So, the powers-that-be have settled on a new European treaty that will not be called a constitution. Good. That means we are not forced to have a European constitution that ignores God and the Judaic-Christian heritage.
What we do have is a much-needed agreement treaty to help move the European Union forward. Marathon through-the-night discussions last week led to a compromise resolution by Saturday morning. German Chancellor and current EU president, Angela Merkel, was reported to be ‘very, very satisfied’ with the outcome.
The treaty will not come into force for another two years. It first needs to be finalised and then ratified by each of the EU’s member states. Even then, some of the proposed items, notably the so-called ‘double majority voting’ system will only be phased in in 2014, with full implementation ten years from now.
While much of the proposed EU constitution-rejected by French and Dutch voters during referendums in 2005-is retained, there are significant changes. The downgrade from a constitution softens the exclusion of any reference to God and the dominant role Christianity has played in shaping Europe.
The Dutch and the British achieved their goals of strengthening the role of national parliaments, and maintaining national control over foreign policy, justice and home affairs. They too seemed satisfied with the outcome.
With 27 members, and others in the waiting room, the old treaties made with less than half the present number of members were badly in need of updating to cope with the new complexities of decision-making.
But for many, the lack of recognition of the hugely influential contribution of Christianity in the formation of European values, institutions and democracy was a flagrant distortion of history.
Parallel with these EU developments has been the ongoing debate about the essence or ‘soul’ of Europe. The secularist perspective, championed by French politicians since their revolution in 1789, has insisted that religion be kept out of politics. Freedom for the French was freedom from religion -unlike their American counterparts who, after their revolution, insisted on freedom for religion. Hence the French stubborn refusal to consider any mention of God or Christianity in the proposed constitution. The irony was that the French people were the first to reject the constitution.
But recognition of the unique relationship between Christianity and European society has come from an unexpected quarter.
In the year preceding the constitution referendum, a dialogue was arranged between two intellectuals who personified opposing perspectives on Europe’s foundations. Philosopher and sociologist Jürgen Habermas has described himself as ‘tone deaf in the religious sphere’. A neo-marxist social critic, Habermas has been regarded as one of the leading spokespersons of liberal, individual and secular thinking.
His dialogue partner was Joseph Ratzinger, who the following year became Pope Benedict XVI, and who has been described as the ‘quintessence of Catholic orthodoxy’.
What surprised many observers was Habermas’ demand that secularized citizens must not ‘refuse their believing fellow citizens the right to make contributions in a religious language to public debates’.
But even more surprising has been his more recent declaration as follows:
‘Christianity, and nothing else, is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy, the benchmarks of Western civilization.
‘To this day, we have no other options [than Christianity]. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source.
‘Everything else is postmodern chatter.’
The pope couldn’t have said it any better himself!
Till next week,
Till next week,