Empty Churches in Europe -- The Result of Relativistic Ideas?
Interesting article in the Wall Street Journal entitled "'The Cube and the Cathedral': Why Europe's great churches are empty by Brian M. Carney. Here are a couple of excerpts:
At Mass last Sunday, Amiens's gothic cathedral, the largest in France, was virtually empty. Not just sparsely filled--it was, except for a handful of tourists, vacant. Mass was being conducted in a side chapel fit for the couple dozen worshipers who showed up for it (I among them).
Amiens is hardly the exception. Europe's largest churches are often unused these days, reduced to monuments for tourists to admire. And there is a reason for this neglect. In "The Cube and the Cathedral," George Weigel describes a European culture that has become not only increasingly secular but in many cases downright hostile to Christianity. The cathedral in his title is Notre Dame, now overshadowed in cultural importance by the Arc de la Defense, the ultramodernist "cube" that dominates an office complex outside Paris. "European man has convinced himself that in order to be modern and free, he must be radically secular," Mr. Weigel writes. "That conviction and its public consequences are at the root of Europe's contemporary crisis of civilizational morale."
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Practicing Christianity in Europe today enjoys a status not dissimilar to smoking marijuana or engaging in unorthodox sexual activities--few people mind if you do so in private, but you are expected not to talk about it or ask others whether they do it too. Christianity is considered retrograde and atavistic in a "progressive" society devoted to the good life--long holidays, short work hours and generous government benefits.
What is the deeper source of European antipathy to religion? For Mr. Weigel, the problem goes all the way back to the 14th century, when scholastics like William of Ockham argued for "nominalism." According to their philosophy, universals--concepts such as "justice" or "freedom" and qualities such as "white" or "good"--do not exist in the abstract but are merely words that denote instances of what they describe. A current of thought was set into motion, Mr. Weigel believes, that pulled European man away from transcendent truths. One casualty was a fixed idea of human nature.
"If there is no such thing as human nature," Mr. Weigel argues, "then there are no universal moral principles that can be read from human nature." If there are no universal moral truths, then religion, positing them, is merely a form of oppression or myth, one from which Europe's elites see themselves as liberated.
Ideas do have consequences. Is the present state of secular dominance in Europe a result of the misguided efforts of Christian philosophers like William of Ockham? Good question.