Published in the Financial Times, December 27 2004 (Registration required)
Earlier this month, Britain’s Archbishop of York lamented that he would be hard-pushed to describe Britain as a Christian country any more. A week later, a study published by the British Economic and Social Research Council found that Britain’s big cities were “godless places”. “Whatever people are doing about God,” the researchers concluded, “they don’t do it in church. Urban culture encourages people who are doing their own thing.”
The truth is that Europeans clearly have begun to take pride in “doing their own thing”. In a world characterised by an apparent “clash of fundamentalisms” – between American evangelical Protestantism, underwritten by the presidency of George W. Bush, and a vibrant new strain of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East – many Europeans like to think of their own region as a secular oasis.
The notion of a secular Europe, sandwiched between two bombastic, absolutist theologies, is one Europeans have been quietly propagating for the past few years. They seem to like the sound of it. It makes them feel sophisticated and adds precious morale to Europe’s sense of self while helping to reinforce its fragile identity. But the real danger for Europe is not religious fundamentalism but the opposite – an absence of strong and shared beliefs that tie the region together.