Once Catholic Belgium heads for cultural self-destruction

A people without a past is a people without a future

by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.


Despite what one hears from the populist parties that have so much captured the news during electoral campaigns in a number of EU countries in 2017, it is not the waves of pious Muslim immigrants with their women in burqa and proliferating mosques who are putting European civilization at risk. It is the well-meaning but blinkered secularizing Liberal elites now running the show in many countries of the European Union who are leading the Old Continent into new Dark Ages, rather than towards enlightened multiculturalism as they mistakenly believe. And it is all made possible by passivity and alienation of the broad population who know only too well that the juggernaut of local, regional and federal government is answerable only to itself.

I am speaking about trends that cross the whole Continent, from fading Catholic Spain (70% by declared affiliation) and France (81%) in the West, through mixed Protestant-Catholic Germany and Protestant Scandinavia, halting only at the border with what is called the Vysegrad Four, which stubbornly resist the Liberal bacillus propagated from Brussels: still robustly Catholic Poland (87%), Czechia (82% Catholic), Slovakia (62% Catholic) and mixed Catholic-Protestant Hungary (39% Catholic, 14% Protestant).

These four Central European members of the European Union have come into the news we read and watch in Europe during the past couple of years over their refusal to comply with the welcoming policy towards mass influx of largely Muslim immigrants from the Middle East rolled out by Berlin and Brussels.  Then there is also the ongoing bitter public dispute with Brussels over “authoritarian” actions and legislation by the powers-that-be in Budapest and Warsaw that are said to violate EU conventions.

 More broadly these four EU member states form a bloc of social and political Conservatism that challenges the Liberal consensus of Western Europe.  But they are a minority and so far have not made a dent in the majority policies. That “dent” has come from further to the East, precisely from Russia in the form of a whopping military, economic, political and informational confrontation that we now call the new Cold War.

Indeed the phenomenon I am about to describe has not only a domestic European but also an important international and geopolitical dimension.  In the developing New Cold War between Russia and the West, the issue of values serves as a surrogate ideological content separating East and West.  The West is pro-democracy, pro-human rights, pro-gay rights, pro-abortion, Liberal in a word. The East is authoritarian, corrupt, anti-LGBT, pro-Life, Conservative in a word.  And in this context, the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Kirill, acting in the peace-maker role of the faith, has reached out to his counterpart in Western Europe, the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, to forge a Conservative alliance in defense of traditional as opposed to “contemporary” values.

In what follows, I intend to demonstrate that the Patriarch has chosen a weak reed on which to build alliances.  And I will do so by describing trends in predominantly Christian Belgium (64% by declared affiliation) that go back forty years or more and which are culminating in the total destruction of Catholic culture and, with it, national identity.

To be sure, the secularizing trend in Belgium was not born yesterday. We can go back at least 100 years to see the origins.  And we have vestiges of those original fights against the ascendancy of the Catholic Church in all aspects of social and political life in the still remembered names of major political parties that were pro or anti-clerical, or in the contemporary names of institutions of higher learning such as the “Free University of Brussels.”  “Free” from what? Free from Church supervision.

Indeed, in this land which was one of the most devastated by religious wars in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Catholic Church of the Counter-Reformation was an omni-present factor from the time of the state’s creation in 1830. Together with the monarchy, the Catholic Church was the main glue holding together two nations within a single state: the Dutch speakers (Flemish) and the French-speakers (Walloons).

The progressive secularization in the post-WWII era brought down religious observance in general, so that today 29% of the Belgian population says they have no religious affiliation whatsoever. Though evangelical Christian churches operating from storefronts have taken a toll, the 64% of Belgians who declare themselves to be Christians are predominantly Catholics. But they are non-practicing Catholics, as a visit to any of the nearly empty churches around the country will prove.  This pertains both to splendid cathedrals and to modest parish churches. It pertains to major religious holidays, as well as to ordinary Sunday services. Without the state budgeted financial support to the Catholic Church (and to other official religions), it is likely that church buildings in Belgium would be closed or sold off for hotels or other commercial use as has happened so widely in Scandinavia and even in France.

