Quo Vadis? The Philosophical, Spiritual Floundering of Europe in 2017
Where Christianity and cultural identity are declining in tandem
By Garland Tucker
National Review Online
During my recent vacation to Scotland, the National Centre for Social Research released a major new survey, which documented the continuing decline of Christianity in the U.K. The headline read: “Non-believers outnumber the faithful by widest margin yet.” This fall has been driven primarily by young people. Of those between 18 and 24 years old, 62 percent have no religion. The figures for the Church of England were devastating: The proportion of the population describing themselves as Anglican has dropped from 30 percent in 2000 to 15 percent today — with just 3 percent of 18- to-24-year-olds. In Scotland, church attendance has fallen by over half in the past 30 years.
As the import of this survey was sinking in, the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, weighed in with a sadly telling reaction. Noting the alarming decline in young believers, he blasted the inequities of Britain’s capitalistic system, which he perceives as “failing our children.” If warmed-over socialism is all the church can offer young people, it’s no wonder they are saying “no thanks” in record numbers. How sadly ironic that the ideas of Adam Smith are criticized by someone who should fully understand capitalism’s unmatched contributions to the improvement of mankind. No economic system in the history of man has done more to lift humans, all over the globe, from poverty.
Welby should also know that it was capitalism, born of competitive innovation and consumer choice, that rebuilt Europe after World War II. The freedom to pursue personal opportunity gave life to a European rebirth.
And it should be acknowledged that the sacrifice of young Americans and European allies helped make it possible. The evil of Nazi Germany, and the false ideas it stood for, were defeated because good people were willing to give their lives defending freedom on foreign soil. Why did they fight? Because the Allies shared a common view of the world — a common culture, if you will. It is important to establish that “culture” is not defined by race or country of origin; it is defined by the foundational ideas shared by each individual in a society. Europe’s cultural identity is now in question.
In Douglas Murray’s The Strange Death of Europe, the author offers a sobering assessment of modern Europe and raises unsettling questions about the future. “At any time the loss of all unifying stories about our past or ideas about what to do with our present and our future would be a serious conundrum,” Murray writes. “But during a time of momentous societal change and upheaval the results are proving fatal. The world is coming into Europe at precisely the moment that Europe has lost sight of what it is.” Most significantly, Murray questions whether Europe is still Christian. He cites the absence of any mention of Christianity in the European Union’s new constitution, written in 2000, despite the efforts of Pope John Paul II and his successor. The EU instead wraps itself in high-flown rhetoric about “human rights” without any acknowledgment of their source.
Murray traces this crisis of identity back to the late 19th century, to two seminal events. First, the textual criticism of the Bible, originating in Germany and spreading throughout the West, undermined the Biblical foundation of Western Christianity. The second seismic blow occurred simultaneously, with the development of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Whereas it had been a foundational belief that a divine, awe-inspiring plan was behind all of civilization, it suddenly was widely held that science — not faith — held all the answers.
It is not difficult to see the manifestations. In Scotland, the landscape is littered with beautiful old churches that have fallen into disrepair or been recycled into some secular service. I had barely set foot on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh before being confronted with a magnificent stone church which now serves as the “Visitor Information Center.” Farther down the road were several equally handsome churches offered for sale and several serving as retail establishments. Only St. Giles Cathedral remained — but as a sort of museum to the rich Scottish religious history, a history that contributed to the development of the revolutionary ideas of modern democracy and free-market capitalism. Sadly, the world-changing ideas born of the Scottish Enlightenment are barely recognized in their own country.
The loss of its foundational story would be a serious enough challenge for Europe, but the fact that it is coupled with a massive influx of immigrants raises a much more serious question of whether European civilization will even survive. First, the millions of immigrants who have entered Europe in the past five years have already altered these societies. When coupled with current birth rates for native and non-native populations, the impact grows quickly in future years. Second, there is little indication that these immigrants are willing to assimilate to Western civilization and pursue its foundational ideas. Third, there is also little indication that the liberal democracies of Western Europe have the will or sense of purpose to require assimilation.
The death of Europe is “strange” indeed: the result of fatal wounds that were self-inflicted by well-intentioned governments — governments that sadly mirrored the philosophical, spiritual floundering of their own people.
— Garland S. Tucker III, the retired chairman and CEO of Triangle Capital Corporation, is a senior fellow at the John Locke Foundation and the author of Conservative Heroes: Fourteen Leaders Who Changed America — Jefferson to Reagan.