The newly opened House of European History has a blind spot: It entirely omits the role that religion played in European history. According to a new essay from Arnold Huijgen at Religion & Liberty Transatlantic, when it comes to religion, the $61 million museum in Brussels, built by the European Parliament, is “an empty House.” Instead, the EU displaces the Divine in its exhibits.
Walking through the structure the day it opened, he observed:
[I]t is as if religion does not exist. In fact, it never existed and never impacted the history of the continent. On none of the many floors is any attention paid to the Reformation as the great divide between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, to religious wars between confessions, or the quest for freedom of religion that was at the heart of the Dutch Revolt. If one did not know that the Roman Catholic Church existed, one would not find it out in the permanent exposition of European history that the European Parliament seeks to present to every European (at that European’s expense). No longer is European secularism fighting the Christian religion; it simply ignores every religious aspect in life altogether.
The fact that the world’s largest church (Roman Catholicism) is based within Europe, that the world’s second largest church (Eastern Orthodoxy) is the official faith of many Eastern European nations (de jure or de facto), or that the confessions of the Protestant Reformation have their origins on European soil is omitted altogether, according to Huijgen.
Huijgen, a professor of systematic theology at the Theological University Apeldoorn, notes that, instead of the Creator, the top floor of the museum is dedicated to the European Union. He dubs this “literally the apex of the European Union’s narcissism.”
Perhaps his most interesting observation is the self-defeating nature of secular historical revisionism. Technocrats, eager to exclude religious faith from the public square, prepare the ground for an inevitable populist backlash, he writes – a strong rejoinder against both EU conceit and rigorously secularist government at any level. People often remember George Orwell’s dictum in 1984: “He who controls the past controls the future.” However, they often forget its corollary: “He who controls the present controls the past.” By his account, the taxpayer-subsidized monument to the EU embodies that phrase in its own way.
But since the present springs from the past, this living history continues to assert itself in the daily lives of Europeans, including their elected officials:
[I]t is clear that religion did play a crucial role in European history. Social structures in southern European countries cannot be understood without the role of the Roman Catholic Church. The responsibility of the individual, stressed in Protestantism, is a central tenet of European culture. Calvinism may or may not be the fertile soil that buds forth capitalism as Max Weber theorized, but at least its role in creating the cultural structures of much of Europe needs to be discussed. Until the 1960s, at the very minimum, most Europeans understood themselves as Christians, and – to cite but one example – Christian Democratic political parties still play an important role in the politics of large European countries like Germany.
Read his account and see if you agree with his conclusion, “Without Christianity, Europe has no soul.”
You may read this full essay here.
(Photo credit: Gor62. This photo has been cropped. CC BY-SA 2.0.)
In Becoming Europe, Samuel Gregg examines economic culture - the values and institutions that inform our economic priorities - to explain how European economic life has drifted in the direction of what Alexis de Tocqueville called "soft despotism", and the ways in which similar trends are manifesting themselves in the United States.