Europe's dead. And we're not far behind

Dateline: Thu 28 Sep 2006

George Weigel is a noted scholar and theologian, and he would never say what I just wrote in the above headline.

But that was the essential message of his talk a week ago at DePauw University, albeit sprinkled with some potentially good news towards the end.

His points: Europe spent 77 years in bloody, violent "civil war" from WWI in 1914, thru WWII, into the Cold War and finally grinding down with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The result of all that turmoil is that Europe is in effect "sapped" -- it is less interested in democracy and more in bureaucracy, in governments that dole out services and in effect kill the human spirit. As a worldview, Europe is akin to Kantian-secular humanist, whereas the U.S., Weigel said, is more Hobbsian in perspective.

I know, I know, this is inty stuff.

But it gets better.

Not surprisingly, Weigel -- who wrote a biography of Pope John Paul II -- focused on Poland as being an exception to the death rattle that Europe is experiencing. Poland, he pointed out, was virtually wiped off the map of Europe from 1795 until after WWI in 1918, but yet the Polish nation has survived.

How did it happen? The Poles kept alive a central identity in their love of language, culture, alphabet, literature, drama, poetry and religion, said Weigel.

"The most dynamic force is cultural....what people believe and worship and honor is what is going to drive the human story over time," said Weigel.

Europe, he added, has pretty much written off its Christian-Judaic heritage in favor of atheistic humanism (Kant, Marx, Nietzche). In fact, when the European Union a few years ago was establishing a preamble to its EU treaty/constitution, the nations could not agree to include Christianity as one of the sources of European civilization.

"This is a little odd," said Weigel, "to suggest that nothing happened between the Middle Ages and Descartes, a period of 1,400 years -- it is an absurd suggestion. Europe is in the process of cutting itself off from its deepest Christian roots."

"Can a political community established in an act of historical amnesia defend itself?" he asks. "Not just militarily, but can it give an account of who it is.....if everything is simply utilitarian, if we are simply polite, if we are tolerant to others, then that account will not survive."

Meanwhile -- you know what is coming -- Muslim populations that were invited to Europe to fill labor shortages in the 1950s are growing both in intensity of belief and numbers abroad.

The numbers are potentially alarming. The Muslim birth rate in Europe is three times higher than the non-Muslim one. Assuming current trends continue, the Muslim population of Europe will nearly double by 2015, while the non-Muslim population will shrink by 3.5 percent.

Europe's lack of confidence in its roots -- in its heritage and identity -- is its fatal flaw.

The good news? Weigel is bullish on European youth, many of whom seem to reject their parents culture of death; he is pleased by the rediscovery of Judaism in this country and the vitality of evangelical Christianity and Roman Catholicism in the U.S.; he sees Poland, Slovakia and Lithuania as "signs of hope" in the European Union because of their robust Christianity; and he thinks China could be a great mission success story.



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