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International Conference Košice, Slovakia, September 2008

11 September 2008

On September 11th and 12th 2008 the SCRIBANI conference on “Religion: Problem or Promise? The Role of Religion in the Integration of Europe” took place in Kosice, Slovakia, on the initiative of the partner institute ‘Michael Lacko Center for Spirituality East – West’. It brought together the members of the network and scholars from Eastern and Western Europe for an encounter aimed at forging a Jesuit contribution to the social construction of Europe.

Recent enlargement of the EU is one of the main challenges of our time. The conference aimed to contribute to a better understanding of the different religious, cultural, political and socioeconomic developments and their impact on EU integration.
At the end of the Cold War, European integration took a new turn. In response to the fragmentation of the Soviet empire, the European Union offered to extend its “Pax Europea” to Central Europe and thus contribute to a peaceful and rapid transition to democracy and workable market economies.
Integrating the EU may however prove to be more difficult than expected for the former republics of the Soviet Union because they highly value the recovered sovereignty of their national state. But there are signs of the emergence of new moral attitudes which play a positive role in the development of these societies. Religion is being rediscovered as a stabilizing force in a rapidly changing environment.
Having undergone several generations of state-imposed secularism under the atheistic regimes of Marxist socialism, the area became, almost overnight it seemed, open to all kinds of freedoms and, in particular, religious freedom. Those who were eager to find a spiritual home were, however, frequently suspicious of the role that the traditional churches had played during the years of socialism and so they turned elsewhere, sometimes to indigenous new religions, but, more frequently to one or other of the foreign religions (mainly from the West) that had seized the opportunity of proselytizing those who had, it was believed, been brought up in a spiritual vacuum.
Religion is definitely one of the most penetrating social phenomena in post-communist European states in transition, filling the vacuum created by the de-legitimization of the communist project and providing an integrated framework for post-communist societies defining their new identities.

The President of the network, Father Mark Rotsaert SJ, President of the Conference of European Provincials, voiced it as follows: to what narrative can Europe appeal in order to understand itself – in unity as well as in difference? The economic, legal and political structures are necessary but not sufficient conditions to nourish and develop a new, ‘young’ Europe; these structures are only as strong as the values and interests that permit them. The recovery of our European memory, following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the collective amnesia of the Cold War, is an ambiguous resource in fashioning a better future. It implies the return of old wounds and injustices, as the recent conflicts in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo and Kosovo, have demonstrated.  We need to access the deeper moral vision that inspired the creation of the European Union to deal with a memory that is potentially subversive of the future.  We need to revisit the Catholic inspiration of this project and address the process of exculturation, the fading memory which is also part of the process of secularisation. This is not a recovery of the past but the rediscovery of the Church’s presence as a partner in this enterprise of the young Europe. The recovery of this religious memory might be one of the most significant contributions that the entry of the Eastern European countries into the EU may bring, as a source of resistance when the deepest values of humanity are under threat and as a source of energy and vision for a humane future. In Gaudium and Spes the Catholic Church acknowledged the legitimate autonomy of the secular but this does not prevent the obligation to engage in the public debate and the formation of public policy. The commitment to human rights which the Church shares with the secular tradition of humanism pushes us to go further than juridical issues and intellectual traditions in conceiving a more just European society.

Philosopher Patrick Riordan of the Heythrop Institute for Religion, Ethics and Public Life in London, took on the challenge in his lecture on the possible contribution of the Catholic Church to the European common good. He draws our attention to the prevailing European rhetoric of obligations based on contract and moral law which are expressed in terms of ‘nothing other than’. This limitative reductionism contrasts with Aristoteles’ rhetoric of ‘more than’ when describing the political community. He saw the political community as founded on an agreement between free citizens on the basis of discernment between good and bad, just and unjust without the need for a ruler. The political community is developed in heuristic communication.
The common good of the EU is more than economic development and should give way to a broader conception of the good life. The unity of Europe is created in the heuristic search for the essence of the good life, of human wellbeing. It is still unsettled and cannot be laid down in criteria, although Aristoteles did impose two fundamental prerequisites: no one is to be excluded from the common good and no dimension of the good life should be ruled out.
The ongoing discourse of Europe being no more than a bourgeois society or a military bloc is to be opened up to a discourse of more than highlighting the dynamics of the development of Europe. The EU community is engaged in a conversation in which the Church wants to participate, especially in the development of the common good, in humility and respect for reality and contract logic (no false romanticism).
The EU is a construction based in reality; it is a process of constructionism and discovery at the same time. As we discover, we construct. There is no blueprint. It is a heuristic process in which religion reminds us that being human means being part of creation; Catholic social learning instead of teaching. The Church speaks in terms of more than and expands the language range embracing a divine order.
Vatican II expressed human fulfilment as the common good in Gaudium and Spes. Christian politicians provided the conditions for developing Europe. Christians have something to offer when they pay attention to the complex and varied audiences involved in the debate.

