EUROPE: Only radical change can save the European Union
Dr. Frank Kaufmann «View Bio

Europe is a land of conflict grounded in religious differences.

August Prize winner, Sweden`s Per Olov Enquist, notes that `half of Europe`s wars, from the Monophystic struggles in the Roman Empire… to the German Empires` cultural battles in the 19th Century, had arisen from some sort of theological strife, and since the church was a state institution, it led to war.`

The so-called `cultural differences` influencing EU Constitutional referenda have their roots in long histories of religious wars. Not only have these differences never been resolved, they`ve never been addressed. In 1648 they began to be ignored.

This effort to ignore religion results in dominant European powers stumbling in darkness, tripping flat-footed over matters of religion. France, a massive player in EU politics, was deemed in violation of International Law in its discriminatory headscarf ban, and Germany, another major player, has had the dubious distinction of being declared a human rights violator by numerous human rights watchdogs and organizations - most notably including the U.S. State Department, the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the Rutherford Institute, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

In Catholic Europe`s largest dioceses in Germany, France, Italy and Ireland, the number of Catholics who attend Mass regularly has slipped to as low as 20 percent, and, in Paris and some other cities, attendance has dropped to single digits, according to figures compiled by the church. Yet Pope John Paul II and the Vatican pressed for an explicit recognition of Christianity in the European constitution. Although that effort ultimately failed, the Pope stayed resolute on the importance of the continent`s Christian patrimony. `Whether or not it is recognized in the official documents,` he said, `it is an undeniable fact, which no historian can overlook.` Yet 15 million Muslims live in Europe, some three times the number in America. Ten million Muslims live in France and Germany alone, and Muslim Turkey remains in its 4th decade of seeking European Union membership. 

The EU is a wonderful idea. It should exist. And its success benefits the whole world. Unfortunately it cannot realize the level of integration envisioned by the EU Constitution so long as integration is pursued on the patently unworkable notion that a union of any sort can be built on purely economic and political designs.

One downside of trying to cobble political and economic unions together while remaining blind to the spiritual and religious aspects of `cultural` rootedness is that you end up with 60,000-word, 265-page constitutions. The United States constitution, based as it is on a declaration of the self-evident truths that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, is one 12th the size.

In the United States the ideal of human equality is based on the assertion that we are created this way. Our rights are endowed by our creator. `Europe`, on the other hand, extracts rights and equality by drawing inspiration from its own cultural, religious and humanist inheritance. Of the 25 `plenipotentiaries` affirming that human equality arises from Europe`s inheritance, almost a third sign as his or her majesty or royal highness.

As Enquist notes, Europe has been home to, and exported, religious conflict from its earliest days. But more detrimental for its ultimate well-being is its recent 400-year experiment in hoping that religion if ignored will go away.

Religious fighting decimated and exhausted Europe in the 17th Century. It tired people of religion, but left state churches in place. The status of religion in Europe remains the same today, but the ascendant reign of the contra-religious intelligentsia has not healed the ancient strife. Why? It is because healing division is itself a spiritual and religious act. It is the job of God and religion to make things `one`.

The United States has yet to realize perfectly its ideals of universal rights and human equality, but it remains a union of the most far-ranging diversity in history. It is a union that begins with the plain and unabashed acknowledgment that equality and rights are endowed by a creator, not inspired by fractious threads of philosophical and ideological inheritance.

All progressive and clear-thinking people should long to see a European Union. However, so long as the spiritual mission of `making things one` is misconceived as purely political and economic, and so long as religious hostilities and prejudices remain enshrined in the hearts of people, prospects remain near hopeless.

Enlightened religious leaders are needed to guide Europe out of this history. But it is a dark path that stretches in front of them in modern-day Europe.

Dr. Frank Kaufmann is the director of the Office of Interreligious Relations, IIFWP. These are the opinions of the author, not the positions of the IIFWP.