Faced with the rising power of the EU, many will be tempted to succumb and bow their knee to it. Yet Christian theology was forged in the furnace of the brute power of the Roman Empire. The apocalyptic writer John responded in graphic terms, seeing hope one day in a new heaven, a new earth, even a New Jerusalem – a beautiful city, shining with God’s glory, as brilliant as a precious jewel, made of pure gold – together with healing of the nations. Even in the worst of adversity, there is hope. It may be the eleventh hour, but it is not too late for Europe to turn back from the folly on which it embarked in the 1950s.
The first article in this series rejected seductive dreams of utopian visions for society. From a Judaeo-Christian theological perspective, utopia conflicts with human nature as it is: fallen. But the opposite of utopia does not have to be dystopia, “an imaginary place or society in which everything is bad.” A happy and prosperous society needs to come from within, not without, through the transformative power of a renewed relationship with God. As fine as the utopian values on which the EU project is supposedly based may appear, there are good reasons to be sceptical of them. The second part evaluated what the Brexit negotiations might reveal about the EU’s true values. By analogy with the demise of the Queen of Underland in C.S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair, it was seen that the UK was beginning to awaken from its seduction and face the difficulties of regaining its lost self-determination. This third and final part of the article explores an alternative, non-utopian vision for Europe based on re-embracing Christian values, the “bottom-up” renewal of Europe as a Christian society – and the EU letting the UK go with its blessing.
(Re)embrace Christian values
The EU’s treatment of the UK during the Brexit negotiations, discussed in the second article in this series, has shown that its real institutional values – control, money, bullying to get its way – are at odds with its stated utopian values. This should not come as any surprise from a theological perspective, as the first article showed how there are many flaws in any utopian vision for society – not the least of which is human nature itself. It is sad, however, because at an individual level, such utopian values are no doubt often sincerely and passionately held.
The Biblical preference is for political authority to be located with “the many,” “the People under God.”
What is essential to learn from the past are the risks attaching to any ideology, especially one with utopian characteristics - for any new and truly dangerous ideology is unlikely to resemble any of the past. If the EU’s secular, expansionary, elitist, anti-nation-state, and emerging anti-Christian behaviour identified in the first part of this article is seen as a new ideology (referred to here as “EU ideology”), then there must be serious worries. It must be feared that the EU is sowing the seeds of the next conflict in Europe, especially with its monetary demands. It seems incredible that EU leaders fail to see the parallel with Versailles, the centenary of which rapidly approaches. Much of what underpins the drive for European union, the distrust of nation states and reliance on experts rather than the people, may simply reflect a lack of self-esteem based on a distorted view of the past. For example, the EU’s potted biography of Winston Churchill refers to Churchill’s aim as being “to eliminate the European ills of nationalism and war-mongering once and for all,” a sweeping generalisation. In an insightful article “Europe’s Guilty Conscience,” Pascal Bruckner contrasts how Europe is being paralyzed by self-hatred, whereas the U.S. has been able to combine self-criticism with self-affirmation. Douglas Murray has gone as far as to say that “the civilisation we know as Europe is in the process of committing suicide.” There is much truth in this and the solution may be theologically based. The foundation of all Christian ethics are the commandments first to love God and second to “Love your neighbour as yourself.” For some nations in Europe, the process of coming to terms with their pasts and learning to love themselves again may be a long and difficult one. But it is vital that the process of Europe’s spiritual renewal begins.
Margaret Thatcher observed that plans for a United States of Europe were “a classic utopian project, a monument to the vanity of intellectuals, a programme whose inevitable destiny is failure: only the scale of the final damage done is in doubt.” The EU is not likely to collapse through military defeat or economic collapse (though neither is impossible) but through lack of purpose. Its secularism lacks the capacity to inspire a new generation. As Christ said, “Man does not live on bread alone.” The only way forward for the nations of Europe is to recognise and reject the emerging EU ideology (and the threat it poses) and (re)embrace the Christian faith, which is the only antidote to the self-interested behaviour at the root of all failed utopian ideologies. (It might be objected that this is at odds with the EU’s multicultural vision – but it is strongly arguable that Europe’s minority religious groups would feel less alienated in a Christian Europe than in a militantly secular and atheistic one.)
It is tempting to see signs of hope, for example, in the courageous dream of Poland’s new Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, to “re-Christianise the EU”; however, the EU – as it is currently configured as an institution – stands so contrary to a Christian vision for Europe that it cannot be redeemed.
