German politicians (especially the Christian parties, but also SPD and Die Grünen) like to speak of the so-called "Christian values" to which contemporary Europe allegedly owes so much. In fact, however, the popular reference to the "Christian Occident" (which is currently being stressed again in the debate on same-sex marriage) is in clear contrast to the facts of European history, as a brochure recently published by the Giordano Bruno Stiftung in German and English shows.
The 12-page gbs brochure "Die Legende vom christlichen Abendland" / "The Legend of the Christian Western World", illustrated with many pictures, takes readers on a rapid parforce ride through cultural history: The journey begins with Greek and Roman Antiquity, which laid the foundations for the greatest achievements of our civilisation. With the introduction of the Christian state church by Theodosius in the year 380, the second station of the expedition, a serious turning point occurs which leads to an almost complete political and cultural collapse in Western and Central Europe. The dramatic social decline (3rd station) was not changed much by the promotion of monastic culture under Charlemagne "the Great" (4th station), whereas the influence of Islamic-Arab culture (5th station), which cultivated and developed the ancient heritage over centuries, certainly did.
From the 13th century onwards, ancient Arab knowledge spreads to Central Europe. While the Muslim cultural area dogmatically stagnates in the following period, Europe becomes the beneficiary of pagan antiquity in Arab dress and blossoms in the "Renaissance". The new way of thinking gradually liberated people from religious confinement, which was clearly expressed in the Enlightenment movement of the 18th century (6th station), but above all in the second half of the 20th century - after the decline of nationalist delusions and two devastating world wars, when the Germans still marched under the banner "With God and the Emperor" or "With God and the Führer!"
The gbs brochure was written by Rolf Bergmeier (ancient historian and gbs adviser), who has already rendered the talk of the "Christian Western World" absurd in his books "Kaiser Konstantin und die wilden Jahre des Christentums" (2010 - "Emperor Constantine and the Wild Years of Christianity"), "Schatten über Europa - Der Untergang der antiken Kultur" (2012 - "Shadows over Europe - The Fall of Ancient Culture") and "Christlich-abendländische Kultur - Eine Legende" (2013 - "Christian Occidental Culture - A Legend"), in collaboration with gbs spokesman Michael Schmidt-Salomon, who investigated the question of the sources of our civilisation, especially in his books "Manifesto of Evolutionary Humanism" (2005) and "Hoffnung Mensch" (2014 - "In Humanity We Trust"). The conclusion the two authors reach after examining European history leaves nothing to be desired in terms of clarity (and should be an incentive for defenders of the "Christian Western World" to reconsider their obscure use of language):
»When searching for the roots of European culture, one encounters three main sources: Classical Antiquity, the intermediary Islamic-Arabic high culture and the Enlightenment. Founded upon the principles of science and reason, the equal rights of all people, and the freedom of the individual, today’s culture has but few roots in religious Judaism and weak ones only in Christianity. However, it is connected by the strongest of ties to Classical Antiquity.
It is undisputed that Christianity has influenced European culture in certain special ways (think, for example, of the Gothic domes), and that for over a thousand years it determined the course of European history. The effect, however, in terms of scientific-intellectual and political-cultural development, was largely to suppress rather than encourage progress. It is true that, starting in the 13th century, Christian theologians, for example the Renaissance humanists, also played a part in the "rebirth of Europe”; but their main achievement was to free Europe of a burden that, without Christianity, would never have come about.
Thus, speaking of the "Christian Western world” is only really appropriate in the past tense, for example in connection with the monastic culture of the middle ages. The intellectual, scientific and social advancement of Europe since the Renaissance has not been built upon Christian values; on the contrary, it has been possible due to an increasing emancipation from these values. The frequently feared "demise of the Christian Western world” actually took place long ago – and that is just as well! It is what opened the door to the development of our modern constitutional State, in which each individual is empowered to determine how he or she wants to live without being reprimanded by "religious authorities”.«
The new gbs brochure can now be downloaded from the gbs website (German version / English version). Printed editions of the brochure for distribution or education in schools can be ordered free of charge from the Giordano Bruno Stiftung via the web form.