. They are people without a home. They can’t embrace Christian culture without becoming Christian, a fate they consider worse than death. But their secular culture requires them to view Islamic culture as equal to their own. Without a significant revival, they are doomed to living under Sharia.

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  • http://www.vincevincevince.com/405/misguided-mission-and-merkels-christian-values Vincent Murphy

    Personally I don’t think she is gong the right way, and worry that what she’s doing is somewhat dangerous. I’ve written a response outlining why at the site linked with the comment.

  • Jim Byrne

    Could you more carefully reference the Habermas quote (edition and page? I’ve heard it disputed.

  • http://www.askwhy.co.uk/index.php Mike Magee

    Politicians like Merkel, Bush and Blair use religion to dupe the voters. Christianity has been exploiting the poor on behalf of the rich for almost 2000 years but believers are blindfolded to reality by their faith. Islam has had 1300 years to leave the Moslem world in a shambles, and their believers continue in their faith. Acton was right but his commitment to Catholic Christianity blurred his own vision. Religions are, or are among, the corrupting powers. Europe under Christian rule was almost illiterate for 500 years. That is why they were called dark ages. No one denies that people continued to live, and in some measure continued to invent, but most were poor, filthy, unhealthy, illiterate and miserable, and Christianity failed to combat all of this because it had brought it all on. The rich have always considered that the poor can content themselves in this life with being blessed, and so destined for an eternity in heaven. The rich were happy to risk forgoing the eternity of bliss for a temporary life of luxury free of financial worry. This essay is simply Christian propaganda.

  • http://go.to/islamhistory Historyscoper

    Merkel is right to be concerned about the influx of Muslims, because Islam isn’t just another religion, it comes with a god who wants to control the govt. and everybody and tell them what to do, inculcating hate of “infidels”, and proclaiming the superiority of Muslims over non-Muslims and men over women. The very word Islam means submit or surrender, meaning your territory as well as your mind, and as such is incompatible with multiculturalism itself, much less the traditions of the West. Keep up on the global Islamic threat with free daily news links at:
    http://tinyurl.com/islamwatch

  • Drfayez khalil

    she is fundmentaly wright,if europe does not go back to its christian traditions, it is doomed to ,all the values that you are mentioned of liberty , values , respect to the other tolerance etc. are only christian values. i will give you the evidence look for example to Islam , no freedom, only rules, if you kill you will be killed , if you steel they will cut your hand , if talk to a woman you will be lashed and propably she will be stoned, if yuo are non mulsim you are not equal and you are Kafar and either to convert or be killed .and so on.just warning from getting a country like turkey into europe and then it is all over.

  • Roger McKinney

    Mike: “Christianity has been exploiting the poor on behalf of the rich for almost 2000 years…”

    So then how did the poor become richer over the past 300 years? The poor in the West are far richer than they were at the start of the industrial revolution. Before the IR, people starved to death by the thousands on a regular basis. Thanks to capitalism, a gift from Christianity, the population of the planet has quadrupled in the past century because we can produce so much more food.

  • Hermes

    Roger McKinney, can you cite — clearly and unambiguously — the origins of Capitalism by referring to the NT and/or early Christian writings? Additionally, can you offer an explanation why there is up to a 1700 year gap between the founding of Christianity and that 300 year period you cite?

    Please keep to the facts and not assertions.

  • Roger McKinney

    Hermes, I’m not going to write you a dissertation. This is not a journal. However, I will point you in the general direction of the information so that if you want to know the truth you can find it.

    The gap between Christ and the founding of capitalism was less that 1600 years. Capitalism began with the Dutch Republic and its instantiation of the Church’s late Scholastic thought of the 16th century. For that thought, search this web site and mises.org and wikipedia for the School of Salamanca, Spain. The essence of the teaching was the sanctity of property and esteem for free markets as the only means of getting a just price. Free markets are logically the instantiation of property rights, for without free markets property rights are just an airy idea.

    The 1600 year gap from Christ to the Dutch happened because Christians adopted pagan ideas, Greek and Roman, about economics. As a result, property rights were not secure and commerce was held in low esteem, markets were highly regulated and trade was restricted. Much of this history can be found in the works of the great socialist historian Fernand Braudel.

  • Hermes

    So, you have nothing Biblical? I’ll leave you with Acts 4 & Acts 5. There is a decided lack of Capitalist ideas there, but some others pop up that I personally would not want to found a company on.

    As for your food comment, that’s an issue of both business and science working together. A quick search on Norman Borlaug should be informative if you are interested.

    I could spend hours citing more if you are interested, but I’d like you to acknowledge these as valid first before the burden is shifted to me to challenge all of your broad and unsubstantiated statements. I don’t ask you to take my word for anything, and I would appreciate it if you did the same.

    Is it a moral responsibility to always go with the best information available? I believe it is, and that’s a standard that I would appreciate if you would embrace as well. Changing your mind is not only a prerogative but a responsibility at times.

  • Roger McKinney

    Hermes, If you looked up the references to the late Scholastics you would find some Biblical references, but the essence is found in two of the ten commandments: thou shalt not steal and thou shalt not covet. Capitalism is the instantiation of those commands.

    “As for your food comment, that’s an issue of both business and science working together.”

    Except that business and science have worked together for many years in many places and produced the opposite results. The USSR and Communist China are good examples. The US Fed the USSR and China with massive grain shipments during the 70’s and 80’s. And Gorbachev stated that he launched perestroika because of the inability of the USSR to feed its people. And yet they had the best scientists on the planet.

