As Donald Trump stood alongside Emmanuel Macron at a parade on Friday, they commemorated more than Bastille Day. The presidents of the U.S. and France burst into applause as a marching band paid tribute to the 86 victims of last July 14th’s Nice terrorist attack.
The ever-growing string of terrorist “incidents” gained momentum with the murders at a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012. But the situation, which one Israeli official dubbed the “European intifada,” broke into public consciousness following the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack.
A spate of new, bestselling books attribute Europe’s oddly diffident reaction to a spiritual void.
In a new essay for Religion & Liberty Transatlantic, Ed West discusses three new books, only two of which are well-known in the U.S.: Douglas Murray’s The Strange Death of Europe, James Kirchick’s The End of Europe, and Finis Germania by German historian Rolf Peter Sieferle (whose posthumous book became a bestseller shortly after his suicide). Murray and Kirchick could both be classified as neoconservatives, albeit with divergent views; Sieferle was a socialist who became disillusioned with his political ideology.
As West notes in detail, three morose titles trace European lethargy over its looming mortality to a corrosive secularism marked by a decades-long, ingrained guilt complex. But the decision to invite spiritually vibrant Muslims (including, sadly, too many Islamist extremists) to European shores also reflected its hidden realization that society must be built upon some spiritual basis:
On a profound level, we imported religious people because of the absence of our own faith. Western Europe took immigrants from the Islamic world just as it was adopting bohemian culture mores, characterised by more liberal attitudes to drug and alcohol use, and extra-marital sex. The new “bourgeois-bohemian” middle class combined this countercultural individualism with the materialistic values of capitalism. Across 10 Western European countries, church attendance fell from 38.4 to 16.6 percent between 1975 and 1998. Europe became a consumerist paradise with an economic model that depended on demographic growth, which only religious societies can provide. In France, Caucasian women who practise religion have a half-child fertility advantage over the non-religious; in Austria self-identified atheists have fertility rates of just 0.86 children per woman.
It was assumed, if unspoken, that Muslim migrants – dressed in suits, often moderate beer drinkers – would become godless or at least less observant upon breathing European air, their children even more so. It’s safe to say there are now few people left who have not been disabused of this notion. … And yet when the UK government repeatedly tries anti-extremism initiatives by emphasising “British values,” they find it hard to articulate those same values without the obvious one: Christianity. Instead, they limply define Britishness by tolerance and diversity, almost as if these things are a replacement faith.
Should the continent hope to survive, the Church must suffuse society with a sense of its own spiritual history, its unique contributions to humanity, and the Christian roots of those singular liberties. And social leaders must recover the traditional Western concept that today’s citizens are mere custodians of these freedoms for endless generations yet unborn. This would require a resurgence of their epistemological self-confidence, a newfound respect for faith and personal conscience, enhanced security measures, and greater economic restraint to erase regnant self-abnegation, impermissible coercion, laxity, and fiscal profligacy. West writes:
Europe has a guilt and savior complex. As a result, it seems to be replacing the atonement of the Savior’s death with its own.
You can read his full essay here.
(Photo credit: Screenshot of aerial camera.)