Once upon a time, Western Europeans were addicted to religious fundamentalism. Then came the Crusades, the Inquisition, and Europe_map_1648countless religious wars which crippled the continent. Europe saw dictators from Franco to Hitler work to co-opt the Church — or at least its various family values and patriotic themes. After two remarkably bloody World Wars at the hands of men who mostly professed to be Christians, people on the continent began to question their slavish devotion to extreme doctrine and dogma.

Had such rigid ideological thinking really been good for the people? Or, had it been repeatedly used as a brutal sword to manipulate and control the masses? This isn’t to say there weren’t many wonderful people who used their faith for good. However, in the hands of the state power apparatus, belief was a powerful tool that was too enticing for many rulers not to exploit for personal gain.

On issues of personal freedom, today’s religious fundamentalism turns off contemporary Europeans. They believe in equality for women. They believe in a right to comprehensive science-based sex education. They support the idea that LGBT people deserve equal rights and homophobia is both immoral and a product of deep church dysfunction. Above all, they believe in modernity, reality, and learning from experience. According to an article by Andrew Higgins in today’s New York Times:

Church attendance is falling across Europe as belief in God wanes and even cultural attachments wither. The Continent’s fastest-growing faith is now Islam. In Britain, according to a poll last year, more people believe in extraterrestrials than in God. In the European Union as a whole, according to a 2010 survey, around half the population believes in God, compared with over 90 percent in the United States.

We can only hope that the Islam developing in Europe will be moderate and secular. How ironic it would be for immigrants to leave repressive nations to seek freedom — only to turn Western Europe into stifling religious carbon copies of the regimes they once fled. It is my guess that Islamic radicals will eventually join Christian extremists in a marriage of convenience to fight secularism (We have already seen this in America with extreme Jewish organizations teaming up with Christian fundies).

It is critical that those supporting a free and prosperous Europe fight back and refuse to give into the incessant and baseless whining of religious Cassandras who falsely believe they are being persecuted. Here is a typical frivolous tale of woe in the Times:

“There is a movement in the European Union that wants total religious neutrality and can’t accept our Christian traditions,” said Archbishop Zvolensky, bemoaning what he sees as rising a tide of militant secularism at a time when Europe is struggling to forge a common identity.

Well, yes, why shouldn’t the EU be neutral, and why should they offer Christian fundamentalists special rights? The way it stands, men like Zvolensky can pray whenever they want, and recite any prayer of their choosing. They can live their lives from cradle to grave both promoting and embodying their professed values. There is nothing the EU has done to disrupt their personal spiritual lives.

But, that’s not enough for such zealots, is it?

They want dominion and control over the majority who do not share their beliefs. They understand that their product is no longer selling, so they want the state to provide millions of dollars in free advertising — whether it is in the form of coins or in the public square — to give them an unfair advantage. Instead of competing in the free marketplace of ideas, they want a fixed marketplace that offers a decisive edge. And, when they are denied these historic advantages they have not earned, nor do they deserve, they scream bloody murder and pretend to be persecuted martyrs.

The EU should not fall for this trick, and would do well to ignore such insincere whining and crocodile tears. Religious fundamentalists are as free as they have ever been, and have as much liberty as other citizens. It is simply too bad if they pine for the days when they could use the tools of spiritual blackmail and legal coercion to force people into false professions of faith. Now, they have to go out on their own time and their own dime to win converts — like everyone else — without the tip of a spear or the barrel of a gun to assist with conversion. If these zealots are unable to do so without sucking up state welfare funds to pay for their private efforts, that is their own problem. It does not concern the EU or any other governing body.

Another device used to insert fundamentalism where it doesn’t belong is the false charge that the EU needs overt religion to bring the various nations together. As I mentioned earlier, Europe played this deadly game before and it usually ended in pools of blood. It rarely led to anything approaching comity or unity, as the zealots laughably suggest. Do these folks think we have amnesia or can’t crack a history book?

Indeed, the words of those assailing the EU give a hint at the irrational thinking that must be separated from civilized discourse and public policy:Zealot

“I need to voice a serious and disturbing suspicion: that the E.U. is under the control of Satan or Satanism,” said Rafael Rafaj (pictured)of the Slovak National Party, a far-right nationalist party.

The moment Western Europe chooses superstition over science, and magic over medicine to appease religious extremists, is the very moment it will begin its decline. One can look at super-religious nations, such as modern Russia and Poland, and compare them to less holy rolling countries like Britain, Denmark, Sweden, and France. The stark difference in terms of liberty, freedom, scientific achievement, technological  innovation, and the free flow of ideas is self-evident. Why would the EU ever want to slide in that deleterious direction?

Although far from perfect, the less religious Europe of the past half century has been more peaceful, more humane, and more prosperous. Even so, there are groups willing to lie, manipulate, play victim, and distort the truth, because with fundamentalists, the ends always justify the means. Here is an example of the way these liars twist the truth for the Lord :

“There is a general suspicion of anything religious, a view that faith should be kept out of the public sphere,” said Gudrun Kugler, director of the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians, a Vienna-based research and lobbying group. “There is a very strong current of radical secularism,” she said, adding that this affects all religions but is particularly strong against Christianity because of a view that “Christianity dominated unfairly for centuries” and needs to be put in its place.

Oh, the irony of claiming one is “kept out of the public sphere” while whining to a newspaper, and then likely going to church to freely speak about alleged, yet nonexistent, oppression. There is no “radical secularism,” just a worthy attempt to ensure that fundamentalists don’t have unfair advantage, or can’t enact totalitarian laws to coerce citizens to bow down and recognize their imagined supremacy.

These wolf-criers are not superior. They don’t have better morals. They don’t deserve special status. They have no right to use the publicly funded state apparatus to push their questionable agenda.

It is in the interest of the EU and other governing bodies to keep the the church (or the synagogue or mosque) separate from state. Despite the spin of fundamentalists, there is absolutely nothing militant about this wise view. It is just common sense derived from the historical experience of witnessing the fire, futility, and failure that ultimately results when fanaticism becomes official state policy.