European Christianity and the Challenge of Militant Secularism

By Alfeyev, Hilarion | The Ecumenical Review, January 2005 | Go to article overview

European Christianity and the Challenge of Militant Secularism


Alfeyev, Hilarion, The Ecumenical Review


A spectre is haunting Europe--the spectre of militant secularism. Actively opposing any manifestations of religiosity, the battles won by militant secularism in European society have become ever more impressive. While deliberations over a reference to Europe's Christian roots in the proposed Constitution of the European Union persist, a new wave of debates has stirred up the Old World--this time following the French government's prohibition against wearing religious symbols in public places. Once more militant secularism surfaces as the only legitimate world-view upon which the new world order should be built both in Europe and beyond.

To expel religion from society, to send it to the backyard of human existence and relegate it exclusively to the private sphere--this is the programme that the representatives of modern liberal humanism, inspired by the ideas of the Enlightenment with their peculiar notions of freedom and tolerance, attempt to implement. In their opinion, tolerance of religion should be practised only insofar as it neither violates the dictates of political correctness nor contradicts so-called "common human values." Everything that transgresses these boundaries must be limited, forbidden or entirely eliminated.

The categorical refusal of a significant number of European politicians to mention Christianity in the European Constitution and the decisive resistance of the majority of French social activists to all visible manifestations of faith, together with other, similar phenomena throughout many areas of Europe, form but the tip of the iceberg. Behind these actions we can discern the consistent, systematic and well-targeted onslaught of militant secularism on what remains of European Christian civilization, along with the desire to obliterate it once and for all. This attack is being carried out to the drumbeat of the proponents of democracy and liberal values, and with loud cries over the defence of civil rights and freedoms. But this assault on religion also entails that the cardinal right of a human person, to confess openly his or her faith in God, is placed under question. It also threatens the freedom of human communities to base their mode of existence on their religious world-views.

Militant secularism as a pseudo-religion

When the Bolsheviks rose to power in Russia in 1917, one of the main points on their ideological programme was to wage war on all manifestations of religion. Aggression soon turned into full-fledged genocide during the 1920s and 1930s: the destructive methods of militant atheism spared nobody--neither bishops, nor priests, nor monks, nor nuns, nor laypeople. The bitter fate of persecuted clergymen was felt by their wives and children: the latter, known as "children of the enemies of the people", were placed in special boarding schools to be nurtured in the spirit of the godless. Believers of every shade - Orthodox, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Jews and Buddhists - suffered equally from the persecutions, and all this took place while slogans of the struggle for "freedom, equality and fraternity", the legacy of the French Revolution, were shouted from the roof-tops.

Notions of freedom, however, carried very limited significance when it came to religion. The Stalinist constitution of 1929 permitted both the existence of religious cults and the propagation of atheism. In other words, it was possible to propagate, that is, to give open voice only to atheism, since to preach religion was officially forbidden. In practice, merely belonging to a church, even if one did not preach one's faith, was seen as a threat to Soviet society at large and almost inevitably led to dismissal from employment and the loss of social status. In many instances, especially in the bloody decades of the 1920s and 1930s, being a believer meant risking one's life and the lives of one's relatives.

According to Berdyaev, the Russian communists' hatred of religion was caused by the fact that communism viewed itself as a form of religion that had come to replace Christianity. …

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