Thursday, October 11, 2007

An Orthodox Europe?

+Alexei II Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia

From a fascinating article over at Yahoo (originally published by the Christian Science Monitor)...

For decades, many social scientists had pretty much two things to say about Eastern Orthodox Christianity: 1) that like all religions, it was disappearing with the advance of modern civilization; 2) that it derived most of its support from the reactionary tides of authoritarianism and nationalism.

Those pronouncements are being proved wrong. Today, as in the parable of the prodigal son, throughout Eastern Europe people are returning to the Orthodox Church in droves, and the effect in the public sphere, contrary to most expectations, is quite benign.

Though historically viewed with suspicion by Catholic and Protestant Europe, Orthodox Christianity can actually help bridge the Russia-West gap.

At the heart of much of the miscommunication between Russia and Europe today lies the unacknowledged and untapped longing of Orthodox Christians to be recognized as part of a common European cultural family again. The latest effort to bridge this divide was Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexei II's remarks in France, where he spoke poignantly of how the Christian identity Europeans historically share should promote dialogue on issues like human rights and peace, even with atheists and members of other faiths...

...Western suspicion of Eastern Orthodoxy can be traced back to before the Great Schism that divided the Christian Church in 1054. One hundred and fifty years later, it fueled the Crusaders' zeal for the sacking of Constantinople. In the 18th century, it became a main theme of Edward Gibbon's influential interpretation of the Roman Empire, which was later echoed in the writings of Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee. And in modern times, Samuel Huntington, among others, has warned direly of the potential for clashes between "Slavic-Orthodox" civilization and the Catholic-Protestant West.

With the exception of Greece, this sad legacy has made Western Europeans notoriously slow to accept countries with large Orthodox populations into pan-European institutions. In the current expansion eastward, however, it is inevitable that the values and mores of European institutions and alliances will be shaped more and more by the traditionalist views of Orthodox Christian believers and less and less by the modern, secularized Protestant assumptions of Western European democracies. Orthodox believers already far outnumber Protestants across Europe, and by some estimates they may eventually even surpass Roman Catholics. If 21st-century Europe ever develops a religious complexion, it will be predominantly Eastern Orthodox.

In the long run, therefore, while the greatest challenge to Europe's cultural and political identity may come from the growth of Islam, its more immediate challenge is how to deal with some 40 million to 140 million Orthodox Christians who, when given a voice in European policymaking, will argue that churches should have a more prominent voice than heretofore in the shaping of social policy.

Read the entire article here.


Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

I love that With the exception of Greece..... The reporter should've looked into why one Orthodox nation is preferable (or whatever you want to call it) to another. The deeper answer is probably beaches and warm weather!

Greg DeLassus said...

On Sept 29, 1997 (shortly after the law was promulgated in Russia declaring Russian Orthodoxy, Islam, Buddhism and Judaism as the only "Russian" religions, and thus requiring all other denominations to register as "foreign" religions) the Newshour program on PBS quoted a poll in which 80% of Russians self-identified as Orthodox. On Jan 24, 1998 the Houston Chronicle quoted a poll taken in 1997 in which 46% of Russians self-identified as atheists.

One can, of course, quibble as to the particular methodologies of these various polls. In other words, maybe one is right and the other is wrong. That said, maybe they are both correct. That is to say, it is not beyond the realm of possiblity to my mind that there is a substantial number of Russians who consider themselves to be "Orthodox" but do not believe in God.

In other words, I am a little bit hard pressed to know what to think when I read that "people are returning to the Orthodox Church in droves." What exactly does that mean? From what I can see, given that Russian church attendance rates are among the lowest in Europe and that Romanian, Serbian, Georgian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Belarussian and Greek rates are not much better, I have a hard time seeing how one might arrive at the prediction that Orthodoxy might soon constitute an important force in European society.

Athanasius said...

Well, church attendance rates are very low in Europe, period. There is something to be said for all of the Christian churches, particularly those of Apostolic origin, having a stake in resisting the tide of secularization on the Continent. This is what Bendict XVI and Alexei seem to be saying, anyway. I wonder, though, if it is too late for the tide to be stemmed, except when the dar al-Islam overwhelms what once was Christendom.

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

That's just it, Greg. That such low rates are seen as extraordinary in Europe is a serious problem. The reporter is probably just extrapolating trends, downward among Protestants and upward in Orthodox, in a not very sophisticated manner. It's the first I've heard of Orthodoxy Being About to Overrun Europe. Not that that would be a bad thing, of course, but if it were truly happening, it'd be quite a bit more obvious.