Theologian James Hanvey SJ, Director of the Heythrop Institute for Religion, Ethics and Public Life in London, investigated the issue of how the Church might develop a theology of the secular. What are the resources of religious life for living in the secular world? Political and religious dimensions do not need to be antagonistic. Religion recognises the political as a means to realise God’s sovereignty over the world and the secular state sets the rules for religion to come into play. When religion enters the public space it is one voice between many, making claims upon the secular.
Augustine set the terms of dealing with the secular which has its own narrative and is equally evangelising. Christians are inserted in the worldly sphere and are faced with the dilemma of integrating the new Jerusalem with the earthly Athens. According to Augustine, Christians and pagans share the same misery and no longer know to which city they belong. Cicero defined society by the objects of consent between its citizens, the common good agreed upon by its citizens as rational beings. But human society remains divided against itself, one part suppressing the other. Human beings remain the victims of their pride if they do not act in the name of justice which is situated in Christ and presupposes rendering a person’s due through love. The two cities are to be reconciled in reference to the divine. God has provided another possible order above the Hegelian slave-master relationship. Christian life must revolutionise and radicalise the social and political sphere. Augustine offers two resources to reconfigure the secular: incarnation as ‘in-dwelling’ instead of mere passing-through (no exile but homecoming) and transformation (living in this world without conforming to it). This reconstructive narrative leads us to action in the world. We need to theologize the secular; not construct a counter-narrative, but a reconstructive narrative. Reconstruction of the world is our task. Many enlightened thinkers, from Bonhoffer over Charles Taylor, Charles de Foucault and Aquinas, to Simone Veil, Iris Murdoch in the ‘Sovereignty of the Good’ and Zizek in “The Fragile Absolute” have tackled the issue. They propose new narratives of the ‘good’ in a secular world. Within the silence of the godless secular world Christians may create the voice of love, like Beethoven used the architecture of silence in his confrontation with himself to transform the music.

David Martin, Professor Emeritus Sociology of the London School of Economics, focused in his lecture on the relation with secular society. He has dedicated his professional career to defining secularism. He discerns three narratives of secularism: the enlightenment based on reason, Marxism rooted in reality and existentialism based on the autonomous individual. He discovered diverse forms of secularism depending on the history and geographical situation of specific regions. Whereas the French are convinced there is just one enlightenment, there seem to be many different roads to modernity. The French model is a-religious and inspired Europe and Latin-America, the British model is a softer version with some religious connotations, whereas the German version incorporates religion as part of secularisation. The link religion/nation is not straightforward either. All depends on where the national myth is rooted; a dominant religion may be linked to another ethnicity or a national myth may be rooted in non-religious sources, such as art.
Is there a common pattern to be discerned for Europe? Yes and no. In general there is a relationship between ethnicity and religion (East-Germany being a great exception). There are regions in areas of transition between blocs of civilization such as Kosice, which is on the edge between the catholic and orthodox worlds, Transylvania in between Catholic, Calvinist and Orthodox religions. These in-between-regions, where there is more ethnic mixing, are more prone to adopting completely new religions as in the case of Serbia where Pentecostalism and Baptism are flourishing (cf. the largest Pentecostal church in Kiev was created by a Nigerian). Within this patchwork, Roma are floating groups adopting Pentecostalism in Romania to counter negative stereotyping (religious adherence serving as a sign of respectability). Religion is a force of change and a force for maintaining continuity. It may build solidarity or lead to fragmentation. The study of religious continuity and discontinuity is extremely interesting in transitional regions.
In contradiction to the general opinion, the Orthodox Church proves to be more resilient in surviving modernity than Protestantism, the reason being that Protestantism gave birth to modernism and that the Orthodox religion of family protects it from the destruction of links between the generations. The Church acts as a resource for generational continuity of living and dead through devotion and symbols.
This may prove how complex the phenomenon of secularism really is. One cannot understand politics without understanding religion and the relationship between centre and periphery influences the religious stance.

