Brexit, Background and the Bible (Part 1)

Winston Churchill's vision

On 19 September 1946 at the University of Zurich, soon after the end of the Second World War, Winston Churchill, said the following:

"I wish to speak to you to-day about the tragedy of Europe. This noble continent comprising on the whole the fairest and the most cultivated regions of the earth, enjoying a temperate and equable climate, is the home of all the great parent races of the western world. It is the fountain of Christian faith and Christian ethics. It is the origin of most of the culture, arts, philosophy and science both of ancient and modern times. If Europe were once united in the sharing of its common inheritance, there would be no limit to the happiness, to the prosperity and glory which its three or four hundred million people would enjoy. Yet it is from Europe that have sprung that series of frightful nationalistic quarrels, originated by the Teutonic nations, which we have seen even in this twentieth century and in our own lifetime, wreck the peace and mar the prospects of all mankind … Yet all the while there is a remedy which, if it were generally and spontaneously adopted, would as if by a miracle transform the whole scene, and would in a few years make all Europe, or the greater part of it, as free and as happy as Switzerland is to-day. What is this sovereign remedy? It is to re-create the European family, or as much of it as we can, and provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom. We must build a kind of United States of Europe."

So spoke a man with huge moral influence having done, under God, as much as any other individual to save the freedom loving world from the evil tyranny of Hitler. And there was much sense in what he said. But fundamental to what he said was this:

"It [Europe] is the fountain of Christian faith and Christian ethics. It is the origin of most of the culture, arts, philosophy and science both of ancient and modern times. If Europe were once united in the sharing of its common inheritance, there would be no limit to the happiness, to the prosperity and glory which its three or four hundred million people would enjoy."

Jean Monet

Many agreed with Churchill's vision for a United States of Europe. And this was not only, in the words of the English evangelical Christian promoter of European unity, Sir Fred Catherwood: "to create peace in place of Europe's terrible tribal wars, the last two of which cost 50 million dead". No! For it was also, as for Churchill, positively inspired by Europe's Christian roots. Jean Monnet, the great architect of modern Europe, quite publicly expressed his motivation for establishing a new European order as resulting from his admiration for the glories of the old Holy Roman Empire. Others shared that motivation at the same time as they supported the idea of a "United States of Europe" for the goal of economic recovery. After the destruction and dislocation of the Second World War, they saw the economic benefit of such recovery as contributing to a peace that together with a renewed Christian worldview would protect Churchill's common inheritance of Christian faith and Christian ethics. In turn that would undergird and ground those liberal values that had been necessary for the positive achievements of the West that were the envy of many in the rest of the world.

However, years later, key members of the European Union (as we now have it) have been systematically deconstructing that faith and those ethics. In the many discussions prior to the latest EU Treaty, the Lisbon Treaty, which now defines the European Union, there was an adamant refusal of the proposal by Italy …

"… to recognize a 'historical truth' and refer explicitly to the 'Christian Roots of Europe' in its new constitution … The preamble of the current draft treaty, drawn up by the former French president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing's convention, refers only to the 'cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe'. Specifically mentioning Christianity or God was considered too controversial in the face of furious opposition from secular France and Protestant northerners such as Sweden and Denmark. Opponents argued it would be wrong to exclude Muslims and Jews, and would therefore be better to avoid any religious reference … Mr Straw, aware of the feelings of British Muslims, told reporters that if there was a reference to one religious tradition, 'we would have to make reference to others'" (The Guardian 24 May 2004).

And d'Estaing won. So the European Union, that Britain has now voted to leave, has a Constitution (as amended by the Lisbon Treaty and containing 339 pages and presented to the UK Parliament in January 2008) that says the following in its opening introduction:

"RESOLVED to mark a new stage in the process of European integration undertaken with the establishment of the European Communities.
DRAWING INSPIRATION from the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe, from which have developed the universal values of the inviolable and inalienable rights of the human person, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law.
RECALLING the historic importance of the ending of the division of the European continent and the need to create firm bases for the construction of the future Europe.
CONFIRMING their attachment to the principles of liberty, democracy and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and of the rule of law."

So this is unashamedly, as the first words tell us, a new stage towards closer union and all part of Jean Monnet's strategy of union by a slow and steady process. For he wrote in 1952 to Robert Schuman, the founder of the European Coal and Steel Community: "Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity."

Beliefs

But more importantly Churchill's heritage of "Christian faith and ethics" has been vetoed in favour of Europe's "cultural, religious and humanist inheritance". This, however, means, that, with no grounding in the Christian faith, the definition of "the universal values of the inviolable and inalienable rights of the human person, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law" is "nebulous" (to use an adjective from the Brexit debate). The meaning of "religious" is now certainly nebulous. For a start, France's "religious inheritance" includes that infamous occasion when in 1793 in the Cathedral of Notre Dame there was a "Festival of Liberty and Reason". It featured in the nave an improvised mountain. On its top was a small Greek temple dedicated "To Philosophy". The high point of the ritual was when, out of the temple, appeared an actress of the Paris Opera, dressed in red, white and blue personifying Liberty. The congregation then stretched out their hands to her and sang a pagan hymn: "Come, holy Liberty, inhabit this temple, become the goddess of the French people." But such liberty as an absolute value means licence! Not surprisingly this religion didn't last long. However, it marked the beginnings of the more subtle religion of modern secular humanism. But not only is the term "religious" now nebulous, so also are "democracy" and the "rule of law". For Hitler could claim democratic election; and why should the meaning of the "rule of law" be that of the mainstream Western tradition and not Sharia?

But what is the alternative to Europeanization? Since the Second World War, there has been a genuine fear of xenophobic Nazi-style nationalism. It is easy to criticize Europe as it now is. But how can we prevent, in the next generation "that series of frightful nationalistic quarrels" that have emerged in my lifetime and against which Churchill fought? Surely, there has to be a significant return to those Christian roots, for which we must pray and work. For both internationalism and nationalism are necessary, but in their debased forms both can be demonic as Revelation 13 teaches. As we shall see in Part 2 the Bible has a vision for a fully international community in heaven, but with national distinctives being part of its joy. Yes, both internationalism and nationalism can be blessed by God. As has been well pointed out, Pentecost was nationalistic in the sense that Peter and his colleagues didn't preach in Esperanto. The miracle was that "each one was hearing them speak in his own language" (Acts 2.6)!

So the new community, the Church of Christ, that began that first Pentecost, accepted national differences but within an international community from day one. Luke tells us (presumably from Church records) there were at least present, "Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians" (Acts 2.9-11). Part 2, therefore, will try to suggest how the Bible helps with our thinking about this tension between, nationalism and internationalism, communitarianism and cosmopolitanism, populism and globalism or however you like to describe it. It certainly doesn't base everything on economics!

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