The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

More on Europe...

Last week was particularly busy, leaving me little time for the blog or any of the other activities I actually enjoy. Interesting how one's expectations for retirement differ so greatly from the reality. But I suppose this is true of most human endeavors. Yesterday evening, for example, I opened Pope Benedict's book, Europe Today and Tomorrow, (written in 2004) and came across this prescient comment: "For politicians of all parties the obvious thing to do today is to promise changes -- of course, changes for the better."

And yet how often do those promised changes actually lead to the betterment of human life? We, the people, because we've bought into all the promises and the expectations, convince ourselves that we're unhappy with the status quo and embrace change. But, of course, every change carries with it unexpected consequences that more often than not degrade our condition. This is one reason why I'm fairly conservative: I know I'm not smart enough -- and I really don't believe anyone else is either -- to manage forced societal change and all its consequences effectively. Socialists have tried it. Communists have tried it. Fascists have tried it. And they've all failed.

Since the end of World War I, Europe, both East and West, has been the proving ground for these failed experiments in change. In truth, I suppose it all really began with the French Revolution with its cry for "Liberté, égalité, fraternité." Talk about unmet expectations! Yes, the French people certainly had liberty, equality and fraternity. Operated by a perverse form of fraternal love, the guillotine, that equal opportunity killer, liberated large numbers of citizens from their earthly lives. Another reason I'm thankful I was born here and not in France. (In a wonderful book, Ideas Have Consequences, 1948, Richard Weaver traces it all back even further, to the nominalism of the 13th-century English Franciscan, William of Ockham.)

Back to WWI...That devastating and so unnecessary war dimmed the enthusiasm spawned by the Enlightenment, an enthusiasm for rational man as the measure of all things, an enthusiasm that dismissed the divine and transcendent as meaningless when it came to human affairs. Faced by the devastation of that war, confidence in man's ability to solve all the world's problems ebbed. Rational man suddenly seemed little better than primitive man. It's no accident that the war's resulting crisis in faith and reason led to the totalitarianism that brought us an even more devastating war. It also brought an open and undisguised rejection of God. Religion was (and still is) seen as nothing less than a form of slavery, as the greatest obstacle to true human freedom. The folks who believe this are the same people who run the show at the European Union, the same folks who wrote the EU Constitution that, when addressing the roots of European democracy and law, dismissed the influence of 1,500 years of Christianity without a single word. -- a remarkable sin of omission. (If you want to understand better Christianity's forming influence on Europe, I can recommend no better book than Christopher Dawson's The Making of Europe, first published in 1932 but still relevant.)

Most Europeans have happily gone along with the politics of change. They accepted the idea of cradle to grave governmental control of their lives, demanding more and more "benefits" while disregarding the costs. As costs skyrocket, and productivity nosedives, and the tax base disappears, and the people demand more, and the politicians finally must face reality....we find ourselves in modern-day Greece, probably the prototype of the rest of Europe and perhaps the USA.

And so we're left today with a strange Europe, one seemingly afflicted by several maladies. It suffers from a form of historical amnesia in which it represses any memory of the creative force that actually formed Europe: Christianity, and in particular, the Catholic Church. Equally damaging, Europe seems to be committing demographic suicide. Birthrates in most European nations have fallen well below the population replacement rates. The people have apparently fully embraced the contraceptive mentality, one that views pregnancy as a disease and children as obstacles to the good life. And as its population dwindles, Europe will only experience an ever growing need for immigrant workers, one that the Islamic world is only too happy to satisfy. And as you might guess, the birthrates among Muslim immigrants is very high.

How are the Europeans handling this crisis? Simply by ignoring it. The average European pays obeisance to a new dictatorship, what Pope Benedict calls the "dictatorship of relativism." In his words, "We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's own ego and desires." Compared to the European totalitarianisms of the twentieth century, it's a far more subtle form of dictatorship. It's a dictatorship the people, driven by a combination of selfishness and laziness, willingly encourage and accept. They have turned away from their faith, turned away from the truth. But like all dictatorships it won't last long. Demographics will soon transform it into something else. Our grandchildren may actually live to see a Europe ruled by Sharia law. What Suleiman the Magnificent failed to accomplish at Lepanto with his huge fleet and tens of thousands of Muslim warriors, immigrant workers may well accomplish simply by knocking at the door.

This is why the New Evangalization, championed by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, is so important today. As Christians we must evangelize our own. We must bring Christ to those among us who have rejected the faith of their fathers, to those who have lost their way amidst the confusions of our modern world, to those who struggle to see through the darkness that has settled all around them. The fathers of the Second Vatican Council, in their "Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity" (Apostolicam Actuasitatem), wrote:
"They [the laity] exercise the apostolate in fact by their activity directed to the evangelization and sanctification of men and to the penetrating and perfecting of the temporal order through the spirit of the Gospel. In this way, their temporal activity openly bears witness to Christ and promotes the salvation of men. Since the laity, in accordance with their state of life, live in the midst of the world and its concerns, they are called by God to exercise their apostolate in the world like leaven, with the ardor of the spirit of Christ." [Apostolicam Actuositatem, 2]
The politicians won't save Europe from itself since they're a major part of the problem. If Europe is to be saved, it will be saved by the same force that created it, the Church -- and that's all of us.

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