Ironically, after centuries of rebelling against religious authority, the coming of Islam is also reviving political issues most thought extinct in Europe, including debates about the limits of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the right to proselytize. And in all these areas, controversies that originate in a Muslim context inexorably expand or limit the rights of Christians, too. If Muslim preachers who denounce gays must be silenced, then so must charismatic Christians. At the same time, any laws that limit blasphemous assaults on the image of Mohammed must take account of the sensibilities of those who venerate Jesus.
The result has been a rediscovery of the continent’s Christian roots, even among those who have long disregarded it, and a renewed sense of European cultural Christianity. Jürgen Habermas, a veteran leftist German philosopher stunned his admirers not long ago by proclaiming, “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 [than Christianity]. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source. Everything else is postmodern chatter.” Europe may be confronting the dilemmas of a truly multifaith society, but with Christianity poised for a comeback, it is hardly on the verge of becoming an Islamic colony.
A round-up of diverse items of interest, in no particular order:
- “Iraq to open consulate in San Diego,” (and Detroit). Facing difficulties in reaching the populations of Iraqis in the US, Iraq is planning to open consulates in San Diego and Detroit. “The Bush administration set a goal of admitting 12,000 Iraqi refugees this year.” This rather meager goal comes years after the invasion and after hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have had to flee to other countries for safety. Too little, too late: “…while more than 100,000 Iraqi Christians sought to emigrate to the US, only 200 were granted access in 2006.”
- Jack White of the White Stripes and Raconteurs pens an ode to his hometown, Detroit, after making comments perceived to be slights on the city after his recent move to Nashville.
- John Couretas writes of the situation for Coptic Christians in Egypt at the AOI blog, “Egypt’s Copts the ‘New Martyrs’?”
- Sam Gregg wrote the cover story for the July/August edition of Touchstone magazine, “The European Disunion: Benedict XVI on the Crisis of Faith & Reason.” This is the first issue I received as my prize for placing in the 2008 EO/Wheatstone blog symposium, and I’m eager to read it. Subscribe and get your own copy here today.
- Jennifer Roback Morse reviews Helen Epstein’s The Invisible Cure: Africa, the West and the Fight Against AIDS in a piece for the Weekly Standard.
- Michael Novak reflects at the First Things blog on the difference in the culture of charity between the United States and Europe, “The Giving Society,” drawing on the research of Arthur C. Brooks.
Hostility towards globalization is not the exclusive territory of the left in Italy. Giulio Tremonti, a former minister of the economy in Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right government, has written a book called Fear and Hope (La Paura e la Speranza), largely arguing against free trade and the opening of international markets.
Tremonti blames the recent rise in the prices of consumer goods on globalization and says that this is only the beginning. The global financial crisis, environmental destruction, and geopolitical tensions in the struggle for natural resources are also fruits of globalization, according to Tremonti. He identifies the main problem as a lack of international governance of the process of globalization and calls for a new Bretton Woods-like system to confront the multiple crises caused by what he calls “marketism”.
The “dark side of globalization” can only be countered by a return to European values: tradition, the family, and the nation, adds Tremonti. Europe “needs a philosophy which makes politics and not economics the primary mover [of globalization]. This can only work if we go back to the roots of Europe, these are the roots of Judeo-Christianity”.
This “cure” to the ills of globalization remains vague (as one would imagine in a book of only 112 pages). Still more puzzling is his insistence on a contrast between market principles and traditional European values. The idea that a return to values must be coupled with a stronger politicization of the world economy clashes with experience. More regulation and state interference not only tend to reduce growth and living standards but also create new opportunities for rent-seeking and corruption, and thereby undermine the traditional virtues that Tremonti supports.
He misses the opportunity to discuss how certain values are enhanced by the market and how international competition has in fact strengthened Europe by highlighting its best qualities, both technologically and culturally, while repressing its worst.
Tremonti’s vision is inward-looking and profoundly pessimistic. Some market-oriented Italian commentators have pointed out that his ideas seem dangerously close to old-style protectionism. It is clear if Europe followed his analysis, it would be led on a path of future irrelevance both as an economic and a cultural model.
If you haven’t been following this story, now might be a good time to look into it – Belgium may be dividing into two separate entities sooner rather than later, with Brussels possibly becoming an independent city-state in the process:
Belgium is the host country for the EU project, and the bureaucrats in Brussels are terrified that the epicenter of European anti-nationalism may be about to break apart due to national differences. Also, free-market-oriented Flanders, where 60-percent of the population lives, generates 70-percent of the national wealth, effectively subsidizing socialist-leaning Wallonia. So the move to partition carries powerful economic lessons as well. If Belgium does break up, Brussels, the capital of Europe, could become an independent city-state. It would also be the first Western European state with a Muslim majority.
A long and detailed essay on the topic is available at The Gates of Vienna. A very small sample:
The end of religion, thus, didn’t herald an age of reason; it led to a new age of secular superstition and new forms of witch-hunts.
This will take at least an hour of your time, perhaps more, but it’s worthwhile.
Darkness and light have been used to symbolize powerful metaphors in literature, art, film, and all sorts of creative venues. In Scripture, darkness and light are often used to evoke good and evil. In the 9th chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus heals a man born blind, who furthermore is brought into the fullness of light through faith in Christ. Jesus, however, implicates the Pharisees, by saying, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.”
