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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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?
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?
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?