- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 10, 2005

They stood in a line at least a mile long, sometimes 30 abreast. Huddled in blankets in the evening cold, and gratefully accepting bottled water from priests patrolling the line during the hot daylight hours, the mourners — who wanted one last glimpse of Pope John Paul II — waited patiently for up to 12 hours. The funeral of this modern pope has become the greatest Christian pilgrimage of all time. Accordingly, images out of Rome this week give the impression of a still-vibrant European Christianity.

And yet, this outpouring, swollen by 2 million Poles, is somewhat misleading. While believers have not disappeared (particularly in newly free Eastern Europe) they have become a distinct minority in a decidedly post-Christian Continent.

George Weigel, the theologian who produced John Paul II’s masterful authorized biography “Witness to Hope,” has a new slender volume that addresses Europe’s sickness of the soul.

In “The Cube and the Cathedral,” Mr. Weigel begins with a series of questions that limn the problem: “What accounts for disturbing currents of irrationality in contemporary European politics? Why did 1 of every 5 Germans (and one-third of those under 30) believe the United States was responsible for the September 11, 2001, terror attacks on its own soil, while some 300,000 French men and women made a best-seller out of ‘The Appalling Fraud,’ in which author Thierry Meyssan argued that the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were destroyed by the U.S. military. … Why is European productivity dwindling? … Why does Sweden have a considerably higher level of its population living below the poverty line … than the United States? … Above all … why is Europe committing demographic suicide, systematically depopulating itself in what British historian Niall Ferguson calls the ‘greatest sustained reduction in European population since the Black Death of the 14th century’? What is happening when an entire continent, wealthier and healthier than ever before, declines to create the human future in the most elemental sense, by creating a next generation?”

The new European Constitution contains some 70,000 words. But nowhere is there a reference to Christianity or to the Judeo-Christian tradition. Europe’s commitment to human rights, according to the document, arose from classical antiquity and from the Enlightenment. Fifteen hundred years of Christian influence were airbrushed out. When acknowledment of Europe’s Christian patrimony was suggested (by a Jewish scholar, actually), the French and others vehemently objected.

Across Western Europe, churches are empty on Sunday mornings (though in Poland and other Eastern European nations this is not the case). And among the intellectual elites, Christian commitment is regarded as embarrassing — perhaps even a disqualification for high office. (There are echoes of this attitude in the United States. Last year, Senate Democrats blocked confirmation of Judge William Pryor due to his “deeply held religious views.” Judge Pryor is a practicing Catholic.)

Culture, Mr. Weigel argues, determines civilization. Without its distinctly Christian history, Europe would not be what it is. To cite one example, Mr. Weigel recalls the 11th century “investiture” controversy between Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV and Pope Gregory VII. The pope won, and the victory established an important principle with profound consequences for development of was later called “civil society”: The state “would not occupy every inch of social space.”

Nor is it possible to conceive of the great figures of European history apart from their Christianity. Mr. Weigel lists dozens and reminds the reader these emblematic Europeans were all influenced by, often completely imbued with, their faith — much to the Continent’s good. Benedict, Bernini, Becket, Bach, Bacon, Calvin, Cromwell, Dante, Dostoevsky, Gutenberg, Michelangelo, Milton, More, Wesley and Wilberforce, among many others. Mr. Weigel acknowledges Christianity’s sins and errors, but wonders if atheistic humanists recognize theirs.

Europe today is a society adrift, untethered from the source of its greatness. It is, to use the great Jewish American writer Will Herberg’s formulation, “a cut flower culture.”

And just as Europeans lose the elemental desire to preserve their civilization, Muslim immigrants are ready to vindicate the loss of 1683. It is not inconceivable that European civilization — post-Christian, politically correct and too weary to take its own side in a quarrel (to paraphrase Robert Frost) — may yet hand the Muslim world a delayed victory.

Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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