Reconsidering Secularism

Some Europeans are still amused by the primary reason American voters gave for their electoral choices. "Moral values?" What an antiquated concept! And claiming to be "a city on a hill"? What arrogance! But one European official thinks the United States is on to something. Rocco Buttiglione, Italy's minister of European affairs, wrote an article titled "Of God and Men," published in the November 10 Opinion Journal, an online feature of the Wall Street Journal. The article began by noting that President Bush concluded his election victory speech by saying "God bless America." Buttiglione comments, "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." The Italian statesman notes that Mr. Bush's firm stand on family values and other moral issues was a major factor in his re-election. He opines that this makes it apparent that "Europe and the 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." He contrasts the views, for example, of Alexander Hamilton and Jean Jacques Rousseau. Hamilton believed politics "needed values it could not produce itself" and needed to rely heavily on churches "to nurture the virtues civil life needs." By contrast, Rousseau thought churches needed to bow before civil religion, which is why Europeans will not tolerate an under God phrase in their pledges of allegiance. On both sides of the Atlantic in the cultural revolution of the sixties, traditional values like individual responsibility and self-sacrifice were jettisoned in favor of individual freedom and self-indulgence. "In this world nobody would need moral convictions," writes Buttiglione. In a world of limitless disposable resources, "nobody would need to toil for his bread." Well, back in the real world, that fantasized tomorrow never came, though secularism did take deeper root in Europe than in the United States. Buttiglione points out, "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." Some Europeans ridicule America's resolve to be "a city set on a hill," implying that we should abandon the moral high ground and join them in a convictionless swamp. But there's hope that the migration may move in the opposite direction. Buttiglione reasons that a struggling economy and aging society in Europe "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." He thinks "we can expect also in Europe a change of attitudes within a comparatively short period of time." Good news. Then he concludes, "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." Amen! I could not have put that better myself. For further reading and information: Rocco Buttiglione, "Of God and Men: Unlike America's, Europe's political establishment is hostile to Christianity," Wall Street Journal, 10 November 2004. David Klinghoffer, "What We Bush Voters Share: In God We Trust," Los Angeles Times, 8 November 2004. Collin Hansen, "Now That You've Got Political Power, What Are Your Going to Do with It?Christianity Today, 12 November 2004. Trudy Chun, "A Legacy of Light: Ronald Reagan's 'City on a Hill'," BreakPoint WorldView, October 2004. See the "Worldview for Parents" page "The First Requirement of Leadership" for a comparison of Rousseau and George Washington. BreakPoint Commentary No. 041117, "The Threat at Home: Europe and Radical Islam." BreakPoint Commentary No. 041108, "It's Not Payback Time: Christians and Politics as Unusual." BreakPoint Commentary No. 041104, "Don't Stop Now: 'Value Voters' and the Future." Charles Colson and Ellen Vaughn, Being the Body (W Publishing, 2003).


Chuck Colson


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