March 28, 2017
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Tuesday, March 28, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Does the secular European project have a future?
Last Saturday Europe turned 60 years old. That’s at least the modern mythology about Europe as a project that goes back to March 25, 1957 and the signing of what was known as the Treaty of Rome. In the aftermath of the destruction of World War II, there was an effort to try to confederate Europe. The Treaty of Rome was the representation of those hopes. That’s what is dated 60 years ago this past weekend. But as the New York Times and other major media, including many in Europe, pointed out, the future of Europe has everything to do with how we understand its past, and that future is entirely not what was envisioned in 1957. James Kanter writing for the New York Times writes,
“Proclaiming ‘Europe is our common future,’ 27 leaders of the European Union signed a statement on Saturday in Rome declaring their commitment to integrating the Continent even as a series of crises has badly weakened the efforts and Britain prepares to leave the bloc. The statement, known as the Rome Declaration and signed on the anniversary of the day the bloc’s foundations were laid 60 years ago, underscored the aspirations of a ‘unique union with common institutions and strong values, a community of peace, freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.’”Show Full Transcript
In terms of worldview analysis this is a really, really big story—big as we look to the past, the present, and the future. Concerning the future, there are huge questions overhanging what is now known as the European Union, including the most fundamental question as to whether it can survive. Behind that is the larger question as to whether the European project can survive. In terms of the present, there are very huge tensions within Europe. Those tensions are made abundantly clear by the vote undertaken in the United Kingdom just last year to leave the European Union, even though Britain’s is the second-largest economy and had been one the most important balancing influences within that group. But of course when we’re looking to the past, we really are looking to the big story.
If we’re talking about what is now claimed to be something like the 60th birthday of Europe, you come to recognize that it’s ludicrous to suggest that Europe is only 60 years old. But 60 years ago this past weekend is a fairly good marker for the rise of the modern secular project of Europe. Behind that is the larger question of European identity. Historians looking for a date would probably point to the year 800. In the year 800, Charles the Great, or Charlemagne as he is known, united much of continental Europe under his rule claiming to reestablish the Holy Roman Empire. Keep in mind that the Roman Empire itself had fallen just about four centuries before the rise of Charlemagne. There were of course peoples living in Europe long before the rise of what was called the Holy Roman Empire, but what’s important is that it was in that reestablished empire that the idea of Europe as a common civilization was born, a common civilization that did not include common languages or even common ethnic traditions.
As you look throughout Europe, there was always a great deal of diversity, but a common understanding that did include a shared worldview when it came most basically to the question of the meaning of life and the role of government. And of course as you look back to that you come to understand that that project of Europe, that project going back to Charlemagne, was essentially, irreducibly Christian at its core. So even when you are looking at Europe as a project and its beginnings, there is no question that Christianity supplied the predominating worldview that made Europe as a project possible. And of course as a footnote to be inserted here, those of us in the United States have to understand that our nation is also an extension of that European project, but with a considerable distinction in terms of our own revolutionary history and of course the separation of a vast ocean.
But going back to the past of Europe, we come to understand that this European project in the contemporary sense, this very secular project, dates back to the catastrophic aftermath of World War II. But it was another catastrophe that further back really became the impetus for what we know now. That was going back to the year 1815 in the aftermath of Napoleon in the Napoleonic Wars. In that year we saw the establishment of what was known as the Concert of Europe, and once again, there was the effort even back then now more than 200 years ago to try to establish a pan-European regime of peace. That fell apart rather quickly in the bloody wars of the 19th century and the absolutely horrifying wars of the 20th century. But as we come to understand it, it was that project in the wake of the Enlightenment that really sowed the seeds for what we know as the modern secular understanding of Europe.
So in terms of the broad expanse of history, we have to jump from the year 800 with Charlemagne all the way to 1815 and the Congress of Vienna known as the Concert of Europe, and then we date from that point forward a radical secularization of European culture, slow at first, but accelerated especially after World War II. That takes us to that 60th anniversary that took place just this past weekend, and the leaders of the contemporary European project find themselves quite clearly at a crossroads. That was evident in the headline of the New York Times article,
“E.U. Leaders Project Unity, Despite Concerns of Failure.”
