Jewish World Review April 8, 2005 / 28 Adar II, 5765
Outpouring for Pope masks Europe's spiritual crisis
They stood in a line that stretched at least a mile, sometimes
30 abreast. Huddled in blankets in the evening cold, and gratefully
accepting bottled water from priests patrolling the line during the hot
daylight hours, the mourners who wanted one last glimpse of Pope John
Paul II waited patiently for as long as 12 hours. The funeral of this
modern pope has become the greatest Christian pilgrimage of all time.
Accordingly, images out of Rome this week give the impression of a
still-vibrant European Christianity.
And yet, this outpouring, fattened by the presence of 2 million
Poles, is somewhat misleading. For while believers have not disappeared
(particularly in the newly free countries of Eastern Europe), they have
become a distinct minority in a continent that is decidedly post-Christian.
George Weigel, the theologian who produced John Paul II's
masterful authorized biography "Witness to Hope," has a new slender volume
out that addresses Europe's sickness of the soul. In "The Cube and the
Cathedral," (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.) Weigel begins with a series of questions that limn the problem:
"What accounts for disturbing currents of irrationality in contemporary
European politics? Why did one of every five Germans (and one third of those
under 30) believe that the United States was responsible for 9-11, while
some 300,000 French men and women made a best-seller out of 'The Appalling
Fraud,' in which author Thierry Meyssan argued that the Twin Towers of the
World Trade Center were destroyed by the U.S. military. ... Why is European
productivity dwindling? ... Why does Sweden have a considerably higher level
of its population living below the poverty line ... than the United States?
... Above all ... why is Europe committing demographic suicide,
systematically depopulating itself in what British historian Niall Ferguson
calls the 'greatest sustained reduction in European population since the
Black Death of the 14th century'? What is happening when an entire
continent, wealthier and healthier than ever before, declines to create the
human future in the most elemental sense, by creating a next generation?"
The new European Constitution contains some 70,000 words. But
nowhere is there a reference to Christianity or to the Judeo-Christian
tradition. Europe's commitment to human rights, according to the document,
arose from classical antiquity and from the Enlightenment. Fifteen hundred
years of Christian influence were airbrushed out. When a phrase
acknowledging Europe's Christian patrimony was suggested (by a Jewish
scholar, actually), the French and others vehemently objected.
Across Western Europe, churches stand empty on Sunday mornings
(though in Poland and other Eastern European nations this is not the case).
And among the intellectual elites, Christian commitment is regarded as an
embarrassment as even perhaps a disqualifying trait for high office.
(There are echoes of this attitude in the United States, as well. Last year,
Senate Democrats blocked the confirmation of Judge William Pryor due to his
"deeply held religious views." Pryor is a practicing Catholic.)
Culture, Weigel argues, determines civilization. Without its
distinctly Christian history, Europe would not be what it is. To cite just
one example, Weigel recalls the 11th century "investiture" controversy
between Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV and Pope Gregory VII. The pope won, and
the victory established an important principle that would have profound
consequences for the development of what would later be called "civil
society." The principle established was that the state "would not occupy
every inch of social space."
Nor is it possible to conceive of the great figures of European
history apart from their Christianity. Weigel lists dozens of names and
reminds the reader that these emblematic Europeans were all influenced by,
often completely imbued with, their faith much to the continent's good.
Benedict, Bernini, Becket, Bach, Bacon, Calvin, Cromwell, Dante, Dostoevsky,
Gutenberg, Michelangelo, Milton, More, Wesley and Wilberforce, among many
others. Weigel acknowledges Christianity's sins and errors, but wonders
whether atheistic humanists recognize theirs.
Europe today is a society adrift, untethered to the source of
its greatness. It is, to use the great Jewish American writer Will Herberg's
formulation, "a cut flower culture." And just as Europeans are losing the
elemental desire to preserve their civilization, Muslim immigrants stand
ready to vindicate the loss of 1683. It is not inconceivable that European
civilization post-Christian, politically correct and too weary to take
its own side in a quarrel (to paraphrase Robert Frost) may yet deliver to
the Muslim world a delayed victory.
Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in Washington and in the media consider "must reading." Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.