The uncertain future of Christian Europe is a growing source of concern, not only for Christian faithful, but also for all those who strive to preserve the foundations underpinning Western Civilization.
It is Douglas Murray’s case, an atheist writer and journalist who has been dedicating his career to defending the traditions that constitute the European culture. According to him, the salvation of the Old Continent is indissociable from the reaffirmation of its Christian heritage.
His political thought is developed in his best-selling books Neoconservatism: Why We Need It (2005) and The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam (2017), which presents an in-depth investigation on the phenomenon of mass immigration and its deleterious impact on Europe. His new book, The Madness of the Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity, was released on Sept. 17.
In this interview with the Register on the sidelines of the annual meeting of the Center for European Renewal in Oxford, England, where he delivered a speech on Sept. 6, Murray gives a diagnosis of the state of European societies and explains the reason why believers and unbelievers concerned with the preservation of a common heritage should join forces at a crossroads of history.
In your book The Strange Death of Europe, which describes the state of decay in which the continent has fallen, there is the idea that the refugee crisis, the demographic crisis, as well as terrorist attacks are only the visible part of the iceberg. What are the deeper reasons underlying our current situation?
There is what we would call in Britain, the chicken or the egg thing, which came first. So, does the crisis come first or does the migration come first? Does the migration cause the existential crisis or vice versa? Who knows; they came along at the same time.
There were two aspects to the book that I focused on: One is — for want of a better term — the “us” part and one is the “them” part. The “them” part is the question of who is coming, why, the numbers and so on. The “us” part is the “why would any society do this to itself?” part. Why would a society, for instance, pretend that basically it’s the non-color base for paint, and you need to add color to it to make it into a real thing. Why would we decide that that’s what Europe is? That it’s like the colorless non-thing that needs adding to it if it’s going to be anything of any value.
I think that has come about for a set of fascinating reasons that I go into in the book, philosophical reasons, religious reasons, all sorts of things. But I am very struck by how many people want to talk about the “them” part; people are fascinated by the migration question, they agree or disagree with what I say about it, but very few people tackle me on my diagnosis, my societal biopsy of the “us” bit. I’m very struck by this because I think that it’s the bit I wanted there to be pushback on, and there is almost no pushback on it.
You talk a lot about cultural identity. I know you are not a believer, but you acknowledge the fact that Christianity is a pillar of Europe’s identity. Why would you support the Church if you don’t believe in its teachings? And how could Christianity, and the Church more specifically, become a driving force again in Europe, where they are more and more losing ground?
I regard myself as a flying buttress of the Church, I support from outside. I know that for believers this is tricky, because people just want people either to be believers or not. My own view is that there is an acceptance that should be made, for reasons which I go into in the book; some people don’t believe or can’t believe, but need to be engaged with. So, for instance I don’t regard as being the case that if someone is not a literal believing Christian, they are of absolutely no use in these discussions, and I think that believers ought to take seriously some of the reasons why non-believers have arrived at the state they have arrived at. My view is that we should be in dialogue.
My own view is that the Churches have, broadly speaking, become very bad at preaching the doctrine of their own faith. So, I am always attacking the Scandinavian churches; they are the worst example. But the Church of Rome, as we call it in the U.K., under this current pope, also has the tendency to migrate towards the sort of “Jesus was a refugee,” “Jesus was a migrant” and then the forms of green politicking which make the Church a little more than the Greenpeace of prayer. I think this is very worrying because I think that the Church has doctrine, beliefs, and they should preach them, they shouldn’t seek to preach new different things like social justice action, or welfarism or greenery or anything like this. So weirdly enough one of my positions is to try and persuade the churches to preach their own doctrine.
I do actually find myself in studios sometimes with bishops begging them just to preach the doctrine of their own faith, and they are really reluctant to do it, you really have to push them. I don’t think the Church can criticize nonbelievers if it doesn’t have confidence in its own beliefs, or to put it in another way, to sneak through without anyone noticing that they are Christian.
You say that European culture would have better resisted the issue of mass immigration if it had a stronger culture, a more assertive culture. Why do we struggle at asserting ourselves so much in Europe?
