Richard John Neuhaus:

1992 is scheduled to he a very big year for moving toward European unity. Specifics will be changed as a result of the Revolution of 1989 in Central and Eastern Europe, and especially in light of German reunification, but the continuing move toward European unity seems to be clear. Our purpose here is to explore what European unity might mean for cultural and religious identity in Europe and the world. Wolfhart Pannenberg:

Yes, economic unity and the move toward a common currency have clear implications that, in my judgment, make European political union almost inevitable. We have some idea of what economic and political union might look like, but I agree with you that the big remaining questions are questions of culture. RJN:

And, at the heart of culture, of course, is religion, meaning those ideas and traditions that are considered most binding. WP:

There will remain important diversities in Europe, especially diversities of language. While there are different national cultures, however, there is a sufficient degree of common substance to warrant our speaking of a European culture”admittedly, a diverse rather than uniform culture. There are common roots, and one of those is most certainly Christianity. But it is by no means the only common root. There is the shared experience of medievalism, of humanism, of the rise of the nation state, of the Enlightenment, of industrialism, for instance. Europeans have in common that they have, in different ways, been through these experiences. Although I say these are “other” roots, it would also be true to say that they are all related in one way or another to Christianity. RJN:

European culture”and America to the extent that it is an extension of that culture”has its sources in Athens, Jerusalem, and Rome. Many have argued that the legacy of Jerusalem shaped those of Athens and Rome, but then the religious influence was dissipated with the rise of the secular Enlightenment in the eighteenth century. Today Europe is perceived to be thoroughly secularized, and yet we hear people talking about something like a Christian renascence in connection with European unity. WP:

I do not think it is accurate to blame the Enlightenment for secularization. In the Protestant countries of Europe, the Enlightenment was certainly not anti-Christian. The French Enlightenment, on the other hand, especially after the driving out of the Huguenots, was very much against Christianity; that is to say, against the Roman Catholic Church. But in the Protestant countries, in Germany and England, for instance, the Enlightenment was, at least in its early stages, closely and sympathetically connected with Christianity. It was understood as a further development of Protestantism itself. John Locke, for instance, certainly did not see himself as an enemy of Christianity. He wanted to open the Christian heritage to rationality and experience. Isaac Newton and others in England and Scotland had the same intention. In Germany, one thinks of philosophers such as Leibniz and Christian Wolff, and of the great poet, Lessing. RJN:

So in this light the Enlightenment is seen as a further unfolding of the Reformation. You are saying that the militantly secular Enlightenment was essentially an anti-Catholic phenomenon? WP:

Originally, that was the case. And that helps explain the profound differences between the English revolution of the seventeenth century and the American revolution, on the one hand, compared with the French revolution. Of course, when we think about the causes of secularization, we have to go back before the Enlightenment. Here we come upon the wars of religion that resulted from the controversies of the sixteenth century. The wars of religion were the decisive factor in the cultural change that became evident around the middle of the seventeenth century. More and more people, especially the rulers, drew the conclusion that society had to be rebuilt on a basis that abstracts from religious disputes. RJN:

Here, then, we see the beginnings of the privatizing of religion in order to protect the public square from religious warfare. But this was not, at the time, viewed as being anti-Christian or anti-religious. WP:

Exactly. These people, or at least most of them, continued to think of themselves as Christians. They thought they were advancing a more enlightened Christianity. RJN:

So what the rulers of Europe after the mid-seventeenth century were trying to do was to rescue morality, especially civil morality, for the public arena by keeping doctrinal and ecclesiastical disputes in the private sphere. WP:

Yes, their social reconstruction was based on conceptions of human nature drawn from notions of natural law, natural religion, the natural political order, and so forth. In this way, the Enlightenment was not so much an assault upon religion as an attempt to tame and universalize it for civic purposes. RJN:

Whatever the intention, you would agree that the result has been, among other things, the thorough secularization of European life? WP:

