mercoledì, febbraio 07, 2007

La religione divide l'America e l'Europa?

Cari amici,

metto questo lungo articolo di Ian Buruma, un intellettuale olandese che personalmente apprezzo molto, in cui si parla della diversa sensibilità religiosa tra Europa e Stati Uniti, e di come questa diversità influisca sull'atteggiamento degli europei e degli americani nei confronti dell'Islam.
In particolare Buruma sostiene che mentre le società europee sono sempre più secolarizzate, e quindi vedono l'Islam come una minaccia alla loro libertà, cioè al secolarismo che in Europa si è affermato dal '68 in poi, gli americani sono sempre più presi dal fervore evangelico, che vede l'Islam come una massa di infedeli da convertire.
L'autore si chiede infine se anche gli europei, come gli americani, sentiranno l'esigenza di "nascere di nuovo" sotto lo spirito del neo-evangelismo. La sua risposta, velata di dubbio, è positiva.
E' interessante, e io lo leggerei, magari armatevi dell'ottimo dizionario inglese-italiano on-line che si trova su

Conflicting views about religion threaten to divide Europe from the US

Essay by Ian Buruma Saturday January 7, 2006 The Guardian

The divorce is not formal, but the rift is unmistakable: Europe and the US have less and less in common. Or so received opinion on both sides of the Atlantic has it. The idea is not new. French politicians, beginning with General de Gaulle, have long pretended that Paris was closer, not just physically but in spirit, to Moscow than New York. And they did mean Paris, not London.
In the early decades of the 20th century, it was a common conceit of the radical right that "Americanism" was as much of a threat to European civilisation as Bolshevism. Americanism was associated with the cultural shallowness of capitalism, the rootlessness of multi-ethnic immigration and the vulgar mediocrity of liberal democracy. It is often forgotten that Americophilia was stronger among progressives than conservatives in Europe. After the second world war this began to shift. Some of the same prejudices about Americanism have travelled from right to left. Admiration for the US is now associated with conservatives.
Even if the alleged split in western civilisation is exaggerated (after all, US pop culture is the one thing all Europeans have in common), there are indeed things that keep us apart. An infatuation with guns, for example, or the death penalty. But one thing, in particular, distinguishes the Old from the New World: Europe has become more and more secular, as the Americans are falling increasingly into the arms of Jesus. It is hard to imagine any European state electing a leader who embraces Bush's evangelical faith. Norway, rather exceptionally, was led for a long time by a Lutheran minister, and the British prime minister is rather pious, but even Tony Blair probably spends less time on his knees than the US president.
A casual drive through any European country shows the decline of traditional churches. The finest are open to the tourist trade. Others have closed, been turned into mosques, or converted into restaurants or apartments. Those that still function as churches never seem to be more than half-full, and the worshippers in some European capitals tend to come from other continents. Even in Italy, where politicians still actively vie for the blessings of the Vatican, the Church's authority only reaches a small percentage of the population.
In countries with large numbers of Muslim citizens, such as France or Holland, Islam will almost certainly become the largest organised religion. This causes considerable anxiety among the non-Muslim majority, not only because Islam is the traditional enemy of Christendom, or because political Islam is espoused by terrorists, but precisely because it runs counter to our newly acquired secularism. Forgetting how recently most Europeans abandoned their own religions, people regard Muslim devotion as deeply "un-European". Americans, still more attached to their own faiths, have less of a problem with others' devotion to theirs.
Now take a trip along a US freeway, especially in a Republican "red state". Driving along Interstate 35, as I did recently, from Austin, Texas, through Waco to Fort Worth, you see endless strip malls with billboards advertising new bank products, get-rich-quick schemes, and other promises of the good life. But in the midst of those malls and billboards you also see many churches and adverts for Jesus. God himself is less in evidence. In the New World, His son appears to have taken over the store. What is extraordinary, however, is how close these ads are in tone to the ones for bank products and get-rich-quick schemes. They are part of the same campaign. If a new mutual fund makes you feel prosperous and secure, then so does Jesus.
I listened to an evangelist on a local radio station promising his listeners salvation "without a performance clause". Other churches, he said, demand proof of good character or fine deeds before Jesus will save you, but not this one; anyone can turn directly to the saviour and benefit from his blessings at once - for a small management fee, to be sure. Religion is subject to the same rules of aggressive competition as everything else in the homeland of free enterprise.
It is possible that most Europeans have turned against religion itself. I believe that it is more likely that they have turned against traditional authority, including that of the church. Few Europeans, so far, have been born again. Religion, like class, was something you were born with. The widespread European rebellion against authority that began in the 1960s - or the French Revolution, to be more exact - was also a rebellion against the churches. The aim was to be liberated from traditional constraints, to be free to choose how to live one's life, in a way to be more like Americans.
This did not mean the end of faith, or the religious impulse. Many student radicals and others on the left in the 1960s came from religious backgrounds. Just as some orthodox Jewish intellectuals in New York had turned from God to Lenin or Trotsky, these rebellious Catholics and Protestants embraced Marxism with the same messianic fervour with which they had once been told to believe in God. The cult-like status of certain third world leaders, such as Mao Zedong, suggests that the desire to worship was not exhausted. In their own countries both Mao and Stalin deliberately created quasi-religious cults. It is surely no coincidence that Stalin was the product of a Russian Orthodox seminary. He knew the tricks of the trade.
The association with Christianity in much of the non-western world was not the same as in Europe. In 19th-century Korea, for example, Christianity, instead of representing traditional authority, held the promise of liberation from a rigid, authoritarian class system. In parts of Africa, China and elsewhere, Christianity has long been associated with modern civilisation and social equality. Like Marxism, and indeed Islam, Christianity allowed people to break the chains of caste, tribe, race or class. That is why many low-caste Indians converted to Islam centuries ago. It also explains the popularity of Islam among certain African-Americans, and Christianity among Chinese political dissidents.
