Published December 13, 2004
Papal biographer George Weigel says that Europe is suffering from “Christophobia,” and he believes that the continent’s low birthrate is due, in part, to the widespread unbelief in God.
“It would be too simple to say that the reason Americans and Europeans see the world so differently is that the former go to church on Sundays and the latter don’t,” Weigel said when delivering a lecture Friday at the Gregorian University.
“But it would be a grave mistake to think that the dramatic differences in religious belief and practice in the United States and Europe don’t have something important to do with those different perceptions of the world,” he added.
Weigel said that Europe’s problems are also found and have repercussions in the United States, though not all of them.
“European high culture is, largely, Christophobic, and Europeans themselves describe their cultures and societies as ‘post-Christian,'” said Weigel, a senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, in Washington, D.C.
“Why did so many European intellectuals deem any reference to the Christian sources of contemporary European civilization a threat to human rights and democracy?” asked Weigel, who was invited to speak by the Gregorian’s School of Philosophy.
“Was there some connection between this internal European debate over Europe’s Constitution-making and the portrait in the European press of Americans as religious fanatics intent on shooting up the world?” inquired Weigel.
His answer is that Europe is going through a grave cultural and moral crisis.
“My proposal is that Europe is experiencing a crisis of cultural and civilizational morale whose roots are also taking hold in some parts of American society and culture,” he contended.
“Understanding this phenomenon requires something more than a conventional political analysis. Nor can political answers explain the reasons behind, perhaps, the most urgent issue confronting Europe today — the fact that Western Europe is committing demographic suicide,” Weigel said.
“That crisis of civilizational morale helps explain why European man is deliberately forgetting his history and is abandoning the hard work and high adventure of democratic politics, seeming to prefer the false domestic security of bureaucracy and the dubious international security offered by the U.N. system,” the American intellectual said.
In regard to the Church, Weigel said that the “Catholic Church believes it to be the will of God that Christians be tolerant of those who have a different view of God’s will, or no view of God’s will. Thus Catholics — and other Christians who share this conviction — can give an account of their defense of the other’s freedom even if the other, skeptical and relativist, finds it hard to give an account of the freedom of the Christian.”
He continued: “The debate over the invocation ‘Dei’ in the new European Constitution was also the present and the future, not just the past.
“Those who insisted that there be no overt recognition that Christianity played a decisive role in the formation of European civilization did not do so in the name of tolerance, despite their claims to the contrary. They did so because they are committed to the proposition that there can be politics without God.”
This position “is shared by more than a few American political, judicial, intellectual and cultural leaders. That is why Europe’s problem is our problem too,” he stressed.
Weigel will further address these and other issues in his forthcoming book, The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America and Politics Without God. The book is due out in the spring.
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. and holds EPPC’s William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.