John Madeley, Lecturer in Government at the London School of Economics, presented an empirical overview of the degree of confessionalism and church-state separation in the different EU member states, illustrating the close entanglement between state and religion in so-called ‘secular’ Europe. The reformation does not seem to have undone the spiritual duties of temporal authorities. The secular power still retains some responsibility in the religious sphere. Most European countries continue to bear the marks inherited from the era of the confessional state, both in their religious demography as in their state institutions.  83% of the European states have a single confessional profile. Atheist states were preponderant in Eastern and Central Europe in the 1970s, but from the 1980s onwards a strong revival appeared. Differences between patterns of state-church separation and cooperation are diminishing in favour of a common European pattern. On the whole the neutrality of the state is to be queried. The European Union was launched as a Christian-democratic project and the draft constitution recognises the Churches as partners in building Europe.

Edward Farrugia SJ, Professor of Dogma and Eastern Patrology at the Pontifical Institute of Oriental Studies in Rome, quoted Braudel in stating that Christianity remains the main formative factor of Europe and asks what integrative role religion in general may play in the EU. He discerns three modes: the revolutionary, the evolutionary and organic modes. The first mode reminds us of how religion is related to violence and how it can be disintegrative, the second mode combines disintegration with integration as it thrives on outbursts of innovation and the last mode is based on growth under guidance, inspired by nature and the living organism (cf. the central role of respiration in religion as in the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius and the ‘dhikr’ in Sufism). The organic growth model, which is more propitious to tolerance, should guide the integration process.

Mgr. Milan Chautur, Bishop of the Greek Catholic Church and Head of the Council for Family and Youth at the Conference of Bishops of Slovakia, posed three questions:
In the light of the debate on the preamble of the European constitution we should ask ourselves what will give us our sense of union.
Since Christianity cannot be considered the only or first religion of Europe, how will the Union remain a faith community?
How may the Church help integrate the people?
In the search for an answer to these questions we must be aware that peoples are not solely bound by contracts and that the different backgrounds of the different peoples have to be taken into account. God created unity in variety.
The family still remains the first site of unification and the Church should convince politics of the importance of the family as the core of society.

Jan Dacok SJ, Provincial of the Slovak Province of the Society of Jesus and member of the Commission for Bioethics of the Slovak Episcopal Conference and the Ethical Commission of the Ministry of Healthcare of the Slovak Republic, considers postmodern society as lacking in belief in the dignity of man, as forging a new form of irrationalism, a disenchantment with politics, a loss of sense of time, history and future and religious indifference. He refers to Gianni Vattimo’s concept of a ‘weakened vision of being’ leading to extreme pragmatism, cynicism and relativism. This has engendered a concept of the post-modern man as an individual, no longer a person, a fully autonomous being, good of nature and happy through pleasure, not virtue, bound by agreement, not by law and without memory of history. Post modernity has an anti-human and anti-Christian character. This is reflected in the loss of the value of life, as expressed by bioethical experts such as Potter, Singer and Tristram. Singer defined life as “a terminal illness transmitted by sexual intercourse”. This approach has stripped death and suffering of all transcendental significance. It has invoked a general crisis of values. The Church reacts against this post-modern bioethical approach by insisting on the fact that each human being deserves respect of life (cf. John Paul II in ‘Ecclesia in Europa’ and Benedict XVI in ‘Spe Salvi’). A society unable to accept its suffering members and incapable of helping through compassion is a cruel and inhumane society.

