Nearly 500 years after Martin Luther’s Nighty-Five Theses split Europe in two, the ancient religious fault line between Protestant and Catholic seems to be reemerging in the age of fiscal turmoil.We are not speaking of religion in the doctrinal sense, but in the cultural one. After all, Europe is growing more secular by the year. Church attendance numbers are down across the board and the religious roots that once provided the bedrock for European society are now a shadow of what they once were. (European creativity is also a mere shadow of what it once was, coincidentally enough. No Jesus, no Verdi?)Yet while they’re not as devout as they were in the past, Europeans are still products of a culture shaped by conflicting cultures based in different faiths, and it appears that the impact of religion lives on after most faith has disappeared. Now the identities that were forged in the fires of the religious wars are shaping the Euro crisis in the form of frugal Protestant states and the debt-ridden Catholic nations of Latin Europe. The BBC reports:
Following the last European summit in Brussels there was much talk of defeat for Chancellor Merkel by what was described as a “new Latin Alliance” of Italy and Spain backed by France.
And on the Protestant side:
Some in Germany suggest today’s eurozone would be better dividing, with some kind of Latin Union on one side, and on the other a German-led group of like-minded countries including perhaps the (Calvinist) Dutch and the (Lutheran) Finns.The former head of the German industry association, Hans-Olaf Henkel, has said that “the euro is dividing Europe”.He wants the Germans, Dutch and Finns to “seize the initiative and leave the euro”, creating a separate northern euro.
There’s an story that once during the Troubles in Belfast, a man was pulled into an alley by two masked gunmen. “Are you a Protestant or a Catholic?” one of the gunman asked.“I’m an atheist, I’m an atheist!” the man said.The gunman thought for a minute puzzled. Then one of them turned to the man and said, “Are you a Catholic atheist or a Protestant atheist?”Devotion may be in decline, but centuries of religious development left an indelible mark on European society. But instead of feuding over matters such as the transubstantiation of the host or the role of the clergy, today’s Catholic and Protestant atheists are crusading over concepts like the meaning of money and the forgiveness of debt.With the Orthodox in the Balkans and Russia heirs to get another culture of faith, with yet another outlook on the world and philosophy of history, it may just be that Europeans are too different from one another to get along well in a currency union.If true, that means that the best way to unite Europe is not to try too hard to force everyone to live by the same rules. A looser union might last longer.