Now just note that headline, it includes the key words “unity” and “failure” in very close proximity. Now remember that that 60th birthday celebrated on Saturday was for the Treaty of Rome, the original agreement that gave birth to this contemporary European project known as the European Union. And keep in mind that on that birthday last weekend, you had leaders of European nations and representatives of what is now the vast bureaucracy of the European Union gather together to sign a new statement in which they underscored their hopes for a “unique union with common institutions and strong values, a community of peace, freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.”
But immediately after citing that document, Kanter writes,
“In a nod to reality, however, the leaders acknowledged that they were ‘facing unprecedented challenges, both global and domestic,’ including ‘regional conflicts, terrorism, growing migratory pressures, protectionism and social and economic inequalities.’”
They are also facing the fact that the second-largest economy is just bolting from the European Union, and they are facing the fact that the European Union is largely failing as a project. Its worldview is now exhausted. Kanter makes that explicit when he writes,
“Behind the pomp and ceremony were concerns about the prospect of the project’s failure — even its collapse.”
Most Christians, especially in the United States, are likely to give this story very little attention, but it deserves very close attention. The reason for that is quite simple. We need to keep in mind that Europe as a project, as a civilization, is impossible without the foundational influence of Christianity, the prevailing importance of the Christian worldview as the ideological and worldview architecture for all of Europe as we know it today. We also have to understand that Christianity as we know it today, primarily as American Christians, cannot be told as a story without the vast influence of European Christianity and the historic developments that came as a part of that history.
But this takes us back to the year 2003 when the draft Constitution for the European Union was being developed. There was then deservedly quite a bit of controversy because as that constitution was adopted, what was explicitly rejected was even a reference to the historic importance of Christianity in Europe’s past. The explicit and intentional rejection of Christianity even a reference to Christianity in terms of the formation of Europe was made clear in this draft constitution’s language saying that the European Union would cherish values that had been “nourished first by the civilizations of Greece and Rome, and then also nurtured by a spiritual impulse.” They also identified Europe as being driven by the intellectual currents of the Enlightenment. There you’ll notice the fact that those are entirely secular references. The only thing that comes close to any reference to Christianity is the fact that Europe is concluded here to have been driven by “spiritual impulses.”
But what is rejected, quite specifically, intentionally rejected, is Christianity. Christianity had become an embarrassment to the secular leaders of Europe, and they wanted Christianity expunged, as it were, even from the record of how Europe came to be. But now we are seeing the absolute exhaustion of this contemporary secular European project. It is failing because even in the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union, even as the European Union continued to expand and take in additional members, it was losing its very identity. Furthermore this new European secular project was an attempt to try to establish a protective foundation for human rights and human dignity, but on a purely secular basis. What we’re witnessing now is the complete failure of that effort.
We have to understand that human rights and human dignity are at their base necessarily theological. There has to be some theological impulse behind the affirmation of why human beings have dignity, why every single human being has dignity—human beings under every condition, under every flag of every ethnicity, under every condition imaginable. Without a theological foundation, human rights and human dignity in secular terms become merely political abstractions.
Writing back in the early years of the 21st century, John Callanan pointed out that the contemporary prophets of secular Europe want us to believe that Europe emerged after World War II by something that can only be described as immaculate conception; it simply happened.
But Christians looking at this story coming out of Europe also have to understand that there is here a very cogent reminder of the fact that there are two forms of nationalism. One of them is a very virulent force, a force that is based upon the idolatry of the nation and can often be reduced to a form of racism, but there is another form of nationalism. And that is a healthy understanding of the fact that there are peoples who are held together by a common culture, most often by a common language, by a common conception of nations, and there is a proper patriotism, a proper national identity. That’s what’s actually tearing Europe apart right now. The prophets of the European Union wanted Europe to become the identity, not the individual states and those nations with all of their ethnic identities. But it turns out that those national identities are even more powerful than the pan-national identity of the European Union. And again, a biblical worldview helps to explain that, the doctrine of subsidiarity that points out that the closer we are to where life is lived the more allegiance there is not only do but also the more allegiance that is felt by those who are a part of that community. There are indeed idols, Christians understand, of both nationalism and globalism. What we see right now coming out of Europe is the failure of the idolatry of globalism. You wouldn’t know that listening to the leaders of this contemporary European project as they celebrated on Saturday. The New York Times article ends with this,
“But Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, the bloc’s executive body, said, ‘Let us not lose perspective.’ As daunting as the challenges may feel today, he said, they were ‘in no way comparable to those faced by our founding fathers.’ Europe, he said, had already ‘managed to achieve almost eternal peace.’”
