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Europe

Religious Leaders Diverge on European Identity and Values

In a continent of Christians, Jews, Muslims and people of other faiths, world religious leaders debate the future religious identity of Europe at a conference in Aachen.

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World Peace Meeting in Aachen: Should God appear in the EU constitution?

The issue of European values is anything but new. Tomes have been written about the values upon which Europe was built, whether Judeo-Christian or purely humanistic. The discussion was recently reignited by the European Union draft constitution which says the Union is founded on the values of "respect for human dignity, liberty, democracy … and respect for human rights." But the draft does not explicitly mention God or the region's Christian traditions.

Secular countries like France and Spain fought against Catholic-dominated Poland to keep the language out, and so far they have prevailed. The conflict illustrated the EU's new ethical approach, and in particular that of a greater Europe. Millions of Orthodox Christians and Muslims belong to Europe who aren't part of the Occidental Christian tradition. This has led the EU to recognize that it must redefine its foundation.

Deutsche Geschichte Kapitel 2 Der Frankenkönig Karl der Große wird Kaiser des Abendlandes Dom zu Aachen Illustration Raimo Bergt

Aachen's cathedral

Under the auspices of the World Peace Prayer, held for the first time in Germany, representatives from the world's religions have been discussing political and religious issues under the theme "War and Peace: Faiths and Cultures in Dialogue" in Aachen since Sunday. Identity and values in Europe's future was the topic of one discussion at the annual ecumenical event that's been organized by the Rome-based organization Community of Sant'Egidio since 1987.

"We have long moved about in a eurocentric world view, where we observed the rest of the world from [our position here] in Europe," Rev. Konrad Raiser, general-secretary of the World Council of Churches (WWC), said. "In the meantime we must recognize that Europe is only one of the world's large regions, that the times are past in which Europe could practice cultural, political and scientific hegemony. Europe must redefine itself and its identity today in exchange with the other regions, in particular with Africa, the Middle East and North America."

Europe: a work-in-progress

The continent's cultural and religious diversity has made the notion of Europe as the Christian occident an irreversible thing of the past. For the moment Europe is a sort of work-in-progress while the leaders search for ways to ensure peaceful coexistence.

"To reflect the social realities of its people, [the EU] must be institutionally separate from the religious communities," Hungarian Archbishop Peter Erdö explained in Aachen. "But in many questions of moral values it can refer to these communities, work together with them or bear in mind the societal effect of their conscience-building activities."

But the difficult question -- apparent in the debates over the constitution -- has been how. Conservative Christians like Cologne's Catholic cardinal, Joachim Meisner, have said the humanistic values that have shaped Europe are actually typical Christian values and that the EU constitution must make mention of God.

The Russian Orthodox Church, personified in Aachen by Metropolitan Kirill of the Moscow Patriarchy, insisted there was a dramatic contrast between the West's liberalism and the religious culture of Orthodox Eastern Europe. But the difference is artificial since liberal humanism and being rooted in religious belief are not mutually exclusive ideas.

WWC chief Raiser represented a more moderate position. He said he could accept the current EU constitution draft even without reference to God: "I think one can live with it, since a general, generic reference to God is too little for those who really believe in God and for the radical proponents of the separation of church and state it's a big problem. I believe the recognition that religious tradition is essential to European identity is a decisive step [as is] the recognition of the independent role of religious communities in the constitution."

There's still time to take account of the clerics opinions, though there's no indication that will lead to changes in the draft. The text won't be finalized until after an intergovernmental conference convenes in October with officials from each of the current 15 EU member states and the 10 accession countries. Then it must be ratified by each country.

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