Philosopher Volodymyr Turchynovsky of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lvov, reflected on the phenomenon of integration as witnessed throughout the Soviet era and today in Russia. The kind of integration at work here plays primarily an instrumental role in the accumulation of power and dominance by the state. Such integration is negatively defined. Here the integration impulse emanates from mutual and shared opposition against or the rejection of something or somebody. This is quite different from the integration resulting from mutual respect and response to something inherently valuable and positive in content. Unfortunately the most recent events manifest that leading Russian politicians are still firmly convinced that each time they identify a new enemy as a threat to their country to be combated, they thereby create a major integrating impulse for the nation. Another integration project which we have the chance to observe, to participate in, to experience, to promote or to protest against is the European integration. In what is said about the European Union we may identify stereotypical lines of reasoning which do not pay full justice to the phenomenon of Europe. It is often argued that current European culture is permeated with relativism and secularism. It is also argued that Christianity, which used to be such an eminent constitutive element of Europe in the past, has a minimal or no role to play in the shaping of the ethos of the united Europe today. Morality seems to be following the same pattern as religion by being gradually understood as a phenomenon belonging to a private and subjective space. But if secularism, relativism and consumerism are so eminently present in current European culture then need they be characteristic of the future Europe or may we assume that our days are pregnant of change in our culture, thinking, spirituality and values?
He further analyses the meaning of the word ‘integration’ conceptually. Three different definitions are given by the Webster dictionary: to open up to all, to fit in within a group and be accepted, to join or become part of a larger whole. Three core concepts emerge: unity, openness, wholeness.
To avoid the danger of cultural disintegration the underlying spiritual and philosophical grounds of different life spheres and life styles should be addressed. It is a multidimensional process of integration in a search for uniformity and complementarity.
Turchynovsky uses the metaphor of the gift to make his point. It is in the act of giving and receiving that a unique opportunity for integration lays. The way the act is accomplished is defining. Giving without belittling and allowing for true ownership of the goods received as a tool for achieving autonomy can only be realised when the giver makes the receiver’s concern his own. According to Schwarz there are different ways of receiving and taking into possession something given as well: an instrumentalist approach to control the gift and use it for a heightened sense of self-possession and autonomy versus an incorporative approach of acknowledgement of entrustment and appreciation of the given. A gift giving and receiving logic should inspire the European integration process. The acceptance of the gift makes one enter into a dynamics of sharing. This could give way to the emergence of a European ethos, echoing John Paul II’s statement in Gaudium and Spes that man will not discover himself unless he makes a “sincere gift of self” to others.

Jean-Yves Calvez SJ, Head of the Department of Public Ethics at Centre Sèvres in Paris, asked whether the analysis of opposing values between East and West (more collective values reflected in nation, ethnicity and community versus more individualist values of personal freedom) is correct. Is this contrast founded?
The institutions of solidarity in the East are being sacrificed to competitive efficiency (no strong labour unions anymore) while solidarity in the West is being defined in terms of social protection provisions. Maybe there are still other possible concepts of solidarity?
Should we not talk about European unification instead of integration?
The exchange of different values between East and West and the role this plays in the process is not being addressed. What does the West expect from unification apart from accommodating former European countries? What does the East aspire? The question is not raised when imposing the ‘acquis communautaire’ without entering into discussion at the popular level. If we do not address these issues a lot of misunderstanding may arise.

Dusan Bella, Director of the Department for Coordination of Sector Policies at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Slovak Republic and Former Ambassador at the Permanent Mission of the Slovak republic to the OECD, reiterated the milestones in the construction of the EU and the economic implications. This process is being challenged by enlargement, globalisation, technological revolution and ageing populations. This poses questions as to the EU’s future development. Does the current status quo of a preponderantly economic union suffice to respond to these challenges or should there be more a general or a more tiered integration to arrive at respectively a federal super state or a multi-layered concentric union developing at different speeds?
The integration of Central and Eastern European states balances the older Western European population. It also turns the EU into a larger reception zone for non-EU migrants. This raises the issue of migration management, while the basic freedom of free movement of people within the EU is not completely realised yet. The free movement of goods and capital leads to the liberalisation of formerly protected markets. To these freedoms the freedom of knowledge should be added, assuring the mobility of researchers and enhancing access to knowledge and investment in research. 


11 September 2008
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