We can indeed be very thankful that since the end of World War II these major Western European nations have not gone to war with one another. But have they “managed to achieve almost eternal peace”?
That is betrayed even by the daily headlines coming out of Europe, but it does indeed tell us something that these leaders of Europe gather together last Saturday to celebrate the fact that Europe “had already ‘managed to achieve almost eternal peace.’”
Christians do indeed look forward to a reign of eternal peace. But it’s not going to come at the hands of any government, including that of the European Union.
On terrorism -- can you read the mind of a dead man? Police in London try.
Next, we turn to the worldview implications of yet another story dominating the headlines, and rightly so: the deadly terror attack that took place last Wednesday in the city of London. Of immediate interest are two different headlines, one in the New York Times one in the Wall Street Journal occurring on virtually the same day. The headline in the Wall Street Journal,
“Attacker Led Life Punctuated by Violence.”
The headline in the same day’s New York Times,
“London Assailant Led Quiet Life, Until Dark Side Broke Through.”
Those two very different headlines are talking about the very same man, and the two stories are published on the very same day. Reporting from London, a team of reporters for the Wall Street Journal write,
“On Tuesday, Khalid Masood ate a takeout kebab for dinner and spent his last night alive alone in a small, budget hotel in this English seaside town. He checked out before 8 a.m. the next morning, like anyone else with plans for the day. ‘He just put the key on the counter and left,’ the hotel’s receptionist said. Hours later, police say, Masood went on a rampage 50 miles to the north in London—mowing down pedestrians with his car, killing three, before leaping from the vehicle and stabbing an unarmed policeman to death outside the British Parliament. Police then shot and killed Masood. In the days before the attacks, Masood, a 52-year-old British convert to Islam, crisscrossed the country, traveling from Brighton on the south coast to the central city of Birmingham and back before aiming himself at the heart of the capital to undertake the last acts in an itinerant life punctuated with violence.”
On the very same day, the New York Times reported,
“He described himself as “friendly and approachable.” He had a degree in economics, and said he was a good listener. Adrian Russell Ajao, the man who drove a car into pedestrians in the shadow of Big Ben and then killed a police officer with a knife in Britain’s worst act of terrorism since 2005, and who called himself Khalid Masood after converting to Islam in his late 30s, was a 52-year-old husband and father.”
The next paragraph,
“Prone to violent outbursts as a younger man, he had led a quiet life in recent years, usually attracting notice from the neighbors only when he washed his car in the driveway or mowed his lawn. Most afternoons he would pick up his two youngest children from primary school in a quiet suburban part of Birmingham, in the West Midlands of England.”
In these two different stories as reflected in those two different headlines, both from very responsible newspapers, we have not completely different but yet quite divergent interpretations of the same individual, even after the heinous acts that he carried out last week. The very same day that those articles appeared, another article came in the Financial Times published in London. The headline of this article,
“The urgent struggle to unlock a dead man’s mind”
The reporters describe the murder and mayhem that took place last Wednesday, and then they write,
“Almost immediately, an impossible task began: trying to read a dead man’s mind. As in the aftermath of attacks in Paris and Brussels, Orlando and Berlin, the desperation to understand the motives of mass killers leads to a frantic trawl of what scraps of biographical detail can be found. As with any life, those scraps are contradictory and do not add up to a simple, clear portrait.”
One expert cited in the article is Marc Sageman, identified as a psychiatrist and former CIA officer who has served as an expert witness in terrorism cases. He said ,
“This notion that there’s a continuity in someone’s personality so you can see a kernel of evil — it’s completely absurd.”
