While storms rage across a muslim world upset with the pope, I will not be distracted from writing about the spiritual challenge to Europe I mentioned last week. That challenge, I proposed, was greater for Europe than that of Islam. It was, I wrote, ‘subtle and winsome, quietly eroding our foundations while a boisterous radical Islam (held) our attention.’
I assure you I did nothing to provoke these riots just to prove my point. But I do feel sorry for the pontiff. His closely argued and sophisticated delivery to the esteemed scientific faculty assembled in the Aula Magna of the University of Regensburg-on the subject of Faith, Reason and the University-has been trampled upon by melee and media alike.
Ironically, his whole point was that faith and reason were interwoven in the Christian-and European-tradition. The very word ‘logos’ used by John to describe God means both ‘word’ and ‘reason’. This convergence of Hebrew and Greek, with the addition of the Roman heritage, provided the ‘foundation of what can rightly be called Europe’.
Such true rationality, he argued, not limited to facts that can be measured, is essential for ‘that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today.’ He added: ‘A reason which is deaf to the divine ‚Ä¶ is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures.’ His personal passion for such dialogue and understanding with Muslims and others was lost on the rioting crowds.
Early in the address, the pope had cited the offending words from a dialogue between a Byzantine emperor and a learned Persian. The emperor spoke with ‘startling brusqueness’ and ‘forcefully’ about Mohammed’s command to spread by the sword the faith he preached. Such violence was incompatible with the nature of God and of the soul, concluded the emperor. The pope’s audience, following closely, understood he was identifying not with the emperor’s strength of statement but with his conclusion: that ‘not to act reasonably is contrary to the nature of God’.
All these carefully-crafted words suddenly became engulfed in one huge emotional storm. The broadcast of a sound bite taken out of context is simply, in terms of the pope’s address, ‘unreasonable’. Neither is ‘reasonable’ the first word one would use to describe the reactions to the Danish cartoons of Mohammed earlier this year. Such responses, plus the general association of terrorism with fundamentalist Islam, do not endear Islam to Europeans. Turkey’s chances of joining the EU, for example, have certainly not been enhanced over the past year.
While some minority Muslim groups may have deliberate plans to undermine and eventually dominate European society, and the growing Muslim presence in western European nations will remain a major political issue for the foreseeable future, I cannot see Islam winning the European heart and soul. There is just no appeal.
Meanwhile, as our attention is distracted by images of angry mobs demanding the pope’s dismissal(!), I see another contender for European allegiance quietly and steadily advancing on many fronts, with little concern being noted.
Let’s try to be reasonable about this-even logical. After Christendom, what are the options for Europe? Secularism? Islam? New Spirituality? Or a new reformation?
The options are surprisingly few: Europe’s future will be shaped primarily either by a materialistic or a spiritual world-view. The pendulum seems to be swinging away from atheism-secularism-materialism towards the spiritual. If that’s true, then we have two options for Europe’s future: one shaped by biblical spirituality or by non-biblical spirituality.
Unless then a Biblical renewal can arise to meet the spiritual needs of Europeans, it is logical and reasonable to expect widespread acceptance of a whole market-range of non-biblical spiritualities- from wicca witchcraft and kabbala through to feng-shui, yoga and zen- buddhism-transforming the spiritual landscape of Europe.
Are we, the Body of Christ, ready for this challenge? I don’t think so. There are however a few significant ministries exploring how to quench the thirst of seekers questing a spiritual reality they don’t expect to find in our churches. Next week I’ll share about an opportunity to learn about the emerging spiritual landscape of Europe, why it is happening, and what steps we can take to meet this challenge.