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Without roots

October 19, 2010

I have started reading Pope Benedict XVI’s [then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger] and Marcello Pera’s book “Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity, and Islam”.

So far I am on page 70. This is the first work I’ve read of Pope Benedict’s besides his letters to the faithful. The work is enlightening as Pope Benedict and Marcello Pera, who clearly are two different men, have the same diagnosis of the current situation:

Europe is denying their Christian roots. Slowly, relativism and extreme secularism has taken hold of European society.

In the absence of objective morality and law, Europe is now facing the influx of radical Islam and the plunging of the European birth rates [by choice], immigrants such as radical muslims are taking hold.

Let us read an excerpt by Pope Benedict:

We must now consider the process by which this history of past centuries was transmitted to new worlds. The two halves of ancient pre-modern Europe had essentially known only one next-door neighbor, with whom it had to negotiate as a matter of life and death: namely, the Islamic world. It was only a question of time before Europe would expand toward America and in part toward Asia, continents that were lacking in great cultural protagonists. Still later, Europe would begin to make further incursion into these continents, Africa and Asia, which it had previously dealt with only marginally, and which it would seek to transform into European franchises, into colonies.

If colonization could be considered a success, it is in the sense that contemporary Asia and Africa can also pursue the ideal of a world shaped by technology and prosperity. Yet there, too, the ancient religious traditions are undergoing a crisis, and secular thinking has made inroads and begun to dominate public life.

These processes have also produced the opposite effect: Islam has been reborn, in part because of the new material wealth acquired by the Islamic countries, but mainly because of people’s conviction that Islam can provide a valid spiritual foundation to their lives. Such a foundation seems to have eluded old Europe, which, despite its enduring political and economic power, seems to be on the road to decline and fall.

By contrast to Europe’s denial of its religious and moral foundations, Asia’s great religious traditions — especially the mystical component expressed in Buddhism — have been elevated as spiritual powers. The optimism in European culture that Arnold Toynbee could still voice in the early fifties sounds strangely antiquated today: “We are faced by the fact that, of the twenty-one civilizations that have been born alive and have proceeded to grow, thirteen are dead and buried; that seven of the remaining eight are apparently in decline; and that the eighth, which is our own, may also have passed its zenith.” Who would repeat these same words today? Above all, what is European culture, and what has remained of it? Is European culture perhaps nothing more than the technology and trade civilization that has marched triumphantly across the planet? Or is it instead a post-European culture born on the ruins of the ancient European cultures?

There is a paradoxical synchrony in these developments. The victory of the post-European techno secular world and the universalization of its lifestyle and thinking have spread the impression — especially in the non-European countries of Asia and Africa — that Europe’s value system, culture, and faith — in other words, the very foundations of its identity — have reached the end of the road, and have indeed already departed from the scene. From this perspective, the time has apparently arrived to affirm the value systems of other worlds, such as pre-Colombian America, Islam, or Asian mysticism.

At the hour of its greatest success, Europe seems hollow, as if it were internally paralyzed by a failure of its circulatory system that is endangering its life, subjecting it to transplants that erase its identity. At the same time as its sustaining spiritual forces have collapsed, a growing decline in its ethnicity is also taking place.

Europe is infected by a strange lack of desire for the future. Children, our future, are perceived as a threat to the present, as if they were taking something away from our lives. Children are seen as a liability rather than as a source of hope. There is a clear comparison between today’s situation and the decline of the Roman Empire. In its final days, Rome still functioned as a great historical framework, but in practice it was already subsisting on models that were destined to fail. Its vital energy has been depleted.” (64-66)

Very sombering and quite depressing.

It seems like the diagnosis of Europe is also showing its signs here in American soil.

I have yet to finish the book. However, there are 3 questions that I have:

1) How is Europe handling radical Islam?
2) Can a multi-cultural pluralistic society exist?
3) How does  religion play a part in shaping a nation’s future?

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