The EU is now facing may fairly be cold its greatest ever crisis following the UK’s vote last week to leave the EU. Within hours there were calls in Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden for similar referendums to be held.
European leaders have reacted in two opposite ways. Some, such as the leaders of Hungary and Poland have called for reform of the EU so that it listens more to ordinary people’s concerns. Others such as the French and German foreign ministers, Jean-Marc Ayrault and Frank-Walter Steinmeier, have called for further political integration of existing EU countries.
However, all of this ignores the wider crisis of values in Europe that Barnabas Fund drew attention to in an editorialat the beginning of the year. Put simply, what does the EU exist for, what sort of society is it seeking achieve? The truth is that there are different answers to that question depending on who you ask and to some extent depending on which country’s leaders you ask.
One of the EU’s founding fathers, Germany’s post-war Chancellor Konrad Adenauer (1949-63) had a vision of a Christian Europe inspired by the emperor Charlemagne who had united Europe into a political union with a common currency. While the Franco-German Robert Schuman who became France’s post war foreign minister (1948-52) was equally emphatic that Europe had to be rebuilt in a way that was “deeply rooted in Christian values”. However, their views were at odds with the values of the French Republic which derived from the French revolution and were explicitly secular. Indeed, the French revolution itself had resulted in a deliberate policy of “dechristianisation” of society. It is this secular humanist vision of Europe that now appears to have triumphed, with the 2009 Lisbon Treaty omitting all references to Europe’s Christian past and instead merely referring to its values as being inspired by “the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe”.
Yet these vague secular humanist values have now themselves created a crisis, both because in many people’s minds they appear to undermine the idea of national identity, itself a Biblical idea, and more specifically because the huge influx of refugees has challenged European society to its roots as to what its values actually are. For example, whilst the German and Swedish governments have sought to downplay the amount of police time taken up dealing with migrants, social media is awash of reports of aggressive behaviour by a significant minority of young male Muslim migrants.
Barnabas Fund has repeatedly reported on the intimidation, harassment and sometimes outright persecution of Christians in refugee shelters as Islamists attempt to enforce shari’a there. Yet, these are reports that the German government has downplayed. This all points to a situation where European leaders do not clearly know what their values are, still less be prepared to robustly defend them. This is despite the fact that many genuine refugees come to Europe precisely because they perceive those values to offer them the freedom and protection they lack in their own countries.
Europe was founded on Christian values, not just the empire of Charlemagne, but other countries too. For example, the inscription on the Jelling Stone dating to around 965AD, which Denmark regards as its birth certificate, describes the national acceptance of Christianity as one of King Harald Bluetooth’s two great achievements:
“Harald King had these stones made after Gorm his father and after Thyra his mother – that Harald who won all Denmark and Norway and made the Danes Christian…”
While Winston Churchill saw Christianity as central to the founding of England as a nation by Alfred the Great, writing in his History of the English Speaking Peoples that:
“We are watching the birth of a nation. The result of Alfred’s work was the future mingling of Saxon and Dane in a common Christian England.”
The implications of those Judaeo-Christian values, however imperfectly held, were slowly worked out over the centuries to create some of our most important institutions such as parliamentary democracy and human rights which first emerged in the Protestant countries of Europe and North America. They also created a broadly welcoming attitude to refugees, with England in particular being known as the Asylum Christi (i.e. country of refuge for persecuted Christians). They created both a clear sense of identity and values that needed to be defended, and a welcome for victims of religious persecution from other countries without one compromising the other.
That is a balance that Europe desperately needs to recover. Underpinning the migrant crisis and the various reactions to it lies the secular humanist assumption of European governments that all religious are merely cultural expressions and therefore equally valid. This has led to a situation where, with the notable exceptions of the Czech Republic and Poland, European countries refuse to prioritise asylum applications from non-Muslim minorities such as Christians in Syria and Iraq who are facing genocide. Similarly, European governments have manifestly failed to protect Christian refugees who have made it overland to countries such as Germany and Sweden where they face staggeringly high levels of abuse and religious persecution in refugee shelters. That itself is one of clearest manifestations of the crisis of values that Europe is now facing and the failure of secular humanism to provide values that are both compassionate and capable of standing up to the threat of radical Islam.