Christianity:A Private Affair or Part of the European Identity? – Part I

Christianity:A Private Affair or Part of the European Identity? – Part I

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In his book A Christian Europe? Europe and Christianity: Rules of Commitment first published in Italy as Un’Europa Cristiana, professor JHH Weiler, of New York University, who has studied the process of European integration for more than twenty-five years, speaks of a European Christian ghetto. Such a provocative statement is of course a mere metaphor rooted in a sad reality used purposefully by Dr. Weiler to jolt people out of their complacency. It should also be prefaced at the outset that Professor Weiler is neither a Christian nor a Catholic but a practicing Jew. This is important because in his knowledge of the history of the Church and its importance for the EU’s identity, he puts many Christians to shame.

Weiler writes that the manifestations of the external walls of this ghetto are very much in evidence in the refusal to include in the Preamble to the European Union Charter of Rights even a modest reference to Europe’s religious heritage, completely ignoring the request of the former Pope John Paul II. In the recent draft Constitution there is still no reference to Europe’s Christian heritage–but a generic allusion to its religious inheritance tucked between the cultural and the humanist…!

What exactly does Dr. Weiler mean by the internal walls of the European Christian ghetto? The reason he calls them “internal” is that these are walls created by Christians themselves. This fact for Weiler is even more striking than the refusal of the Conventions to make any explicit reference to Christianity. He points out that despite the explicit Catholic orientation of the founding fathers of the European construct, there isn’t one major work, in any language, that explores in depth the Christian heritage and the Christian meaning of European integration. While writing his book  Weiler pulled out from the library of his university 79 books published in the previous three years on the general phenomenon of European integration. None of them had a single allusion in the index to Christianity and its values. Weiler then writes that we ought not be surprised that the Convention failed to make a reference to the Christian heritage of European integration, if that Christian heritage has not been proclaimed, explored, debated, and made an integral part of the discourse of European integration by Christian scholars themselves.

This is puzzling indeed. Weiler has three possible explanations for the phenomenon. The first is a puzzling internalization of the false philosophical and constitutional premise of the most extreme forms of laicit‡ (secularity) as practiced, for example, in France. Freedom of religion is of course guaranteed and rightly so is freedom from religious coercion. But on top of that there is the steadfast conviction that there can be no allusion or reference to religion in the official public space of the State, that such allusions are considered a transgression. A transgression of what exactly?

There is the naÔve belief that for the State to be assiduously secular it needs to practice religious neutrality. Weiler considers this false on two counts: first, there is no neutral position in a binary option. For the State to abstain from any religious symbolism is no more neutral than for the state to espouse some forms of religious symbolism. The religiosity of large segments of the population and the religious dimension of the culture are objective data. Denying these facts simply means favoring one worldview over the other, masking it as neutrality.

The second explanation is that to accept that view of the relationship between State and religion is also to accept a secular (basically 18th-century) definition of what religion in general, and Christianity in particular, are. It is a vision that derives from the culture of rights which treats religion as a private matter by equating freedom of religion with freedom of speech, of belief, and of association. But then Weiler asks this crucial question: can one accept that Christianity be consigned to the realm of the private by the secular authorities of the State? That question is not to imply that Weiler does not believe in the liberal constitutional order with its guarantees of democracy and freedom. He does indeed, but he also believes in a vigorous and articulate religious voice and viewpoint in the public spaces guaranteed by constitutional democracies.