Of God and Men

Unlike America, Europe’s political establishment is hostile to Christianity.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004 12:01 a.m. EST

ROME–George W. Bush concluded his election victory speech with “God bless America.” It’s likely that in the European Parliament, the U.S. president would be considered unfit for his job on account of his religious beliefs. Even worse, for Europe’s legislators, would be that he’s not ashamed to express those beliefs so clearly and so publicly.

If you consider that Mr. Bush won re-election in part because of his firm stand on family values and other moral issues, it becomes apparent that Europe and United States are drifting apart not only on foreign policy but also on their vision of a democratic society and of the proper relationship between politics and ethics.

One of America’s founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton, was convinced that politics needed values it could not produce itself and had to rely on other agencies (mainly the churches) to nurture the virtues civil life needs. The state could therefore not privilege any church in particular but had to maintain a positive attitude to religion in general.

Jean Jacques Rousseau thought, on the contrary, that the state needed a kind of civil religion of its own and the existing churches had to bow to this civil religion by incorporating its commandments in their theology. Many scholars see in this idea of Rousseau’s the seminal principle of totalitarianism. The tradition of Rousseau and of the Jacobins has survived in Europe in less virulent forms than in the not too distant past, but it’s still part of the European political and ideological landscape.

These differing philosophical approaches to religion and politics do not give us, however, the whole truth. In the 1960s, both Europe and the United States lived through a cultural era that belittled traditional values and wanted to prepare the young generation for a world of tomorrow in which individual responsibility, self-sacrifice and other virtues of the past would be needed no more. In this world nobody would need moral convictions. It would be a world without the constraint of limitedness disposable resources. Nobody would need to toil for his bread.

Unfortunately that tomorrow did not come. What came, on the contrary, was the collapse of communism. We still live in a world in which resources are limited, we have to work hard to have our share of them, we need the support of a family and we need the old traditional virtues that had been too easily dismissed. Americans have become aware of this state of affairs sooner than Europeans. This is another explanation of the difference between the two sides of the Atlantic. But we can expect also in Europe a change of attitudes within a comparatively short period of time. Our struggling economy and ageing society can survive and be modernized only if we recover at least some of the values of the past–among them the ethics of hardworking and caring fathers and mothers.

This is difficult to accept in Europe because our intellectuals were always convinced that modernity brings with itself the extinction of religious faith. Now America, the most advanced country in the world, shows us that religion may be and indeed is a fundamental element of a free society and of a modern economy.

Mr. Buttiglione , Italy’s minister of European affairs, last month withdrew his candidacy to become European justice and home affairs commissioner.

I think this is a wonderful piece so I included it in its entirety. This piece provides real insight into the origin of the difference in opinions between Old Europe and America. It also alludes to a belief that traditional values from the time before Europe’s experiments with communism will be necessary for Old Europe to compete in the global economy.