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Two Forgotten Communities of the EU Cultural Identity 2/2
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2007-10-31 09:54:22
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As the poet John Keats aptly put it: the center does not hold. Where is the centripetal center to be found? I think it revolves around the central place that European civilization has given to the dignity of the human person since mixing barbarian customs with Christianity.

There is an anthropocentric vision carried on by that initial experiment which consists in the Christian traditional message that man is made in the image of God and that the Son of God sacrificed himself for Man. The Renaissance and Enlightenment tradition has this message too in a secular form when it declares that Man is the measure of all things and is therefore vested with great dignity and inalienable human rights. It cannot be stressed enough that the concept of inalienable human rights did not exist either in Ancient Greece or Ancient Rome.

Those two civilizations had exalted concepts of freedom but no radical transcendent opening toward the other. This unique concept is in fact derivative of Christianity despite Voltaire’s or Rousseau’s anti-religious stances. Thomas Jefferson would not have been able to devise it on his own by mere reason. It is here that I see the greatest silver-lining. When those two foundations of European thought are seen as having a common origin and man and his inherent dignity and its inalienable rights are placed in the center with no one excluded (as it was unfortunately done during the religious wars), then, and only then it becomes possible to bridge the gulf between secularism and religion in Europe and create a more authentically European ideological basis for the EU Constitution while retaining both freedom of religions and the separation of Church and State; a basis this which is pluralistic and diverse. Human rights must define the very image of Europe, they should be its emblem, the ideological benchmark for Europe’s internal politics in harmony with the UN international declaration on the same.

To return to the above mentioned silver-lining, Article 37 of the proposed EU Constitution together with article 10 of Europe’s Charter of Fundamental Rights are sufficient in themselves in defining the Church-State system that will govern the European Union. In those two articles religious freedom is given prominence. Here again this freedom is based on the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of the individual conscience. Another important principle established by Article 37 is that of a “dialogue” to be maintained between the Union and Europe’s religious communities whether Christian or not.

The implication here is clear: separation of Church, Synagogue, Mosque and State does not mean mutual ignorance reducing dialogue to caricature. The common good will benefit much more from a frank and transparent dialogue than by the Union turning a deaf ear to religion, as many continue to vociferously advocate. That can be achieved once the borders between religion and politics are clearly defined. Laicitè never meant that the Churches or the Synagogue or the Mosque be isolated in some kind of political ghetto. One item that needs improvement in the proposed Constitution is equal treatment of religious communities which is not even mentioned.

It seems to me that if equality is not protected then religious freedom is also endangered. Moreover, clear distinction need to be made between what constitutes the secular and what constitutes the spiritual. Only when those distinctions are clear can we understand that European civilization arises from a wonderful synthesis of religious and humanistic values.

This relationship in Europe’s cultural identity has unfortunately been obscured by a long process of secularization and almost irrational, I would dare say bigoted unfriendliness toward religion in general, and is hardly discernible any longer. One can only trust that after the rejection by the people of the present proposed constitution, those briefly outlined suggestions will at least be accorded a serious debated in any future drafting.


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Rene Wadlow2007-10-31 11:38:40
The center does not hold quote is not from John Keats but the poem "The Second Coming" of W.B. Yeats

Emanuel Paparella2007-10-31 14:48:34
Thank you for the correction Mr. Wadlow, and apologies to the readers. I discuss both poets in my philosophy and humanities (Ode to a Grecian Urn and The Second Coming); all the more why I ought not have confused them so easily but alas I am human too. In any case the point of the center that does not hold is not changed by the error.

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