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On the Christian Cultural Values of the EU Founding Fathers On the Christian Cultural Values of the EU Founding Fathers
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2011-07-15 09:53:55
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This is a follow-up of sort to my article on Alcide De Gasperi. A friend of mine replied privately to it expressing his puzzlement, almost taking me to task for suggesting, or at the very least implying, that a modern secular polity such as the European Union ought to be grounded on religious values. To his mind, that is equivalent to an attempt at restoring the medieval Holy Roman Empire of Charlemagne, a theocracy wherein the boundaries between the sacred and the profane are all but blurred. Indeed, there is much confusion on this issue of the Christian roots of Europe and how they can be incorporated within a modern secular polity. I have written a book on the subject titled A New Europe in Search of its Soul (2005), and have also written several articles in Ovi magazine, but it appears that the confusion far from subsiding has increased substantially since their publications.

One thing is sure: the warning of the former Pope John Paul II to the European Parliament on the 11th of October 1988 remains valid. These are the prophetic words uttered at the time: “If the religious and Christian substratum of this continent is marginalized in its role as inspiration of ethical and social efficacy, we would be negating not 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.”

That is a powerful warning indeed which, it appears, was wholly ignored by the Constitutional Convention which produced the so called Treaty of Lisbon (i.e., the EU Constitution). In it the Christian heritage of Europe is not even mentioned and is reduced to a banal statement such as “spiritual leanings.” It is almost as if one ought to be ashamed of such a heritage or at the very least one ought to hide it under a bushel. The constitution in fact, reads like a banal commercial document and lacks inspiration and a call to ideals beyond the mere political or crassly economic considerations. As Jefferson aptly warned the US at the beginning of its political life: those who sacrifice freedom for economic advantages, end up losing both.

Are we witnessing the dissolution of a polity built on fragile foundations or a mere economic crisis (as expressed in Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy, five of the most important members of the EU)? It’s hard to tell. Some sustain that the crisis will be eventually resolved and the EU will go on to fulfill its political destiny as a powerful confederation of nations. But the issue goes deeper than that: it is an issue that has to do with the very values and the cultural identity of such a union. As mentioned, I have written various articles in Ovi on such a issue. In this one I will attempt to explain what some consider an oxymoron: a Christian Democratic political approach which conforms to the cultural identity of Europe. 

In the first place it should be reiterated that Christian democracy is not a nostalgic throw back to the medieval Holy Roman Empire intolerant of all religions outside of Christianity. Far from it. The key to the conception of Christian democracy as held and practiced by Schuman, Adenauer and De Gasperi, three important founding fathers of the EU, was the belief that democracy must be based on a “weltanschauung” – a worldview – that provides a complete account of the universe, man, and politics.

These founding fathers were acutely aware that part of the appeal of totalitarianism, be of the right or of the left, was the promise of a complete worldview, in contrast to democracy which was seen as a formal procedure that was neutral about outcomes or that simply managed the clash of competing interests. Moreover, while communism and fascism offered complete totalitarian worldviews, they were based on “atheistic materialism” which the founding fathers steadfastly opposed for reducing the individual to a mere automaton or clog in the machinery of the state. As they saw it, politics was the struggle between competing weltanschauungs; and democracy could be firmly established in a post-war Europe only by possessing a worldview that could compete successfully with Marxism and Fascism of whatever stripe. What this democracy needed was a spiritual worldview to replace atheistic materialism and to prevent its own degeneration into egoistic hedonistic materialism or a return to a rabid xenophobic form of nationalism. Fortunately, they argued, Western democracy had such a worldview and it was called Christianity.

Now, what is striking about this position is that it views the formation of the Christian Democratic Unions of post-war Europe as non-denominational parties open to all people, while insisting on a platform that stated the following: The Christian foundation of the Democratic Union is the absolutely necessary and decisive factor. We want to replace the materialistic ideology of National Socialism with a Christian view of the world. Only Christian precepts guarantee justice, order, moderation, the dignity and liberty of the individual and thus true and genuine democracy. We regard the lofty view that Christianity takes of human dignity, of the value of each single man, as the foundation and directive of our work in the political, economic, and cultural life of our people.

The puzzling feature of the above statement is its mixture of non-denominationalism and explicit Christian foundations. The puzzle arises when we learn that all the three above-mentioned founding fathers were devout practicingCatholics; two of them, Schuman and De Gasperi, have even been proposed for canonization, meaning that they practiced and exemplified Christian virtues to an heroic degree. Moreover, they were deeply influenced by the social teachings of the Catholic Church expressed in papal encyclicals such as Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum and Pius XI’s Quadragesimo Anno. They discovered in these encyclicals a comprehensive and coherent program inspired by faith but quite practical in terms of modern society.

To resolve the puzzle in the founding fathers’ position, one must first grasp that their affirmation of a Christian Democratic Union is non-denominational – open to Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and secular people alike. It is possible because it offers a moral vision to all people: the belief in the innate dignity of every human being as the basis of democratic equality and freedom, and the grounding of this principle on faith in God and the Western heritage of Christianity. The founding fathers believed that all people could rally around this conception of human dignity and could accept its democratic implications as a common basis for sacred and secular outlooks. This hope eventually became a crucial article of faith in modern Christianity, a faith that is more and more explicitly articulated by political leaders, churches and theologians in the course of the twentieth century. The crucial insight here is that Christianity and liberal democracy are two sides of the same coin – the sacred and secular sides of a common conception of human dignity that is in principle accessible to believers as well as nonbelievers, even if the ultimate source and foundation is Christian.

And of course the logical last inquiry here is this: how would non-Christians react to the notion of a Christian Europe? Especially those non-Christians living and working in Europe. And, are we to exclude non-Christian nations such as Turkey for example? How would the founding fathers reply to such a question? They would probably answer 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. Which is to say, the voice of Christianity should not be eliminated from the public agora and it should have an equal right to be heard there with all the other voices.

Indeed, there is something ironic, bordering on the tragic in observing that some of those most opposed to any reference to religion or Christianity in the draft Constitution were at the forefront of opposition to Turkish membership in the Union. The founding fathers would probably consider it 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. Why would anyone within a polity that respects free speech and genuine democracy fear the recognition and acknowledgment of the dominant culture (i.e., Christianity) as an empirical historical fact?  Is it not a shortsighted social and political strategy for a body politic to be based on the rejection of one’s history and heritage? Can such a polity survive for very long? History will eventually render a final verdict based on the success or failure of the Union, but meanwhile  John-Paul’s prophesy remains as an ominous warning. Let those who have ears hear.


  
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