The Catholic Thing
Saving Europe: More Talledega, Less Sorbonne Print E-mail
By Austin Ruse   
Thursday, 19 June 2008

I once heard the only possible hope for the future of Europe and it came from the mouth of an orthodox Jew. He was responding to the sophisticated and erudite proposal of the elegant Italian statesman Marcello Pera. Pera, who was then president of the Italian Senate and published a book last year with Pope Benedict, spoke at a conference in Vienna sponsored by Cristophe Cardinal Schoenborn.

A non-believer, Pera proposed what Europe needs is a civic religion that is not overtly Christian but that has Christian attributes with which everyone can agree: civility, tolerance, compassion, dialogue. You will recognize these as the attributes par excellence of the modern secularist. Professor Joseph Weiler was asked to respond.

Weiler is an orthodox Jew. He is the Joseph Straus Professor of Law and European Union Jean Monnet Chair at New York University. He used to be the Manly Hudson Professor of Law and European Union Jean Monnet Chair at Harvard University. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Weiler is not a Bible thumper of either Old or New Testament. Yet the orthodox Jew Weiler rose that day in Vienna and said: "What Europe needs are more Europeans proclaiming the lordship of Jesus Christ."

Among the many things that startle about this response is that the orthodox Jew was alone at this mostly Catholic conference in saying such a thing. What startles even more was the language that he used. It was not the language of modulated European sophistication. It was the language of America and of American Evangelicals at that.

I was reminded of this exchange a few weeks ago when I attended another conference in Vienna, this one sponsored by John O'Sullivan and the Hudson Institute on the subject of Islam and secularism. There was a fair amount of Muslim panic at the conference, especially from British journalists in attendance. And there seemed to be a consensus that Europe is in deep trouble for a whole host of reasons, including Muslim immigration, lack of assimilation, and below replacement fertility of non-Muslim Europeans. One panel, though, seemed to touch the exact heart of the matter, and in touching it, drew tut-tuts from many of the largely conservative sophisticates at the conference.

The panel was made up of Southern Baptist theologians and historians. They spoke of Christendom, the history of Christian Europe, the Crusades and other similar matters of the faith. In the process they quoted quite a lot from scripture. Many were offended.

A demographer from Oxford sniffed that one sermon on Sunday was quite enough, let alone four. A visibly peeved legal scholar from Washington, D. C. said such language should be moderated since it would never reach the typical European and certainly wouldn’t reach his own secularized and skeptical children. Even after the panel ended, snipes at them continued through the day. Keep in mind that these Evangelical scholars were not sermonizing, waving their arms around, or damning anyone to hell. What they said was quite mild, yet drew anger from scholars who were otherwise puzzled as to why Europe was in decline.

A member of President Sarkozy's Cabinet once told me that France - as the "eldest daughter of the Church" - could never lose the faith. I suggested to her that she visit Ephesus. The Holy Mother spent her last days there and was assumed from there into Heaven. Ephesus was one of the ancient churches mentioned in the Gospels. Go there now. It is an archeological dig. There is a village a few miles away and in it there is no Christian church. But there are mosques. The faith does not grow on stones but only in human hearts.

And so the Southern Baptists had it right in Vienna a few weeks ago and so did Weiler before them. Europe is tired. Europe may be spent. Europe is almost certainly dying. The spread of radical social policies and their death-dealing pathologies, the epoch-ending birth rates, the death of marriage; all these are symptoms of a deeper malaise of the spirit. Europe can only be saved by "more Europeans proclaiming the lordship of Jesus Christ."

To reiterate: This is the language of America and of American Evangelicals and it is the language that has kept America percolating as the most religious country in the west. Catholics owe a great debt to Evangelicals for this kind of language. It may not be our language, but it is language that has protected this country from going the way of Europe.

European sophisticates will not find their answers at the Sorbonne. Go down to Talledega, Alabama. Go out to the Speedway where they pray before the NASCAR engines rev. Listen to how they speak about Jesus. Then take a little bit of Talledega back to Vienna and Paris and London. What other hope is there than for them to start praising the Lord and having babies?

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