Then there is what Donald Rumsfeld calls "the new Europe". Even as western Europeans were rejecting religion, Poles clung to the church as a beacon of opposition to the communist regime. Pope John Paul II was at least as important in the struggle for freedom in Poland as Lech Walesa. And Walesa is of course a devout Catholic. Polish Catholicism may have been riddled with prejudices, but it was a refuge from a secular ideology that was felt to be even more oppressive.
Religion did not play quite such a significant role in other parts of the former Soviet empire, but even so, after the 1989 Velvet Revolution in Prague, Vaclav Havel, a thoroughly secular intellectual, led his new government of former dissidents into St Vitus's Cathedral for a mass celebrated by the 90-year-old Cardinal Frantisek Tomasek, before singing Dvorak's Te Deum.
All this was excellent news for the Vatican, and indeed for the Orthodox church, whose fortunes revived after the fall of communism in Russia. But the good fortune of organised religion didn't last for very long, except perhaps in Russia, where political liberation is still an unfinished business. With democracy, Czechs and even Poles began to desert their churches almost as fast as western Europeans had done. The figures are remarkable. In 1989, 92% of Poles said they had confidence in the Catholic church. Ten years later, it was down to half that number, and it became increasingly hard to recruit new priests. Czechs were always more sceptical. According to a poll taken last year, only 19% of Czechs still believe in God.
Despite the heroism of the late pope, the Catholic church is burdened by a legacy of cowardice and opportunism. As an institution it had collaborated with Nazis, as well as communists, and after 1989, the church once again tried to dabble in politics. No wonder people regard it with a great deal of cynicism. But this does not mean that religion is dead. Since traditional authority is crumbling, religion is becoming more and more a matter of personal choice, as in the US. People in eastern Europe, as well as in Brazil, China, and many other places, are turning increasingly toward Pentacostalism and other charismatic faiths.
Something similar is happening in Islam. Young Muslims are attracted to such fundamentalist creeds as Wahhabism, sponsored by Saudi Arabia, because of its alleged purity. The son of a Moroccan immigrant in Holland, or of a Bangladeshi in Britain, might find the village traditions of his parents oppressive. Patriarchal authority is vested in a culture that seems backward, even alien. Fundamentalism allows young people to sweep away those old cobwebs and adopt a new, purer identity, unencumbered by the customs of their parents. In a way, Muslim fundamentalism, promoted by freelance clerics in radical mosques, is comparable to the strict kinds of Protestantism preached by evangelicals in the US. Young Muslims, confused about their place in the world, want to be born again too.
The question is whether something like this could happen among the lapsed European Christians as well. I believe that it could. That the yearning for religious experience is by no means extinguished becomes clear on such occasions as the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. The mass hysteria and adulation that this unleashed in Britain suggested a kind of repressed Marian cult. What is more, the cult was hostile to the traditional monarchy. A confused but canny media celebrity had been transformed after death into a sacred idol of a rebellious faith. The massive outpourings of grief, the candlelight vigils, the hymn singing, the flowers, the sentimental testimonials on television, the acres of newsprint that follow the deaths of other pop celebrities, from George Best to the Dutch populist politician, Pim Fortuyn, show a similar tendency. Could this spirit be mobilised in a new wave of evangelical faith?
Two examples, one from western and another from eastern Europe, suggest that it could. Rudolf Brancovsky is a young Czech painter and part-time pop singer for a group called Vesela Zubata (The Merry Grim Reaper). He is a follower of Jesus. His band has performed in churches, but their punk style was not always to the liking of the church authorities. One pastor actually shut a concert down. Brancovsky complained: "We weren't able to speak our natural language in our church. They wanted us to speak only in the language of these old structures." He also said that Jesus turned water into wine, only for Christians to turn it back into water again.
The other example is a Dutch marathon skater, named René Ruitenberg. His career was severely hampered two years ago when he received a "signal from God" that he was not to practise his sport on Sundays any more. Many people advised him against this, but after embracing Jesus and the Lord he felt "mega-good", as if "a backpack filled with stones" had fallen from his shoulders. Why did God's signal hit its mark? Faith, he said, was necessary, for without it life would have no meaning and there was no knowing where you might end up after death. Without that certainty, he said, "I would wonder what I'm living for. My family? ... Life is an antechamber for later, for eternity."
So far, so banal. But then he said something more disturbing. Islam, in his view, is a Satanic faith which will dominate the world, because Christians have forsaken their sacred task to convert unbelievers. This doesn't mean that he hates Muslims as individuals. It is like someone who tells lies. "I might still like him, but I reject his lies."
Ruitenberg may not be a deeply reflective, or even very intelligent man, but it would be surprising if his anxieties were not widely shared. Many people are afraid of the meaningless of life, and equally fearful of Islam. And, again, the fact that such people often reject the established churches does not mean they are secular. Ruitenberg, like the Czech artist, has a low opinion of the church he grew up with. "It's a mess in the Dutch church," he says, "and I'm ashamed of that." All they do is "think of rules and laws". They "fuss about baptism and uplifting songs". Instead, they should "turn to those who don't yet know God".
Here is the voice of the true evangelical, the rebel with a direct line to God. Now, it may be that such voices will always be a small minority in Europe, because secularism is already too entrenched. But I wouldn't count on it. More and more people might start exercising their freedom of choice and choose to be born again. As a keen Atlanticist, I still like to think that Europe and the US are inseparable parts of the same civilisation, and deplore the current rifts. But it would be a sad thing indeed if the gap were to be narrowed, not by those who still believe in the worldly ideals of liberalism and reason, but by those who hope that Jesus will take them straight to heaven.

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