Joseph Puder tags a most appropriate title for his column in FrontPage Magazine, calling it Europe’s Heart of Darkness. Puder invokes enlightening contrasts as well, comparing historical and contemporary Europe, with that of the United States. Puder notes:
The origin of these attitudes can be traced to the social, economic and political developments on the Continent on one hand, and the legacy of the pilgrims, who came to America in search of freedom, individualism, and God, on the other hand. Europe began to lose its faith in Christianity and God following the French Revolution.
Europe it seems, has bought into Voltaire’s reasoning, and although the Europeans have accepted democracy, they have replaced the notion of the Voltaire’s “absolutist ruler” with the rule of the (welfare) State, and substituted “fundamentalist secularism” for Christianity and God.
Early American pilgrims from Europe, by way of contrast, sought to escape the stifling chains of European absolutism. They wanted to live according to their own conscience and beliefs and not by the dictate of an absolutist Monarch or church. The pilgrims understood the message of Saint Thomas Aquinas who believed that human beings have a natural capacity to know many things without divine intervention as opposed to the absolutist monarchs and the church that thought of themselves as being the repository of knowledge and truth. The pilgrims were also individualists who understood that in order to be virtuous and free of sin, they had to be free to choose, and choices included of course the sphere of economics, as well as religion.
The French Revolution ushered in the age of totalitarianism in Europe. Not content with controlling the political and economic lives of their subjects, the absolutist rulers sought to control their minds as well. The twentieth century saw the rise of Communism and Fascism (and Nazism) that culminated with the horrors of the Holocaust being committed on European soil by European absolutist totalitarians. F.A. Hayek, in his book “The Road to Serfdom,” pointed to the close ideological connection between Socialists and Fascists. He noted, they have more in common with each other than either have with classical liberalism, including the tendency to reduce the individual to an organic part of the state.
Joseph Conrad, in his novel “Heart of Darkness,” portrays the darkness of hypocrisy and moral decay of the colonial adventurers in the Belgian Congo. Conrad specifically mentions the “whited sepulchre” of the various corporate enterprises headquarted in Brussels, Belgium. It is an analogy taken right from Matthew’s Gospel, where Christ himself says, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.” Conrad’s novel serves as a reminder of the corruption of absolute power, and the depravity of mankind.
Whether it is the belief in the supremacy of the state, or other types of utopian ideals and philosophies, they are fundamentally in error, because they cannot check or contain the weight of human sinfulness. In contrast, Christianity at its foundation believes all humans are created in the image of God. In truth, a strong religious understanding and spirit recognizes the need to reflect God, it is there where more human progress is found than all the programs, nation-states, and freedom imitators combined.
One of my favorite novels is Saul Bellow’s Henderson the Rain King. Eugene Henderson is a loud, boorish, rich American who goes on a soul-searching journey into the heart of a mythically depicted Africa.
One of Henderson’s first stops is a village inhabited by folks called the Arnewi. He comes into the village brandishing his modern implements, lighting a bush on fire (one of many biblical allusions) and offering to shoot any man-eating lions with his gun loaded with .375 H and H Magnum.
Henderson is determined to help the people of the village any way he can. When it becomes clear that the people (and their livestock) are suffering from water shortages, Henderson leaps into action.
It turns out that the source of the problem is that the village’s cistern is populated by frogs, which the villagers understand to be a curse. The water is not itself harmed by the frog’s presence, but it cannot be used while the frogs are there. Moreover, the Arnewi are prevented from doing anything about the infection, and must wait for divine intervention to lift the curse.
Henderson, of course, is restrained by no such ceremonial inhibitions. He says to the prince, “You’re not allowed to molest these animals, but what if a stranger came along–me for instance–and took them on for you?” Henderson is dedicated to helping the people, “I realized I would never rest until I had dealt with these creatures and lifted the plague.” (more…)
Dr. Samuel Gregg – “Acton’s Chief Thinker,” according to our Executive Director Kris Mauren – put his thinking skills on display yesterday as part of the 2007 Acton Lecture Series, delivering an address entitled “The Crisis of Europe: Benedict XVI’s Analysis and Solution.”
By any standard of civilization growth and decline, Europe is in crisis. Marked by collapsing birthrates, stagnating economies, and denial of its historical roots, Western Europe appears headed for cultural suicide. In his lecture, Dr. Gregg outlined Pope Benedict’s analysis of Europe’s contemporary problems, and discusses the his proposed remedies. If you weren’t able to attend the lecture in person, you can listen online by clicking here (10 mb mp3 file).
You’ll also want to register for our next Lecture Series event, as we’ll be hearing from Mr. Ralph Hauenstein, who will discuss his experiences serving under General Dwight Eisenhower as chief of the Intelligence Branch in the Army’s European theater of operations during World War II. As a history buff, I’ve had this one marked on my calendar for quite a while, no doubt much like a lot of other people. Here’s the link for more information and to register for the event.
Despite all the hoopla surrounding the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, all is not well with the dream of a united Europe — at least as it’s envisioned by the political class and Brussels technocrats. In addition to its ongoing economic malaise, the European Union still seems unable to fully acknowledge its cultural, religious and political roots. “People who suffer from amnesia have great difficulty making sound choices about the future because they do not know where they have come from,” Samuel Gregg writes. “The same is true for Europe.”
Despite a recent surge in economic growth in the European Union, the lack of political will to reform unsustainable welfare systems and curb regulatory excesses does not bode well for the future. Samuel Gregg looks back to the Freiburg Ordo-Liberal School, practitioners of an economic philosophy that helped engineer the post-war revival for West Germany, as a possible path toward greater freedom and economic growth.