The reporters then write, however,
“There are, however, elements of Masood’s background that echo what seem to have been decisive moments in the formation of other western jihadis.”
As the reporters make clear, a part of the most troubling aspect of this story is the fact that intelligence and police authorities had ample reason to be watching this individual. He had been convicted of a violent assault with a knife upon a neighbor some years before, and he had also even in recent years come to the attention of intelligence agencies after he had converted to Islam as an adult and then, it was feared, become radicalized perhaps while he was spending time in a British jail.
From a Christian worldview perspective, one of the issues that looms large here is our inability to read any other human mind or heart. That is particularly difficult when we consider the war on terror and the challenge now faced by police and intelligence agencies. They can have someone like Khalid Masood on their radar. They can watch them for him time. They may even detain him or even on grounds put him in prison. But the reality is that what comes after that may be even worse than what came before.
And when you look at these two headlines, what’s really interesting to me is the fact that you have two of the most influential newspapers in the world who seem to have come to very different conclusions about whether this violence should have been predictable or not.
All kinds of questions are being asked in the aftermath of this terror attack, as we now know is the common pattern, but there are some questions that are off-limits in terms of the global political conversation. One of those is, of course, the very issue of Islam. But as you look at yesterday’s edition of the New York Times, there was a very interesting front-page story. It’s by reporters writing from Birmingham in England. The headline,
“English City Linked to Jihadis Is Left Wincing and Asking Why.”
We’re also told that in this city of industrial England there are now 1.1 million people, but more than one in five of those residents declare Islam as their religion. The Times dismisses some of what is written about Birmingham, but then says,
“Nonetheless, Birmingham, Britain’s second-biggest city behind London, has produced a disproportionate number of convicted Islamist militants, including some linked to the Sept. 11 attacks, and to last year’s bombings in Brussels.”
The next paragraph,
“So many Islamist militants have been born in Birmingham — or have passed through — that the Birmingham Mail newspaper once lamented that the city had the dubious distinction of ‘Terror Central.’”
Modern terrorism, though it has deep roots in the past, is indeed a very different challenge than international war. But headlines like this just bring attention to how hollow are the claims as was made on Saturday that Europe has now entered an age of eternal peace. Not hardly. Indeed looking at the situation more closely, it might, horrifyingly enough, actually be easier to read the intention of nations than the intention of neighbors. Khalid Masood’s neighbors believed him to be peaceful, and he was until he wasn’t.
The ultrasound of unborn baby said to “upset” mothers considering abortion. Why?
Finally a really interesting story that appeared over the weekend in the Courier-Journal, the newspaper of Louisville, Kentucky. Deborah Yetter reports a story with the headline,
“Abortion law foes get day in court.”
Here is how the story begins,
“A physician who provides abortions in Louisville testified Thursday that a new state law requiring her to conduct an ultrasound exam on pregnant women, then attempt to display and describe the image of the fetus has been very upsetting for patients.”
The reporter here is referencing a law that was recently passed by the General Assembly and signed into law by Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin that requires an ultrasound amongst other steps before a women can gain a legal abortion in the state of Kentucky. But what’s most interesting here is the emotivist language that was used in that first paragraph as if the most significant moral issue at stake is whether or not a woman who is considering an abortion might become upset by any indication of the actual personhood of the unborn life within her. The abortion doctor identified as Dr. Tanya Franklin speaking of the women said,
“Some of them are crying, some of them are sobbing, some of them are defeated and desperate.”
Now remember the cause of this stress is merely the fact that there was a required ultrasound. Stephen Pitt, who is the Governor’s counsel in Kentucky and was also representing the state’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services, made a statement to the paper. The reporter said that the reason behind the legislation, Pitt explained, was that it might prompt a woman to reconsider an abortion by thinking, and these are Stephen Pitt’s, words,
“Gosh, there’s a living human being inside me. Maybe I don’t want to do this.”
That is indeed the great hope behind this legislation, that there might be women who, confronted with the reality of the unborn life within them, would decide, “I really don’t want to do this,” meaning she will not go forward with an abortion. That’s why those in the pro-abortionist camp are so adamant that the ultrasound should not happen. It reveals the truth they do not want that woman to know.