Is European Christianity a failed religion?

Wednesday April 22, 2009

Europe's identity -
The contribution of Christian culture to Europe's diversity and unity

Election call
From June 4th to 7th, 2009, 375 million European citizens in the 27 EU member states will be called upon to elect the future representatives of the European Parliament. We expect from the political mandate holders, the members of the European Parliament, the members of the government in the EU member states, who play a decisive role in European legislation in the Council, but also the national members of parliament, that they consider pan-European objectives in their political decisions.

The European identity must not remain a purely intellectual construct, a personal or collective feeling, but rather it must have a concrete influence on political action. European identity means not stopping at national interests in your own deliberations, but keeping the European common good in mind. We should not forget that national and European interests are not opposed to each other, but that European unification is part of the national interest. The European compromise is a give and take: each country will have to accept concessions on some issues in order to gain the support of the European partners in other areas. European identity therefore means above all European solidarity - a key word in the Lisbon Treaty.

But we voters are also urged to take European interests into account when making our voting decisions. Just as we European citizens place legitimate expectations of the European Union or its representatives, so we ourselves have to contribute to the success of Europe. Despite all justified criticism of the Union, it is our responsibility to inform us - there are plenty of sources of information - not to listen to populist slogans and to make responsible choices. The rights achieved in Europe include, in particular, the right to free, democratic elections. This privilege is part of our European political culture. Let us therefore see the right to vote as a responsibility and as an opportunity to actively shape Europe!

Europe is complex - but this complexity is the result of the national and regional diversity which is characteristic of Europe and which we want to preserve.
But Europe is also a cultural and political entity - it can and should become.

Europe's Identity - The Contribution of Christian Culture to Europe's Diversity and Unity

Europe has a constitution. This is how many hoped after the heads of state and government in June 2004 - almost a year after the conclusion of the deliberations in the Convention on the Future of Europe - agreed on the constitutional treaty in a great effort of strength and will. The constitutional treaty was seen as a historic turning point. For one thing, for the first time in its history, the EU laid down its constitutional foundation in a single document. On the other hand, the constitutional treaty should decisively advance integration and strengthen the democratic legitimacy of the EU. The negative votes in the referendums in France and the Netherlands, however, have caused the constitutional project to fail - partly less for European considerations than for national reasons.
A good three years later, with the signing of the Lisbon Treaty, the EU made a fresh attempt to lay the foundation for a Europe that is more capable of acting and closer to its citizens. However, for many European citizens neither the arduous and sometimes grotesque negotiation marathon nor the negotiated work itself could develop any persuasive power. Rather, the Irish no to the Lisbon Treaty in May 2008 painfully documented the current crisis of confidence in the Union. Despite the numerous achievements of the EU, many citizens show little interest in the European Union and identify little if at all with it. manifested in the low turnout in the European elections.

Why do Europe's citizens show so little enthusiasm? Why is there so little European awareness among many citizens, but also politicians?
Europe is looking for itself, but not only in a political sense. Europe is looking for its identity, including its cultural identity. The discussion about the reference to God in the preamble of the failed constitutional treaty, the enlargement of the European Union by eight East Central European countries as well as Cyprus and Malta in 2004 and Romania and Bulgaria only three years later, the debate about the accession negotiations with Turkey and the increasing Influence of other cultures on Europe in the course of globalization have asked the European Union more intensely than before the question of its self-understanding.

With this declaration, the ZdK would like to contribute to the current debate about the identity of Europe and raise the question of the relevance of a common European identity for the internal cohesion of the Union. What role does culture play in particular? What could a policy of strengthening identity look like?

Lack of understanding of and for Europe

The reasons why many European citizens find it so difficult to identify with the Union are numerous. An institutional structure that is perceived as complex, often opaque decision-making, unclear competency delimitations or insufficient observance of the subsidiarity principle, flood of norms and excessive bureaucratisation make the EU incomprehensible, inaccessible, impersonal and thus remote from the citizen.
The Union also does not always live up to the expectations - rightly or wrongly - placed on it: in many cases, Europe is not perceived as the answer to global challenges such as globalization, but rather as part of the problem (for example the question of relocating Jobs). Often the approval is also strongly influenced by a cost-benefit calculation. Europe finds support above all when selfish interests - be it personal or national - interests are served. At the same time, the Union's successes are barely noticed or taken for granted or redefined as national successes. European unification as a guarantee for peace, freedom and justice, economic development and solidarity appears to many - v. a. the post-war generations and the people of Western Europe - as a once and for all achieved good. The fact that peace and freedom are not a matter of course, but must be continuously secured, requires constant reminders and warnings, even today in 2009 - 70 years after the outbreak of the Second World War and 20 years after the political change in Eastern and Eastern Central Europe.

