Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Lessons from the European Worm Turning

The other Sunday I was desperate to find news of the outcome of the referendum on the European Union constitution in France. Apart from the Internet, all news outlets on this side of the Atlantic did not seem to know that a world existed outside these United States -- and what news was being reported was who won what golf tournament.

I was eager to know if the French had done what I had suspected they would do, and turn down this thoroughly indigestible constitution that their political masters in Brussels and Paris were foisting on them. It was a resounding "Non!" Three days later the Dutch outdid the French with 62% of them turning their thumbs down to something that might have further integrated Europe, and made it a significant political counter-weight to the USA and the rising of China.

Since then there has been a welter of analysis of what happened. Clearly, there were significant French and Dutch issues, particularly discontent with their governments that led to this rejection by two of the original members of what was then known as the Common Market. Their leaders coaxed and cajoled them not to do what they were obviously going to do, but they refused to listen. It was clear to everyone that they were rejecting their national political elites, as well as the faceless bureaucrats in Brussels.

But something else was going on. There was a religous component to this, particularly in Holland where there have been massive in-migrations of Muslims in recent years. Now the folks who had given them this constitution, were talking to Turkey about joining the EU, which would further flood millions of Muslims into the European market place. The Dutch response was "Nee."

It is perhaps too early to say what all the implications are of this. I predict a ton of learned papers in the next year or two dissecting this situation, but maybe, just maybe, Europeans are waking up to the difficulties facing them in the years ahead if they continue to wind down their population creating a vacuum for millions of poor Muslims to come looking for work.

But this religious component is only part of an even bigger picture that we should look at -- for at the root of this is the issue of identity. One of the reasons the French rejected this constitution was that they did not like what they believed was too much Anglo-Saxon liberal market talk in it. Translated this means the French want to do things their way, much as the British want to do things their way, and the Italians have no desire to lose their Italian identity.

It is hardly surprising that there are Dutch and Italian voices who are now saying that they want their own currencies back and to abandon the Euro, reclaiming one of the distinctives of their national identity that was lost. The British, some of the most recalcitrant Europeans, have already breathed a huge sigh of relief, and have abandoned the notion of a referendum to confirm the constitution, and I suspect the Danes and others will follow suit.

Identity is something vital, and when it is attacked, from deep down inside comes the growl that affirms who I truly am. I know this from personal experience. In terms of nationality, I am a citizen of the USA. But that is more a legal reality than an issue of identity, for at heart I shall always remain not so much British as English -- and I make no effort to hide it. With distinctions between the various nationalities in Europe being blurred, folks are kicking back and claiming their true identity, beginning with nationality.

Identity is a huge issue in the 21st Century, and I believe it is one of the great channels along which we can take the gospel into people's hearts and lives. Consuming goods and services, the crass western approach to affirming identity, is no longer enough. The rise of the New Age and the other plethora of spiritual alternatives is evidence of this.

The young emergent Christians who are hungry for roots are tapping into this search for identity and a sense of belonging. They see their Christian identity as being more long-lasting and profound than anything anything nativist North American Christianity can come up with.

While I recognize that some who are leaving the wreck that is the Episcopal Church for Rome do so for reasons of theological conviction, I wonder whether there is within their transfer a sense of affiliating with a tradition that still seems committed to its identity more or less intact, when we have squandered ours in favor of something that we make up as we go along?

For a long time I have thought that enabling people to grasp their true identity is going to be very important. My hope is that we will help them form their identity in Christ, but also that an emergent faithful Anglicanism will be an identity-developing place for them to be.

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