Recently at Acton University, Samuel Gregg opened his lecture “Benedict XVI and the Crisis of Europe” by diving into the etymology of “crisis.” It comes from the Greek word krisis, which marks the point at which an illness has reached its peak. This peak is a turning point; it is the moment when the sick will either recover or die.
Gregg claims that Europe is in a state of crisis.
He outlines three major characteristics of its illness in order to describe the crisis in Europe, specifically Western Europe. The first is the state of the economy: GDP per head is 30 percent lower than the United States, productivity is 25 years behind the United States, and both R&D and entrepreneurship remain low due to unbounded business regulations and insufficient financial backing. The second problem is one of demography: Western Europe is dying out. It remains well below its replacement birthrate of 2.1 children per woman. The population of Western Europe is predicted to decrease by one-third as each generation passes. The third problem is immigration: most of Europe’s immigrants are “economic migrants” that specifically aim for states with easy welfare access, according to Gregg. Furthermore, with an increasingly strong emphasis on ethnic and religious separation, often called “multi-culturalism,” there has been a profound lack of assimilation which further confuses an already uncertain European identity.
Gregg affirms the British historian Arnold Toynbee’s claim that “civilizations die from suicide, not by murder.” Moreover, just as death comes from within, so does a savior. This is what Toynbee calls the “creative minority,” composed of those who react to crisis in a proactive way. Gregg emphasizes that it is the creative minority that is remembered in history: the principled few such as Thomas More and John Fisher.
Gregg explains that Benedict XVI calls Christians to be the creative minority in the midst of Western Europe’s crisis. Christians have three options when responding to modernity: to accommodate modernity, to be at odds with modernity or to engage critically with modernity. Benedict XVI argued that to save Europe, Christians can neither ghettoize themselves nor resort to liberal Christianity. Rather, they must engage critically with modernity. To do so, Christians themselves need to know what they preach: The Way, The Truth, and The Light. Active Christianity is now, and must be, a choice.
Gregg concludes that what Europe ultimately needs is exactly what the rest of the world needs: saints. As Benedict XVI declared, in a world where practical atheism depicts the Keynesian lack of hope and future, “the saints are the true reformers, because only from the saints, only from God, does true revolution come.”