EU Amnesia

You would think it would be difficult to eliminate God from the history of Europe. That's not just because of its great cathedrals or its museums full of religious art. But as Kenneth L. Woodward writes in the New York Times, the ideas that made Europe a great civilization were born out of the Christian faith. Unfortunately, many Europeans today -- most of whom now live in intensely secular societies -- have short memories. At the European Union's recent constitutional convention in Brussels, after heated debate, delegates voted to leave out of the preamble to the constitution all references to God or to Christianity. Secularist forces led by delegates from France prevailed over dissenting votes from Germany, Italy, the Vatican, and a few other countries. The section of the preamble that deals with the sources of Europe's values now merely mentions "the cultural, religious, and humanist inheritance of Europe." The leaders of the European Union have not yet voted on the new constitution, and several countries are still fighting to include references to the God of the Bible. The constitution, as it currently stands at least, is a sad commentary on how much postmodern man has forgotten -- even postmodern religious man -- for many who voted against the references to Christianity call themselves Christians, including the president of the convention, a French Roman Catholic. Woodward quotes an Irish delegate as saying, "I am most firmly convinced that God is everywhere. I am very doubtful how apt a place Article Two in the constitution is for Him to appear in." In other words, religion is okay -- as a private practice. But it has no business in the public square even as a fact of history. What the delegates don't seem to realize is that if their ancestors had believed that, they wouldn't have the privileges they enjoy today. It was not just "religion" that shaped Europe's heritage. It was a specific religion with its own unique, transforming set of values. According to Woodward, "Surely it was Christianity that made the human person, as a child of God, central to European values. And it was the canon law of the Catholic Church, the oldest legal system in the West, that nurtured respect for law long before the rise of Europe's nation-states." Though it is considered politically incorrect to say so, the heritage of the West is like none other the world has ever seen. It gave us new concepts of law, government, and human rights -- based on biblical values. Its artists and composers created masterpieces that have lasted for centuries -- to glorify God. In the sciences, in literature, in mathematics, in medicine, and in so many other areas, the story is the same. If Europe ignores the pivotal role of Christianity in the development of its culture, Woodward writes, it rewrites history and "disavows its own past." No wonder Europe is losing its moral authority in the world. We've often said here at BreakPoint that the Christian faith affects every area of our lives. The history of Europe provides a perfect example. It's impossible to avoid the obvious presence of God in the story of Western civilization. But as the European constitutional convention proves, unless we in the West make an effort to study and preserve and, yes, fight for the precious heritage we have been given, the obvious is all too easy to avoid. For further reading: Kenneth L. Woodward, "An Oxymoron: Europe without Christianity," New York Times, 14 June 2003. (Archived article; costs $2.95 to retrieve. Or call 1-877-3-CALLBP for a free copy.) Patrick Quinn, "Nations Debate on God in EU Constitution," Associated Press, 20 June 2003. "Europe's proposed constitution: Where to file it," The Economist, 19 June 2003. Janet Bush, "Who asked for a European Constitution?EU Observer, 18 June 2003. Philip Jenkins, The New Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (Oxford University Press, 2002). Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Eerdmans, 1990). Vincent Carroll and David Shiflett, Christianity on Trial: Arguments against Anti-Religious Bigotry(Encounter, 2001).


Chuck Colson


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