Based on a conventional, traditional understanding of national identity, it is often stated that the EU is a functionally meaningful organization, but forms a "space" that is neither supported by a common language nor has a common history. The decade-long separation of Europe into Eastern and Western blocs has made the development of a pan-European view of history considerably more difficult. Critics also believe that there is a lack of a minimum degree of social and cultural homogeneity, which is necessary for a stable, resilient sense of community. This means that there is no such thing as a European "people" (only "peoples", as the treaty preamble emphasizes).

Even the attempt to see the EU as a community of values ​​is not without controversy. The inclusion of the Charter of Fundamental Rights in the Treaty of Lisbon is extremely welcome, as it guarantees European citizens human and civil rights, as well as economic and social rights, also at European level. The question arises, however, whether this "uniform European canon of values" is actually uniform and explicitly European. On the one hand, human rights are valid beyond the borders of the EU. On the other hand, there are often very different interpretations of "European values" within the Union when they are implemented in concrete EU policies: What do we understand by the welfare state? How do we define marriage and family? What is the place of religion in public? How do we shape immigration policy?

Europe needs a sense of its origins and future

In spite of all prophecies of doom, however, the declining acceptance values ​​of the EU - also in politics - have led to a broad conviction that the question of European identity is of decisive importance for the successful progress of the European unification process.
Every political and social community needs a historical and cultural basic understanding for its functioning, its stability and future viability, which is supported by its written constitution or its contractual rules. As a rule, states and other communities deteriorate less directly because of weaknesses in the institutional and constitutional architecture, but rather because the necessary cohesion between their members does not exist or is crumbling. A political community will only find acceptance and support from its citizens if it produces results that meet the expectations of the citizens, or if the citizens place basic trust in its institutions and its actions. The establishment and expansion of political systems must therefore not be limited to contractual or constitutional provisions, but must also focus on strengthening this trust, the basis of which is the development of a common identity [1)]. A common identity makes a significant contribution to enabling and further training the acceptance of the necessary constraints of the system and mutual loyalty between the members. Constitutions must therefore not stray too far from the "felt" understanding of their citizens.
However, collective identities are not predetermined, fixed values. They draw from institutional arrangements, historical communities, shared experiences, expectations and live from exchange and discourse. Thus, they are subject to constant - albeit mostly slow - change. Identity (formation) is a process.
What is this process like in Europe? What is European identity?

Europe in search of its identity - in history and culture

Europe was never a continent of its own due to geographical conditions. Rather, it owes its unity to history. The demarcation to the east and south has always been blurred: spatially, Europe is a peninsula of Asia, geomorphologically it is closely linked to Africa. The eastern border is usually drawn from the southern foot of the Ural Mountains along the north coast of the Caspian Sea and the east coast of the Sea of ​​Azov to the Kerch Strait on the Black Sea. With Turkey and Russia, however, also protruding into Europe, the land masses of which are mostly in Asia.

From the beginning, Europe offered favorable external conditions for the encounter and development of people and peoples, because extreme climatic differences were just as unknown here as extensive deserts, steppes and wastelands. The south, north and west in particular were richly structured: Hardly any other part of the world had such a long stretch of coast and was so closely connected to the sea. Products of the most varied kinds from different geographical and climatic zones referred people to exchange, trade, cooperation based on the division of labor. The population density was also always high. An abundance of peoples lived together in a small space in Europe. All of this contributed to the fact that the European continent became the center of science, economy and civilization in a slow, centuries-old process - to that part of the earth in which the highest force of national life was concentrated in a very small space [2)].

