Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Messianic EU

The EU flag was first introduced in 1955 as a symbol for the Council of Europe. Although the Council of Europe is a separate entity from the European Union, the latter adopted the flag as its own in the 1980s.

The EU flag bears 12 stars on a blue background. Why only 12 stars? Unlike the flag for the United States, which had stars successively added as additional states joined the union, the number of stars on the EU flag remains fixed at 12. What is the significance of this?

Perfect Rulership: The Utopian Aspirations of the EU

In the Bible, as well as in various other spiritual traditions, twelve represents the number of perfection, especially in the area of rulership. This symbolism has not been overlooked by the pioneers of the European movement.

The German website gives the following explanation about the EU flag:

"The number of stars was never intended to change with fluctuation in membership: Twelve symbolizes perfection in various traditions throughout history. There are, for example, 12 symbols of the Zodiac, 12 hours on a clock and 12 months in a year -- and just as many Tribes of Israel, Olympian gods and tables of Roman law."

What makes this symbolism so potent is that EU has been undergirded with aspirations of perfection ever since its inception. With utopian zeal, the pioneers of a united Europe have defended the project by attributing to their institutions near messianic status.

Secular Sanctification

One of the chief areas where this Messianism plays out is in the EU’s promotion of secular sanctification. The EU is concerned, not simply with promoting law and order, but in how we should think, how we should speak, what medicines we may take, what wealth we may retain, what risks we are permitted to run, how we should spend our money. In short, the EU is interested in managing the minutia of our personal lives, claiming for itself the kind of authority our Saviour invoked in Mt. 28:18. It is totalitarian in the original sense of the term.[1]

The Eschatology of the EU

Another area where EU’s Messianism can be seen is in the assumption that a united Europe has ushered in a new era of peace and unity. This perspective seems to have been behind the decision to arrange the stars of the EU flag in a circle. As the German website again puts it: "The stars were arranged in a circle to represent the ideal of unity among the people of Europe." This is significant, since apologists of the EU, like apologists for ancient Rome or German Nazism, point out that their empire has made one new humanity out of previously warring pluralities, ushering in a new world order of peace. In this respect the EU presents a vision of eschatological progress not unlike the pretensions of the Babel architects. However, it should not be overlooked that unity of the EU, like unity under Rome or Hitler, comes with a price-tag: the freedom of the constituent nations.

European integration is often seen as the final stage in an eschatological climax triumphing over the forces of nationalism, war, self-interest and isolation in order to usher in a new age of peace and prosperity.
In a speech at Louvain in Belgium in February 1996, the German Chancellor famously warned that European integration is “a question of war and peace in the twenty-first century”. With the stakes so high, one hardly dare oppose any policy which holds out the promise of increasing integration. Thus, in November 1995, a member of the Bundesbank directorate declared that monetary union was “the last step in a process of order to bring Europe peace and prosperity...” Arthur Seyss-Inquart, the Austrian Minister for Security and Interior, was clear about the spiritual aspirations of European utopia in 1938 when he said that

"Above and beyond the concept of the nation-state, the idea of a new community will transform the living space given us all by history into a new spiritual realm...The new Europe of solidarity and co-operation among all its people, a Europe without unemployment, economic and monetary crises, a Europe of planning and the division of labour, having at its disposal the most modern production techniques and a continent-wide system of trade and communications developed on a joint basis, will find an assured foundation and rapidly increasing prosperity once national economic barriers are removed.... Nations and human beings only develop to the full when they participate actively in a great common destiny."

The Challenge of the Church

Due to the rampant individualism of the contemporary church, Western Christians are largely without the categories needed to steal the EU’s thunder. We fail to see the EU as a counterfeit church because we fail to see the church as a truly international corporate movement. Unlike the early Christians, our idea of salvation does not include a concept of Christendom. We understand what redemption looks like for individuals, but we have no vision for what it looks like for cultures and for the international community. Thus, we have nothing to offer as a challenge to the idolatrous Messianism of the EU.

On the other hand, the early Christians challenged the Roman Empire by offering an alternative model of international solidarity. They pointed out that God did intend to make one new man out of many, He did intend to create a new humanity united by a common goal and He did intend to create international unity. After all, this was one of the lessons of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit triumphed over the curse of Babel and reversed the confusion between the languages. Where the early Christians disagreed with the imperialistic ideology was in the means to these goals. They realized that such unity could only properly be achieved through the work of the gospel. All secular alternatives are doomed to failure. As Peter Leithart put it in his excellent book Against Christianity,

“Rome was important for the early Christians, however, not because it threatened local cultures but because it was a counterfeit world-empire, which is to say, a counterfeit church.”

Similarly, the European Union should be important for contemporary Christians, because it preaches a false catholicity, holding up an eschatology of peace and plenty which can only be attained through recognizing Christ as the point of integration.


[1] When Mussolini first coined the word ‘Totalitarianism’, it was not a pejorative slur at all, nor was it something connoting tyranny. Rather, Mussolini used totalitarianism to refer to a humane society in which everyone was taken care of and looked after by a state which encompassed all of life within its grasp. It refers to a state in which the personal is political and the political is personal.
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