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Errantry: Novak's Journal
...Words to cast/My feelings into sculpted thoughts/To make some wisdom last
Theological Notebook: Benedict XVI continues argument with EU on Identity 
27th-Mar-2007 01:35 am
Benedict XVI wind
It is one of the more peculiar traits of today's Secularism that the renouncing of our own cultural heritage is seen as a prerequisite to being "accepting" or "tolerant" of other cultural identities, particularly where "religion" is concerned. Ironically, this often manifests itself as a more-or-less anti-European attitude as a kind of reaction of guilt to past European imperialisms. I call this ironic because the new "non-cultural" orientation then typically becomes the "neutrality" that is forced upon all other cultures that haven't embraced this "neutral" Western Secularity, thus becoming the newest, most pervasive version of Western imperialism ever seen, most enthusiastically promoted by those who conceive of themselves as opponents of imperialism and of the West.

In that face of that particular goofiness, John Paul II and Benedict now after him have both encouraged the European Union to explicitly recognize the Christian roots of its own culture. This is rejected by those Secularists who have a conception of their own history that has utterly edited Christianity's influence out of the history of the developing tradition of international law and human rights. It is instead imagined that such things came out of only an aggressively secular Europe. A Europe divorced from its spiritual roots is an increasingly self-loathing one, ideologically, and one whose ability to contibute a strong leadership toward justice in the world is increasingly compromised. Christianity offers a worldview that justifies the highest view of humanity and individual persons that the world has ever known. The most secular regimes of the last century in Europe have committed some of history's greatest horrors. One suspects this is therefore no small debate.

Pope says EU denial of European religious roots is form of 'apostasy'

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Denying the Judeo-Christian roots of European culture and affirming there are no absolute values shared by all European cultures is a form of "apostasy," Pope Benedict XVI said.

Europe's "unique form of apostasy" involves renouncing its own identity as well as its faith in God, the pope said March 24 to participants in a congress marking the 50th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome, which led to the foundation of the European Union.

The congress, sponsored by the commission of bishops' conferences from European countries, brought together bishops, leaders of other European churches and Christian politicians to discuss ways to strengthen official EU references to religious and moral values.

The congress preceded a March 25 European Union summit and celebration in Berlin where leaders of the 27 countries that make up the union vowed to find a "renewed common basis" for their joint activities after France and the Netherlands failed to adopt the proposed European constitution.

Many church leaders and Catholic activists had criticized the proposed constitution for failing to make an explicit reference to the Judeo-Christian roots of Europe and a commitment to ensuring that EU policies would reflect Judeo-Christian values.

Pope Benedict told the congress, "One cannot think about building a 'common European home' ignoring the identity of the people of our continent. In fact, it is a matter of a historical, cultural and moral identity even more than a geographical, economic and political one."

Europe's identity is based on common values, which Christianity helped forge, "acquiring not only a historic role, but a founding role," the pope said.

Leaders of EU institutions continue to lament the fact that many European citizens feel no particular bond to the union, he said. But how can they, when the union's official documents "exclude an element essential to European identity such as Christianity, with which the vast majority of people continue to identify themselves?" he asked.

Because it does not have a recognized set of common values and leaves everything open to compromise, he said, the EU often ends up promoting the "common wrong" instead of the common good.

The policy of offering a compromise on everything is "presented as balanced and realistic" but really is not, "because it denies that dimension of values and ideals that are inherent in human nature," Pope Benedict said.

"A community organized without respect for the authentic dignity of the human person, forgetting that each person is created in the image of God, ends up not doing what is good for anyone," he said.

Pope Benedict also expressed concern about Europe's falling birthrates.

"One could think that the European continent is losing hope in its own future," he said.
Comments 
27th-Mar-2007 12:04 pm (UTC)
There is a difference, however, in remembering and recognising the effect of Christianity on Europe, and in remaining Christian as a whole. There is no reason that European legislation should now be based on Christian values (although they are good values, and are upheld in some respects anyway). Nor should we require to be Christian in order to have a common identity. It is something that has been very significant in the past, but is falling away now.
28th-Mar-2007 03:19 am (UTC)
I entirely agree that there's no logic in any "requirement" to be Christian – Christianity has always repudiated such thinking in its teaching, even if you've had a few people who've tried to pull such off – but I do wonder whether the thought that "There is no reason that European legislation should now be based on Christian values" really follows. The repudiation of Christianity by Europe's intelligentsia (whether intellectually defensible or not, today) was a huge movement of the 19th-29th century, but leaves open the question of whether one can keep the generally Christian ethics the EU wants to enshrine without the Christian metaphysics underlying it. Can the effect live without the cause?
28th-Mar-2007 02:42 pm (UTC)
the question of whether one can keep the generally Christian ethics the EU wants to enshrine without the Christian metaphysics underlying it. Can the effect live without the cause?

