CESNUR - Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni diretto da Massimo Introvigne


On Europe, its Christian heritage and Multiculturalism

by Alessandro Iovino
A paper presented at the CESNUR 2010 conference in Torino.© Alessandro Iovino, 2010. Please do not quote or reproduce without the consent of the author

Huge population movements from south to north along with the inevitable accompanying globalisation of our planet have not spared continental Europe. They have triggered enormous change in what is now a multicultural and multireligious society -- even our Christian identity is being challenged. In this context, it does seem legitimate to ask ourselves what stand Europe should take against the various challenges in today's world and what attitude it should assume apropos other religions. How should we go about reclaiming our Christian heritage for tomorrow's Europe? Should we approach it with tolerance or take a firmer stand?

We should start by looking at Italy: more than any other country (historically and geographically), Italy is rooted in Christianity. The “Case of the Crucifix" is an excellent example of an episode which involves politics, religion, sociology, history and culture both in Italy and in Europe. We need to look at this case in order to understand better the problems which we face.

Europe is being consumed by a slowly devouring canker. Fortunately this malevolent influence has not prevailed against those great intellectual spirits who fight in defence of our cultural patrimony and who are still today an example and inspiration to us all, just as they were in the past in the founding of modern Europe. Oriana Fallaci, better than anyone else, has described a dangerous anti-Christian sentiment -- not religious but cultural -- which is creeping round the world (but especially in Europe) and threatens to undermine European democracy. It is our duty, therefore, to defend our Christian heritage not only for our own country but for Europe as a whole. It is a duty not only for those who believe, but for those who would defend our cultural identity which has its roots in the soil Christian faith. A latent anti-Christian feeling has been smouldering for some time in certain European intellectual circles; this largely entails persecuting Christians who preach the gospel (and the symbols which represent their faith) using the force of law. Massimo Introvigne, director of CESNUR, said “ that with the sentence in the case of Lautsi v Italia on the 3rd of November 2009 in the European Court of Human Rights, anti-Christian feeling emerged into the daylight. Not content with attacking Christians over "New Rights" (which by imparting their traditional moral teaching, the Church and Christian Communities must be careful not to violate), they attacked the symbol at its heart, the Cross of Christ. The judges of Strasburg, sentencing in favour of an Italian woman of Finnish origin, argued that the display of a crucifix in Italian schoolrooms violated the rights of Mrs Lautsi’s two sons (11 and 13 years), and that it "disturbed them emotionally" and was against the principle of state schools which should "inculcate in their pupils the process of critical thought". Should she ever returned to Finland, Mrs Lautsi should ask the land of her birth to change its national flag -- which is characterised by a cross -- or who knows what emotional damage might be done to her sons!"

It is clear then that we are not simply talking about a religious symbol but a centuries old cultural identity which, to the delight of some and the chagrin of others, has no meaning without Christianity. We need to think not only about the judgement itself but about the underlying influence of this on European judges animated by secular legal fundamentalism. It seems certain that they will continue in their persecution of religious symbols and in their persecution of our heritage.

To deny the Christian church its role in the birth and nurture of modern Europe is like pulling civilisation out by its roots. And you need to remember that if you pull a tree up by its roots, sooner or later it will wither and die. If a large part of Europe wants to pull up the roots, the risk is that the whole continent could get involved in a march of cultural self-destruction with disastrous consequences for the future. Oriana Fallaci, who, as you know, never championed the Catholic cause -- indeed was one of its sternest critics, understood this and denounced it with intellectual argument which had worldwide reverberations. The massive attack against the United States of America on 11 September 2001 by Islamic fundamentalists, was intended to destroy the West, its culture and its symbols. At stake was not only the church, religion and the national security of America and Europe, no, much more than that - the roots of Western civilisation. Oriana Fallaci had a vision of the terrible things which were to occur a few years after these tragic events and indeed after her own death. My own spiritual values are different from those of Fallaci, being a Believer and different as well from those of the Catholic church because I am a Pentecostal evangelist; but I am absolutely convinced that the defence of Western Christian culture involves all of us, all Europeans: Roman Catholics, Evangelists and all those indeed who love freedom of religion, of expression and thought and who do not deny the Christian roots of our civilisation. To defend the cross is not simply to protect the Catholic faith in our country -- which nevertheless must be respected -- but also to protect the memory of all those men and women who, inspired by Christianity, gave their thoughts, their actions and in many cases their lives in the birth of Europe as we know it today. The crucifix is evidently a religious symbol which is specific to one religion but it must be made clear that for Believers, the Cross is there to lead the hearts and minds of men to contemplate the sacrifice of Christ, who in dying upon the Cross, gave up His life for all those believing in Him. Jesus was physically nailed to the cross and, with him, our sins, that we might be saved by the grace of God: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have eternal life." (John chapter 3: verse 16).

