From the editor’s desk
‘Christophobia’ is overstated11 June 2011
The conservative American author George Weigel and Pope Benedict XVI are known for their pessimistic portrayal of the state of Europe’s soul, which they see as emptying itself of spiritual, and specifically Christian, content. During his visit to Croatia, the Pope repeated his warning that the continent faced a spiritual crisis: “If, in keeping with the prevailing modern idea, conscience is reduced to the subjective field to which religion and morality have been banished, then the crisis of the West has no remedy and Europe is destined to collapse in on itself.” Just before his election as Pope, the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger co-authored a book with a Foreword by Mr Weigel whose title speaks for itself – Without Roots: the West, relativism, Christianity and Islam. A few years ago, Mr Weigel himself published The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America, and politics without God, again whose provocative title speaks for itself.
Mr Weigel said in a lecture at the reopening of St Patrick’s Church, in London’s Soho, that a new form of evangelising Catholicism was needed to challenge the West’s growing “Christophobia”, which had been on “raw and ugly display in the months preceding Benedict XVI’s visit to the United Kingdom last September”. Secularist opposition to Christianity having a voice in the “public square” – in effect, what the Pope meant by reducing conscience to the subjective field – could have a severe impact, Mr Weigel warned. He even cited an American bishop talking of the prospect of martyrdom.
As events proved, the British media vastly overstated the protest movement prior to the Pope’s state visit last autumn. The favourable public reaction to the visit was the very opposite of “evidence of the West’s growing Christophobia”, as the Pope himself seemed to acknowledge. The Catholic Church’s understanding of historical trends in Europe needs to be much more nuanced than Mr Weigel’s simplifications. If it bases its remedies on a flawed diagnosis, they will not work.
The last 60 years of European history, which saw the rise of the European Union, are an unprecedented story of peace and prosperity. This is undoubtedly because the underlying principles of the European project, the so-called “social market”, came largely from Catholic Social Teaching rather than the American free-market economic model espoused by Mr Weigel. Never before has there been such a period without war between one or other of the EU’s member states, the result of a specifically Christian commitment by post-Second World War European statesmen. Never before have so many European Governments conducted themselves in accordance with the recognisably Christian principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Although it took until the end of the Cold War for these benefits to reach Eastern Europe, for which considerable credit is due to Pope John Paul II, they arrived eventually, proof of their attractive power.
The result – in solidarity between nations, health, civil peace, racial tolerance and sexual equality, education, quality of life, care for the environment – has been extraordinary. Is this not a triumph of the human spirit that ought to be celebrated, not least by Christians? There is room for sympathetic criticism, but dire predictions of disaster are unhelpful and unfair.
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