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The ‘Re-Traditionalization’ of Europe?

Stephen Turley reads the Brexit results as a sign that Europe may be headed towards a more traditionalist future. [1] Excerpts:

It is most certainly the case that the world is going through a radical realignment along nationalist and provincialist lines. From Bosnia to Chechnya, Rwanda and Barundi, from South Sudan to Scotland, populations have been turning increasingly inward for civic and cultural identity.

But within these balkanizing tendencies is a process called re-traditionalization. Because globalization challenges the traditions and customs, the religions and languages of local cultures, its processes tend to be resisted with a counter-cultural blowback. In the face of threats to localized identity markers, people assert their religiosity, kinship, and national symbols as mechanisms of resistance against globalizing dynamics.

So far so good.

And continue they will. We should not regard this resurgent nationalism a temporary political fad. This is because globalization entails its own futility; as we have found with the attempt to bring liberal democracy to the Middle East, few are willing to die for emancipatory politics, feminism, and LGBT rights. But the willingness to die for land, people, custom, language, and religions is seemingly universal. Though a formidable challenger, globalization appears to have no chance of overcoming such innate fidelities.

I think this is true. To modify a phrase of MacIntyre’s, dying for the EU is like dying for the phone company. More:

And so, it is certainly the case that the Brexit signifies the rise of nationalism in Europe, but it also suggests the inexorable revival of traditional values and norms. And while there are a number of current cultural peculiarities and paradoxes indicative of a stubborn secularism throughout the West, we can expect social and cultural trends to resolve such inconsistencies in favor of traditional beliefs and practices.

A renewed Christian Europe may not be so far away.

Would that it were so! But I don’t believe it is. I love hearing the good news of religious revival within Russia, but news that the Duma has passed a law massively restricting the religious liberty of non-Orthodox Christians [2] is terrible news. Putin hasn’t signed it, but I expect that he will. You know that I deeply want Europe to return to its Christian roots, but doing so out of purely tribal, nationalistic reasons does not give one hope that such a return would be truly Christian.

The problem for people like me is that nationalistic religion is, unfortunately, part of tradition in many places. The reason I was pleased that Brexit won is that I am almost always in favor of the local over the global. To the extent that the EU threatened local identities, cultures, and traditions, I think it was a threat to be resisted. I would love to see Western Europe’s Catholic and Protestant churches filled again, but if Europeans returned to them not out of a love of God and a longing for His presence, but because it was part of sticking it to Them (whoever “Them” may be), then I’m concerned.

On the other hand, getting them in the door by whatever means is to be celebrated, and then the pastors could reacquaint their de-Christianized peoples with the faith. But are Europe’s priests and pastors prepared to do this? Do they have the faith still? I don’t know, and would love to hear from European Christian readers of this blog.

Point is, two cheers for what Stephen Turley says. But the growing instrumentalization of the Orthodox faith in Russia for nationalist purposes is not a good sign. On the other hand, my suspicion is that the desire I have to separate the faith from nationalism is a distinction that is abstract and academic in the historical experience of lived Christianity outside the United States. Again, I am eager to hear from non-American readers on this.

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117 Comments To "The ‘Re-Traditionalization’ of Europe?"

#1 Comment By panda On July 1, 2016 @ 7:45 pm

“Po,land was gobbled up by its neighbors a little over 200 years ago (1790s). Technically the plural on “hundreds” is correct. However before the 18th century Poland was a Power in eastern Europe and was often the one doing the gobbling.”

You should look up the Black Madonna of Częstochowa when you have the time..

And of course, to say that “Poland” was a power in the Central Eastern Europe is misleading. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was, and Polish nationalism started forming just as it started to fray..

#2 Comment By John On July 1, 2016 @ 8:12 pm

“Religious liberty is a false freedom.”

Ih don’t be ridiculous. Liberty is Liberty and it can be exercised wisely or poorly but as long as someone has the freedom to choose what to do with his, her or zher’s life than he, she or zhe is a free person.

“There is no inherent right to spread error.”

First Amendment protections are not limited to ideas which are deemed true.

#3 Comment By Philly guy On July 1, 2016 @ 10:50 pm

If Mormons are creepy it’s because they look too non individualistic.

