mericans of all political stripes tend to see what they want to see in the European Union. For progressives, its example is supposed to show how a robust welfare state, including universal health care, is consistent with prosperity. Its also supposed to show how separation of church and state, multilateralism, multiculturalism, opposition to the death penalty, embrace of gay marriage, state-sponsored preschool, gun control, the Kyoto Treaty, and other progressive causes are all consistent with a just and sustainable civilizationindeed, with becoming a moral superpower.
And so we have received books like Mark Leonards Why Europe Will Run the 21st Century (2005), which extols the EUs ability to attract new nations into its orbit and convert them to its secular, humanistic values by force of moral example. The EU has a way of accommodating and nurturing diversity in a liberal way, Leonard explains. It has a set of norms that are essentially about respecting differencethe rule of law, human rights, etc., which it embodies in its relations with other countries.
Americans holding traditional religious and conservative values, meanwhile, have their worldview confirmed by a different vision of Europe. Its a Europe that forgot to have children and is now well on the way to committing slow-motion autogenocide, that is overrun by hostile immigrants, that is economically stagnant, that can no longer afford its welfare state, that is militarily irrelevant, and that at the end of the day cannot even find the voice to defend its most politically correct values, such as freedom of speech and sexual equality, when attacked by Islamic fundamentalists.
And so we get books like Mark Steyns America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It (2006), in which the conservative columnist writes Europes obituary, ascribing its death to godlessness, narcissism, relativism, pacifism, and willful sterility. Europe by the end of this century will be a continent after the neutron bomb, Steyn writes. The grand buildings will still be standing but the people who built them will be gone. And long before the Maldive Islands are submerged by rising sea levels every Spaniard and Italian will be six feet under. This spring, conservative Walter Laqueur published a more sober and mournful obituary, The Last Days of Europe: Epitaph for an Old Continent, in which the best he can say is that decadence is attractive and infectious, and that maybe Europes invading Muslims will fall for it.
So who is right? A new offering from Penn State historian Philip Jenkins provides a brilliantly researched, intellectually honest, and surprising account of Europes cultural future. In Gods Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europes Religious Crisis, Jenkins is guardedly optimistic, though not for reasons that will leave most secular Americans comfortable. Europe will survive, indeed will flourish. But in the process, it will become far more religious and morally conservative.
One reason is simple demography. In a society in which childless and single- children families have become the norm, an overwhelmingly large share of the children who are born descend from highly conservative, religious parents who follow the injunction of the Bible and the Koran to go forth and multiply. Jenkins makes this more than just an abstract proposition by providing on-the-ground reporting of a Christian reawakening that is already occurring in Europe.
How many Americans would have guessed, for example, that the Catholic Church is now flourishing in London? Jenkins quotes one parishioner, We used to celebrate Mass three times on a Sunday and we were never full. Now we have six or eight services every Sunday and people are standing outside in the street. Britain is still very secular compared to the United States. In 2001, only 33 percent of adults attended church during the Christmas season, but by 2005 that number had surged to 43 percent. In part, these numbers reflect the migration of Polish Catholics to Britain in recent years. But around Britain, American-style Protestant megachurches are also flourishing, such as Holy Trinity in Brompton, which now attracts 3,000 to its Sunday services and is organized into lay-led groups of twenty-five to thirty members who meet fortnightly.
In a particularly elucidative chapter entitled Faith Among the Ruins, Jenkins points to similar examples of religious revival across Europe. The number of young Italian women entering convents is surging. In 2005, the German Protestant Convention in Hanover attracted a record crowd of 400,000. In Finland, most people may be fed up with the official Lutheran Church, but large numbers of urban teenagers and young adults are flocking to the alternative Thomas Mass, which is based on liturgical traditions of the Lutheran Church, heavily influenced by ecumenicism. Jenkins estimates that Europes evangelicals, charismatics, and Pentecostals, many of them immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa, outnumber Muslims by almost two to one, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
When I first read Jenkinss book, my reaction was interesting, if true. But as it happened, I found myself in Poland this May, and was surprised to discover the Catholic churches of Warsaw and Krakow filled to the last pewand not just with old ladies, but with enthusiastic young professionals and their children as well. Religious icons, like the black Madonna of Czestochowa, attract throngs of pilgrims, as does the birthplace of Pope John Paul II. A three-day conference of the World Congress of Families in Warsaw, at which I was a token backsliding secularist speaker, drew thousands of religious conservatives from across Europe who vibrated with energy.
