On 24 January 2008 the President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso met with the representatives of the Orthodox Churches to the European Union. Present at the meeting were Metropolitan Emmanuel of France (Patriarchate of Constantinople), Bishop Hilarion of Vienna and Austria (Moscow Patriarchate), Bishop Porphyrios of Neapolis (Church of Cyprus) and Metropolitan Athanasios of Akhaia (Church of Greece). A number of issues were raised related to the ongoing dialogue between the Orthodox Churches and the European Institutions.Amazing, as always, how the ascendant liberal dogma of tolerance excludes anyone judged as intolerant, but only so long as they are heirs to Christian civilization.
Addressing Mr Barroso, Bishop Hilarion raised the issue of growing Christianophobia in Europe: ‘We often hear about anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, and very little is said about Christianophobia, which gains strength in many European countries. It exists in many different forms, including the removal of Christian symbols from the public sphere, the denigration of Christianity and refusal to recognize Christian heritage of Europe, the persecution of people who openly express Christian convictions and who choose to live according to Christian moral standards.’
The representative of the Russian Orthodox Church referred to a recent debate about Christianophobia in the UK Parliament and argued that similar debates would be timely and necessary within the European Institutions. Representatives of Christian Churches of Europe must be invited to take part in such debates.
Bishop Hilarion also informed the European Commission President about recent initiatives of the Russian Orthodox Church with regard to the discussion of the notion of human rights. ‘This notion’, commented the Bishop, ‘is often used to promote dubious moral standards and to undermine traditional institutions, such as marriage, family, childbirth. In the name of the human rights, abortion and euthanasia are propagated, and the “right to death” is considered more important than the right to life.’
‘We believe, however, that liberal concepts must not be promoted at the expense of traditional ones. We also believe the notion of human rights must be counterbalanced by the notion of human responsibility and accountability. Everyone is accountable not only to him- or herself, but also to other people and to the society,’ concluded Bishop Hilarion.
UPDATE: I add to the gloom an excerpt from an article in The Economist, from February 14, 2008, entitled, "Defining the Limits of Exceptionalism":
As anxiety over (real or imaginary) Muslim demands for sharia turns into a broader worry about theocracy and religious exceptionalism, many democracies are seeing bizarre multi-polar disputes between secularists, Christians, Muslims and other faiths.
In southern Europe, says Marco Ventura, a religious-law professor at the University of Siena, Catholics are now more worried about the perceived advance of Islam than about maintaining old entitlements for their faith. “Their dilemma is whether the rights which their faith enjoys can be justified when new ones, like Islam, are appearing in Europe.” Some of Italy's Muslims, meanwhile, have been demanding “secularism” in the sense of diluting the Roman Catholic culture of the state, which is epitomised by crucifixes in court rooms, classrooms and hospitals. A Muslim convert, Adel Smith, has been fighting a long battle to get such symbols removed.
In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy has dismayed secularists by stressing the country's Catholic heritage in some recent speeches. But the late (Jewish-born) Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, was a staunch defender of the secular state as a bulwark against all forms of fundamentalism.
Defining the relationship between religion and the state was certainly easier when it could be assumed that religion's hold over people's lives and behaviour was in long-term decline. But with Islam on the rise, and many Christians—even those with the vaguest of personal beliefs—becoming more defensive of their cultural heritage, the line is getting harder and harder to draw. On that point at least, Archbishop Williams was quite correct.