Juergen Habermas on the Vision of a Post-Secular Europe – Part I
“A European community grounded only in political and economic cooperation of the member states would lack an intrinsic common bond. It would be built upon sand.”
The above quote is lifted from a brilliant essay published in the Fall of 2002 by Klaus Held titled, “The Origins of Europe with the Greek Discovery of the World”. The essay is a must read for anyone interested in exploring the very origins of European culture and concerned about its present trajectory and its future destination. Now that the whole Western world is in the midst of an unprecedented economic crisis, his words on the inadequacy of a mere economic vision with an attendant banal trade treaty parading as a constitution of sort, resonate with special vibrancy.
Held insists throughout his essay that to forget the vital component of religion, which was at the root of science and democracy’s appearance in ancient Greece, is to understand precious little of what makes Western cultural in general the unique culture that it is. This is a theme previously explored by Christopher Dawson (in his The Making of Europe, 1932) as well as by George Santayana, an atheist who nevertheless held that the enigma that is Europe will forever elude us without a clear and unbiased understanding of the phenomenon of Christianity.
Two years later, on June 9, 2004, Held’s watershed article was followed by a report by the European Policy Center in Brussels drafted by a senior research fellow, Dr. Jocelyne Cesari. In it Ms. Cesari reports that Europe is the only region of the world which has a general hostility toward religion—that Europeans have a tendency to explain every sign of backwardness in terms of religion.
The European tendency, according to this scholarly report, is to equate Muslim religion, and indeed all religions, with fanaticism. This phenomenon unique to Europe was also documented by the World Values Survey conducted by a group of social scientists who identify its roots in the Enlightenment Period, the period of Voltaire, the very icon of Enlightenment who while asserting that he would defend to death the right of dissent and free speech of any citizen, at the same time, and paradoxically, writes the famed “Mahomet, of Fanaticism” in 1745, without ever retracting his misguided tract. In fact, he dies cursing Dante whom he considered a bigoted Medieval (Gothic was his favored slur) poet and therefore not a great poet. That spirit, according to Cesari and the World Values Survey lives on today. But there are signs that the anti-religion virulence is in abeyance in Europe and one who detects those signs is none other than the present day European philosopher J¸rgen Habermas. He seems to detect what he calls a “post-secular” age on the European horizon. This has all the self-proclaimed secular humanists, who generally disdain religion and advocate its liquidation, a bit worried lately. Their strident vitriolic statements against religion have been on the increase lately. For they have always fantasized of being at the very cutting edge of what it means to be modern and “enlightened” and now feel such a position challenged not only by theologians and religious leaders but by a philosopher to boot.
The misnomer “secular humanism” was certainly not invented by the original European humanists in 14th century Italy. Its acknowledged father, Francesco Petrarca was a deacon of the Church and indeed most humanists were and remained pious believers. Secularism by itself is a neutral term distinguishing the sacred from the secular or temporal. Dante certainly made the distinction and places three Popes in hell for failing to make that distinction and confusing the sacred with the temporal. Indeed, Humanism by itself does not indicate an unfriendly stance toward religion.