Cologne Cathedral is the largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe and the tallest Catholic church structure in Europe. If you’ve ever seen a Gothic cathedral, you know how impressive they can be. Notre Dame de Paris has nothing on Cologne. It took over six centuries to complete, and is Germany’s most visited landmark. It’s even taller than Reims, the cathedral where the kings of France were crowned for a thousand years.
Last week, in the literal shadow of this monument to European Christianity, 1,000 Arab and North African men assaulted around 100 women. You can read accounts of this horrific event, which included at least one rape. You can’t read too many descriptions, though; only the ones which have been approved by the press. German Facebook has censored descriptions from other victims of the attacks, citing a “xenophobic tendency” in the accounts. Reports say that similar attacks took place in Hamburg and Stuttgart, though details have been hard to come by. The responses by officials in Cologne have varied between absurd and outrageous: headlines like “German Police Search for 1,000 Men After Mass Sexual Assault” don’t exactly inspire confidence. The female mayor of Cologne has even suggested that the women of Cologne—the women, mind you, not the migrants—follow a new “code of conduct” to avoid being raped. (Of course, dressing modestly is always a good idea. But Christian modesty is meant to beautify; and I would humbly submit that there’s nothing beautiful about a niqab.)
I was a few hundred miles away on New Year’s Eve, in another European capital that was also under a terrorism threat for the holiday. That is precisely what the attacks on European women were, of course: terrorism, and profoundly symbolic terrorism, at that. This was not my first trip to Europe, and as I traveled through a few different countries, the changed nature of the pan-European world was palpable. The fabric of society was stretched just too thin, the state of nature rippling just beneath the surface. One act, any moment, and the seams could burst apart. The people I spoke to expressed either feelings of helplessness or nihilism about what was happening to their homeland—or both.
There’s something jarring about being awakened by shouts of “Allahu Akbar” outside your hotel. In the former Holy Roman Empire. On the eve of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.
In the meantime, here in the United States, the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has declared this week to be “National Migration Week.” In the spirit of “welcoming the stranger,” the USCCB urges the Catholic faithful to pray for a continued commitment to refugee resettlement, as well as “advocacy” for migrants by politicians, policy-makers, and Catholic laymen. The USCCB also helpfully provides policy recommendations for the Syrian refugee crisis in Europe, including: “Providing 100,000 annual resettlement slots for the most vulnerable refugees fleeing the Syria conflict,” and, “Designating an additional 100,000 refugees to be resettled in the U.S. from other countries.” Of course, the USCCB is one of the 9 major refugee resettlement agencies in the country: that is, they specifically benefit monetarily from refugee resettlement.
In 2014, American taxpayer dollars paid for 97% of the USCCB Migration Fund Budget, for a total of $85,506,950.
What could be wrong with this, though? Regardless of where the money comes from, isn’t it put to good use? Don’t we have a moral imperative to welcome these refugees, be they refugees of war or refugees of economic hardship? Isn’t it “racist and xenophobic” not to welcome migrants, as Pope Francis has noted?
After all, the American Bishops have recently issued an updated version of their instructional document, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship (FCFC), which reflects on the political obligations of Catholics and is updated the year before presidential elections. Stephen M. Krason’s analysis of the update, over at Crisis Magazine, reveals one of the most important changes:
FCFC (#34) lists “intrinsically evil acts,” and says that Catholics cannot vote for a political candidate “who favors a policy promoting” them, at least “if the voter’s intent is to support” any such positions. It mentions here abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, “deliberately subjecting workers or the poor to subhuman living conditions,” “redefining marriage in ways that violate its essential meaning,” and “racist behavior”…
While FCFC is a commendable document in many ways, it is not without shortcomings. An obvious one is that it needed to define what is meant by “racist behavior” included among the intrinsic evils. It should be apparent from even a cursory consideration of the race issue in America that “racism” has taken on an utterly expansive and ever-changing meaning that self-serving ideologues and activists constantly use to club anyone who gets in their way. Such a glaring omission makes me wonder about how carefully the bishops are following the current American socio-political scene.
On the contrary, the Bishops have used this language more than a few times before, especially in reference to those who oppose mass immigration. If someone who opposes mass immigration is a “racist,” and if voting for a “racist” is now participation in “intrinsic evil,” that is, evil of the same level as abortion and homosexual “marriage,” then the political agenda of the Bishops seems to become clearer.
But does it accord with Catholic teaching? Are we required to support mass immigration, regardless of numerical proportion?
The answer is no. Not unless the current princes of the Church are really doing away with the political teaching of Aquinas and Augustine, in favor of the universalist dreams of Kantian morality. It is likely sufficient here to refer to John Horvat II’s reflection on the relevant parts of the Summa Theologiae. In brief, he says, “It is clear that immigration must have two things in mind: the first is the nation’s unity; and the second is the common good.” Charity cannot have as its result the destabilization of the political order, as this results in the destruction of order, and therefore, the common good. (See also Augustine’s City of God, Book XIX.)
Which brings us back to Cologne, and the larger fate of Europe. At the absolute earliest, Germany will be majority non-German by 2020. In one generation, ethnic Germans will be a minority. The new majority will be Muslim. Germany may have taken in nearly 1.5 million migrants this year (it’s difficult to tell, as the latest stats show that a mere 10% of migrants in Europe have been documented in any way), but the German birthrate produces about half of that in one year. The social disintegration of Europe has begun, and will only continue in ever increasing intensity. As Samuel P. Goldman has pointed out,
The fear of social death that comes with civilizational decline is unspeakably worse than individual death, and horror before the prospect of social death gives impulse to atrocious behavior. More precisely, it makes it impossible to say what is atrocious and what is not. “We cannot, indeed, imagine our own death; whenever we try to do so we find that we survive ourselves as spectators,” said Freud. That is not quite true: we often tremble at the prospect of our own death in fear and horror, which we would not do if we did not imagine it. Our consciousness, rather, is both individual and social, and we regard our own death with the inner eye of those with whom we share a common language and aspirations, which will not end with our physical existence.
Unless it does. That is the ultimate horror. It is one thing to imagine being a spectator at your own funeral, and another to imagine yourself shut into perpetual silence, cut off from all human contact, with no past and no future. That is a living death, a mental presence without consciousness. Imagine, for example, that on your deathbed you are the last speaker of a language that will become extinct upon your passing, erasing your memory and your history. That is a horror much worse than Hell, where at least you can chat with your neighbor in the brimstone pit. At least the shade of Achilles could gripe to Odysseus about the misery of the underworld; imagine how the son of Peleus would have felt if all memory of Greece along with its language were forever extinguished, and he sat in Hades alone and in perpetual silence.
That is how it feels to be trapped in a dying civilization. Rationality ceases to have meaning. Upon learning that you have an inoperable malignant brain tumor, you might cash in your insurance policy and go on a spree—but not if everyone who speaks your language and shares your memories already is extinct. In that case there is nothing to do with your money.
In America, things are far less immediately dire. We have a larger population and a higher birthrate. But there’s no reason that what is happening in Europe cannot happen here. And it would not only be a civilizational tragedy, but an immense tragedy for the Catholic faith. Even if we are now supposed to believe that religious pluralism is a part of Catholic teaching, even if Catholics and Muslims do worship the same God, it seems foolish to assume that the new majority rulers of Europe are going to share that view.
We can pray that it all turns out all right. But are we willing to take that chance? Don’t we have a moral obligation not to take that chance?
– Harriet Vane is a pseudonymous Southern Catholic intellectual, embedded in the wilds of American academia.