MEPs: ‘The EU is of a secular and neutral nature’
But all this fuss about symbolism is utterly peripheral to the very real and immediate tensions Europe faces. And Cranmer purposely distinguishes the EU from Europe, because Europe is an undeniable geographic, cultural, and religious entity which has been forged through and endured for millennia, while the EU is an artificial political construct of just fifty years, which will go the way of all ephemeral empires. And while Europe includes the EU, there is no sense in which the EU is synonymous with Europe, whatever politicians may tediously intone.
Tom Holland writing in The New Statesman has an excellent article on the tensions faced by Europe and the EU. He looks at the turbulence in the financial markets and the West’s decline relative to China and India. And also to ‘increasing tension with the Muslim world’, the only antidote to which is that ‘Europe must come to terms with what we owe to our Christian past’.
The whole article is worth reading, so Cranmer shall not reproduce great swathes. Mr Holland’s essential thesis is that many of the defining crises of the 21st century ‘have emerged from a swirl of identities and misunderstandings that reach back ultimately to a distant, medieval past’: the Crusades come back to haunt us in the attacks of September 11th and July 7th, and anti-Muslim sentiment rumbles on as publishers of books about Mohammed get fire-bombed, and parties rise to power in Austria which are pledged to ban the building of minarets.
It is in this context that EU designated 2008 as its official Year of Intercultural Dialogue. Yet, as anyone with a brain knows, ‘intercultural’ has to be ‘interfaith’, for the two are fused at the deepest level of personal and national identity. But this is somewhat at variance with the EU’s assertion that that ‘the religious and political spheres should be rigorously ring-fenced’. As one group of MEPs protested, in an official letter of complaint to the president of the European Parliament: ‘The EU is of a secular and neutral nature’.
Cranmer is with Pope Benedict XVI in his opposition to the EU’s militant secularism. One cannot be ‘neutral’ in matters of religion - pretending to broker between ‘equal’ faiths and impartial in arbitration between competing worldviews - for that neutrality presupposes a higher level of knowledge and constitutes itself an article of faith. There is no neutrality to be had because neutrality needs as much justification as any other position. Pope Benedict asked last year: ‘Is it not surprising that today's Europe, while hoping to be seen as a community of values, more and more seems to contest that universal and absolute values exist?’ Yet he ought to have made it clear that the EU has developed its own universal and absolute articles of faith which are not neutral, but decidedly anti. If a state seeks to be neutral in the effect of its policies then it requires a greater level of state intervention to ensure that inequalities are negated.
It is curious indeed that the Constitution for Europe included in its preamble the EU’s indebtedness to the all that was bequeathed by ancient Greece and Rome, but then jumped straight to the achievements of the Enlightenment as though ‘everything between Marcus Aurelius and Voltaire was to be reckoned mere backwardness and superstition’.
Mr Holland notes: ‘The question of what precisely Europe owes to its Christian past may be neuralgic for many - but that is precisely why it needs to be aired, and not closed down’. While Brussels is intent on rendering unto Ceasar that which belongs to Caesar, it seems to forget that Caesar himself ended up a Christian. And this opened a theological can of worms in the interpretation of the coming of the Kingdom of God which endures to this day.
But the EU secularists are lost in their own myths. There is an assertion that the Enlightenment emerged like Dawkins' origin of the universe - ex nihilo - while, in fact, all that is best within it is fundamentally of Christian origin. Interactive pluralism had its genesis in the Enlightenment through the questioning of authority which gave birth to political liberalism, but what is best in liberalism is what is best in Christianity, since ultimately interactive pluralism is founded on a Christian heritage. There is therefore a continuing role for the Church of England in the defence of liberalism as a natural consequence of what began with the Protestant Reformation. But instead of a paternalistic imposition of morality or a doctrine of God, its primary function should be the acutely political one of calling the state to account by obstinately asking the state about its accountability and the justification of its priorities – at both a national and EU level.