Yes and no. The Enlightenment, as such, is not the enemy. It is a legitimate part of the Christian heritage. In its German and English forms, its protagonists explicitly invoked Christian reasoning in the Reformation tradition. For instance, the key idea of freedom drew on Luther’s understanding of Christian freedom. Similarly, of course, with the role of conscience in moral discernment. And think of the influence of Galvin’s teaching about the immediacy of God’s rule over human beings, unmediated by monarchies and the such. Surely no one can doubt that Calvinism was directly responsible for the development of democratic ideas in seventeenth-century England. So there is this close connection between Protestantism and modernity that should not be obscured. It is not modernity that is estranged from Christianity. The fault lies with the wars of religion. That experience forced people who thought responsibly about the social order to develop a morality that could be supported by religion but would not get embroiled in those fatal religious disputes. The problem, of course, is that abstracting from doctrine led to a very shallow view of religion. Such a religion and morality was abstracted from the most important questions about what is true. This tendency, in turn, favored in the long run the French form of Enlightenment. RJN:

A form of Enlightenment that was revolutionary in a quite different way, including intense hostility to religion. This is the Enlightenment that has had such a powerful influence over the last two centuries, and far beyond the borders of France. But, if you trace these developments to the earlier wars of religion, it follows that you believe Christian unity, or ecumenism, is essential to reconstituting the moral foundations of Western culture. WP:

Very much so. We cannot speak about recovering the Christian sources of culture without attending to the break between Rome and the Reformation traditions. Any attempted recovery that would try to bracket Protestantism could not relate in a genuine way to modernity either. That is because of the close connections between Protestantism and early modernity, the Enlightenment, the rise of democratic ideas, and so forth. RJN:

Your argument, then, is that any acceptable notion of Christian culture must mean an emphatically post-Enlightenment culture. Are you worried that some Catholics and Protestants want to reconstitute a pre-Enlightenment situation? WP:

Well, my apprehensions are that there are some indications on the Roman Catholic side of wanting to reestablish a pre-Enlightenment connection between Christianity and European culture. It is true that the Second Vatican Council went a long way toward incorporating basic themes of modernity, but then two different directions appeared. Here I do not mean the reactionary forces of traditionalism that wanted to go back to the situation immediately prior to the Council. I mean, rather, Roman Catholics who had opposed the neo-scholasticism of theology prior to the Council, but who had the dream of reconstituting something like the situation of the early Christian centuries during the patristic period. This group, generally speaking, had little sympathy for modern developments. RJN:

Their passion was ressourcement, or returning to the sources. WP:

Yes, and their patristic work had a great influence in the decades before the Council. Their project was directed against what they viewed as the excessive narrowness of neo-scholasticism. Of course, Thomas himself was not so narrow, but twentieth-century Thomism certainly was. So the opposition to that narrowness came in large part from a renascence of patristic studies. But I said there were two directions. The other was represented by theologians who had been dealing with Reformation thought and therefore, also. Protestantism’s engagement with modernity. There was, then, the ressourcement group that wanted the church to reappropriate the great time of the ancient fathers, and the aggiornamento tendency that wanted to open the church to the contributions of modernity. Although both groups opposed the narrow Thomism of neo-scholasticism”and they did succeed in breaking its hold on the church”they themselves were often working in different directions. In terms of specific figures, you could say that Cardinal Ratzinger represents the ressourcement direction, and Hans Kung that of aggiornamento. RJN:

Your claim is that the ressourcement or patristic party, generally speaking, has not come to terms with modernity, and is still suspicious of the very idea. It is therefore tempted to favor a pre-Enlightenment cultural reconstitution. While the aggiornamento party, having lost touch with Christian roots, has embraced modernity uncritically and therefore has little effect on culture because it is not very different from the culture that it would affect. WP:

At least that is how the two groups see each other, and there is considerable truth in those depictions, I think. RJN:

This pope, John Paul II, has talked any number of times about rediscovering or reviving the Christian soul of Europe. What do you make of what he has been saying, and how does it fit into your view of contending schools of thought in the Roman Catholic Church? WP:

