Samuel Gregg on the silence of the church in a declining Europe
Religion & Liberty Online

Samuel Gregg on the silence of the church in a declining Europe

In a recent article for The Catholic World Report, Acton’s research director, Samuel Gregg discusses the European Union. He criticizes it for its aggressive secularism and separating itself from its Christian roots; Gregg also addresses the weakness of the Catholic Church in addressing social issues. Gregg is not wholly optimistic about the future of Europe, but nonetheless, calls for European leaders to return to their Christian foundations as the only viable solution in managing their decline. In criticizing the EU, Gregg says:

Today, however, the EU is light-years away from the optimism which marked the Rome Treaty. Poll after poll shows profound dissatisfaction with the EU in many member-states. The European Commission’s headquarters, Brussels, is now shorthand for “unaccountable bureaucrats presided over by out-of-touch career politicians who live in a self-referential bubble.” Britain’s June 2016 decision to exit the EU was simply the most direct expression of how negatively many ordinary Europeans regard the European integration project.

It’s also true that the EU has long since wandered far from any generically Christian outlook. Symptoms of this range from the EU’s upside-down understanding of the principle of subsidiarity, to many EU agencies’ promotion of gender theory: something contrary to everything that reason and Revelation tell us about the nature of human beings. Concerning the historical fact that Christianity has been the dominant religious force to shape Europe, many European political leaders tiptoe around the subject, preferring to speak of “religious and humanist influences.”

If there is any normative vision that Europeans and non-Europeans alike associate with today’s EU, it is surely secularism. This has little to do with a healthy secularity which distinguishes the temporal from the spiritual realm. Rather, it’s an ideological secularism: one that involves adherence to a plastic view of human nature, the grounding of rights upon subjective feelings, a hostility to natural law, a preferential option for top-down bureaucratic solutions to most problems, and notions of tolerance that seek to crush dissent from secularist claims.

Gregg laments Europe’s overt secularism. He sees the EU as posing a threat to addressing real problems in Europe. One should look to the Church for guidance in times like these when secular governments fail to manage decline. However, Gregg is uncertain about the effectiveness of the Church in Europe as it has adopted many secular values. He says:

Secularization in the sense of a drift away from regular religious practice has been happening in Europe for a long time. But there’s little question that the decline in Catholic practice throughout Europe accelerated after Vatican II. Nor is Catholicism in Europe growing in the way that it is, for example, in Africa. It’s also the case that much of the post-Vatican II Catholic response throughout Europe to these developments has proved ineffective.

For many post-Vatican II Western European Catholics, liberal theology seemed the best way to engage the secular European mind. But like all forms of theological liberalism, the effect was to empty much of Catholic life of any distinct content. It also encouraged Catholics to take their primary cues from whatever is happening in the world (here they gravitated towards secular left-liberal preoccupations) rather than the Scriptures and 2000 years of Christian reflection. This left many European Catholics with little to say about anything which can’t be said by your average secularist.

Gregg concludes his article with a call to action for European religious leaders as well as Christians who are confused in a time when leadership is rather quiet.

What Europe needs are religious leaders willing to gently but clearly remind its peoples of some truths they aren’t likely to hear elsewhere. That, for instance, European civilization existed long before the EU and can’t be reduced to modern Europe’s particularities. Or, that the West’s specifically religious roots are undeniably Jewish and Christian and thus open Europe to the fullness of the truth about God and man. Or, even more provocatively, that the Catholic Church isn’t a loosely-religious NGO that’s going to limit its commentary about Europe to nebulous references to common values, dialogue, diversity, and other staples of secular discourse. The business of the Church is teach the truth. And that includes speaking the truth about Europe and Christianity’s role in shaping Europe—for better and for worse.

…For if Europe isn’t to lapse into managed decline amidst a strange mixture of sentimentalism and soft paganism, it desperately needs clear Christian witness to the truth about the decisive turn taken by the continent when Rabbi Saul of Tarsus crossed into mainland Europe sometime around 52 AD. As the successor of another Apostle of Rome, this would a great service which Francis could perform for the continent that is, after all, now his home.

To read the full article, click here.

Image: CCO