When one hears the phrase ‘the Christian roots of Europe’, it sounds slightly pious; sanctimonious even. Consequently, it’s rather off-putting, as if one conveniently forgets the Inquisition, witch hunts, immolation of heretics or, by contrast, Calvinist optimism arising from God’s superintending providence over all human activity. It points to something which is partially true, and contemporary Europe and indeed North America remain profoundly indebted economically to their respective Christian pasts. Even the transnational ambition of the European Union reflects the desire for a secularised Christendom. Brussels builds on the memory of an older form of European unity, however, one wounded by the Reformation and then demolished by ideology and nationalism. But too often people speak about the Christian roots of Europe in a nostalgic, retrovisual way, chromatically blurring the historical lens. They use it to evade a harder and more important question: whether or not Europe has a Christian future and, if it does, what will it look like in a more threatening and less secure world.
Some are arguing, with considerable alarm, that the influx of other relentlessly evangelical faiths and the manifest flaws in the fabric of multiculturalism signal the twilight not only of a post-Enlightenment modernism but also of the capitalist free trade entity that modern economies have become. Reliance on credit bubbles and the presupposition that the global economy must, almost by definition, increase year on year is not necessarily a certainty, and if this turns out to be true, a new paradigm must be sought. If the old wineskin must be discarded as no longer fit for the well-being of the species, what will its replacement look like?
British politicians are arguing, using economic modelling, (thus more or less futilely due to extreme unreliability) that people will be worse off in the short term if the Brexiteers have their way, and sensible folk should huddle under the European umbrella, its flawed and tattered adherence to some form of Christianity notwithstanding. Over centuries, the politicisation of religion is a de facto weapon in the election arsenal, and everyone routinely takes full advantage of voters’ belief systems in order to extract the maximum number of votes. But, Europe has discarded all but the sentimentality of faith, John Calvin’s proto-democratic thinking or Pope Francis’ generous ingathering of a dozen Syrian refugees both being irrelevant, one obscured by the beneficent overlay of history, the other by sheer tokenism, neglecting the political weight of his gesture.
People are saying, in their different ways, that ‘we can’t go on like this’ and, as if grasping at straws, far Left and far Right proponents have multiplied and in consequence allowed wild cards like Donald Trump to make a dent in established thinking, or, if you prefer, shot a few holes in the armour of political correctness. Some have used rather catchy little phrases like ‘sleepwalking to oblivion’ in order to buttress quite divergent political standpoints.
Perhaps one great visionary may arise to sweep aside all the economic and political clutter and set the world on a path to a better, brighter future. Ah. I seem to have heard that somewhere before.