What are the roots of the freedoms and the rule of law that makes the European Union still so attractive to Ukrainians, Moldovans, Georgians and other neighbouring peoples to Russia?
Why have so many Russians fled their own country, fleeing the prospect of being sent to the Ukrainian frontlines as cannon-fodder?
They all want to escape the corruption, oppression, brutality, authoritarianism, fear and criminality they know goes with the revival of totalitarianism under Putin, even if cloaked in the ‘Christian’ language of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Their dream is to belong to a prosperous, peaceful, cooperative, community of peoples. They want to join the European Union – or, in the case of the Baltics, gratefully have joined.
The peaceful success of European integration as it has spread eastwards is dangerous for the Kremlin. It reveals the shortcomings of a system in which the few live in undisguised opulence at the expense of the many.
While Russia’s neighbours acutely realise what is at stake, further west, we Europeans take freedom and peace largely for granted. Most of us have never known anything else. We are mostly oblivious of the roots of the freedoms we enjoy. And therein lies a grave danger.
For we are unaware of how much the foundations of our freedoms have already been undermined. While the dangers to freedom from Russia’s aggression are clear and present, a much more insidious and subtle erosion of rights and liberties has been long under way disguised as ‘freedom’ itself.
Last Thursday we finished a four-session on-line learning community studying Nancy Pearcey’s book, Love Thy Body. We traced the consequences of the secularist rejection of God as creator and intelligent designer of the cosmos and humanity, and the trashing of the evidence of nature concerning the purpose or telos of humanity. Instead the widespread acceptance of the idea that society is made up of autonomous individuals pursuing self-interest has resulted in redefinitions of personhood, marrriage, family and parenthood. Whereas in the past states recognised humans as holding intrinsic dignity and sanctity, many states now assume there is no design or purpose for human existence. We are left ‘free’ to choose our own destiny, sexuality and social arrangements.
But, Pearcey asks, does the secular moral revolution advance human freedom or empower the state? Denying the image of God in humans, the value of the body and the unity of the human being separates humanness and personhood; body and mind; biological sex and gender. So now the state decides who qualifies for personhood, what marriage is, what family is and what parenthood means. Power is being handed to the state.
Christianity has a life-affirming, life-giving message, crucial for peace and freedom in Europe’s future – rooted in a high view of the value and meaning of the human body as a good gift from God. Christians have a rescue mission to perform, not a culture war to wage.
Next month in Stockholm on May 5th and 6th, the State of Europe Forum will host multiple discussions among believers from diverse Christian backgrounds about threats to freedom and peace in Europe, external and internal.
Retired Europarliamentarian Tunne Kelam, from Estonia, co-founder of the first non-communist political party in the Soviet Union, will join us in Stockholm to share from his years of personal experience of the consequences of the erosion of freedom.
Henrik Syse was for six years a member of the Norwegian Nobel Committee choosing the Peace Prize winners, and is research professor with the Peace Research Institute of Oslo which conducts research on the conditions for peaceful relations between states, groups and people. He will be my guest on our next Schuman Talk on April 9, Easter Sunday, remembered in Norway as the day of the Nazi invasion in 1940. When I chatted with Dr Syse last week he stressed how inspirational Robert Schuman’s faith-based search for peace and freedom in Europe has been in his own life and work. Due to teaching commitments in America, Dr Syse will be joining us in Stockholm via video to explore Ukraine’s future.
Andrej Zubov is a history professor who lost his job and had to leave Moscow because of his criticism of the Crimea invasion of 2014 and now of Ukraine. He will also join us via video from the Czech Republic to offer the perspective of centuries on Russia’s repeated tragedies, and propose a way forward. Professor Zubov will be our special Schuman Talk guest on May 9, Europe Day.
Clapham Institute director Dr Per Ewert (Stockholm), theologian Dr Evert Van de Poll (Nîmes), Ineta Lansdowne of the Occupation Museum (Riga), and author, pastor and political commentator Stefan Swärd (Stockholm) are among the twenty or so qualified contributors stimulating dialogue at the forum.
Join us on Friday evening in the Santa Clara Church for a public celebration of the forgiveness and reconciliation that has made Europe integration possible; and for Saturday’s plenaries and seminars in the Bethlehem Church exploring challenges and opportunities for peace and freedom in Europe today.
Till next week,