In the external circumstances of Europe, but even more in the inner attitude of the Europeans, it is due to the fact that Europe has repeatedly asserted itself against attempts at external determination and submission from outside. Over the centuries it successfully defended itself against numerous conquerors from the east and southeast (Persians, Huns, Mongols, Turks). But even the formation of hegemony within Europe was never permanent: This applies to the beginnings of a Spanish-German world power in the 16th century and later to the conquests of Louis XIV, the French Revolution and Napoleon, as well as the clay empires of Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin in the 20th century. The Roman Empire and its Frankish and German continuations only established lasting traditions insofar as they - beyond the mere exercise of power - knew how to create legal systems and forms of civilized life. The European world of states has always been more pluralistic and multi-parted than that of its Byzantine, Mongolian, Ottoman and Great Russian neighbors. In addition to large empires and nations, small countries, city-states and federal structures have always played a role in the European political budget. Small spaces are therefore a typical feature of European life. Everything colossal and uniform is clearly un-European, and that is the secret of all refinement and all uniqueness of European civilization [3)].

The spatial plurality is continued in the diversity of the cultural manifestations that shape Europe. European culture is not easy to reduce to a common denominator. Their distinguishing feature is their diversity. But the cultural traditions of Europe are not only plural and different, they are also supranational and similar and related. The definition of national cultures is only a 19th century construct. The cultural achievements of Europe, its history of the arts, science and mentalities show overarching similarities and developments caused by mutual exchange.

Important pilot programs for the modern world have been developed in Europe. Many structures of rationality in the global world have their origin here: the dominant access to nature, the step from horticultural and nurturing agriculture to "culture" as a work of conscious change and redesign, the development of long-distance trade, technology and serial production, the emergence of a Science, but also a culture of memory - all of this is European. Worldwide we measure and organize time and space with measures that were developed in Europe. But specific political structures have also emerged from the European experiment. The modern dualism of state and church, of political sphere and sphere of conscience was conceived and fought for over 1700 years in the history of Europe. A legal culture that is still binding today developed here.

The spread of European civilization across the world was driven by motives in which mission, the thirst for discovery and conquest, greed for gold and the striving for power were superimposed. On the path of this expansion, a world system of states emerged in the course of the recent centuries, in which the dynamics of Europe took on global forms that spanned the entire globe. What we call globalization - the emergence of the world market for communications, transport, trade and capital flows - is only the end point of this development. After the end of the Europeanization of the world, new problems arise that have an effect on the continent that has been thrown back on itself. Is European culture gaining new vitality in a now reversed process of self-Europeanization [4)] of Europeans even in a globalized world?

Europe in search of its identity - the importance of religion

The search for European culture undoubtedly also has to do with religion. Without its religious roots and especially its Christian roots, the culture of Europe cannot be understood.
The Bible is a world cultural heritage of the first order and an essential element of European culture, because the adaptation of the Bible was often at the beginning of the cultural development of European countries and peoples. The Bible was the basis of inculturation. From their translations specific and yet similar traditions in different variations emerged due to the common basis. Of course, there have always been recourse to Greek and Roman antiquity. Europe's mother tongue, however, is Christianity (John Paul II). At the same time, European cultural history is a history of ever new renaissance as course corrections to their beginnings.

The feeling of togetherness of the European peoples is based on common historical experiences, in a common upbringing. Since the early Middle Ages, monasteries and cathedral schools created an educational tradition that shaped all of Europe.Last but not least, Latin as a scientific language established the progress of supranational European science. The variety of high-performance languages ​​that emerged in Europe in modern times is the source and expression of European creativity and must not be sacrificed today to linguistic globalization and cultural leveling. Church buildings, fine arts, music, literature, theater and film are unmistakable evidence of the differentiated and yet uniform European culture; uniform because their basis is a common belief.

The most important contribution of the Christian churches to art and culture was and is the celebration of their liturgies and forms of piety. Last but not least, this quietly integrating effect of the Roman liturgy [5)] gave rise to a European cultural area that was shaped by the message of Christianity, which was repeatedly challenged by ancient traditions of poetry and philosophy and based on Latin (im East of Greek and Church Slavonic) gave rise to an abundance of national literatures.

