Monday, November 15, 2010

Suicide by Atheism: Christianity as the Basis of European Civilization

George Weigel has a worthwhile article in The National Review comparing recent speeches by Herbert von Rompuy and Pope Benedict XVI on the basis of European civilization. It is called "A Tale of Two Europes: Looking for Transcendence."

Weigel notes that in 2003-04 the debate over the preamble to the European constitution resulted in the omission of any mention of the Biblical or Christian tradition in defining the basis of European civilization:
In 2003–04, as the preamble to the European constitutional treaty that eventually came a cropper was being fiercely debated, the burning question was whether the Christian (or, more broadly, Biblical) sources of contemporary European commitments to human rights, democracy, and the rule of law could be acknowledged. The final answer was “No,” as the preamble cited classical civilization, the Enlightenment, and modern thought as the bases of the civil and tolerant Europe the constitutional treaty was to govern.
Weigel describes the shallowness of Van Rompuy's vision of the basis of Europe's shared civilization and quotes his speech at length:

But it was Van Rompuy’s flaccid attempt to define the ethical sources of the new Europe’s identity that rang most hollow:

Alongside diversity — and diversity is certainly a strength of our societies — we still need, in each of our societies, a sense of unity, of belonging together. This sense of unity can lie in shared values; or in a language, a shared history, a will to live together. . . . And this will springs above all from the stories we tell each other.

Think of the ancient Greeks: The stories of Homer created bonds through the centuries. They have us spell-bound tonight. It can be the stories of war and peace, or Olympic exploits or saint-like sacrifice, of a prison stormed or a Wall which came down.

Such stories do what a treatise on “values” cannot achieve: They embody “virtues” in an understandable way, virtues shown by men and women in real situations. Courage, respect, responsibility, tolerance, a sense of the common good.

To keep such European virtues alive, to transmit their age-old qualities to our children and grandchildren, that will be one of the great challenges for the future.

Here is the post-modern theory of the triumph of “narrative” run so far amok that it becomes self-parody. Putting aside the question of whether, on present demographic trends, there will be all that many “children and grandchildren” to whom to tell stories of Attic courage, or the figure-skating gold medals of Sonja Henie, or the fall of the Bastille, or the breaching of the Berlin Wall, Van Rompuy’s European Story Hour is just that: a disconnected conglomeration of “narratives” telling no one compelling tale. Or if there is a tale here, it is, pace the Thane of Cawdor, a “tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Weigel then describes Benedict's vision as given in his speech:

But according to the broad-gauged Benedict XVI, the voice of the God of Jews and Christians is not the only voice to which a revitalized Europe needs to attend, even if He is, to vary the medievals, the First Voice. To be sure, as the pope said, “Europe must open itself to God, must come to meet him without fear and work with his grace for that human dignity which was discerned in her best traditions.” But Europe must also reclaim the fullness of the riches of her civilizational patrimony: “not only the Biblical . . . but also the classical, the medieval, and the modern, the matrix from which the great philosophical, literary, cultural, and social masterpieces of Europe were born.” Thus “the Europe of science and technology, the Europe of civilization and culture, must be at the same time a Europe open to transcendence and fraternity with other continents, and open to the living and true God, starting with the living and true man.”

The openness to the transcendent, to God is the beginning of true wisdom. Belief in God has formed the basis of the greatest achievements of Europe: the rule of law, limited government, human dignity, freedom, free speech, freedom of religion and free enterprise. Yes, Europe needed some prodding from the Enlightenment to open up to greater political freedom but in doing so - in abolishing slavery for example - Europe was able to act in accordance with deep and abiding truths already found in Christianity. It was not necessary to jettison Christian faith in order to enhance the dignity of the human person; it was only necessary to jettison Christian faith in order to descend into a Brave New World.

Christianity was and is the basis of European civilization and the current rejection of Christianity by Europe is an act of wanton self-destruction. It is suicide by atheism.

1 comment:

Joseph Sunde said...

Found your blog a while ago via your interview with Matthew Anderson. Just wanted to say it is thoroughly enriching and I look forward to reading in the future.