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Christianity and European Identity Christianity and European Identity
by Prof. Francesco Tampoia
2009-05-26 09:35:12
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I have read the interesting “Christianity: a Private Affair or Part of the European Identity?” in which you return to hints, thoughts and theses that we have previously discussed. This time the focus is the contribution by Prof. JHH Weiler. I certainly agree with Weiler when he speaks of a European Christian ghetto-or fortress- and I grasp the metaphor as a well-timed criticism against a diffuse and persistent European eurocentrism. In an article published on Newropeans- perhaps you remember- and titled “Cosmopolitan Europe” I began with Immanuel Kant attempting to explore European history along many centuries of religion, science, moral, and law –Christianity of course is a leitmotif–in the spirit of Western cosmopolitanism.

In my view a serious research for European identity, that is undoubtedly a Christian identity, must be aware of pursuing a global dimension. In his philosophy Kant pondered the tasks, the real interests, the universally human opportunities, thus laying the foundations of a cosmopolitan Europe in order to well equip Europe for globalization. Recently, on May 2003, Habermas/Derrida wrote a co-signed appeal calling for “the rebirth of Europe" with "new responsibilities beyond all Eurocentrism" that was an example of substantive contemporary history, a kind of intervention, a performance that cried out for that which the text both is and conjures forth: a European discussion about Europe, a European public space.

But, to return to Weiler, there is no doubt that “the religiosity of large segments of the population and the religious dimension of the culture are objective data,” that perhaps we live in an epoch of more different forms of Christianity and religiosity than it was the case in the past: one exterior and the other interior or subterranean. Obviously, I include into the Christian community all baptized Christians, all those baptized Christians who do not practice their Christianity by going to church regularly.

I also read too that Weiler desires a more vigorous and articulate religious voice and viewpoint in the public spaces guaranteed by constitutional democracies. He is right in this claim, even though I cannot forget, for example, the medieval Christian distinction between vita contemplativa and vita activa. It seems to me that today’s religiosity, or the current idea of religion is conceived as J. Derrida’s interprets it for us: Christian and Jew, religious and secular, left and right, perceive the unsettling news of the radical instability of the categories to which we had such ready recourse in the past. And he raises the idea of a still deeper idea of ourselves who (religiously) confess our lack of categories. In other passage he writes that “As the process of globalization draws us ever closer in networks of communication and exchange, there is an understandable longing for simplicity, clarity and certainty. This desire is responsible, in large measure, for the rise of cultural conservatism and religious fundamentalism. True believers of every stripe—Muslim, Jewish and Christian—cling to beliefs that threaten to tear apart our world.” Derrida warns us that whereas belief not tempered by doubt begets a mortal danger, at the same time the process of globalization draws us ever closer into the networks of communication and exchange.

The theme of 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. In the present circumstances, let me recall Greek culture and civilization, Judaism, Christianity with their concepts of tolerance, respect and inclusion inextricably connected with freedom; and there is more: origin, promise, gift, hospitality, dissociation, unconditional forgiveness, possibility of the impossible.

Hospitality has been and remains a real duty in our civilization that demands that we welcome foreigners in order not only to integrate them but to recognize and accept their otherness. S. Paul in his letters does not use the term pardon; nevertheless many readers of Paul have implicitly found it everywhere. In order to de-construct the word pardon we can begin playing between don (gift) and par-don, so that pardon appears similar to the gift.

Finally there is repentance. The Hebrew word for repentance, teshuvah, has two distinct meanings. The first derives from the verb to return. When used in this sense, it signifies going back to one’s point of origin, returning to the straight path, coming back home after a period of absence. The second meaning derives from the verb to reply, and denotes response to a question that has come from without. The Jewish idea of teshuvah embraces both these meaning: it is a movement of return to one’s source, to the paradigm of human life and also, simultaneously, a response to a divine call.

Yes indeed. A Christian Europe does not mean a Europe for Christians... It simply means as professor Weiler states “a Europe that does not deny its Christian inheritance and the richness that public debate can gain from engagement with Christian teaching.” As you know, I have long declared my support for Turkish membership in the European Union.  

References:

Francesco Tampoia, A Cosmopolitan Europe, Newropeans 2005

Francesco Tampoia, Review: Theodore W. Jennings, JR.  Reading Derrida/Thinking Paul- On Justice-Stanford University Press-Stanford California 2006, Published in PIR.


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Emanuel Paparella2009-05-26 11:08:28
Francesco, to continue the convivial dialogue in the agora, Kierkegaard, if he taught us anything, he taught us that simply being baptized or even going to church every Sunday for one hour, does not a Christian make... and that we need to work out our salvation in "fear and trembling." Charlemagne proclaiming his subjects Christians or Constantine his, Christians did not make, except on paper, in name only. We may also wish to remember here that Derrida and Habermas' letter to the EU community, cosigned by some eminent philosophers among whom Umberto Eco, fell like a big stone in a lake and was accorded precious little if any discussion by the EU politicians and bureaucrats (see Tony Judt on Europe). Hopefully, ordinary people paid more attention, but I am not too sanguine on that either.

Indeed, Europe continues to search for its identity and its very soul, but only when it goes beyond the caricaturizing of its most valuable ideals and values and heritages, will it realize that it has returned where she started from and has gotten to know the place for the first time (Eliot)and she will then begin to prepare a future worthy of European Man beyond the unity of a common bank and of soccer games on Sunday.

I propose to editors, contributors and readers interested in the subject, a dialogue right here in the pages of this open-minded magazine (that allows comments and debate and others' point of views)a dialogue on the unique opportunity that we now have in the economic crisis of the West to construct a post-capitalistic, post-secular, more humane society. Any takers?


Emanuel Paparella2009-05-26 14:39:15
P.S. As you surely remember (since you reviewed the book), I wrote a whole book titled A New Europe in Search of its Soul which was published more or less at the time the Derrida letter came out. I'd like to believe that it too made a modest contribution to the dialogue on the European identity. (continued below)


Emanuel Paparella2009-05-26 14:43:16
As you surely also remember the book has thee quotes on its cover page. One by Paul Valery: "As far as I am concerned, any people who have been influenced throughout history by Greece, Rome and Christianity are Europeans." Another by Robert Shuman: "The place where I feel most Europeans is a Cathedral." And the last one by John Paul II lifted from a speech given to the EU parliament on October 11, 1988: "If the religious and Christian substratum of this oontinent is marginalized in its role as inspriration of ethical and social efficacy, we would be negating non only the past heritage of Europe but a future worthy of European Man--and by that I mean every European Man, be he a believer or a non believer. I put those three quotes by three Europeans at the very beginning to dispel the misguided notion that there is some kind of culture war going on between the US and the EU. On the contrary, as I attempt to show in the book the crisis belongs to the whole of Western civilization and transcends geography. Europe will either be understood as an idea or it will not be understood at all.


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