Certainly - there is no need to be inherently Christian to have morals.

Although I'm sure a Christian may not agree that the atheists morals are as good as theirs, particularly regarding subjects such as abortion, divorce, homosexuality, etc. A large proportion of Europeans (I don't know how many of course) will agree that the Christian view on matters such as these is dated and no longer relevant to their society.

I do believe that Church must be separate from State (in particular, legislation) in today's Europe, which is becoming more and more multi-cultural, as well as more and more secular. The European government cannot apply uniquely Christian values to it's vastly diverse population.
28th-Mar-2007 03:30 pm (UTC)
Oh, I definitely didn't mean to imply that what I was talking about was a Church-State alliance or union of the type that characterized the Medieval world, nor did I say it was necessary to be Christian to have morals, although historically speaking, secular European morals are inherited from Christian ethics and thus required a Christian formation in order to get where they are today. While it was perfectly sensible and organic for that to have happened with people foisting political authority on the Church as the only organization whose leadership was standing after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, the conflicts of interest (for the Church) have lead the leadership of the Church to forswear such confusion of roles. The Church is aware that it is far more effective without political power, even politically. It's political influence wants to remain that of persuasion. So, no, that's not at all what I'm talking about here.

You get closer to the problem with the line "the Christian view on matters such as these is dated and no longer relevant to their society." While not getting into the specific issues you mention, and while acknowledging that Christian ethics are ever evolving with the new insights of the physical and human sciences, the very notion of "datedness" gets right to the heart of the metaphysical/ethical disconnect that was talking about. While one can speak of "datedness" with discarded theories of even physics (remember the old 19th century suppositions about the existence of "ether" and its role in transmitting light through space?), what you have just articulated is closer to calling the idea of physics itself dated: I don't think it is possible give an objective justification for morality without a metaphysical grounding in the God revealed in History, and ethics instead becomes simply a matter of preference, with you left only to the mercy of the vote. Why are your ethics better and more true than Nazi ethics? What happens when your elections threaten to go the way of Germany in 1933...?

That's not a "scare tactic" question: that's a concrete example of what ethics can do and have done in a Europe where they no longer have any metaphysical justification whatsoever. A constitutional preamble that indicates an historical tie-in to a metaphysics that yes, most Europeans no longer share – a Christian one – nevertheless gives a legal guidance and grounding for the ethics Europe has inherited from their past. I think the faith that you can keep going, effect without cause, is a dangerous and reckless one.
28th-Mar-2007 04:12 pm (UTC)
...what you have just articulated is closer to calling the idea of physics itself dated...

Huh? That makes no sense at all!

I don't think it is possible give an objective justification for morality without a metaphysical grounding in the God revealed in History

How so? There's the justification of peace, stability, co-existance and a healthly society in general. We don't need God to justify having morals.

that's a concrete example of what ethics can do and have done in a Europe where they no longer have any metaphysical justification whatsoever

Evil will be evil, whether claiming a religious background or none at all. An excuse, if given, is just that - something to cover the actions.

While out ethics are certainly inherited from Christian thought, they have diverged and developed from there, and are now simply the ethics of European society - one that is (or aims to be) peaceable, tolerant and just. Our morality no longer requires religious backing or justification.
27th-Mar-2007 07:42 pm (UTC)
I still don't quite grasp why the European Union would try to deny the existence of Christianity in their past. One would think they would at least acknowledge it. This boggles my mind. I'm glad to see that there are people in Europe fighting for recognition of Europe's Christian history.
28th-Mar-2007 02:38 pm (UTC)
They're not denying it - they're just moving away from it being all-pervasive and central to government, as many believe is correct, i.e. the separation of Church and State, especially in today's far more secular Europe. The past is past, and the present is changing. We have much more in common than just a Christian past.
28th-Mar-2007 08:18 pm (UTC)
From what I understand, which could be terribly flawed mind you, is that the European Union has neglected any recollection at all of Europe's Christian past. Recently I've started to discover just how indebted Europe is to it's Christian past, so not even to acknowledge it is something of a surprise for me.

Mind you, I'm not well versed in the European Union and such so I could be way off. If I am, I apologise for wasting everybodies time.
28th-Mar-2007 09:28 pm (UTC)
Well, I don't know any specifics - are there any actual occasions or instances of actual denial? I'm not sure how an entity such as the EU could deny or confirm something anyway. Do they mean that it is not mentioned in histories of the development of the EU?

In any case, I haven't picked up on any particular denial - it's simply not an issue in the everyday.
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