Politics & Policy

Godless in Brussels

New EU constitution jettisons Europe's Judeo-Christian heritage.

Only postmodern Europe could have manufactured a draft constitution extolling its “cultural, religious and humanist inheritance” while pointedly leaving out any explicit reference to its essential Judeo-Christian patrimony.

Later this week political leaders of the European Union’s 25 present and incoming member states will gather in Greece to begin considering the formal arrangements for a European superstate approved last week by 105 delegates meeting in Brussels.

The proposed constitution greatly strengthens the EU’s central bureaucratic mechanisms at the expense of state sovereignty and democratic accountability; but its most controversial feature is what’s not included: any mention of Europe’s Judeo-Christian heritage.

This omission was by no means an oversight. It was rather a deliberate policy decision by a militantly secularist elite determined to bring about a naked public square barring all opinions based on religious values.

The underlying premise was made clear in an earlier (May 28) draft of the constitution’s preamble claiming that Europe’s “cultural, religious and humanist inheritance” was “nourished first by the civilizations of Greece and Rome, characterized by the spiritual impulse” — though not by organized religion, of course — “and later by the philosophical currents of the Enlightenment.”

This potted history brings to mind Voltaire’s characteristically glib — and ill-informed — dismissal of the period from the fall of Rome to the Renaissance as offering historians nothing but “the barren prospect of a thousand years of stupidity and barbarism.” A similarly inaccurate implication is that Europe’s “cultural, religious and humanist inheritance” consists of wholly separate currents of thought, where in fact all three formed a synthesis and unity in the culture of Christian humanism.

Little wonder the preamble identifies “the values underlying humanism” as “equality of persons, freedom, respect for reason” — language echoing the fighting words of the French Revolution (whose more bloodthirsty adherents enthroned Reason as their chief goddess in the desecrated cathedral of Notre Dame). Perhaps similar attitudes underlie the New Age touch of the initial capital used in referring to — and thereby personifying — “the Earth” in contravention of normal English, French and Italian usage. And the term “humanism” itself has a long history of usage as a euphemism for anti-clericalism and militant atheism alike.

In effect, the denial of Europe’s essential Judeo-Christian patrimony amounts to a secularist misapplication of the religious doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.

The draft’s preamble as a whole rises to a level of pretense, pomposity and self-congratulation rare even for committee documents of this genre. It is even prefaced by a quotation from Thucydides in its Attic Greek original (a display of scholarship unfortunately marred by mismarked accents and omitted breathing marks). Not surprisingly, the preamble is the personal handiwork of M. Valery Giscard d’Estaing, the former French president whose highhandedness and hauteur as convention chairman provoked unfavorable comparisons with his predecessor, the Sun King (l’État, c’est moi).

It is fitting that Giscard should have fashioned a rod for his own back by implying that Christianity is the basis for EU membership. Last November Giscard famously dismissed the prospect of Turkish membership as a calamity that “would be the end of the European Union.” Turkey, Giscard explained helpfully, has “a different culture, a different approach, a different way of life. Its capital is not in Europe, 95 percent of its population lives outside Europe, it is not a European country.” Predictably enraged Turkish politicians — for whom EU membership is a kind of Holy Grail — charged that Giscard was seeking to place a “Christian club” off limits to Muslim Turks, a refrain picked up by the European press delighted by Giscard’s taboo-breaking. For Giscard merely said aloud what many other bien-pensant Europeans really think: that religion, not geography, really sets Turkey apart from Europe.

In any case, Giscard himself deserves credit for putting in play the issue of religion and the EU constitution, though one suspects this was a wholly unintended consequence.

Yet another delicious irony is that the EU’s draft constitution was hatched by a hand-picked cabal of 13 likeminded Europols cloistered in Giscard’s $33,000-per-month Brussels hotel suite and styling themselves as the convention’s praesidium — a term that had passed from polite use with the demise of Leonid Brezhnev. So too is the self-administered pat on the back in the form of the presumptuous claim that Europe’s political leaders are “grateful to the members of the European convention for having prepared this Constitution on behalf of the citizens and States of Europe.”

But there is rather more to this document than preambular pratfalls and bad history. It is potentially a very serious threat to religious freedom, a concept already under sustained attack in various parts of Europe by government fonctionnaires and their politicized judicial allies.

Ultimately at issue are the idiosyncratic church-state arrangements shaped by particular historical circumstances in every European state. These range from uncompromising Gallic laïcité to more accommodating approaches, of which German collection of church taxes (Kirchensteuer) for the benefit of religious groups and legal establishment of state churches in several states are but two examples.

Of particular concern is the EU’s practice of its judicial arm taking back assurances given by its executive arm. This was the case with so-called prenuptial agreements with both Poland and Greece concerning the all-male status of the Mt. Athos monastery in one case and abortion limits in the other. That is why Christian, Jewish, and Muslim groups alike unsuccessfully sought to strengthen and clarify the new constitution’s nominal protection of the current status quo. Article 51 provides that the EU “respects and does not prejudice the status under national law of churches and religious associations and communities in the Member States.” This is immediately followed by the gratuitous provision that the EU “equally respects the status of philosophical and non-confessional organizations.” Translation from Eurospeak: Churches and other religious groups have no special status under EU law. Article 51′s final provision “recognizes” the “identity” of such groups — but not their rightful autonomy, as religious groups had sought, again unsuccessfully.

These are by no means overstated concerns, given the secularist attitudes of the Brussels mandarinate, recent developments in European Union law, and — above all — the relentlessly homogenizing impulses that drive the whole European project. That is why advocates of religious freedom rightly focus on the new constitution’s preamble, since it will form an essential part of the document’s legislative history applied in judicial interpretation. So too will the much-publicized rejection of any mention of God in the document (prompting a Daily Telegraph headline “God has no place in ‘elitist’ Giscard Euro blueprint”).

Fortunately, there remain at least two opportunities to revise the draft constitution (despite Giscard’s demands not to change a single word). All 25 heads of state or governments gather this coming Friday in Thessaloniki, Greece; and a further inter-governmental conference is slated for October. But the EU’s own polls show that less than 30 percent of its 450 million citizens are even aware that a constitution is being drafted. These numbers fairly reflect the EU’s often-cited “democratic deficit” amounting to a kind of stealth government conducted by an unaccountable elite.

This whole sorry episode reflects a deeper European malaise. As Christopher Dawson, the great cultural and intellectual historian, tirelessly explained, cult (or worship) is the basis of culture — not the other way round. “The civilization that finds no place for religion,” he added, “is a maimed culture that has lost its spiritual roots and is condemned to sterility and decadence.” What’s more, it is practically a law of physics that states expand into spaces left vacant by faith, with the result that society loses an essential moral yardstick for judging — or restraining — the exercise of state power. At the end of the day, what’s left is the exercise of power for its own sake, simply as an end in itself.

These precise concerns were raised in a characteristically memorable — and prescient — way by the Rev. John Courtney Murray, the great American Jesuit theologian and author of the Catholic Church’s modern teaching on religious freedom at the Second Vatican Council. Reading the signs of the times nearly a half century ago, what Murray feared most was political life being reduced to establishment of “a technical order of the most marvelous intricacy, which will have been constructed and which will operate without true political ends: and this technological order will hang, as it were, suspended over a moral confusion; and this moral confusion will itself be suspended over a spiritual vacuum.”


John F. Cullinan, a lawyer, formerly served as a senior foreign-policy adviser to the U.S. Catholic bishops.


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