IN HIS NEW BOOK, POPE BENEDICT XVI WRITES: ‘EUROPE IS INFECTED BY A STRANGE LACK OF DESIRE FOR THE FUTURE.’ I first heard of this book from a Dutchman studying in Australia. He wrote to ask how to obtain an English copy of my book, Living as people of hope. His chosen study assignment was to compare my book with the pope’s: Without Roots: Europe, Relativism, Christianity & Islam (New York: Basic Books, 2006). That, I was sure, would be like comparing a child’s efforts in crayon to a Michaelangelo masterpiece!
Then, in response to last week’s WW, I received excerpts from ‘Without Roots’ from the Norwegian journalist friend mentioned last week. He remarked on the pope’s use of ‘phrases and thoughts that you write and talk about, for instance “heritage”, “creative minorities” etc.’
Here are some of the excerpts he sent. He suggested that in the pope’s closing paragraphs, there was some resonance with last week’s WW. You can judge that for yourself.
“There are two opposing diagnoses of the possible future of Europe. On the one hand, there is the thesis of Oswald Spengler, who believed that he had identified a natural law for the great moments in cultural history: First comes the birth of a culture, then its gradual rise, flourishing, slow decline, aging, and death. His thesis was that the West would come to an end, and that it was rushing heedlessly toward its demise, despite every effort to stop it.
“Spengler’s ‘biologistic’ thesis attracted fierce opponents during the period between the two wars, especially in Catholic circles. Arnold Toynbee reserved harsh words for it, in arguments too readily ignored today. Toynbee emphasized the difference between technological-material progress and true progress, which he defined as spiritualization. He recognized that the Western world was indeed undergoing a crisis, which he attributed to the abandonment of religion for the cult of technology, nationalism, and militarism. For him this crisis had a name: secularism. If you know the cause of an illness, you can also find a cure: The religious heritage in all its forms had to be reintroduced, especially the ‘heritage of Western Christianity’. Rather than a biologistic vision, he offered a voluntaristic one focused on the energy of creative minorities and exceptional individuals.
“If (Toynbee is correct), then we must ask whether it is in our power to reintroduce the religious dimension through a synthesis of what remains of Christianity and the religious heritage of humankind. Which factors will guarantee the future, and which have allowed the inner identity of Europe to survive throughout its metamorphoses in history? To put it more simply, what can still promise, today and tomorrow, to offer human dignity to life? ‚Ä¶.
“Amid the major upheavals of our day, is there a European identity that has a future and to which we can commit whole-heartedly?
· A first element is the unconditionality with which human rights and human dignity should be presented as values that take precedence over any state jurisdiction. ‚Ä¶ The value of human dignity, which takes precedence over all political action and all political decision-making, refers to the Creator. ‚Ä¶
· A second element that characterizes European identity is marriage and the family. Monogamous marriage‚Ä¶was forged in the biblical faith‚Ä¶ Europe would no longer be Europe if this fundamental nucleus of its social edifice were to vanish or be changed in an essential way. ‚Ä¶
· The last element of the European identity is religion. ‚Ä¶ Multiculturalism teaches us to approach the sacred things of others with respect, but we can do this only if we ourselves are not estranged from the sacred, from God. ‚Ä¶
“Unless we embrace our own heritage of the sacred, we will not only deny the identity of Europe. We will also fail in providing a service to others to which they are entitled. To the other cultures of the world, there is something deeply alien about the absolute secularism that is developing in the West. They are convinced that a world without God has no future. Multiculturalism itself thus demands that we return once again to ourselves.
“We do not know what the future of Europe will be. Here we must agree with Toynbee, that the fate of a society always depends on its creative minorities. Christian believers should look upon themselves as just such a creative minority, helping Europe to reclaim what is best in its heritage and thereby to place itself at the service of all humankind.”
Till next week,