Jürgen Habermas, the famous non-christian German philosopher stunned his admirers not long ago by proclaiming, “Christianity, and nothing else, is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy, the benchmarks of Western civilization. To this day, we have no other options [than Christianity]. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source. Everything else is postmodern chatter.”
In pursuit to this quote and our last European newsletter, we would like to give you access again to some basic thoughts in the spiritual landscape of our continent.
Thanking you and asking you to help us spread the word, we remain,
The Team Europe for Christ in Vienna
„Foreign Body or Roots – Christianity in Europe“
(Shortened version of the speech given by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn at the „St.Michael’s Reception“ in Berlin on September 12th, 2012)
Esteemed Ladies and Gentlemen,
Do we have a great future ahead of us? We, the Europeans, the European Union? Are not the signs pointing towards storm, towards crisis? Will the European integration project be able to withstand the present tensions, tensions which will likely increase? I am certain that you won’t expect an answer from me on these questions. Rather I will try to present to you some thoughts on the relationship between Christianity and the European project.
Is not the time close at hand where the majority of European society says to Christians: Your values are not ours. You do not belong to us! Has not Christianity become, in the mean time, a foreign body in secular Europe? The same Christianity, which was obviously the one of the very roots of European identity – or still is? Increasingly, Christians who take their Christianity seriously feel themselves marginalized. Yes even discriminated against. The OSCE, based in Vienna, has established a special office to observe and document cases of discrimination in countries of the OSCE. They have their hands full!
In more and more areas the “mainstream” is headed in a different direction than Christianity. If we take a look at the past 40 years then the conclusion seems inescapable: Christianity is becoming increasingly marginal. I give this as a sober diagnosis. As in 1974 the government of the socialist party under Bruno Kreisky set to work to exempt abortion from penalty, there ensued intensive public debate, leading to a vote in Parliament and a referendum. When asked by a journalist whether he thought that there were people in Austria who would have a problem with the so-call “termination-solution” he answered, “I can imagine that very, very religious people might have a problem with it.” That sounded as if these people were “very, very” strange. “It’s not necessarily the case that Kreisky meant it to be derogatory. But it certainly was in any case. The vote was extremely close: 93 to 88 votes for the “termination solution.” A referendum for the protection of life received wide support, but remained ineffective. And, until this day, no governmental administration has managed to put into effect the “accompanying measures” which were promised in order to improve the protection of life.
It seems to me even more tragic, that Kriesky said the resistance to abortion was coming from “very, very religious people.” The arguments used by the resistance, although coming primarily from Christians and the Church, lead by Cardinal König, and motivated by strong faith, were not primarily religious in nature. It was fully about the recognition and the legal protection of human life; in other words, a fundamental human right. Pope Benedict XVI accurately pointed this out in his speech to the German Parliament (September 22nd, 2011). As the Pope stated, what is the reason behind the fact that “in the last half century a dramatic change in the situation has occurred”? He continues, “The idea of natural law is seen today as if it were a special Catholic teaching that is not worth discussing outside of the Catholic realm, so that one is almost ashamed to mention the word at all.”
Since the seventies this development has continued consistently in the same direction. After legally relinquishing protection at the beginning of life, inevitably came the same fate for the end of life. The debate about euthanasia has spread throughout more and more European countries with relentless persistency. Austria is (still) in the fortunate position of there being consensus amongst all parties against euthanasia and for the hospice movement. We owe much to the powerful testimony of Cardinal König, who, a just a few weeks before his death coined the phrase, “People should die on the hand of others, not by the hand of others.” How long will this consensus in Austria hold up against pressure from the European mainstream?
Within this apparently unstoppable, irreversible development, is Christianity in Europe in inexorable retreat, as it takes action from one defensive rearguard maneuver to the next? Increasingly, dedicated Christians find themselves in the minority. In the various ethics committees, holding the positions they do, they are often considered as the “last runners.”
I think we have not reflected enough on what this marginalization means for Christian identity in secular Europe of today. How far can a political compromise that bends to the parliamentary majority go? There is certainly room for compromise in much legislative material. Yet Pope Benedict pointed out in the German Parliament, “in foundational questions of law that deal with the dignity of the human person and the dignity of humanity, the principle of the majority is insufficient.”
The temptation becomes strong, as St. Paul warns, “to be conformed to this world.” We then lack the strength to resist, or the courage to be alternative. The attempt to give space to “Christian values” in the status quo “doctrine” of secular society usually fails because much of what is in the Church is already so secularized that it lacks profile and is hardly to be distinguished from the secular world around. Jesus said, “If the salt looses its flavor, it is good for nothing.” (Mt 5:13) The much-discussed word of Pope Benedict regarding “de-secularization” is the counter piece to “secularization” of the Church.
Paradoxically, a “de-secularized” church is better suited to openness to the world in the sense the II Vatican Council intended: “She opens herself to the world, not to win people to an institution with its own claims to power, but in order to lead people to herself because she leads them to God.”
This “de-secularization” certainly does not mean withdrawal from all institutional aspects of Christianity, but rather means becoming freer for the essence of Christianity, the Gospel and its witness. It is especially in a secular society that the believer has the freedom to bring his conviction into play. But he shouldn’t be self-pitying, and also not pretentious.
Yet deeds speak much more loudly than words. Perhaps we Christians need to trust more that generous works of faith, free from self-interest, may often achieve more than even important legislative measures. Hardly anyone in recent decades has been more convincing than Mother Teresa of Calcutta. In the deeply painful struggle for the protection of life she found the only convincing answer, “Do not kill them! Give them to me!”
Foreign body or roots of Europe: Christianity. In many a secular critique of Christianity is there not also a hidden longing, that there may really be an authentically lived-out Christianity? Secretly we know, whether secular or believer, that the sustainable roots of Europe are here. We come close to this genuine but estranged Christianity surely enough, only for a price: one’s own conversion. And this is a lifelong process.
I thank you for your attention.
A service by www.europe4christ.net