Monday, August 15, 2005


The Light Side
"Walk about Zion. Go round about her, number her towers, consider will her ramparts, go through her citadels; that you may tell the next generation that this is God, our God for ever and ever."
That psalm seems to sum up my trip. "The hour is coming," said Jesus to the Samaritan woman, "where neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father" (John 4), meaning (I presume) that no longer would genuine worship to the God of Israel come only from Jerusalem - and Europe's countless cathedrals are some of the most fulfilling fulfillments of that prophecy that continues to be fulfilled. To "consider well such ramparts" has a delightfully confirming effect on one's faith in the God for whom they were constructed.

Germany, by the way, should be especially congratulated for insuring that such an experience is still possible. Fashionable Euro-architects like Le Corbusier had declared that
"The core of our old cities, with their domes and cathedrals, must be broken up and skyscrapers put in their place,"
and saw in the WWII bombing a possibility for a "fresh start." Fortunately the opposing voices won out, and the reconstruction job of innumerable churches has succeeded (in some cases exceeding the originals in quality).


The Dark Side
And good thing too, because it is arguable whether Europe in its contemporary state of civilization could produce anything as inspiring. Writes David Hart,
"The eye of faith presumes to see something miraculous within the ordinariness of the moment, mysterious hints of an intelligible order calling out for translation into artifacts, but boredom's disenchantment renders the imagination inert and desire torpid."
In other words, Christian France gave us Notre Dame, Secular France gave us La Defense.

Picking up on that very analogy comes George Weigel's recent book on the state of [European] Union, which helped me make sense of the real, non-tourist, Europe that didn't make it into my highlight clips below. Consider the facts that...
1. "Demographic suicide" is no exaggeration for a Europe that is refusing to produce the next generation. According to the NYT Magazine, it is the greatest "sustained reduction in European population since the Black Death of the 14th century." Muslims, I and anyone else who has been to Europe lately can personally attest, are quickly filling the void.
2. The deadening hand of bureaucracy from Brussels (the E.U. capital) continues to stifle entrepreneurship and consequently the economy. Because of the fiscally lethal red-tape, small business owners regularly choose to overwork than to hire.
3. The double digit unemployment that every German I spoke with laments is a situation critical. Germany, the economic "powerhouse" of the E.U. has a per capita gross domestic product equivalent to Arkansas and only slightly higher than West Virginia and Mississippi.
4. It is common for Americans with a dewy eyed view of free health care to point to Europe as "the answer." But, I beg you, take another look. Or consider the many world doctors attending the Goethe Institute who explained to me (to my surprise) that America is where they all look for advances in medicine. Or consider the advice routinely given visitors to Italy, "If you're sick, get out."
I hope it goes without saying that neither I, nor Weigel, put forth America as the shining counter-example. There is plenty to be worried about here too. But we are still, I am happy to declare, not Europe - who in hailing Ancient Rome and the Enlightenment but excising any reference to Christianity in their (now failed) Constitution forgot that
"The democratic project did not emerge, a kind of political virgin birth, in either the Glorious Revolution of 1688 or the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen." and that "the Enlightenment commitment to the claims of reason 'owe[s] even more to Thomas Aquinas than to Voltaire; its spiritual flavor is discernible in Augustine. Even the ideas that exploded in the Paris of 1789 were present in the Paris of 1277'" (pp. 103 and 106).
For understanding (as oppose to merely enjoying) modern Europe, given the choice between spending eight weeks there and reading this brief but well informed book that is a compendium of the best of European analysis in the last decade... I'd actually choose the book.

Spoiled brats like me got to do both.