Directions Back to the Public Square
Europe is in decline. Once the cradle of Western Civilization, it has turned away from that rich heritage to plod slowly toward the grave. The liberties, intellectual and otherwise, that once marked her universities, her churches, and her political offices have now diminished to the point of nearly disappearing altogether. And those liberties have been quickly replaced by dictums of political correctness that demand allegiance from all while providing relief to few.
At the heart of this faltering greatness is a rejection of one of the most fundamental building blocks of the West: namely, Christianity. In droves, Europeans have turned their backs on the old religion and in so doing, have unwittingly cut their ship free from an anchor that had kept them securely moored in a culture which was once the envy of the world.
This demise is chronicled in Exiting a Dead End Road: a collection of essays by a group of renowned attorneys, journalists, and legal scholars located throughout Europe and the United States. Subtitled A GPS for Christians in Public Discourse, the book urges believers to enter again the public forum in Europe and at the same time explains the difficulties presented by that very forum: which is now either highly secularized, in most cases, or increasingly walled in by Islam in others.
Exiting a Dead End Road opens with an essay by co-editor Gudrun Kugler which provides a cursory overview of the problems Christians face in Europe, as well as some succinct, substantive critiques of the secularism that has replaced Christianity there. These critiques succeed in showing two important things: First, that secularism is no substitute for Christianity and, secondly, that a neutral secularism—one that doesn’t seek to swallow-up and thereby expunge Christianity from the landscape—is a myth.
The first essay is followed by one that addresses the dangers of blending secularism with Christianity, aptly titled “Understanding the Secular Crisis of Christianity.” Michael Pruller makes clear that, once blended, Christianity loses its distinctiveness, leaving Europe with the “reality” that “there is almost nowhere where the Church still functions as an instance of social control”—both the moral and doctrinal high-ground have been abandoned.
The essays within Exiting a Dead End Road convey a continuity that carries the reader to a deeper level of understanding regarding Europe’s secular/religious morass. In the midst of this passage to a deeper understanding, Dr. Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna, calls Christians to deal with a fundamental question in his essay, “Christianity—Alien Presence or Foundation of the West?” According to Cardinal Schönborn, the Church of the twenty-first century is both an alien presence and a foundation: it “represents a foreign body . . . yet . . . still evokes a feeling of home.”
For those reasons, Cardinal Schönborn actually takes an optimistic view of the Church. Believing, as he does, that “the situation of Christianity in Europe [is] rather exciting and full of opportunity,” he sees the admittedly low points of Church influence and spiritual exercises as similar to the way the Church looked at various points in time before it rose to a predominate role in Europe.
About a third of the way through the book is an essay by Piero A. Tozzi, senior legal counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund, wherein the decline of universal rights is demonstrated to help the reader see that—minus an acknowledgement of, and adherence to, universal rights—the losses suffered by the Church must also be suffered by society at large. For instance, Tozzi writes about the “restoration” of ’48: a moment wherein both Europe and the world were emerging from the Nuremburg trials and subsequently reaching for “a universe whose rules were governed by natural law.” There was bald revulsion at what the Nazis had done, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) was penned to serve as a restraint on such things in the future. Tozzi is describing a point in time where even the secularists were brought face to face with the heinous outworking of Nietzsche’s “God is dead” paradigm, and even they had to seek a means to constrain behavior by re-asserting universal rights across the board.
Ironically, one of Exiting a Dead End Road’s most widely proposed remedies for the current religious malaise is a reassertion of the very “universal rights” that Tozzi discusses, but rights more properly designated as natural, rather than merely political or social, rights. This is because natural rights, being instituted by God in nature, precede any collection of universal rights which men design or to which men aspire.
The crucial differences between universal rights (synonymous with human rights) and natural rights are juxtaposed, and neatly dissected, in an essay by Jakob Cornides titled “Human Rights or Natural Law?” This essay traces the move from a recognition of, and dependence upon, laws discoverable in nature to the development of, and dependence upon, laws written by man. Cornides shows the reader how the latter scenario has actually given rise to occasions where “what was once called a ‘crime’ is now turned into a ‘right,’ or even a ‘fundamental right.’”
In Exiting a Dead End Road, it is evident that part of the solution to Europe’s problems begins with the Church using its writings and teachings to propound the inherent dignity accorded to mankind via Natural Law. As the Church does this, the authors are hopeful Europeans will once again value life enough to bring more children into the world, thus remedying their current abysmal birthrates, and that abortion will be less and less condoned, therefore less and less practiced.
Some of the best advice for helping Europe regain its foothold in the world is found in the last essay of the book, which was written by a Jewish author, lawyer Joseph Weiler. His essay, “Ways Out of the Ghetto,” warns Europeans to avoid the psychological trappings of “the (false) reason-faith dichotomy,” societal and intellectual pressures to keep religion a private affair, and the all-too common habit of equating a “commitment to an ethical life” with genuinely undertaking the Christian life.
Exiting a Dead End Road accurately details Europe’s fall from the more noble place she once occupied in this world, and the admonitions it contains for the Church and laity alike are spot on. Readers may be disappointed, however, at the relatively brief time spent examining the danger Islam poses to the West, and particularly to Europe at this time. (This is not to say that it is left completely unmentioned. In the essay, “Towards a Better Understanding of Freedom of Speech,” Mats Tunehag cited various examples of Muslim persecution of Christians in Europe, and Tozzi in his essay makes the point that even the best of societies “are . . . subject to displacement by more vigorous societies with strict tribal codes that govern family and sexual matters. This may be where Europe stands today, with a vibrant Muslim sub-population poised to replace the decadent and tired post-’68 generation.”)
The book has much to teach Americans as well as Europeans about what lies ahead if Americans don’t learn now the lessons Europe refused to learn in a timely fashion. For if we continue to follow the secular-laden path we’ve seen Europe trod, it will not be long before a group of scholars writes a book about how great the United States used to be.
A.W.R. Hawkins is senior opinion editor and writer for the Alliance Defense Fund (telladf.org) and was a visiting fellow at the Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal (summer 2010). He has a PhD in military history from Texas Tech University.
Posted: August 14, 2011