We live in a society in which admitting one’s own sins is seen as a sign of weakness.
Many European leaders have ignored founding father Robert Schuman’s warning that the enterprise needed a soul.
After the attacks and threats in Paris, Hannover and now Brussels, boosting the case of nationalists and politicians of fear and xenophobia, the question looms large: is there still hope for Europe?
For decades, we have been promoting a message of hope and trying to stir awareness of Christian responsibility towards shaping Europe’s future. Few seemed interested. But with the rise of nationalism, the tensions caused by the financial crisis, the sudden surge of Middle-Eastern refugees and now the sowing of fear and chaos into our living rooms via live television and social media, the future of our open European society seems up for grabs. Suddenly we are waking up to the seriousness of Europe’s future.
The house of Europe, I suggested three weeks ago, is becoming a house of squatters, who care little about the foundations on which the house was originally built. Some are feverishly sawing away at the remaining supports upholding the structure. The crises which Frans Timmermans of the European Commission described as building up to a perfect storm are exposing the shallow roots of our professed European values which member states of the EU are pledged to embrace. These include solidarity –’with those who think like us’,equality –’but some are obviously more equal than others’, freedom–’for Europeans but don’t expect us to be concerned about foreigners’…
Europe’s lack of faith, values or truths that it is willing to defend, other than secularism, materialism and liberalism, exposes it to those with strong convictions prepared to sacrifice their own lives in Allah’s cause.
It’s one thing to profess values. But what makes us believe in them? If not rooted in eternal realities, they become ‘fair weather values’, quickly replaced by the politics of convenience. While these values historically arose from biblical foundations, Europeans have become estranged from their source. The consequences are serious.
Anglo-American Nobel Prize winner for literature, T. S. Eliot, believed that if we lost Christianity we would lose Europe. ‘I do not believe that the culture of Europe could survive the complete disappearance of the Christian faith,’ he argued in 1948. ‘If Christianity goes, the whole of our culture goes. Then you must start painfully again, and you cannot put on a new culture ready made. You must wait for the grass to grow to feed the sheep to give the wool out of which your new coat will be made. You must pass through many centuries of barbarism. We should not live to see the new culture, nor would our great-great-great-grandchildren: and if we did, not one of us would be happy in it.’
In our own times, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks echoes Eliot’s warning, saying that the future health of Europe, politically, economically and culturally, has a spiritual dimension. Lose that, he says, and we will lose much else besides, including human dignity, freedom and responsibility, the sanctity of life, marriage as the matrix of society, society as covenantal and moral limits to power. When a civilisation loses its faith, it loses its future. When it recovers its faith, it recovers its future. For the sake of our children, and their children not yet born, we –Jews and Christians, side-by-side– must renew our faith and its prophetic voice. We must help Europe recover its soul, he pleads.
All of which would seem to undermine hope. Yet biblical hope is never based on current circumstances; it is anchored on God’s person and purposes, two unchangeable things (Hebrews 6: 18,19). Our hope is not firstly in the European project, although the vision of nations living together in peace surely echoes Psalm 133:1. Many European leaders have ignored founding father Robert Schuman’s warning that the enterprise needed a soul.
God is sovereign and Jesus is lord of history. Yes, setbacks and delays occur in the course of history, just as Israel’s unbelief delayed their progress forty years. However we continue to hope and pray for the expansion of God’s kingdom, his rule, on earth–including Europe–as it is in heaven. Or else we should give up praying the Lord’s Prayer.
Here’s a mystery of history: how prayer takes hold of God’s future and pulls it into the present. Europe has faced worse moments in history, when the Holy Spirit did something new. Erasmus effected reform through returning to ‘the fountainhead’, the Gospels and the letters, in which ‘God’s word still lives, breathes, acts and speaks to us’. His translations catalysed the Reformation 500 years ago. John Wesley brought revival and reformation to an England he could only describe as ‘godless’ nearly 300 years ago, bringing widespread social reform as the modern age began. Schuman with his believing colleagues, Adenauer and De Gasperi, dared to apply Christ’s teaching to love and forgive, and laid the foundations of the European house, initiating seventy years of peace in Europe.
It’s our turn now!