The European arts have developed in this context - apart from market or leisure activities:

• The Visual arts developed symbolic and narrative images in the interpretation of the Bible. In the image debates of the first millennium, they asserted themselves against ancient cultic art as well as against a radical rejection of images.

• Also the music In its beginnings, Europe is bound by text; It arose from the recitation of liturgical texts, developed a language of the emotional affects in the sacred polyphonic music and later broke away from its textual ties in order to find a musical language of its own. European art music has always been supranational.

• Also Language and literature are closely related to the Bible. For example, the Germans learned German from the Bible - from the early Bible translations to the coining of today's High German by Martin Luther. Art traditions are based on the language of the Bible, which unfolded through biblical games, stories and hymns to theater, literature and poetry.

• Religious ideas also shape behavior and thinking. Christian foundations determine, mostly unconsciously, the behavior of those who have hardly any ties to the underlying faith traditions. This can be seen in the everyday life of the annual cycle with its festivals and customs. Christian echoes can also be found in everyday situations such as the course of the week with Sunday as an interruption of the economic, in communal and private mentalities, habits and behaviors.

However, the contribution of Christianity is not the only part of Europe's cultural heritage over the centuries. European culture and European identity emerged from a specific history of the development of Christianity Judaism within the ancient world. They represent a symbiosis of Greek and Roman ideas and orders with those of Judaism and Christianity. Greek philosophy, understanding of democracy and science, as well as Roman law, shape to this day. Christianity and Judaism have in common that Bible, which is also the First Testament of Christianity, prophetic ethics and, above all, the central biblical prayer book, the Psalter. Jewish thought, religious philosophy, biblical exegesis, Jewish literature, music and art are an integral part of European cultural history. Jews helped shape civil society in the 19th century and were prominent in science and certain areas of the economy until 1933/39.

The schism of 1054 and the divisions since the time after 1400 are among the particularly formative, differentiating experiences of European plurality. The denominations have each developed their own expressions in the art and mentalities of Europe. The specific history of freedom of the Enlightenment was often anti-church, but not in principle anti-Christian motivated. On the contrary: the modern history of freedom, which culminated in the French Revolution in particular in the commitment to inalienable human rights, is also fed by central intuitions of the Judeo-Christian tradition (s). It is undoubtedly part of the tragic dialectic of European cultural history that this urbiblical ethic of freedom had to be asserted for a long time against the sometimes bitter resistance of the churches - a laborious process which on the Catholic side only came to a provisional conclusion with the official recognition of religious freedom by the Second Vatican Council .

In addition to Judaism and Christianity, Islam also shaped Europe, both as a counterpart and as part of European history itself. Ideas from ancient Greece also live on in Islam. It is true that in the long history of the countries around the Mediterranean from the seventh century onwards, the difference between Christian Europe and its Islamic neighbors became the central element of difference and identity; But the 1350 years that have passed since then mean by no means only hostile neighborhood, but also fruitful mediations from the East and contacts between cultures. Times of cultural openness and exchange have always been flourishing epochs in the history of Europe. The Muslims in the Balkans, who, like in Bosnia, integrated their religion into the Habsburg state, have understood themselves as European Muslims since the end of the 19th century. Their tradition can make an important contribution to the integration of immigrant Muslims from different parts of the Islamic world, who shape the image of Islam in Europe today.
How can we maintain or re-sharpen awareness of this common, diverse heritage? Which concrete political measures are required to achieve a stronger identification of the citizens with this Europe, with the EU?

Conclusions - European identity formation in shared responsibility

A piece of European identity is evident in the process of economic integration, which began with the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community and later the European Economic Community. The creation of the internal market laid the foundations for the free movement of goods, capital, people and services, for economic and monetary union and thus for the introduction of the euro. The result is better framework conditions for the economy and a higher quality of life for people. The monetary union has proven itself particularly in the current financial crisis despite national disparities and promises long-term stability. In order to develop a sense of identity among European citizens, however, it is above all essential to reconcile economic dynamism and social justice: "The free play of market forces must be incorporated into a set of rules that is not only intended to prevent undesirable developments and abuses, but also focuses on the provision of basic social needs and an adequate level of social security. " [6)] In view of the dramatic financial and economic crisis, this demand is more relevant than ever.