    In the 16th century, when capitalism began, the Ottoman Empire and the Chinese had far far better science, technology, wealth, and every other advantage. But their economies, and food production, never grew and they fell behind the West in every area. Without property protection, no one will employ scientific advances that benefit the masses and cause increased food production.

    “Is it a moral responsibility to always go with the best information available?”

    No. The moral responsibility is to be accurate and logical. Name dropping and appeals to authority don’t carry any weight with me. The great Ludwig von Mises instructed us that the data of history are too vast and contradictory to be able to discern theory from it. We can make sense of history only if we approach it with sound theory. Sound economic theory, as well as plenty of counter examples, prove that business cooperating with science is not enough to increase food production.

    In addition, Douglass North’s New Institutional School of economics has proven the necessity of getting the institutions correct. Without the right institutions, nothing works to improve food production or cause economic development. My reading of history is filtered through the insights of sound economics including the New Institutional School. So if you tell me something happened that I know is impossible, I’ll disagree.

  • Roger McKinney

    PS, Act 4 & 5 were totally about people sharing their private property, which is pure capitalism. No where do you find the Church forcing people to share, let alone the state doing so.

  • Hermes

    Very basic question on your first post; Why does your religious text require later interpretations? What’s wrong with text itself?

    On the second post; Go and read Acts 4 & 5 again. It’s quite clear and requires no special interpretations.

  • Hermes

    A few more questions. Do you know who Norman Borlaug was before I mentioned him? If not, did you look him up as I suggested? Are you now doing that so as to offer a response to my actual comments?

    Besides, you made some specific and wide sweeping claims that you have not offered to support. If that support is not forthcoming, I’ll just go away and judge what I’ve seen so far. Unlike you, I will not say that is typical of all theists or even of all Christians.

  • fundamentalist

    “Why does your religious text require later interpretations? ”

    Sorry. Don’t know what you’re asking.

    “Go and read Acts 4 & 5 again.”

    I’ve read it many times and stand by my interpretation.

    “Do you know who Norman Borlaug was before I mentioned him?”

    No.

    “If not, did you look him up as I suggested?”

    No.

    “Are you now doing that so as to offer a response to my actual comments?”

    No. Why should I. You have given me no reason to. If he thinks nothing but science and business collaborating is necessary for even agricultural development then he is completely ignorant about development issues. I gave many counter examples. I could give dozens more.

    “Unlike you, I will not say that is typical of all theists or even of all Christians.”

    Your self-righteousness is noted.

  • Hermes

    “Your self-righteousness is noted.”

    I’m just following your lead.

    Make amends and address Norman Borlaug instead of guessing — wrongly — who or what he thinks as well.

  • Hermes

    I have a couple moral questions for you, Roger.

    * Is it moral to ignore information in the age of search engines?

    * Is it moral to not refine, restate, or even retract statements when they are shown to be incomplete if not in error?

    And, another one that is more philosophical and less pointed;

    * Are morals intrinsic?

    Don’t take that last one as a request for an overly abstract ivory tower explanation. Ideally, I’m looking for a clear demonstration from reality. Alternatively, a fabricated example that demonstrates an actual tendency is also acceptable.

  • Roger McKinney

    I addressed the issue of Borlaug that you brought up. Borlaug knows nothing at all about the history of economic development or current theory in economic development. His opinion means know more than mine on the subject.

    * Is it moral to ignore information in the age of search engines?

    No.

    * Is it moral to not refine, restate, or even retract statements when they are shown to be incomplete if not in error?

    No.

    * Are morals intrinsic?

    People have consciences, if that’s what you mean.

  • Hermes

    Roger McKinney, your original claim was “Thanks to capitalism, a gift from Christianity, the population of the planet has quadrupled in the past century because we can produce so much more food.”

    You have not supported that and when presented with an example of someone saving over 1 billion people from starvation, you dismiss that and go off on a tangent.

    My fear seems to have come to pass, and I see no reason to continue this conversation. I thank you for your time and perspective.

  • Roger McKinney

    I expected you would. Atheists are a lot like socialists: they only want to play the game if they can define the terms and the rules. Anyone can win any debate if they get to set the rules and define the terms.

    Part of the rules that atheists set include demanding lots of evidence from their opponents while providing none themselves, then challenging the validity of the evidence. Atheists remind me of the old westerns in which the bullies would shoot near the feet of a victim and tell him to dance while laughing. Atheists shoot a lot of ridicule, but not much else. If believers insist on the rules of logic, atheists get mad and take their marbles home because they didn’t get to set the rules.

  • Roger McKinney

    PS, I have debated with a lot of atheists so I knew what to expect.

  • Hermes

    Roger McKinney, thank you again for your comments.

    One day you might want to skip debate over polemics and enter into a discussion on the grays of reality. The satisfaction from such talks can be quite high, though the cardio workout is usually less vigorous.

    In the meantime, feel free to offer more of your convictions as they convict you quite well. Once again, thank you for your insights.

  • Dennis

    My reaction on the essay by Samuel Gregg (came to my attention via the following website (Dutch) which only have posted it now.):

    http://www.katholieknieuwsblad.nl/opinie/item/553-europa-tob-liever-over-jezelf.html

    –The real problem is the notion that we actually need an identity. You are no less human should you no longer be Christian, you are no less human should be no longer be Dutch, German, English or European.
    Those kind of identities only give others control over who you are.
    That means safety, because you will be in a group.
    That means slavery, for the group defines who you are.

    I belong to the group ‘humans’
    All the other groups I belong to come second after that.

    And how is that for you?

    -Dennis, the Netherlands (Europe, in case you are wondering).