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Christianity: a Private Affair or Part of the European Identity? Christianity: a Private Affair or Part of the European Identity?
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2009-05-22 08:29:09
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In his book A Christian Europe? Europe and Christianity: Rules of Commitment first published in Italy as Un’Europa Cristiana, professor JHH Weiler, of New York University, who has studied the process of European integration for more than twenty-five years, speaks of a European Christian ghetto. Such a provocative statement is of course a mere metaphor rooted in a sad reality used purposefully by Dr. Weiler to jolt people out of their complacency. It should also be prefaced at the outset that Professor Weiler is neither a Christian nor a Catholic but a practicing Jew. This is important because in his knowledge of the history of the Church and its importance for the EU’s identity he puts many Christians to shame.

Weiler writes that the manifestations of the external walls of this ghetto are very much in evidence in the refusal to include in the Preamble to the European Union Charter of Rights even a modest reference to Europe’s religious heritage, completely ignoring the request of the former Pope John Paul II. In the recent draft Constitution there is still no reference to Europe’s Christian heritage–but a generic allusion to its religious inheritance tucked between the cultural and the humanist…!

What exactly does Dr. Weiler mean by the internal walls of the European Christian ghetto? The reason he calls them “internal” is that these are walls created by Christians themselves. This fact for Weiler is even more striking than the refusal of the Conventions to make an explicit reference to Christianity. He points out that despite the explicit Catholic orientation of the founding fathers of the European construct, there isn’t one major work, in any language, that explores in depth the Christian heritage and the Christian meaning of European integration. While writing his book  Weiler pulled out from the library of his university 79 books published in the previous three years on the general phenomenon of European integration. None of them had a single allusion in the index to Christianity and its values. Weiler then writes that we ought not be surprised that the Convention failed to make a reference to the Christian heritage of European integration, if that Christian heritage has not been proclaimed, explored, debated, and made an integral part of the discourse of European integration by Christian scholars themselves.

This is puzzling indeed. Weiler has three possible explanations for the phenomenon. The first is a puzzling internalization of the false philosophical and constitutional premise of the most extreme forms of laicità (secularity) as practiced for example in France. Freedom of religion is of course guaranteed and rightly so is also freedom from religious coercion. But on top of that there is the steadfast conviction that there can be no allusion or reference to religion in the official public space of the State, that such allusions are considered a transgression. A transgression of what exactly?

There is the naïve belief that for the State to be assiduously secular it needs to practice religious neutrality. Weiler considers this false on two counts: first, there is no neutral position in a binary option. For the State to abstain from any religious symbolism is no more neutral than for the state to espouse some forms of religious symbolism. The religiosity of large segments of the population and the religious dimension of the culture are objective data. Denying these facts simply means favoring one worldview over the other, masking it as neutrality.

The second explanation is that to accept that view of the relationship between State and religion is also to accept a secular (basically 18th-century) definition of what religion in general and Christianity in particular are. It is a vision that derives from the culture of rights which treats religion as a private matter by equating freedom of religion with freedom of speech, of belief, and of association. But then Weiler asks this crucial question: can one accept that Christianity be consigned to the realm of the private by the secular authorities of the State? That question is not to imply that Weiler does not believe in the liberal constitutional order with its guarantees of democracy and freedom. He does indeed, but he also believes in a vigorous and articulate religious voice and viewpoint in the public spaces guaranteed by constitutional democracies.

The conundrum here boils down to this: many Catholic scholars have confused the public disciplines of constitutional democracy with a private discipline of religious silence in the public sphere. Worse than that, Christian scholars have internalized the notion that to integrate Christian thinking and Christian teaching into their reflections on constitutional law, on political theory, on social science, is a betrayal of their academic standing, of their objectivity, of their scientific credentials.

Another reason adduced by Weiler is fear. Fear that in an academy dominated by an intellectual class which often leans to the left or to the center-left and insists on “politically correct” principles, an incorporation of Christian insight (other than a study in scientific fashion of religious phenomena) would brand the scholar as lacking in scientific objectivity; of not being a “free thinker.” And finally Weiler mentions sheer ignorance. Precious few in the intellectual classes have read, studied, and reflected on the teachings of the Church, even less those of the current pontificate, its encyclicals, the apostolic letters, etc, with the same assiduousness that they study the latest offering from the secular intellectual icons of our generation.