We struggle at it because Western Europeans in particular think it is impolite to suggest you have something of worth. It’s a virtue, so often a vice is a virtue. The virtue is that we want to be nice; it is a good thing: We don’t want people to feel ostracized or bullied out of the public square. So, for instance, we pretend that Islam is partly true and we think that will get us by. It starts from a rather good, decent place, not wanting people to be outsiders. Unfortunately, we take it too far and as a result we pretend like we don’t have a truth of our own. I think this is a massive error, but that’s the tendency of the times for now.
The advance of political Islam in Europe is also one of your main concerns. What do you think about the Church’s strategy to promote interfaith dialogue, which recently resulted in a joint statement signed between Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmad Al-Tayyeb in Abu Dhabi? Do you think this kind of dialogue is helpful and able to avert the threat of a “clash of civilizations” between Christians and Muslims in Europe?
In such things you have to know that the parties in the dialogue are both actually representatives; obviously the Pope is representative of the Catholic Church, but I’m not sure the that the document of Abu Dhabi can be said to be. There are too many other people making this claim, and this is one of the problems of the Islamic world. It is a perennial problem: You might solve it with one imam or mufti and 150 others of more significance will say No.” So, there is a constant problem which I think people are now aware of, broadly speaking, that it is hard to be sure you’re dialoguing with the appropriate dialogue partner.
I am not a fan of interfaith dialogue. I think it is a good way to waste your life. But that is because, it seems to me that the very point of interfaith dialogue is to avoid the big questions. If interfaith dialogue is about trying to get on, then this is good; if there is a situation where there is tension and there are people who genuinely hate other people because of their faith or anything else, then obviously there is a moderate amount of good that can be done. But what always happens with interfaith dialogue in my observation is that people deliberately focus on unimportant things.
Basically, at the end of all interfaith dialogue sessions, the Muslims and the Christians agree that they both recognize the historical Jesus, and the Jews and the Muslims recognize that they have got some similar dietary things in common and everyone goes away feeling that they have achieved so much. But of course, religions are different for very clear reasons. They have fundamentally different truth claims. So, you can only have these basically unimportant discussions. Because the real discussion is: Well, yes okay, Muslims believed in the historical Jesus, but they also didn’t think he resurrected, and he certainly wasn’t the Son of God. This is quite a big difference to be getting on with. And yes, the Jews and Muslims might agree on some dietary issues, but after that there is an awful lot they do not agree on, including the Jews. It is difficult.
Your book is pretty dark and pessimistic in asserting that Europe is basically destroying itself. And yet, large numbers of Europeans bought your book, which means that perhaps Europe is not quite yet ready to commit cultural suicide. Do you personally see reasons to hope?
Definitely. I think there is a definite pushback. I think there is a question as to whether or not it will be allowed. I think that the pushback is being demonized; sometimes in good reason, because sometimes it is demonic. I mean, there are bad parts of the pushback. But what I’m surprised at is that there has been so much rigidity from what one might call the “establishment.” I don’t like the term “establishment.” but for shorthand.
I’m surprised there hasn’t been what ought to have obviously happened by now, which is an ameliorating of the public’s position by that establishment and an acceptance that they are on to a point. And in reality, what seems to have happened is there has been some degree of acceptance of it. But it’s private. And the cost of it is to demonize massively anyone who actually publicly makes that identification. So, they make the risk-reward ratio something that most people wouldn’t want to be a part of.
But of course, there are some good signs.
Is Brexit part of it?
Well, I think so. But I mean, not that the governments in the U.K. have done a great job of Brexit to date. I think that Britain has massively set back the Euro-skeptic view by being so incompetent in our leaving. But I believe in democracy and I think the British public had a fundamental realization that it wasn’t for us.
We weren’t ever going to be a comfortable partner in this and so we wanted to leave, and one can regret parts of that, and I do regret parts of that. I particularly regret the fact that many of our friends and neighbors on the continent viewed it as being a hostile act, which I think it isn’t; or an antagonistic act, which I don’t think it is. But I think the fundamental realization the British people had was that it wasn’t working for us because we want to know better how we are governed, and we weren’t confident that we knew that any more. So, we left. Or we tried to leave, and the rest is a story of unbelievable pain and angst.
But it might get better. If not it is a deluge.
Solène Tadié is the Register’s Europe correspondent. She writes from Rome.