If I asked you to describe the state of Christianity in Europe, you'd probably answer "not good." And there'd be ample reason to do so. Most of us are familiar with the depressing statistics regarding church attendance in Western Europe and Scandinavia.
But there is more to Europe than Britain, France, and Sweden. And in Central and Eastern Europe, a different story is being written.
This story was the subject of a recent First Things article by Filip Mazurczak. In it, Mazurczak reveals to readers what is going on in former communist societies such as Hungary and Croatia. For instance, while the European Union notoriously omitted any mention of Europe's Christian heritage in the preamble to its constitution, Hungary's new constitution "ties Christianity to Hungarian nationhood."
By way of additional contrast to the secularized E.U., the document "defines marriage as the union of a man and woman, [and] speaks of the rights of unborn Hungarians."
An even more encouraging story is unfolding in Croatia. In December, two-thirds of the population there voted to amend the constitution to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. For a nation aspiring for E.U. membership, this definitely went against the grain.
In fact, as Mazurczak pointed out, left to their own devices, Croatia's elites would have caved to E.U. pressure on this issue. But they weren't left to their own devices: fully one-fifth of Croatia's adult population signed a petition demanding a referendum on the issue.
You shouldn't be surprised to learn that the reaction to this and other examples of Eastern Europeans rediscovering their Christian heritage has been, frankly, hysterical. The Guardian newspaper called them "symptomatic of a Europe-wide slide back to the worst nightmares of the 20th century."
It lumped the Croatian vote with "the French Roma expulsion, the Golden Dawn in Greece . . . Hungary's far-right turn, [and] . . . the rise of antisemitism in Sweden [and] Islamophobia in Denmark" as "symptoms" of "the rotten heart of Europe."
A similar paranoid intolerance was on display when American media outlets made a big deal out of cooperation between American Christians and their Russian counterparts on issues concerning the family.
What these commentators could not fathom was that anyone would disagree with them, either concerning the nature of marriage or the role of religion in public life. So, when they weren't labeling it "moderate fascism" or part of a larger "conspiracy," they blamed it on high levels of unemployment which, in turn, led to intolerance of minorities.
What they're unwilling or incapable of considering is that the turn toward Christianity in Central and Eastern Europe is born of an acknowledgment that something vital is missing from people's lives. People who were force-fed atheism have a hard-earned appreciation of how empty life can be when God is automatically excluded from the equation.
In Russia, "more monasteries and parishes are reopened, growing numbers of Russians profess belief in God, and more young Russians are choosing a religious vocation." Vladimir Putin may be taking advantage of Russians' hunger for God, but he didn't create that hunger. Seventy-four years of state-sponsored atheism, and the wreck it left in its wake, did that all by itself.
Thus we are left with, in Mazurczak's words, "a West that has largely abandoned its religious roots, and an East that is rediscovering its heritage." Two completely different stories.