To insist upon the removal of the crucifix from classrooms is an attack on religious freedom, robbing us of an opportunity to evangelise -- which in our multi ethnic society is something that we should pursue with even more determination whilst respecting and protecting the religious beliefs of others. Benedetto Croce, who was one of the greatest nonreligious thinkers of the last century, in 1942 in his well-known essay “Why we should not call ourselves Christians" he wrote: "Christianity is one of the greatest changes that mankind has ever known: so great................. that it appeared or possibly still appears to be a miracle, in which God intervened in all things human giving us new laws and direction. All the other changes, all the major discoveries which mark the centuries of human history appear limited in comparison. All, not excluding the contributions which Greece made to poetry, arts, philosophy and political liberty and which Rome made to the Law: and not to forget more remote contributions in Scripture, mathematics, astronomy, medicine and many other things which came from Egypt and the Orient......... and the changes and discoveries which followed on in more modern times which may have been specific and limited in themselves, were born of man, involved the soul of man and it is difficult to imagine this happening without the Christian revolution....... Christianity seems to have worked on the very soul of man imbuing him with a moral conscience, giving him a new spiritual quality which up till that point seems to have been lacking in the world. Those men, those heroes, who lived before Christ accomplished great actions and good works and left us an infinite treasure of riches; but it was Christianity which has allowed us to evaluate and use them properly”

Croce has put Christianity into its rightful position in the story of mankind. Without detracting in any way from the contribution that those men of the ancient world made to the progress of mankind – the Egypt of the Pharaohs, Ancient Greece and Imperial Rome, -- none of them has had such a strong and central role nor one which has lasted so well over time as that of Christianity over the course of the last several centuries. As well as dusting down the writings of Oriana Fillaci and Benedetto Croce it might be helpful to consider others, who, whilst not being Christian themselves, recognise the role of Christianity in the economic development of Europe. Looking at religious movements as means of emancipation, we can't ignore the contribution made by Max Weber. He taught us a great deal because he wrote an important book on the relationship between the Calvinist world and European capitalism. In The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, even though it paints a very secular picture of the Protestant world from which we should distance ourselves, Weber showed that the Calvinist attitude to spending and saving produced that first accumulation of wealth which was necessary for the industrialisation of Europe to develop. To put it another way, Christian savings in the six, seventh and eighth centuries financed the Industrial Revolution. That is because the nature of Christianity is redemption. Spiritual redemption produces a transformation, a renewal of the mind and of the spirit and historically this has produced a liberation, an emancipation. Christianity therefore is also emancipation. Emancipation doesn't necessarily equate with economic wealth but rather, through spiritual exercise, with a longing to better oneself. Simon, a simple fisherman, after his meeting with Christ glorified became Cephas (Peter) and one of Christ's apostles in the world. In the first century, most believers were to be found amongst the ordinary people but by the third century A.D., many Christians were to be found in the upper strata of society. At that time and due to a notable increase in the numbers of Christians, the idea took form of an established Roman Catholic Church. We could argue whether this was for the good or bad of society but we cannot rewrite history. Europe has been impregnated with Christianity for about 2000 years and it has touched in no uncertain way and not without problem, culture, social science, philosophy, economics, medicine, arts -- in truth the whole history of our Continent.

The presence of the Crucifix in our state schools should not be laid at the door of the Catholic Church alone and treated as a strictly religious matter; it is a link to our cultural roots and a symbol which we must defend at all costs. Finally, in answer to the vexed question of secular extremism versus religion, to all of those who insist on putting faith before reason and put religious obscurantism before science, it only remains to quote those wonderfully balanced words of Christ: "Render under Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God that which is God's" (Matthew chapter 22: verse 21)