#4 Comment By Cyril On July 2, 2016 @ 2:52 am

I should have clarified when I wrote “everything is better than USSR” that I meant primely about religious freedom and state of Christian sentiments, I apologize for misleading anyone, for I am personally not particularly anti-Soviet. Nevertheless modern Russians carry them a considerable Soviet legacy, which is not always talked about: atomization and deficit of any form of social solidarity, which is a product of state dominated public sphere, from which people tried to hide in their private life,where Soviet Union couldn’t really get even if it tried.As result there was a serious change in psyche of many people, first of all in terms of creating strong social connections with people beyond their immediate family, co-workers and circle of personal friends. This atomized mindset in my opinion is incompatible with either Orthodox Christianity or with religion in general( I mean, come on, religion, re-ligare, “to reconnect”). This does not mean that there are no believers or that there are no religious and Christian activity. I personally know a few orthodox young adults, some of them came to Church from non-religious family. Additionally, one of my professors was Vladimir Legoida, who is also a Chairman of Department of Synodal Information of Russian Orthodox Church, a man of deep faith(Rod actually reminds me of him in a way, even though I can only judge from his blogposts). So I do not claim that there is no religious people in Russia, simply that in a long run a majority of people remains alienated from Christianity by virtue of the psychological damage wrecked by USSR, even though they, by and large, may not have a conscious anti-Christian sentiments. If any of American reader decided that there is absolutely no faith and religious folks in modern Russian, this is not so and I apologize if I mislead anyone, nevertheless the larger social and cultural trends are stacked against Christianity and even governmental support will not reverse that trend( ask communists how well did they manage to imbue people with Marxist dogmas). That may change but as of now most reports from Russia vastly exaggerate the inroads made by Russian orthodox in recent years. To reiterate, there are many Christians but as many for me to call our country a Christian one. As a matter of fact we were probably the first postchristian country, “before it was cool” and we are still remain that way. But maybe this is to our advantage: we were the first to start on that path, so we will be the first to really turn things around.

#5 Comment By brians On July 2, 2016 @ 7:53 am

The City of Man often sets itself against the City of God, Rod. That’s why prophetic “holy fools” are necessary in an era in which the Church submits itself to the nation-state.

#6 Comment By JonF On July 2, 2016 @ 10:39 am

Re: And of course, to say that “Poland” was a power in the Central Eastern Europe is misleading. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was,

Yes, but I was using “Poland” as an abbreviation for the whole, much like saying “Britain” instead of “United Kingdom”.
At its height the borders of the Commonwealth pushed far to the east beyond any place where either Polish or Lithuanian was spoken– past Kiev, and even past Smolensk. The underwhelmingly named Time of Troubles in Russia– a nasty “Game of Thrones” thing minus dragons and zombies but in which Russia lost perhaps a third of its population– was largely the production of Polish king Sigismund III seeking to expand his power even further to the east. I am not impugning Poland uniquely, as every nation larger than Andorra and older then modern Luxemburg, has dirty hands. However I am pointing out the Russian attitude toward and treatment of Poland in later times has a historical foundation.

#7 Comment By Nate On July 2, 2016 @ 1:17 pm

“First Amendment protections are not limited to ideas which are deemed true.”

What does the First Amendment have to do with Russia? America is not the ideal society. Far from it. Russia’s best path forward and away from its communist past isn’t to embrace the destructive Enlightenment/Protestant ideology of America.

#8 Comment By DGJ On July 2, 2016 @ 3:16 pm

My take is that it’ll just destroy what’s left of the traditional culture. Some new Christian movements may arise, particularly if nation states collapse. See the Jesus Army for an example.


#9 Comment By KD On July 2, 2016 @ 6:37 pm

Religious freedom has historically worked for societies with cultures derived from WASP norms. While we are in the process of eradicating those norms, in the interim, I think religious freedom is good, and probably better than the puritanical multicultural orthodoxy which will be coming down the pipeline.

On the other hand, other cultures, whether it be the Turks or the Russians or Egyptians or the Indians, I am not sure that religious freedom in the Western sense is appropriate. It really only makes sense within a consciousness heavily shaped by Protestantism. [Gandhi was all for religious freedom, but he was reading Tolstoy and hanging out with Quakers. . . plus he was trying to out gentleman the English. Modi may have a better grasp on what his nation needs to do to survive.]

#10 Comment By KD On July 2, 2016 @ 6:41 pm

I am being unfair: puritanical multicultural orthodoxy is not really religion, it simply shares certain features of religion. For example, heresy persecutions, witch hunts, unquestionable dogmas, support for violence against political enemies.

But it is like the Spanish Inquisition without the Sistine Chapel or the poetry of St. John the Divine.

#11 Comment By Chris Travers On July 3, 2016 @ 2:00 am


On the other hand, one interesting feature of Indonesia is that many features are devolved not only locally but also religiously.

Indonesia is a religious state, dedicated to the worship of a single god which Muslims, Protestants, Catholics, Hindus, and Buddhists are all understood to worship.* There is no civil marriage, only civil recognition of religious marriage and religious institutions are not allowed to perform marriages across these boundaries (someone must convert first).

But because religion is granted autonomy, there is more room for people to live out religious disagreement than there is in the US.

* To understand this, you have to understand that Javanese, the largest ethnic group in Indonesia, are religiously Muslim, but they look back to their Hindu empire as their glory days, so they preserve a lot of Hinduism in their culture too. There is a very specific and beautiful blend of religious heritage in the Javanese culture.