But the Union must also strengthen its political identity. With the institutional reforms originally laid down in the Constitutional Treaty and now in the Lisbon Treaty, the Union is taking a major step towards being closer to the citizens. Decision-making processes are becoming more transparent, competencies between the EU and member states are more clearly delimited, the rights of the European Parliament are being expanded, and citizens are being given direct participation through an EU-wide citizens' initiative. For the first time, the European Council will be chaired by a president elected for two and a half years.

In particular, however, strengthening the subsidiarity concept is crucial in order to make the Union less centralized. Europe must be conceived from the citizen's perspective, i. H. from the bottom up. The principle of subsidiarity, borrowed from Catholic social teaching, sees the original right to competency in the smallest unit, i.e. H. in the municipalities and cities. Their diversity and their own functions must be respected. Only that which exceeds the strength of the smaller unit and cannot be implemented there more competently may be shifted to the higher level. And this, too, primarily in the sense of assistance, in the sense of solidarity and not first and foremost in the sense of an immediate shift of competence. At the European level, this means that only those tasks that are beyond the capabilities of the member states may fall within EU competence; for example foreign and security policy, competition and currency policy, climate protection. Everything that cannot be better achieved at European level, on the other hand, must remain the responsibility of the member states, regions, cities and municipalities or be relocated. Subsidiarity ensures unity and diversity at the same time, but it also needs control if it is not to remain a noble principle.

In order to remedy the shortcoming of the scarcely existing European public, European issues must find their way into national debates more frequently; European election campaigns may not be contested on national or local issues. The Europe-wide discussion on the outcome of the referendum in Ireland showed that there are approaches to a European public. Citizens also expect the Union to speak more strongly with one voice on foreign policy, to provide common European answers to common challenges such as globalization or climate change that cannot be tackled alone. The European Union has shown that it can be important and successful in foreign policy when it acts together.

Beyond economic and political integration, however, it is absolutely crucial that we embrace the historical, "cultural, religious and humanistic legacy of Europe, from which the inviolable and inalienable human rights as well as freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law develop as universal values have "[7)] become aware. The Culture is essential for the EU to achieve prosperity, solidarity and security while expanding its presence on the international stage. In the Treaty of Lisbon, the Union defines one of its objectives as "preserving the richness of its cultural and linguistic diversity" and ensuring "the protection and development of Europe's cultural heritage" [8]]. This goal must find concrete expression in education, cultural exchange and the promotion of good and qualified neighbors.

Europe and the European Union must be given more prominence in the curriculum. Joint history books that already exist between Germany and France and are being prepared between Germany and Poland can be a way of doing this. Language skills and exchange programs for young people, teachers, students, trainees and lecturers, cross-border partnerships and cooperation between regions, cities and municipalities, schools and universities must also be promoted even more. In the Church this applies to the cooperation between dioceses and parishes as well as associations. As the largest social group, the church in particular has a special role and responsibility here. In this way it can be possible to create a coexistence from a mere spatial coexistence - a better getting to know, understanding, understanding and possibly reconciliation, from which a feeling for our common European identity can grow.

Resolved by the main committee of the ZdK on March 27, 2009

1) See Inga Beinke, Identity - Construction and Social Fact, in: OST-WEST European Perspectives, Volume 9, 2008, Issue 2, pp. 83 ff

2) See W. Schulz in: Hans Maier, Christian roots of European identity. Lecture at the dies academicus on the 85th anniversary of the founding of the Ukrainian Free University on January 17, 2006 in Munich.

3) See O. Halecki, Europa. Limits and structure of its history, Darmstadt 1957, in: Maier, 2006.

4) Cf. R. Brague, The History of European Culture as Self-Europeanization, in: Tumult. Writings on traffic science (Vienna), 22, (1996).

5) See G. Tellenbach, in: Maier, 2006.

6) The European social model - a guideline for reforms. Declaration by the ZdK of November 25, 2006, p. 5.
The explanation can be found at:

7) Preamble to the consolidated version of the Treaty on European Union, Official Journal of the European Union C 115 of 9 May 2008.

8) Consolidated version of the Treaty on European Union, Article 3, Paragraph 3.