In principle, I very much welcome the guidance he is giving. In light of our discussion, however, you will understand if I say that I see some dangers. There is a danger that Roman Catholics will attempt a direct relinking with medieval and ancient Christianity, thus excluding the Reformation and, of course, modernity. We should not underestimate the number of people who worry about that. Obviously, such a direct relinking is not possible, for the nations of Europe will not respond to a call to return to their Christian roots if that means that they should forget their entire history in the modern era. This is why we must see the history of Europe as a continuum, from its roots up to the present time. That simply has to include the Reformation, and the painful history of Christian division that followed. All parties to that history must remember, and repent, and face up to the consequences of our divisions. RJN:

In that connection, you have worked for some years on an ecumenical project and the report has just been published here (The Condemnations of the Reformation Era, Fortress). That project was sponsored by the Roman Catholic and Protestant bishops in Germany, and it suggests that the mutual condemnations of the sixteenth century should no longer be considered in force. I assume this is part of what you mean by remembering and repenting. WP:

Exactly. Work such as this is, of course, relevant to ecclesial unity. But for precisely that reason it is also relevant to the question of Christianity and Western culture. We cannot recall the people of Europe, the nations of Europe, to the Christian heritage if that heritage continues to represent division. It is only in the context of ecumenism that there is a chance for people to see Christianity as a possible source of cultural unity and promise. RJN:

There are many people in Europe who are very marginally Christian or not Christian at all. And many of them feel threatened by talk about Christian culture; they might even feel threatened by this conversation. It sounds to them as though somebody is proposing a return to an oppressive past. You would say that they shouldn’t feel threatened, but shouldn’t they? Might it not be that recovering the Christian core of European culture would in fact threaten some aspects of modernity? WP:

Oh, some may have the fears that you describe, but I remember that in the years of Vatican Council II in the 1960s there was an enormous spirit of expectancy and hope in Europe. In Germany, certainly, there was a sense that something very important was underway”important not only for the churches, but for society as a whole. People expected a real breakthrough in the relationship between the churches, a new expression of Christian unity, maybe even a new moral foundation for our common life. But, of course, it did not happen; at least it did not happen quickly. And the public mind is impatient, so, if something does not happen quickly, it is soon forgotten. A moment of opportunity was missed. But we should remember that time, because it means that that kind of hopeful expectancy, that kind of longing, might still be there in a latent form. RJN:

Also among people who are not Christians, you think? WP:

Yes, but most Europeans think of themselves as Christian, even if they don’t go to church. In Germany, for example, 80 percent of the people are members of the churches, they pay their church tax, even though they could save considerable money by leaving the church. So there is an enormous potential there that could find a new and strong cultural expression. RJN:

You say the Second Vatican Council raised high expectations that were then disappointed . . . WP:

The Council was a disappointment in that it was not followed by decisive steps toward overcoming Christian disunity. RJN:

And one reason for that is that many saw the Council primarily as a program for changes within the Roman Catholic Church itself. WP:

Yes, and some of those changes produced problems that have distracted the Catholic Church from the mandate of ecumenism and from the questions posed by the cultural situation of Christianity in Europe. The present pope has taken up the cultural question in promising ways. But Catholic leadership does not appear to be unified at this point. It is not clear that the approach that is needed can be provided from Rome in a way that would include Protestantism and modernity. There is a great fear of losing Roman Catholic identity, and that fear gets in the way of facing up to the ecumenical and cultural challenges. RJN:

Why is it that the churches in the Reformation tradition, especially in Germany, seem to have so little interest in the cultural tasks? WP:

Historically, up to the first part of this century, the Protestant churches were intensely involved in the development of modern culture, especially in the nineteenth century. The Protestants of that time viewed the Catholic Church as a relic from the middle ages, while Protestantism was the modern form of Christianity. But then, in this century, influential figures, Karl Barth in particular, began to argue that the marriage between Christianity and culture had produced a decisive loss in the substance of Christian faith. RJN:

