Friday, September 14, 2012

A New Orientalism and the Future of Europe

SOME YEARS AGO — in the 1990s? — I heard about a bestselling book, an alternative history novel, which posited that Charles Martel lost the Battle of Tours back in October of A.D. 732. Because of this, that which we call Europe fell under Moorish rule, which became a realm which was beautiful, peaceful, civilized, and not Christian. What I found particularly surprising was that this book was popular among otherwise secularist Europeans, those whom I would never suspect as having sympathies with a religion known for having a strongly enforced moral code.

But, as I found out later, this is nothing new. A century and more ago, the movement known as ‛Orientalism’ brought the intellectual and cultural riches of Asia — both the middle east and east Asia — to the popular imagination of the west. Nowadays, this movement is quickly dismissed as a byproduct of imperialism, having nothing to offer us today. But on the contrary, many Europeans felt drawn to Eastern culture — even if it was only a Romantic fantasy — and the British foreign service saw many in its staff ‟going native” and abandoning their duties.

I've met many former Catholics who approve of the reforms said to have been required by the Second Vatican Council, but yet they never go to church. Certainly the same phenomenon can be found in the mainline Protestant groups also since the 1960s. A reformed church often has nothing to appeal to successful reformers, since the human heart is made cold by the contemporary world with its easy impersonal scientific explanations and hollow freedoms. Uprooted people have a longing for that which appears to be authentic, and so we ought not be surprised when moderns suddenly find themselves passionately in love with the exotic, for what around them is worth falling in love with?

Although xenophobia and self-hatred are vices that may be in-born, these are certainly ingrained by upbringing, while modern identity politics exacerbates these bad tendencies of personality. Xenophobia is the vice of seeing nothing good in other cultures, while self-hatred is the vice of seeing nothing good in one's own people. While the former vice was common at the tail-end of the Romantic era, it became particularly severe in western Europe in the 1930s. That self-hatred is now the more contemporary vice in western Europe makes some sense, since vices come in opposite pairs: a person and culture is more likely to jump from one to its opposite than find the virtuous middle, since vice is easy and virtue difficult. American culture, which still has some roots in religion and philosophy, tends to better resist such changes, but certainly self-hatred and xenophobia can be found widely.

When you couple the cold and hollow modern world view with self-hatred, radical change is imminent. Western Europe is becoming ripe for conquest, and the Islamification of that region is well underway — and is quickly coming to conclusion in the southern and eastern parts of the Mediterranean region, as the remaining Christians flee for their lives. The revolutionaries are increasingly bold and self-confident, and know that they can stand up to the West, as recent news stories show us.

The moral bankruptcy of the West is part of what is fueling Muslim rage, and they think that overthrowing our corrupt regime will be doing us a favor. However, I think that many westerners will tend to agree, for a new kind of Orientalism is alive and well, especially among those who seem to be most benefiting from the current western order. Many of these, I think, will passively accept the revolution, even if few actively promote it. I think this goes beyond the mere feeling that ‟the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” where the enemy is Christianity, for modern-day Christianity in Europe is largely a comrade-in-arms with the secular world order.

Pope Benedict sees that contemporary Catholics have lost touch with the authentic Faith: this greatly evident in western Europe, and for this reason he has placed an emphasis on recovering the ancient liturgy and criticizing trends in theology that harm Catholicism. He sees a renewed Church as an essential element in maintaining Europe.

Although Catholicism is apparently weak in the northern parts of Europe, be aware that a number of these nations still have official Protestant churches. While much of the Church's ecumenical compromises with these state religions in years past seems horribly misguided, we ought to consider that these could eventually serve as important auxiliary forces for maintaining the unity of Europe if they gather around the Barque of Peter. As Cardinal Newman reminded us, ‟to go deep into history is cease to be Protestant,” and so the slumbering Lutherans in Scandinavia and Germany, or the Anglicans in England, could one day reawaken and realize that orthodoxy is worth defending.

Europe — and likely the United States and Canada —  will soon see an influx of millions of middle eastern Christians fleeing the revolutions in their historic homelands. This older kind of Christianity may have an influence for the better, in contrast to the lazy, comfortable, irrelevant Christianity we are used to. This change will put an extreme amount of pressure, not only on civil governments, but on the bishops and Pope, for disunity would be a given.

One possibility is the restoration of the Holy Roman Empire. An elected Emperor, with no actual power of taxation or military, could nevertheless serve to unify Europe in her time of need, if only in symbol. The restoration of empire is the prerogative of the Pope, and European nobility still has some influence for making it happen, although it is tired and passive. The European Union — which revels in its exercise of power — is weakening because of the sovereign debt problem, which may lead to a breakdown of the Euro common currency or even a dissolution of the Union. This fear is leading to some calling for even more power to be ceded to the European central government. A restored European empire is an alternative, which would not centralize power but still inspire unity. Although this restoration may be attractive to many traditional Catholics who have a romantic attraction to the monarchy of old, this would be a perilous change.

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