I doubt it can, and I doubt it will survive without recovering its own spiritual resources — as I argued in Islam Unveiled. RÃ³nÃ¡n Mullen explores this idea in the Irish Examiner: “Christian Europe may have to rely on Muslims to keep the faith.” (Thanks to Anthony for the link.)
HERE”S a question to ponder as December 25 approaches: for how long more will Christmas be celebrated in Europe? In the short term, these are exciting times to be European.
New member states in the EU, a new European constitution, controversy and compromise between the European parliament and the European commission, the beginnings of a European army, aspirations to create a military superpower, and possible Turkish membership of the EU.
But behind all this political growth lurks future crisis.
Our continent is committing demographic suicide – systematically depopulating itself in what British scholar Niall Ferguson calls the greatest “sustained reduction in European population since the Black Death of the 14th century”.
Today, 18 European countries report “˜negative natural increase” – i.e., more deaths than births. No western European country has the replacement level birthrate of 2.4 children per woman. Germany may lose the equivalent of the population of the former East Germany in the first half of the 21st century. By 2050, Spain’s population will decline from 40 million to 31 million while, in Italy, 42% of the population will be over the age of 60 and almost 60% of the Italian people will have no brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts or uncles….
Already, the Central Statistics Office forecasts that Ireland will need 45,000 immigrant workers each year for the next 12 years to sustain economic growth.
But this will bring its own challenges across the continent of Europe. The continent will be increasingly Muslim since immigrants are coming mainly from Islamic countries, mostly Turkey, but also from various Arab and North African states. In France, even if no more Muslims were to arrive, the Islamic population would double in one generation, and quadruple in two. Bearing in mind that immigrants tend to have children at a younger age than their European counterparts, those generations will reach maturity in a relatively short time.
If current birth rates persist half of the school age children in France will be Muslim by 2050. This makes the question of Turkey”s accession to the EU a very interesting one.
How do we feel about an increasingly Muslim Europe? Most of us believe in a generous, inclusive society where Europeans with their predominantly Christian heritage would get on with their Muslim brothers and sisters.
But last weekend’s papers carried the news that Europeans, especially people in the more secular north, believe there is increased negativity towards Muslims. This stems from a deep-down fear that Muslims do not, in sufficient numbers anyway, buy into basic concepts like democracy, equality of the sexes, freedom of religion and of expression, concepts which are so essential to life as we know it in the western world.
That fear, as we have abundantly established here, is not imaginary, but is based on the statements and actions of many Muslims.
There is another fear – that “˜Old Europeans” may not be respected as their numbers decline in proportion to the Muslim population.
Few people have enough contact with Muslim people to know how that community feels, for example, about terrorist activity in Palestine and Iraq. But it is troubling, say some, that Muslim disapproval doesn’t have much of a public face across Europe.
Nor does it have much of a public face anywhere else. As I have explained here and on various radio and TV shows many times, this is because Muslim moderates do not have the Islamic texts on their side. Radical Muslims can easily charge them with being disloyal Muslims if they speak out against violence committed in the name of Islam — and point to numerous passages of the Qur’an and Sunnah to buttress their argument.
Even if Turkish membership of the EU helps to reconcile Islam and the West and acts as a bulwark against Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East, how would we fare in a Europe where non-Muslims became a minority?
Would our churches survive as places of worship? Would the Vatican have to relocate to Mexico City, Buenos Aires or Manila in the next century? Where will our grandchildren, or their children, go to celebrate Christmas?
ACCORDING to George Weigel, biographer and friend of the Pope, Europe’s problems stem from “a crisis of civilisational morale”. In a book to be published next spring, he links Europe’s recent failure to acknowledge its Christian roots in its draft constitution and a despairing, defeatist approach to life which now characterises European life and thought.
Weigel asks why, in the aftermath of 1989, Europeans failed to condemn communism as a moral and political monstrosity. “Why was the only politically acceptable judgment on communism the rather banal observation that it “˜didn’t work?–
He also wonders why there are “disturbing currents of irrationality in contemporary European politics”.
He asks why one-in-five Germans (and one-third of those under 30) believed that the US was responsible for 9/11, while 300,000 Frenchmen and women bought a book which argued that the US military destroyed the Twin Towers using remote-controlled airliners. “Why do certain parts of Europe exhibit a curious, even bizarre, approach to death? Why did so many of the French prefer to continue their summer vacations during the European heatwave of 2003, leaving their parents unburied and warehoused in refrigerated lockers? Why is death increasingly anonymous in Germany, with no death notice in the papers, no church ceremony – as though the deceased did not exist?”
The answer, says Weigel, is that Europe has lost faith in God. And when you lose faith in God, you lose faith in humanity. Like the great Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said in his 1983 Templeton Prize Lecture: “The failings of the human consciousness, deprived of its divine dimension, have been a determining factor in all the major crimes of this century.”
The loss of faith that has led to European depopulation and cynicism may also prevent us from integrating our Muslim brothers and sisters.
The irony of trying to build a Europe that doesn’t mention God in its constitution is that we are left with no rational basis for tolerance and respect towards others, apart from the rather thin argument that “˜tolerance is good because it works better”. Why in the absence of God should we be fruitful and multiply? Why should we postpone short-term gratification in the interests of society?
Why should we welcome immigrants?
Why, in turn, should they accept standards of freedom of religion and expression, the dignity and equality of women and the values of democracy, if they believe their values are better? Christianity offers an answer through the Pope who in his 1989 encyclical, Redemptoris Missio (The Mission of the Redeemer), argued that: “The Church proposes; it imposes nothing.”
A Christian Europe would defend tolerance as a Christian virtue – while also giving European society a sense of identity and the confidence to integrate people of different cultures and traditions.
As to whether Europe can simply get by with its secular version of tolerance, it’s hard to see how. Without the unifying vision of Christianity, what is there to live for? We Europeans are already asking that question, and our birthrates show the conclusion we have reached.