You would not deny that there was considerable merit in that argument. WP:

Oh yes, a degree of merit. But in many ways the protest was exaggerated, and after the terrible experience of the Nazi period the very influential school of Barth and his followers tended toward an extreme separation of the Protestant churches from the tasks of culture and modern history. RJN:

Surely that was understandable, however. Barth and others associated with the Barmen Declaration [1934] had the example of the Deutsche Christen who embraced National Socialism as the wave of the future and deluded themselves into thinking that they were going to Christianize the social order. The experience of the Third Reich gave powerful credibility to the Barthian critique, suggesting that Christianity must be clearly distanced from culture. WP:

Well, that is how the Barthians tell the story, and it is still a very influential story. But I am persuaded it is quite wrong to say that the Deutsche Christen were the logical outcome of the history of modern Protestantism. It would be more accurate to see the German Christians as another form of revolt against modernity. It was a romantic reaction to modernity, and that was also its affinity with the Nazis. RJN:

As you say, however, the Barthian critique was and is powerful. It was similar in some ways to the “neo-orthodoxy” associated with Reinhold Niebuhr in this country. You recall how his brother, Richard, described liberal or “modern” Christianity: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations pi a Christ without a cross.” That was also Barth’s complaint against the “culture Protestantism” he found in Europe. You think that this is a caricature of the Reformation churches of the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, that they were really not as doctrinally eviscerated as Barth claimed? WP:

That is right, but at the same time one must understand why Barth reacted as he did. That reaction was most closely connected with the experience of the First World War. That conflict shattered so many liberal and optimistic readings of history. That was one reason for the reaction of Barth’s dialectical theology against the experience of modernity, and especially for its strong impact. But great figures such as Ritschl [Albrecht, d. 1889] and Troeltsch [Ernst, d. 1923] were not so naive or theologically shallow as they have sometimes been depicted. Yet the influence of Barth, even among those who do not call themselves Barthians, continues strong, and makes it difficult for the Protestant churches to address what you call the culture-forming tasks. RJN:

In the reconstruction of Protestant churches after the last war, there were serious efforts”the Evangelical Academies, for example. WP:

Yes, but you see that the Evangelical Academy effort was based on the assumption that the church is something quite different from the culture. That is the context within which the academy was to create conversation between church leaders and the leaderships in other sectors of society. It was no longer the case, as it once was the case, that the church considered itself to be a formative force within the culture itself. At the same time, we witnessed after the last war the rise of Christian parties, with particular strength in Italy and Germany and, more recently, in Spain. These Christian Democratic parties, however, have been based on a Catholic outlook. One would have hoped that they might be based on a kind of lay ecumenism, but, for the most part, that didn’t happen. The result is that Protestants, especially in Germany, are skeptical or even hostile to the institutionalizing of Christian identity in these political parties. RJN:

We have been talking about Protestants and Catholics, but of course there is another community of great importance. Jews here in the United States are typically worried about any talk about Christian society. As one rabbi told me, “When I hear the term Christian America, I see barbed wire.” With tragic obviousness, after the Holocaust the Jewish community in Europe is not what it was, but what do you say to Jews who believe there are dreadful dangers” specifically dangers of anti-Semitism”in the very idea of Christian culture? WP:

It is not only the Holocaust. It is the memory of the medieval situation of Jews in Christian Europe. But a restoration of the medieval situation is neither desirable nor possible. To be sure, some people, usually Roman Catholic, may dream of such a restoration, but it is not going to happen. Any serious talk about Christianity and culture must include the Reformation and, through the Reformation, the whole history of modernity. RJN:

It is not mainly the medieval situation that Jews have in mind when they talk about the dangers of Christian Europe. They have in mind this century and the Holocaust. WP:

Christianity was not responsible for the Holocaust. The Nazi ideology was not a child of Christian theology, although there were those who twisted Christian teaching in anti-Semitic directions. National Socialism was explicitly and powerfully anti-Christian. So it is not only Jews who were persecuted, but also those Christians who uncompromisingly affirmed their faith. That being said, it must be emphasized that Jews were attacked on a much, much larger scale, and were attacked simply for being Jews. So there is no equivalence of scale and rationale between Jewish and Christian suffering. And, while Christianity was not responsible for the Holocaust, there is no doubt that most Christians, and especially Christian leaders, failed to make the witness that was morally required during that period of horror. RJN:

Some of us argue that the long-term security of Jewish-Christian relations must be religiously and theologically grounded. Here in America, where there is a very substantial Jewish community, we have had the chance over the last forty years, and especially the last twenty-five, to develop a dialogue of considerable diversity and, in many cases, real depth. How would you evaluate the Jewish-Christian dialogue in Europe, notably in Germany? WP:

By reason of the tragic history we have discussed, there are in Germany very few Jewish partners for dialogue. And I must frankly say that some Jewish figures in the European dialogue are viewed by other Jews in the world as unrepresentative of Judaism. I have been very much involved in this dialogue, and have come to recognize that this is a problem. Another problem is the way that guilt feelings get in the way of candor. Some in our churches and the theological academy tend to over-compensate by acceding to Jewish claims in an easy and facile way. Although it is not intended, there is a Christian condescension here that makes real dialogue difficult. The challenge is to affirm the Christian position, also where it differs from Judaism, but to do so in a way that does not tend toward the Christian intolerance of earlier times. RJN:

An authentic dialogue, then, requires participants who are real partners. It cannot be simply a ritual conversation between victims and victimizers. WP:

Yes, exactly right. We have come to an ecumenical understanding that, in intra-Christian relations, there can be room for differences. This should yield a new attitude toward inter-religious relations as well, especially in dialogue with Judaism. Of great importance here is the eschatological belief shared by Christians and Jews who understand that incommensurate truth claims will ultimately be resolved only in the Messianic Age or, as we Christians say, the Kingdom of God. RJN:

The question of religion and European culture has to be affected greatly by the Revolution of 1989. Here we think of the former East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, the Baltics, and, of course, the future of Orthodoxy in Russia and other parts of what is now the Soviet Union. Some say that Central and Eastern Europe will play a critical cultural role also in the West. The assumption is that, perhaps because of persecution, there is a more vibrant Christian faith and life in the East. Although former Communist societies are economically and politically in crisis, it is said that this is the cultural gift that they bring to the West. WP:

I have mixed feelings about that. As a description of the situation right now, there is much truth in what you say. But one must be realistic. To the degree that Eastern Europeans gain access to the commodities of the West, they will experience the secularizing impact of our lifestyle. RJN:

Are you saying that the primary source of secularization is to be found in capitalist prosperity? WP:

No, not the primary source, but an important element. In the East, recent Christian history has developed in a way very different from the West. The basis of cultural reconstruction is the situation resulting from the churches’ opposition to the former Communist regimes. In some cases, the church provided the only space for such opposition. That was clearest in Poland, and less so in Czechoslovakia where the church was much more suppressed than could be done in Poland. In East Germany, the Protestant church played a similar role of opposition, while in other places Protestants were gravely compromised by cooperation with the regimes. It is no brilliant new insight to say that Christianity thrives in periods of persecution. As affluence and comfort replace persecution, Christians are more profoundly tempted. But certainly we should be heartened that it seems Christianity has done much better than merely survive, also in Russia itself. This fact is the clearest, and perhaps most important, falsification of Communist ideology. RJN:

Nonetheless, if we think of Western culture as a sick patient, you do not think the patient should be expecting a spiritual blood transfusion from the East? WP:

Our expectations should be modest. Nobody knows what will come out of the history of the churches’ part in overthrowing those tyrannies. Many secularized thinkers in the West may be moved to become more critically reflective about their assumption that religion, and Christianity in particular, is an outdated option. So these are encouraging things. But they do not add up to the prospect of a Christian renascence coming out of the Revolution of 1989. I expect we will see important changes in the relationship between Orthodoxy and the West. Especially the Russian Orthodox have participated sufficiently in the ecumenical movement that they will resist the temptation to seclude themselves against western Christianity. At least I hope that is the case. Otherwise, we could see a resurgence of Russian and, more generally, Slavic nationalism against the rest of Europe. It is also true that many Orthodox leaders, like many Protestants, are compromised and discredited by their support for the former regimes. I must acknowledge that, when you look at the years of Communist oppression, it is the Roman Catholic Church that has come out of this time of testing with the record that is the least compromised. RJN:

East Germany, at least historically, was overwhelmingly Lutheran. Two questions: First, how do you evaluate the theological situation in what was East Germany as compared with Lutherans and Reformed in West Germany? Second, how do you explain the 1990 election in which the Protestants of East Germany voted so strongly for the conservative alliance supported by the Catholic-based Christian Democrats? WP:

During the Communist period, actual participation in church life by East Germans was reduced to about a fifth of the population. The support for the church now is much higher than that. That is because the church provided space and asylum, as we discussed, and also because its opposition to the socialist regime succeeded. I do not want to sound cynical, but people like success. As for supporting Christian Democrats, many say that it was simply a matter of East Germans voting for the mark. Also, of course, they supported the party that promised the easiest and quickest transition to a unified Germany and a free market society. But I think the deepest reason why people supported the Christian Democrats is that they favored the party that was farthest away from any connection with socialist ideology. Their experience of Communism turned them against socialism of any kind. Some intellectuals in the West protest that way of connecting the two, but in the East the mental connection between Communism and socialist ideology has been forged by hard experience. RJN:

And the theological situation in East Germany? WP:

For the most part, theology there has been shaped by the influence of West German theologians. I do not think you can say that there is a really independent theological development in East Germany. Even much of the church’s stance of opposition to the former regime was informed by a style of “prophetic engagement” that came from the West. Now, as you know, there are many pastors holding public office, and it will be interesting to see whether this is only temporary or whether there will develop ideas about the church’s ongoing responsibility for the political order. RJN:

Looking at the broader scene, one can imagine, say, thirty years from now a dramatically changed world. This means a more Christianly self-conscious West, including a secured connection between Christians and Jews. Suppose also that there is religious revival in Russia, and Christianity continues to grow rapidly in Africa and parts of Asia. By contrast, there would be a growing and growingly militant Islam, along with the more passive religions of Asia. Is this a hopeful picture of the future? WP:

I certainly would consider it hopeful. But we cannot dismiss other possibilities, some of which may be more probable. European unity may not proceed as fast as some think. In that case, I can foresee dangerously unstable situations coming out of conflicts over the national boundaries set after the last war. Here, I know, many people worry about a reunited Germany, and we Germans have to understand that worry. But others must understand that the best way to deal with that worry is to support the development toward European unity. The goal must be to make national boundaries less and less important. Without some kind of federal form of European political unity, there is very likely to be conflict, for instance, between Germany and Poland over national boundaries. The churches can contribute very importantly to such political unity by strengthening the sense of cultural unity. That means reminding the nations of Europe of their Christian heritage, which is one of the few things they have in common. RJN:

Let me raise again this prospect of a world thirty years from now. There is Christian Europe, the Christian Americas, Christian Africa, largely Christian Asia, with the only culturally and politically assertive alternative being Islam. The world, all of a sudden it seems, is defined in religio-cultural terms rather than in the geopolitical and ideological East-West terms of the last half century. Is that a desirable prospect? WP:

In some ways, yes. It is a possibility that would help us overcome the legitimacy problems of western societies in their presently secularized state. I mean the experience of meaningless and all that results from that”the disintegration of a sense of cultural unity and moral worth. One must hope, however, that the prospect you envisage would preserve the cultural pluralism that enriches the human situation and is required for human freedom. So it is an attractive prospect. At the same time, maybe the forces of secularization cannot be overcome. Then too, we have to consider the possibility of confrontation with other religions. For example, in parts of Europe”in England, France, and also Germany”we have now Islamic voices calling for an Islamic “mission” to Western Europe. They claim that Christianity is finished as a cultural force because it has failed in resisting secularism. Now, they say, is the time for Islam to take over from a failed Christianity. I think this is a very serious challenge. The number of Moslems thinking and speaking this way may now seem negligible, but it is a growing phenomenon, and it is almost certainly a sign of things to come, both in Europe and on the larger world scene. Christians, and those who understand the Christian factor in western culture, are barely beginning to be aware of the challenge. RJN:

This would appear to raise the prospect of religious warfare in the twenty-first century. WP:

Religious warfare is now inconceivable. My understanding of Christianity is thoroughly ecumenical, and it makes it imperative that, when we speak of Christian culture, it clearly means Christian and Jewish. Theologically and culturally, our relationship with Islam is different from that which we have with Judaism. That difference will not disappear. A restored Jewish-Christian understanding of our culture must, however, include the idea of toleration. So, in the situation I am discussing, there would be a secure place for Moslems and people of other religions in Europe and America. Facing Islam on the world scene poses other problems. On human and religious rights, for example, we should challenge the Islamic nations. The West should forcefully point out the way we protect Moslem religious rights in our society, while they deny the rights of Christians and Jews where Islam is in power. I think it would be good for us and for them if we were more assertive about such matters. RJN:

The sobering possibility is that Islam simply has no internal resources for legitimating the idea of toleration. Father John Courtney Murray wrote that it seems that pluralism is written into the script of history. It is hard to imagine a Moslem Murray. Christians and Jews, at least some of them, have a theologically informed understanding of history that convinces them that pluralism is not a problem to be eliminated. I do not mean, of course, the false pluralism of religious indifference, but a pluralism of mutual respect, engagement, and, where necessary, contestation. It is only through a long and painful history that Christians and Jews have come to recognize why such pluralism is religiously required. Put in another way, cultural identity is shared history, a common story line. The story line of what is called the Christian West has included, however ambiguously, Judaism, while it has not included Islamic, Buddhist, and Hindu cultural systems. Of these, only Islam understands itself to be on the religio-cultural offensive, even though much of the offense no doubt disguises a deep defensiveness about having been left out of the main story line of world history. I take it that the main story line of world history to date is aptly summarized in the phrase, the rise of the West. WP:

It may be that the world you describe is coming to be. If by the West we mean Europe and those who embrace and extend the legacy of Europe, it would seem that the rise continues. Here and in Europe there is much talk about the challenge of Japan, and no doubt there is an economic challenge. But that would seem to be largely irrelevant to our discussion, for there is no foreseeable cultural challenge from Japan. So it may well be that, thirty or fifty years from now, there will be a West more self-consciously affirming its religious basis. That may be more likely if there is serious religious and cultural challenge from elsewhere”from Islam, for instance. Then, yes, the world might be redefined along religious and cultural lines, rather than the lines of ideology and geopolitics. If this is going to be a hopeful development, however, it requires Christian unity, a secure relationship between Christians and Jews, and a sense of religious urgency about preserving and extending the positive aspects of modernity. Given these conditions, there would certainly be reason to welcome such a changed world situation. I must emphasize, however, that I do not have a stake in such a development as a Christian theologian, or as a representative of the Christian church. Our societies need it. And, even if all this developed much bigger story line of human history short of the in the hopeful manner that we have been entertaining, it would inevitably create new problems, perhaps even problems more severe than we have known in the past. Problems, unintended consequences, hopes disappointed, new hopes raised”all these are parts of the much bigger story line of human history short of the Kingdom of God.


Wolfhart Pannenberg is Professor of Systematic Theology on the Protestant Theological Faculty at the University of Munich and Director of the Institute for Fundamental Theology and Ecumenics.
Richard John Neuhaus is Editor-in-Chief of First Things .