This essay argues that there is a strong relationship between ethics, religion and the EU. The member states and member parties of the European People’s Party (EPP) should be leading the debate on ethics, values and religion, consistently applying the principle of subsidiarity: although policy matters should be dealt with at the lowest possible level of decision-making, some are best dealt with by a common approach at the EU level.
The present paper examines the relationship between ethics, religion and the EU in 10 sections. Section 1 explains the link between ethics and the economy, arguing that the project of the single market has ethical implications, for example concerning health care and abortion issues. Section 2 shows that the EPP is the only major party in the EU that defends the autonomy of the member states on questions of religion. In contrast, liberal and socialist ideologies violate the principle of subsidiarity and, in doing so, endanger religious pluralism.
Section 3 argues that ethics and religion are not relics of the past, but can provide resources to feel at home in modern times. The EPP cannot deny that European societies are becoming more secular. It needs to search for a balance between respect for traditions and cohesive societal relationships on the one hand, and globalisation, progress and individual autonomy on the other hand. Viewed from this perspective, our multicultural society can be seen as both a threat and an opportunity. Section 4 highlights that secularisation is not a universal phenomenon and European liberal democracy faces threats from isolated and radicalised communities, often funded by radical Islamist donors from abroad. Section 5 suggests that, in contrast to those small radicalised groups, the majority of immigrants and their descendants identify with European values. The coexistence of Christians and non-Christians can be a positive factor. The EPP might do more to attract those immigrants who subscribe to notions such as respect for the family and justice.
Section 6 explains the need to find political responses to the coalition between opponents of immigration and anti-Europeans. The EPP could contribute to changes in thinking about immigration and asylum, as well as development aid. Such responses could be facilitated by the building of a new coalition with the Orthodox Churches, as outlined in section 7. This coalition could focus on issues such as the economy and social policy, and the relationship with Orthodox Christians within the EU, as well as with the Church of Constantinople and Christians in the Middle East. The challenge of anti-Europeanism can also be met by fostering the European identity and values in a global context, as described in section 8.
Whilst sections 1 to 8 concern societal questions and the EPP’s responses, sections 9 and 10 look more specifically at debates within the EPP. Section 9 examines different positions on the socio-economic and socio-cultural and ethical axes. The socio-economic axis describes the positioning of groups such as economic liberals, proponents of the Rhineland model and advocates of a strong welfare state. The socio-cultural axis relates to positions on the issues of faith, secularism and culture, and warns against polarisation between secularists on one hand and guardians of the Christian identity of the EPP on the other. The final section, 10, expands on three specific socio-economic points: the global financial and economic architecture, international development policies, and the ecological market model. Sections 9 and 10 both argue for the need for constructive discussions in the EPP, because the ‘automatic pilot’ of pragmatism and polls is an insufficient instrument to guide the party.
The text relates these themes to the new European parliamentary term 2014–19, for which the EPP has been entrusted with a new mandate and responsibility.
Within the atmosphere of pluralism, dialogue and tolerance, the EPP should continuously cherish its Christian roots and values while responding to the economic, social and cultural realities of the day. The EPP must also leave enough room for those that belong to non-Christian religions and other beliefs and convictions. Even non-Christians must be able to say: ‘From the perspective of my own sources of inspiration (or religion), I agree enthusiastically with the EPP’s view of humanity.’
- Throughout Scholasticism, Europe witnessed its greatest ideological consensus ever=>Today’sEurope is the result of a once Christian society.
- Latin, the holy language, became the default language among European intellectuals
-Some abbey schools evolved into the first universities
-The genesis of Europe as a cultural entity
- Early USA: European immigrants (often fleeing religious persecution) established the first full-fledged democracy in a profound Christian society
Tocqueville: separation of Church and State is a Christian concept. Strong tendency on the European continent to underestimate the key role of British and American Christianity in the creation of modern democracy in favor of the later French anti-clerics.
- Weber, Huntington…: Capitalism as a consequence of Protestant work ethic.
- The 20th century was both the least religious and the bloodiest century ever in historyà Attempts to get rid of Europe’s Christian ethical roots failed dramatically
Rummel: 10 crusades spread over 3 centuries =>1Mln people killed due to religious violence… In half a century (from Russian revolution until China’s Cultural revolution) 200 Mln people killed due to ideological violence
The direct influence is incomparably smaller. Yet…
- The European People’s Party is the largest party in the European parliament (mainly composed by Christian-democratic fractions).