The “bottom-up” renewal of Europe as a Christian society
The first article showed that a Christian society is not based on a top-down vision of an abstract perfect world, based ultimately on compulsion, but on one of transformed individual choices made within a framework of the rule of law that recognises that the imperfection of the world comes from us.
The challenge is for those of us who call ourselves Christians to be Europe’s renewal.
The EU utopian vision, like all utopian visions, clashes with the ideal of self-determination, an ideal so important that it is at the heart of Western civilisation’s self-understanding. (This article is concerned only with self-determination as a theological and moral principle, not the principle of self-determination in international law.) Self-determination is nicely defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as “the ability or power to make decisions for yourself, especially the power of a nation to decide how it will be governed.” Judaeo-Christian theology is “positive about nationhood and explicitly negative about empire-building for political and cultural purposes” (J. Rivers, “Nationhood,” in M. Schluter & A. Ashcroft. Jubilee Manifesto. Leicester: IVP, 2005, p. 122 at 134). It is also anti-elitist. The Biblical preference is for political authority to be located with “the many,” “the People under God,” though others may legitimately exercise it on their behalf or in their place (J. Rivers, “Government,” in op. cit., pp. 138 at 143). The “Monnet Method” - the “covert acquisition of ever more power without consent” by which the EU was largely built was, in Christian terms, sinful. Sadly, the UK, under David Cameron, appeared to be making significant inroads into the controversial goal of “ever-closer union,” including a potential UK exemption, but there were concerns this would all prove illusory. In any event, the conduct of the Brexit negotiations, discussed in the second part of this article, has revealed the difference between the EU’s fine rhetoric and behaviour where issues of self-determination are concerned. If democracy based on national identity is the system of governance most consistent with Christianity, the EU stands contrary to a Christian vision for Europe and from a Christian perspective the only solution is to progressively dismantle it.
Without the EU, there will be freedom for a new and better Europe to emerge, reflecting the priorities of Europe’s peoples rather than its elites, and the main obstacle to voluntary cooperation between the nations of Europe, with no strings attached, will be gone. Re-empowering the nations of Europe, their people and leaders, to make decisions for themselves and as to how they will be governed is part of what it means for them to be fully human, a precondition for the deep spiritual renewal that needs to take place. This is not something that can be driven, top-down, from a secular institution; it is the role of the family and churches from the bottom up. The challenge is for those of us who call ourselves Christians to be Europe’s renewal.
The EU should let the UK go with its blessing
Theresa May’s letter containing the Article 50 notification stated “the referendum was a vote to restore, as we see it, our national self-determination.” The progressive institutionalisation and infantilization of the UK as a member of the EU has been unhealthy for the UK body politic and exploited during the Brexit negotiations. The UK is fully capable of charting its own course in the world. Its constitution and legal system are much admired; its Parliament often misquoted as being the “Mother of Parliaments.” There remains the traditional flexibility and good sense of the common law, the independence and freedom from corruption of its judges, “lions under the throne.” It spearheaded the Industrial Revolution and remains the world’s sixth largest economy. Its ability to defend itself against, and defeat, tyrants with global ambitions is second-to-none with some of the world’s most respected and constitutionally governed armed forces. It led the way in the defeat of slavery and industrialised genocide. It remains a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Its contributions to world knowledge, progress, and culture are outstanding. All this has, of course, taken place in a nation underpinned by strong Christian beliefs and traditions, the influence of which still remain.
The solution to the Brexit negotiations from a Christian perspective is simple. The EU should let the UK go with its blessing, rather like the father of the lost son who gave his younger son his inheritance early so that he could pursue his dreams, rather than seeking to make him stay or to punish him to frighten others. The UK is not, of course, a lost son; the point is simply that this is the best way to create relationships based on love, not fear. Failing that, the UK’s approach might recall Moses’ words to Pharoah, whose heart had been hardened and would not let the Hebrews leave the land of Egypt: “This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: ‘How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me? Let my people go, so that they may worship me.’” The rest, as they say, is history.
The world, especially the U.S., must watch the EU with caution
Influential voices are now demanding yet deeper European integration. French President Emmanuel Macron has called for EU identity cards, a shared defence budget, a European military intervention force and an EU defence force. Martin Schulz, the German SPD leader and former European Parliament president, has called for a new constitutional treaty to create a United States of Europe, with those countries that refuse automatically losing EU membership. (Encouragingly, Angela Merkel and others appear sceptical.) There is no doubt that these people are well-intentioned. But how will this power be exercised by those who may come after them?
The outcome of the conflict over Brexit with a country as strong as the UK has shown the true extent of the power the EU has so stealthily acquired. The smaller nations of the EU should be very afraid. And friends such as the U.S. should take note.