Of Church and Caesar

SHOULD the Church and Caesar go together? That is the question agitating Europe today. Centuries after the continent settled the row over the roles of the state and the church, the issue has come back to haunt it.

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Published: Sat 29 May 2004, 11:45 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 1:45 AM

As the European Union negotiates its way around various thorny issues on the path to a common constitution, the question of the continent's Christian identity stares it in the face. Seven predominantly Catholic states led by papal Italy have urged the union to recognise a 'historical truth' and acknowledge the Christian roots of Europe in its new constitution. In doing so, the seven states - Italy, Poland, Lithuania, Malta, Portugal, the Czech Republic and Slovakia - have revived the eternal debate over the separation of secular state from the church. With strong views on the issue, it is not likely to be settled before the Brussels summit on June 17, when the constitution is due to be ratified by 25 member states.

After centuries of bloody conflict, the Renaissance of Europe had marked the successful separation of the state and the church. Tired of a nosy, interfering church - which unreasonably sought to dominate all affairs of the state and an individual's liberty of actions - an awakened Europe had restricted the Pope's role to the four walls of church. The clergy's dogged refusal to acknowledge the role of science and abhorrent institutions like the Spanish Inquisition contributed a great deal to this disillusionment with the Church. Hence the mantra: Caesar and Pope have to be kept apart.

So how far Europe should go in acknowledging its Christian identity? There is no simple answer. Europe is not what it used to be. The last few decades have seen the continent go through a most dramatic metamorphosis. It is no more a Christian Europe. Migrants from around the world, majority of them Muslims, have changed the face of Europe. Little wonder then Britain wants to avoid any overt and troublesome references to Europe's Christian roots or identity. While the Vatican is insisting on acknowledging the continent's Christian roots, countries like socialist France and secular Britain - conscious of their Muslim populations - are opposed to any religious references. What happens when Muslim Turkey, with the largest population in Europe, joins the EU? An emphasis on the elite club's Christian identity would not only be anachronistic, it would be out of sync with the changed, cosmopolitan ethos of Europe.

An inclusive and liberal Europe would do well to stay clear of the explosive issue of faith. If the EU must acknowledge its religious identity, then it cannot ignore the existence of other beliefs.

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