Avoiding “The Europe Syndrome”
In my last two blogs, we looked at the essential roles of families, churches and civil government in fostering healthy societies, and how socialist and communist states are defined by the encroachment of the civil government into the roles of both families and churches. The result of this usurpation contributed significantly to the collapse of the former Soviet Union, where both families and churches were nearly destroyed. Tragically, Europe is on the same destructive path today.
Why does government encroachment into the domains of family and church weaken society? Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute offers a potent analysis in a recent presentation titled “The Europe Syndrome and the Challenge to American Exceptionalism“:
“ut aside all the sophisticated ways of conceptualizing governmental functions and think of it in this simplistic way: Almost anything that government does in social policy can be characterized as taking some of the trouble out of things. Sometimes, taking the trouble out of things is a good idea. Having an effective police force takes some of the trouble out of walking home safely at night, and I’m glad it does.
The problem is this: Every time the government takes some of the trouble out of performing the functions of family, community, vocation, and faith, it also strips those institutions of some of their vitality–it drains some of the life from them. It’s inevitable. Families are not vital because the day-to-day tasks of raising children and being a good spouse are so much fun, but because the family has responsibility for doing important things that won’t get done unless the family does them. Communities are not vital because it’s so much fun to respond to our neighbors’ needs, but because the community has the responsibility for doing important things that won’t get done unless the community does them. Once that imperative has been met–family and community really do have the action–then an elaborate web of social norms, expectations, rewards, and punishments evolves over time that supports families and communities in performing their functions. When the government says it will take some of the trouble out of doing the things that families and communities evolved to do, it inevitably takes some of the action away from families and communities, and the web frays, and eventually disintegrates.
Exactly. The only thing I take exception with is the use of the word “evolve.” The institutions of family and church didn’t primarily evolve (although they certainly have changed over time), rather they were created by God to perform certain unique functions. Things go well for people and societies when these roles are understood and protected. Murray then provides an illustration from western Europe today that should be a sobering wake-up call for the church in America.
Drive through rural Sweden, as I did a few years ago. In every town was a beautiful Lutheran church, freshly painted, on meticulously tended grounds, all subsidized by the Swedish government. And the churches are empty. Including on Sundays. Scandinavia and Western Europe pride themselves on their “child-friendly” policies, providing generous child allowances, free day-care centers, and long maternity leaves. Those same countries have fertility rates far below replacement and plunging marriage rates. Those same countries are ones in which jobs are most carefully protected by government regulation and mandated benefits are most lavish. And they, with only a few exceptions, are countries where work is most often seen as a necessary evil, least often seen as a vocation, and where the proportions of people who say they love their jobs are the lowest.
What’s happening? Call it the Europe syndrome. Last April I had occasion to speak in Zurich… After the speech, a few of the twenty-something members of the audience approached and said plainly that the phrase “a life well-lived” did not have meaning for them. They were having a great time with their current sex partner and new BMW and the vacation home in Majorca, and saw no voids in their lives that needed filling.
It was fascinating to hear it said to my face, but not surprising. It conformed to both journalistic and scholarly accounts of a spreading European mentality. Let me emphasize “spreading.” I’m not talking about all Europeans, by any means. That mentality goes something like this: Human beings are a collection of chemicals that activate and, after a period of time, deactivate. The purpose of life is to while away the intervening time as pleasantly as possible.
If that’s the purpose of life, then work is not a vocation, but something that interferes with the higher good of leisure. If that’s the purpose of life, why have a child, when children are so much trouble–and, after all, what good are they, really? If that’s the purpose of life, why spend it worrying about neighbors? If that’s the purpose of life, what could possibly be the attraction of a religion that says otherwise?
This Europe Syndrome is the inevitable consequence of a society that intentionally replaced it’s Judeo-Christian roots with secular, materialistic foundations, where human beings are seen as “a collection of chemicals that activate and, after a period of time, deactivate.” It is also an immense tragedy, both for the people caught up in hedonistic and ultimately meaningless lives and for European society as a whole which is literally committing cultural suicide. Today the fertility rate in Europe is 1.4 – far below the 2.1 necessary to maintain its population. When families disintegrate and reproduction dwindles, entire cultures collapse. History proves this beyond a doubt. I pray it is not too late for Europe.
I believe it is not too late for America, but clearly, we are heading rapidly down the same path. Our recovery will begin, in part, when the unique roles of church, family and vocation can be recaptured, reinvigorated and reclaimed. The church will play a critical role in this, but ultimately, it will comes down to each of us. How do we understand our roles and functions within our families, churches, vocations and communities? What choices are we making day in and day out?
Live Coram Deo – before the face of God in all of these areas. Your happiness and the health of our nation depends on it.
– Scott D. Allen
See the other blogs in this series.