It is said that the rule of celibacy has eroded enthusiasm for the Church as a vocation among Belgian males. However that may be, it is no secret that the numbers of graduates from Belgian seminaries today are inadequate to manning requirements of the Church and this explains the fairly widespread presence here of black priests from the Congo.

But a bigger issue that has undermined the Church in Belgium came from an unexpected source, from Rome. I have in mind the decision taken during the papacy of John Paul II to conduct church services in the language of the land rather than in Latin. In a country of two nations defined by two languages that have otherwise drawn apart over the past 70 years amidst disputes over power sharing in government, this elevation of one of two languages to the sole liturgical language in any given parish delivered a coup de grace to Christian fellowship.

The net result of these specific and local conditions has been to greatly weaken the Christian faith in Belgium against the secularizing winds otherwise sweeping the Continent.  And the result is seen in every nook and cranny of public life.

Several years ago, the obligatory religious instruction in all public schools in Belgium was replaced by the parental choice between Christian or non-faith ethics courses.  In the past year, all such courses have been stricken from public schools. 

But it is more than separation of Church and State that is at work here. It is the relatively new command of latest chic political correctness not to give offense to Muslim and other minorities.  In the same spirit, public display of religious symbols such as the cross are now banned from Belgian television, and in the workplace it is better to keep one’s religious affiliation to oneself to ensure job security in what are still fragile terms of employment in a weak economy.  The municipal Christmas tree has become a rare sight in Belgium, while in Brussels generally there were this year very few signs of the holiday being anything other than the peak sales period for retailers. Go back 20 years and it was a very different festive atmosphere here, with the crèches de Noël in the Grande Place installed before the mandatory Christmas tree as well as in other public areas around town, not only inside churches.

This past week secularizing political correctness reached new levels of potential destructiveness for the cultural identity of Belgians. Now it will be not merely the Catholic nature of the country that is air-brushed out. It will be history itself which is repealed.

The “Discussion” pages of the centrist daily French-speaking newspaper La Libre Belgique on Friday, 19 January, explained to the readership the decision of the Ministry of Education to eliminate history from the core curriculum of the public secondary schools.  Henceforth, history will be one of four disciplines, alongside geography, political economy and sociology, taught within a single course called the “human sciences.”  Given that there is generally a shortage of teachers in the country, the paper anticipates that there will be no splitting of time in these courses between teachers having a specialized knowledge of history and one or more who are specialists in the other disciplines. No, what we may expect is a sharp decline in the class hours devoted to history and in the competence of those who teach those hours.

Why history?  Because teaching history raises problematic issues, like the religious wars, like the deplorable crimes committed by the Kingdom of Belgium in the Congo during colonization and rule, like collaboration during WWII.  It will be so much more convenient for the teaching staff to go straight to contemporary events for sociological or economic analysis.  It will be so much more convenient for the currently chic political views to replace any pretense at science.

A month or so ago, when the global results of literacy among school children were published and Russia came out on top, to the howls of the Anglo-Saxon world, some sharp-witted Russians commented that this was the result of elementary schools in the West teaching use of i-phones and the rights of sexual minorities instead of reading and writing skills.  The decision of the Belgian Ministry of Education seems to take the same debilitating trend now into secondary school.

As 230 Belgian historians at universities around the country commented:

“The combined course of human sciences envisaged for the future core curriculum presents a major risk for the education of future generations….”

Specifically, they pointed out that the historical discipline has particular relevance today in our age of the internet and exposure to massive amounts of data which we may or may not be prepared to assess properly depending on whether we have learned how to weigh sources and make connections of cause and effect through our study of history. And they invoke the old adage:  a people without a history is a people without a future.


© Gilbert Doctorow, 2018

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 Gilbert Doctorow is an independent political analyst based in Brussels. His latest book, Does the United States Have a Future? was published on 12 October 2017. Both paperback and e-book versions are available for purchase on http://www.amazon.com and all affiliated Amazon websites worldwide. See the recent professional review  http://theduran.com/does-the-united-states-have-a-future-a-new-book-by-gilbert-doctorow-review/    For a video of the book presentation made at the National Press Club, Washington, D.C. on 7 December 2017 see  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ciW4yod8upg