- In Belgium the majority of schools and hospitals is still labeled as Christian.
- Kepel: The resurgence of religion in the modern world (since the 1970’s)
- In today’s Europe, science has much more authority of truth than religion
- Tendency of alienation from Christianity/religion (often identified as a source of violence)
- Nietzsche: the Jewish-Christian paradigm has lost its credibility in Europe
Christianity and worldly power
-Paul: when I am weak, then I am strong.
-Lord Acton: Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
-“Powerful” Church → Crusades, Inquisition, indulgence for sale…
-America today: to many “Christians” good government policy implies a sky-high defense budget, dead penalty, and the spread of private weapons, rather than investments in good education, health care, social care… “What would Jesus do?”
Christianity as salt of European earth: the way ahead
- Increased awareness of Christian history with respect to culture, politics, science…
- History learns that Christians tend to benefit from resistance and lack of worldly power =>purity, Christianity by choice rather than by conformism or opportunism, less room for arrogance…
- Balancing strong and weak points of European Christianity, compared to American…
- Sincere and exemplary behavior rather than hypocrisy and telling others how to behave
- Indifference as a threat to Christianity (rather than resistance from atheism, Islam…)
- Churches must remain (or become again) religious institutes, not political, scientific…
-The European Values Studies(all editions)
-Kepel, La revanche de Dieu (1991/2003)
-Nietzsche,Die fröhlicheWissenschaft (1882)
-Tocqueville, De la démocratie en Amérique(1835/1840)
-Weber, Die protestantische Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus (1904/1905)
The central point a forthcoming dissertation on the legal conception of ‘religion’ aims to make, is that the concept of religion employed by courts in the West is not as ‘transhistorical and transcultural’ as is sometimes tacitly assumed but instead is heavily influenced by Christianity in general and Protestantism in particular. As a result, the protection the right to freedom of religion or belief currently provides to, for example, Islam and Judaism is too limited.
I do not consider the thesis that the right to freedom of religion or belief may have a strong relationship to in particular the Christian heritage in itself to be very surprising. It would, to the contrary, be quite a sensation to somehow discover that the legal conception of religion in the West had not been influenced by Christianity.Whether the arguably more particularly Protestant influence is as strong as the author assumes, is a different matter. It could well be argued that definitions employed in this manuscript and other recent literature on the topic, such as ‘the view that religion denotes a sphere of life separate and distinct from all others, and that this sphere is largely private and not public, voluntary and not compulsory’, represent the very opposite of what Protestantism has historically stood for.
The proposed paper will argue that, to the contrary, Christianity in general, and Protestantism in particular, have eventually given rise to a generous interpretation of the right to freedom of religion or belief. Such a generous interpretation suggests first of all that, because spirituality is the keystone of human identity, this right occupies a special place in the universe of rights. Secondly, it implies that religious belief cannot be separated from religious practice. Thirdly, the right to freedom of religion or belief applies to all religions and also to people who do not adhere to a particular religion. Fourthly, the associational and institutional dimensions of the right are important, not just with respect to religious organizations, but also with respect to civil society organizations more generally. A fifth element of a generous religious freedom conception holds that, although not sacred or inviolable, the bar to interference regarding the family as the fundamental social unit is relatively high. The sixth element is that human dignity can well serve as the underlying foundation of the right, as it can be subscribed to by different religious and other traditions. A seventh and final element is that equality does not necessarily imply identical treatment.
A generous approach to the right to freedom of religion or belief does not so much imply maximal but rather optimal religious freedom. Although the limits to the right can to a certain extent differ from place to place, and from time to time, they have historically by and large been determined by the same universal, transcendent truths which also sustain constitutional democracy more generally. This can be regarded as a major – though not exclusive – potential contribution of Christianity also to the future of Western and indeed world civilization.
Key bibliographical sources:
Cohen, Jean L. & Cécile Laborde (eds.) (2015) Religion, Secularism, and Constitutional Democracy (New York: Columbia University Press).
DeGirolami, Marc O. (2013), The Tragedy of Religious Freedom (Cambridge: Harvard University Press).
Petty, Aaron R. (forthcoming, 2016), The Legal Conception of ‘Religion’.
Spencer, Nick (2014), How to Think about Religious Freedom (London: Theos).
Winnifred Fallers Sullivan, Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, Saba Mahmood, Peter G. Danchin (eds.) (2015), Politics of Religious Freedom (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press).