#12 Comment By Chris Travers On July 3, 2016 @ 3:43 am


Western secularism and Western atheism are inseparable. Both are reinterpretations of Protestantism, substituting a clockwork nature for God the Father, reason and progress for Christ, and sexuality for The Holy Ghost.

#13 Comment By Cyril On July 3, 2016 @ 9:21 am


“On the other hand, other cultures, whether it be the Turks or the Russians or Egyptians or the Indians, I am not sure that religious freedom in the Western sense is appropriate”

Can’t say anything about others, but Russian Empire had religious freedom. As long as you were not a Russian peasant, then you are we were an Orthodox for life. Not that those people were particularly open to other faiths( they hardly even understood their own, which was note with despair by many slavophiles like Samarin), but still…

#14 Comment By panda On July 3, 2016 @ 12:29 pm

“Yes, but I was using “Poland” as an abbreviation for the whole, much like saying “Britain” instead of “United Kingdom”.
At its height the borders of the Commonwealth pushed far to the east beyond any place where either Polish or Lithuanian was spoken– past Kiev, and even past Smolensk.”

And another error here: the “Lithuanian” element of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth had little in common with the modern-day Lithuanian nation. It mostly consisted of Ruthenian nobles- in other words, families descended from the nobility of Kyivan Rus’, who were initially ruled by Lithuanian princes, but very quickly assimilated them. Which was my original point- the early modern Polish-Lithuanian state had very little in common with the modern Polish nation state.

#15 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On July 3, 2016 @ 3:09 pm

the early modern Polish-Lithuanian state had very little in common with the modern Polish nation state.

Well, yes, but we can generalize that well beyond Poland. Kievan Rus had little in common with the modern Russian state — even that of the Romanovs. The Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, and the patchwork of principalities within it, had very little in common with the Germany forged by Otto von Bismarck. The kingdom established by Edward I had little in common with Georgian Great Britain. Charlemagne’s empire had little in common with France following the restoration of Charles by Joan of Arc, with had less in common with either the five republics or the France of Louis the Sun King.

To keep it short, national identity, particularly national identity based on common ethnicity, is a very recent development. At the time the MODERN state of Poland and Lithuania were formed, they had virtually identical languages and ethnicities, and people had to arbitrarily or sentimentally CHOOSE which one they would be. There were even cases of brothers who served in different legislatures because one went one way, and one the other way.

#16 Comment By JonF On July 3, 2016 @ 3:23 pm

Re: And another error here:

Not an error at all: just an irrelevant nit-pick. Lithuania originally referred to the Baltic coastal area (very approximately modern Lithuania and Latvia and part of old Prussia) where the people retained their Pagan faith long after all their neighbors had converted. They were ruled by a Grand Duke (so the title translates in English) and had quite a time of it with the Teutonic Knights, whose mission was to convert them– or else kill them all. Luckily the Knights got their clock cleaned a few times– Alexandr Nevsky of Novgorod delivered one of their most crushing defeats, and the Baltic peoples, other than the hapless Prussians, did not die out.

The Mongol invasion threw everything into chaos, and as Mongol rule disintegrated the Grand Dukes gobbled up a lot of territory to the south and east that had never been under their rule previously. They also became kings of Poland through dynastic union, creating Renaissance Europe’s largest state. The key thing here is the people they ruled to the east were not Poles nor Balts, and in the Eastern lands they were also not Catholic but Orthodox. (I won’t get into the whole Unia thing)– and before the Mongols came these lands had been independent principalities ruled by very various branches of the Kievan House of Rurik, which also formed the basis for the ruling house of Moscow until the line died out, launching the Time of Troubles.
basically the Polish-Lithanian rulers were in the same position in Russia that the later Plantagents of England were in in France, or the British, later, were in Ireland: rulers of ethnically (and religiously) alien territory which had fallen to them by historical accident.

Re: Which was my original point- the early modern Polish-Lithuanian state had very little in common with the modern Polish nation state.

Also true of Plantagenet England, Hapsburg Spain, the early modern kingdoms of Denmark and Sweden, Hapsburg Austria. All of them had accumulated territory outside the ethnic boundary of their core nations; they spent blood and treasure seeking to hold that territory, and in some cases their core nations suffered grievously as a result. I’m not sure what your point is in this. It should not be that the political history in later times in Europe had nothing whatsoever to do with what had come before. There’s no reset button history. What comes after is inextricably linked to what came before.

#17 Comment By Alex (the one that likes Ike) On July 4, 2016 @ 7:25 pm

What we have today both in Europe and North America is the moment when almost every concept can be revived if successfully tied to nationalism. Is it good or bad? It works. The answer is as simple as that. Yes, riding nationalism ain’t cute out of almost every mainstream (or yesterday mainstream?) point of view: from mainstream conservative to liberal to socialist to communist. Riding an old pickup truck ain’t cute as well when compared to a brand new W222. But it’ll pass where the shiny toy will be stuck forever.