Weiler maintains that while it is shocking that the explicit request of the Holy Father would be denied by the Convention, it is even more shocking that the call of this pontiff to the laity to be the messengers of Christian teaching in their own private and professional lives goes in many cases equally unheeded. The lives of those touched by faith cannot, once they exit the sphere of home and family, become identical with those not touched by faith. This is true for the shopkeeper in the market, for the conductor on the train, for a minister of the republic, as well as for those whose work is in one way or another a reflection on the public policies of public authorities.

One is led by the above reflections to inquire as to what is the relevance of Christianity and Christian teaching to the narrative of European integration. Weiler finds it laughable not to recognize Christianity as being a hugely important element in defining what we mean by European identity–for good and for bad. In art and in literature, in music and in sculpture, even in our political culture, Christianity has been a leitmotif–an inspiration as well as an object of rebellion. There is no normativity in affirming this empirical fact. There is only normativity in denying it. Weiler goes on to explain that while Christianity is a sociological and historical phenomenon, it is also a a living faith based on revealed truth. Here is where Christian teaching becomes relevant.

The reader may ask at this point: what has all of this got to do with European integration? Wealer, speaking as a scholar and not merely as a believer, insists that it is indeed a great deal, that the narratives of history such as the story of European integration have no inherent meaning. They have the meaning we give them. What is at stake is what meaning we want to give. A Christian Europe is not a Europe that will endorse Christianity. It is not a call for evangelization. A Christian Europe is one that can learn from the teaching of Christianity. To reflect, discuss, debate, and ultimately assign meaning to European integration without reference to such an important source is to impoverish Europe. For lay people and for non-Christians, this becomes a challenge to match. Christianity today offers interesting “takes” on the central issues, the core issues, the deepest challenges in the very self-understanding of what Europe is about but few, even among Christians, are aware of it.

Weiler offers some examples which he hopes will motivate the reader to read and reflect on those teachings: the relationship to the “other”–within our society, across our boundaries within Europe, and beyond Europe–is arguably the most important challenge to which European integration tries to respond. Well, the encyclical Redemptoris Missio is a profound statement on how to think, to conceptualize a respectful relationship with the other. The Catholic teachings expressed in this encyclical are concerned with tolerance, respect and inclusion, concepts inextricably connected with freedom and democracy.  On the one hand, the encyclical bravely eschews the epistemological and moral relativism of post-modernity by affirming that which it considers to be the truth. But at the same time, it treats with the utmost respect those who do not share in that Truth. One cannot truly respect the other if one does not have respect for oneself, individually and collectively. Forgetting one’s heritage is indeed a shabby mode of respecting oneself individually and collectively. Much can flow from this insight in the various debates on European integration.

For Dr. Weiler, the marketplace is another core issue of the European Union. Some would even argue that it is the core issue. Here again, Weiler points out that the encyclical Centesimus Annus offers one of the most profound reflections on the virtues of a free market but also of its dangers to human dignity. It is a reflection that goes well beyond the mantra of “solidarity” so dear to political activists of many stripes and which one finds endlessly in the debate of European integration. Europe need not espouse the teachings of the Church in this matter. But why exclude them from the debate? And there are many other examples in the book.

And of course the logical last inquiry is this: how would non-Christians react to the notion of a Christian Europe? Are we to exclude Turkey for example? Professor Weiler explains that a Christian Europe does not mean a Europe for Christians. It does not mean an official endorsement of, or call for, evangelization. That is certainly not the role of the European Union. It simply means a Europe that does not deny its Christian inheritance and the richness that public debate can gain from engagement with Christian teachings.

Weiler points out that there is something comic bordering on the tragic in observing those most opposed to any reference to religion or Christianity in the draft Constitution at the forefront of opposition to Turkish membership in the Union. It is indeed an insult to Christianity and its teaching of grace and tolerance to claim that there is no place in Europe for a non-Christian country or worse, for non-Christian individuals. Weiler observes that he is an observant Jew, son of a rabbi with European roots that go back hundreds of years and that his ancestors were often the victims of Christians and Christianity; yet he finds it puzzling that anyone would fear the recognition and acknowledgment of the dominant culture (i.e., Christianity) as an empirical historical fact,  and reveals a fear of his which is also an insight, and it is this: “If I have a fear, it is the following: to deny the relevance of the Christian heritage in European public symbolism and European public space, for to deny that is to deny, too, the relevance of my own religiosity in that same public space.” That would probably be just fine for those who wish to eliminate religion altogether from both the public and the private sphere, but it remains a shortsighted social and political strategy, for is a body politic is based on the rejection of one’s history and heritage it will be built on sand and will not survive for very long.

