An atheist appeals to the Church to help save Europe

The Ile de la Cite and Notre-Dame Cathedral by the river Seine (Getty)

Douglas Murray’s The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam  raises serious questions – as well as the thought that if my socialist friends saw me reading it they would challenge me for my “racist” tendencies. On the other hand, if my conservative friends glanced at the title they would gloomily assent to Murray’s main thesis, laid out in his opening sentence: “Europe is committing suicide.”

The continent is in terminal decline, Murray argues, for two main reasons: the first is mass immigration, especially from countries which have cultural traditions quite alien to the West, and the second is Europe’s loss of confidence in its own beliefs, traditions and legitimacy. He shows the huge gulf within European countries between those people – largely educated, white, left-wing and secular – who doggedly embrace notions of “multiculturalism” and “diversity”, and ordinary people who have experienced the problems caused by “diversity” and who thus resist it.

Murray also reflects on another growing gulf over the issue of mass immigration: that between Western Europe, dominated by the EU and Germany in particular, and Eastern Europe, where Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have resisted the quotas of immigrants imposed on them. As he suggests, the suffering these former Communist countries endured has given them a stronger desire to protect their own sense of nationhood than is apparent in the West.

Murray quotes the speech of Victor Orban, prime minister of Hungary, of 15 March 2016, in which he told his countrymen, “…the principles of life that Europe has been built on are in mortal danger” and emphasising that “Europe is the community of Christian, free and independent nations: equality of men and women, fair competition and solidarity; pride and humility; justice and mercy.” You won’t find Theresa May or any other western European leaders defining Europe by using language like this. It reminds me of John Paul II’s unsuccessful plea that the EU constitution might include a reference to God.

This brings me to Murray’s reflections on the role of Christianity. He is more tentative here, writing not as a believer but as someone wise enough to recognise that Christianity must have a serious role to play if Europe, with its unique civilisation and achievements, is to survive. He writes, “For my own part, I cannot help feeling that much of the future of Europe will be decided on what our attitude is towards the church buildings and other great cultural buildings of our heritage standing in our midst.”

“When Pope Benedict implored Europeans to behave ‘as though God exists’, he was acknowledging something that his predecessors were rarely able to accept: that some people today cannot believe and that the Church ought nevertheless to have some approach to them.”

In other words, he was appealing to the Church to open a dialogue with people like him: a serious-minded atheist, someone who has repudiated the false gods of the age and who is sincerely searching for meaning and purpose beyond the zeitgeist.

Personally, I wonder if the moral and social decline of Western Europe can be halted. Talking on this subject to a like-minded friend, a scholar of history and a convert, earlier this week, she told me it reminded her of “the last years of the Roman Empire”.

Optimists will say, “In the end it will all work out, everyone will integrate in time and we will carry on our comfortable and peaceful lives as always.” Pessimists will point to all the historical examples of civilisations collapsing. Christians would add that a society or a continent living as though God does not exist cannot last.

The Church, in this country at least, often seems motivated by a desire not to rock the boat. But its divine mission requires it to offer the only meaningful alternative to a debased culture, to point out where so-called “British values” diverge from Christian teaching on human dignity, and to proclaim the Faith – from the catacombs if need be.