CESNUR - Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni diretto da Massimo Introvigne

Europe Without Christ?
Interview with Director of the Center on New Religions

by Miriam Diez (Zenit, 18.8.2006)

TURIN, Italy, AUG. 18, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Europe is afraid of Christ, says Massimo Introvigne. The director of the Center of Studies on New Religions (CESNUR) recently published "ll Dramma dell'Europa Senza Cristo. Il Relativismo Europeo nello Scontro delle Civiltà" (The Drama of Europe Without Christ. European Relativism in the Clash of Civilizations), published in Italian by Sugarco.

In this interview with ZENIT, Introvigne, author of some 30 books on religious minorities, reflects further on this "fear of Christ."

Q: The drama of Europe is a somewhat pessimistic title. Is it that bad?

Introvigne: I don't think it's too strong a title. Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI have used even more dramatic expressions.

John Paul II used the expression "Europe's demographic suicide" and my book begins precisely with this theme: In Europe the number of children per couple (if immigrant couples are excluded, including immigrants who have obtained citizenship, which in some countries, such as France, alter the statistics) is under the level of natural replacement of the population and is typical of civilizations that are dying.

The fact that children are not born is not only an economic but a moral and religious problem, and it is the sign of a terrible crisis of hope. Without hope, a civilization dies.

The moral crisis is also confirmed with the practice and legislation on subjects such as marriage and adoption by homosexual couples, euthanasia in Holland and experimentation with embryos.

Finally, there is a crisis of European institutions which do not succeed in agreeing on almost anything or in speaking with a common voice. When they do so, it is not on very important topics or, worse still, when they try to impose on reluctant countries a relativist view of morality on topics such as abortion, bioethics and homosexual unions.

Q: You say that fear of Christ harms Europe. But there are many Europeans who cannot be afraid because they don't even know Christ. Is ignorance worse than fear or disdain?

Introvigne: In fact, all Europeans know Christ. It is enough to consult national literature or to leave one's home to see signs of Christianity everywhere -- chapels, monuments, and churches.

What some call Christophobia is a conscious rejection of this Christian heritage, a fear especially of moral obligations entailed in embracing Christianity. It's true, phenomena like the success of "The Da Vinci Code" show that there is also much religious ignorance. But that doesn't mean that Jesus Christ isn't known.

It is known who he is, but the truths of faith are not known -- including of lay, historical academic research -- which refer to him, because contact has been lost with religious institutions and also because a relativist climate has been established in which any Dan Brown is considered to have as much authority as a bishop or even a university professor, perhaps a non-believer, but who knows the historical sources and would never endorse the absurdities of "The Da Vinci Code."

Q: What is the "religious capital" to which you refer in your book?

Introvigne: According to a school of sociology born in the United States, that of religious economy, each one of us has a "religious capital" which is made up of beliefs acquired in our youth of which, even after a rejection or estrangement something remains from which one cannot be easily separated.

For this reason, when a non-practicing European returns to religion -- something that today and for the past ten years has been happening ever more frequently -- he can easily return to Christianity, or perhaps to ways that are very distant from orthodoxy but which retain symbols and reminiscences of Christianity, such as Jehovah's Witnesses, instead of converting to Islam or Buddhism.

The theory of religious economy holds that this happens because there is a tendency to conserve one's religious capital.

Those in Europe who return to the Catholic religion from the status of being non-practicing or agnostic, either become Pentecostals, or even Jehovah's Witnesses, retain in the three examples I have just given a part of that "religious capital" that comes to them from their youthful religious education. Those, instead, who become Buddhists or Muslims must give up -- almost -- all their religious capital and build a new one -- almost -- from scratch.

For this reason, though conversion to Islam or even to Buddhism are more newsworthy in newspapers, the majority of Europeans -- in particular since Sept. 11, which led many to question their identity -- who are interested in religion again, return more easily and in a more striking way -- from the point of view of statistics -- to Christian ways or at least retain Christian elements and symbols.