* * * *

J. H. H. Weiler   is University Professor at NYU. He serves as the Joseph Straus Professor of Law and European Union Jean Monnet Chair at NYU School of Law. Professor Weiler is the Chairman of the Hauser Global Law School Program and Director of the Jean Monnet Center for International and Regional Economic Law and Justice at NYU. He is also Professor at the College of Europe in Bruges, Belgium, and Natolin, Poland.


     
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Jack2009-05-24 04:27:16

I wholeheartedly agree with you. It is futile to ignore, indeed not even acknowledge, the effect that Christianity has had on the social fabric of nations and people groups.

When Billy Graham received the Congressional Medal of Honor, this seemed a validation for this man's tireless effort for the good of humanity and for the nation. When he received this medal...amongst the backdrop of such historical, and decidely Christian forefathers....Dr. Graham said that all these men...every single one of these men; George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson...all had one thing in common! "They were dead". He sought to make men live forever,(John 3:16)regardless of their nationality. To be recognized by the U.S. Congress and given this medal of honor, serves not only as confirmation of Dr. Graham's impact on this (as of yet)Christian nation, but upon it's social fabric.


Marco Andreacchio2009-09-07 20:43:58
Dr. Paparella,

There are "other" faiths that are not compatible with Biblical revelation, competing faiths that oppose Jude-Christianity--both from within and from without Europe. One of those "other" faiths wants to understand Christianity as "culture" or a part thereof, or as "heritage" or a part thereof.

But religion is not and never shall be a part of culture. If anything, religion is the public foundation of culture: Theologia Civilis is irreducible to Theologia Fabulosa/Mythica. Biblical Revelation (the Hebrew Bible), as arguably the most emblematic exemplification of Civil Religion, is irreducible to "myth," just as Law is irreducible to the imagination.

If Christianity is to remain as "inspiration" for Europe, it will need a more outstanding apology than the one supplied by appeals to historical relevance.

Christianity de facto has been the attempt to maintain the Hebrew Bible and the living presence of its virtue, in the land of pagans. What is needed to save the Bible in Europe is either Christianity or some nationalized equivalents--in either case more than academic discourse. What is needed is Civil Authority, without which the Bible will forever remain unconvincing to pagan Europe.

To speak with Vico, what is needed is political Philosophy (in the tradition of Plato) guiding Philology (the caretaker/observer of civil authority) to recognize that Authority is irreducible to the human will (freed from divinity) because it is the nature/birth of Civil Authority to be religious. True religion is thus Civil, rather than mythical or imaginative. This is the truth that pagan Europe fails to see. Civil life is religious; true religiosity is civil (i.e. it does not suppress the imagination and it does not mistake itself for something heavenly).

Best regards.


Marco Andreacchio2009-09-09 21:42:11
Dr. Paparella,

There are "other" faiths that are not compatible with Biblical revelation, competing faiths that oppose Jude-Christianity--both from within and from without Europe. One of those "other" faiths wants to understand Christianity as "culture" or a part thereof, or as "heritage" or a part thereof.

But religion is not and never shall be a part of culture. If anything, religion is the public foundation of culture: Theologia Civilis is irreducible to Theologia Fabulosa/Mythica. Biblical Revelation (the Hebrew Bible), as arguably the most emblematic exemplification of Civil Religion, is irreducible to "myth," just as Law is irreducible to the imagination.

If Christianity is to remain as "inspiration" for Europe, it will need a more outstanding apology than the one supplied by appeals to historical relevance.

Christianity de facto has been the attempt to maintain the Hebrew Bible and the living presence of its virtue, in the land of pagans. What is needed to save the Bible in Europe is either Christianity or some nationalized equivalents--in either case more than academic discourse. What is needed is Civil Authority, without which the Bible will forever remain unconvincing to pagan Europe.

To speak with Vico, what is needed is political Philosophy (in the tradition of Plato) guiding Philology (the caretaker/observer of civil authority) to recognize that Authority is irreducible to the human will (freed from divinity) because it is the nature/birth of Civil Authority to be religious. True religion is thus Civil, rather than mythical or imaginative. This is the truth that pagan Europe fails to see. Civil life is religious; true religiosity is civil (i.e. it does not suppress the imagination and it does not mistake itself for something heavenly).

Best regards.


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