Last weekend, a conference held in Rome, “(Re)Thinking Europe: A Christian Contribution to the Future of the European Project,” drew hundreds of ecclesial and cultural leaders from across Europe to discuss the distinctive contribution of Christianity to culture and society. No one denies that religious practice in Europe has experienced a steady decline, and fear is not unwarranted that the same trend is now repeating itself in the United States.
The paradox of a Western world that seeks a higher degree of secularization, along with an alienation of religious belief and practice from the public square, is that it wishes to pick and choose the elements of her inheritance from Christian thought. Concepts like human dignity, natural rights, authentic freedom, care and concern for the poor, respect for and stewardship of the environment, among many others, are deeply rooted in a Christian worldview that renders those concepts intelligible in the first place. The human person and the created order cannot, ultimately, be understood or sufficiently defended apart from God the Creator.
The modern claim that religious belief is the enemy of progress implies, if not affirms outright, that God is the rival of the human person. Any attempt at defending the enduring significance of the West’s indebtedness to Christianity must clearly and convincingly show that authentic progress is worth pursuing, and human dignity is worth defending, precisely because God has created us and has called us to an eternal destiny which no purely secular effort can attain, let alone even hope for.