God's Comeback?


This WSJ piece, on the revival of religion in Europe, dovetails perfectly with my argument in the last Atlantic that European life - and particularly European politics - may be partially desecularizing (even as a mass secularism rises in America). Which is reason enough to be suspicious of it: Every writer should be wary of arguments that coincide too neatly with his own. So yes, there are real signs that faith may be making something of a comeback on the continent, but it's also worth remembering that Christianity in particular has dwindled so far in recent years that it has nowhere to go but up - and that journalists and intellectuals have been writing organized religion's obituaries for so many years that they're hungry for anything resembling a trend in the opposite direction. Which means that any "here comes God" analysis on this front, including my own, needs to be taken with at least a grain of salt.

However, I think it's definitely true that the small-but-committed communities of believers, whether Christian or Muslim, which seem to be forming in the aftermath of secularization may end up having more impact on continental politics than did the numerically-larger but flabbier religious presence of, say, 1975. This is partially because parliamentary, proportional-representation systems often give outsized power and influence to small, cohesive communities, and partially because smaller movements are less likely to feel beholden to consensus and conventional wisdom, and thus can become the vehicles for broader revolts against politics-as-usual. For instance, consider this Post story on the Netherlands' shift (well, comparatively speaking) toward social conservatism, which turns out to be spearheaded, in part, by a fairly unlikely force:

... the rise of the orthodox Christian Union party, many members of which shun television as part of their strict religious code, has coincided with the changing public attitude.

Defense Minister Eimert van Middelkoop is a member of the Christian Union. He refuses to work Sundays and recently declined an invitation to participate in the U.S. Embassy's Memorial Day commemoration because it was held on the Sabbath, officials said.

... Editor Kranendonk said his Christian Union party is realistic: "When you're a small party, you can't change everything in four years.

"If you had said to me in 1995 that one of the main orthodox Christian parties would be in the government today, I wouldn't have believed it," Kranendonk said. "The number of Christians is diminishing, churches are closing."

He paused and smiled, "But there are other ways of believing."

This is how Christianity began in Europe - as a small group of oddballs whose very outside-the-mainstream status was precisely what moved the mainstream in their direction. And it may be how Christianity influences the continent going forward.

Photo by flickr user praatafrikaans used under a Creative Commons license.