The reason more Americans arent aware of these trends, Jenkins argues, is because most of what they know about Europe is filtered first by the European media, which are overwhelmingly secular and generally hostile to organized religion. European accounts of religious life all but ignore significant trends or events, and this lack of attention means that these movements receive little attention elsewhere.
For similar reasons, most Americans have little conception of how conservative ordinary Europeans are on a wide range of other issues. For example, no European country has practiced capital punishment since 1981. Because of the ability of elites to control public discussion, the issue is simply off the table. Yet, as Jenkins reports, majorities in most European countries support the death penalty, as well as much tougher stands on criminal justice. Similarly, the European man in the street opposes much else the European Union stands for, including sheltering asylum seekers and promoting positive discrimination (affirmative action) for Muslim youths. Americans who dont pay close attention get only hints of what a red state Europe is becomingas when, for example, a majority of voters in France and the Netherlands unexpectedly rejects the proposed EU constitution (in 2005), or when France elects a law and order president like Nicolas Sarkozy.
Putting all these various issues together, Jenkins concludes, we can envision a near future Europe that is anything but uniformly secular. The number of Christians may decline, along with Europes population as a whole, but they will account for a larger, and presumably louder, share of the population.
The influence of European Muslims will also grow. But their numbers are, as Jenkins points out, still quite small. The largest concentration of Muslims is in France, at about 8 percent of the population. In the Netherlands, 6.3 percent of the population is Muslim, and Jenkins notes that in all other current EU countries, just 4.3 percent are Muslim. Furthermore, there is great diversity within Europes Muslim citizenry. The Turks who dominate Germanys Muslim population do not even speak the same language as Frances Algerians, much less Britains Pakistanis. Moreover, polls suggest that Muslims living in Europe generally express far more positive attitudes toward Christians91 percent in France, 82 percent in Spain, and 71 percent in Britainthan do Muslims in their countries of origin. Though European Muslims are generally hostile to Jews, they are less so than Muslims living elsewhere in the world. And, as Jenkins points out, violent fundamentalists are a very tiny minority of all practicing Muslims.
Such considerations lead Jenkins to make an optimistic comparison with the United States historical experience with Catholic immigration. Fears that the nation would be swamped by immigrants, perhaps by revolutionary force, provoked Protestants to mobilize in some of the largest mass movements ever seen in American history, he reminds us, above all, the Ku Klux Klan of the early 1920s. If there is friction between Muslim immigrants and the native stock of Europe today, just be patient, Jenkins councils. Let us make a fair comparison: just how well was the United States doing with assimilation in 1925 or so?
This particular comparison strikes me as strained. Americans in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century did experience terrorism from self-styled anarchists and unionists, many of them immigrants (for example, the Haymarket bombing, the McKinley assassination). But there were never any Catholic equivalents of todays Islamic suicide bombers. Nor did Catholic crusaders assassinate people over cartoons. Moreover, to suggest that it is no great cause for alarm if Europe witnesses the resurgence of movements akin to the KKK for a generation or two strikes me as less than comforting.
Still, a confrontation between a resurgent Christianity in Europe and a militant Islam is not necessarily the new battle line in European society. Indeed, as I was reminded at the World Congress of Families in Warsaw, conservative Christians and conservative Muslims living in Europe have much more in common with each other on many issuesnotably abortion, euthanasia, and family valuesthan they do with Europes childless relativistic secularists. Time and again, speakers at the conference made this point. We are all People of the Book. The true infidels are the secularists who deny a role for the God of Abraham in public life, and who in the name of human rights and personal liberation create a culture of death.
If one defines European civilization by the public philosophy of the European Union, including its embrace of secularism and multiculturalism, then that Europe is definitely in demographic decline. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that this Europe forgot to have children and thereby lost much of its influence over the evolution of European society while also undermining the sustainability of its welfare state. If, however, one defines European civilization by its Judeo-Christian traditions, including its long history of both confronting and adapting to Islamic influences, then Europe looks poised for rejuvenation.