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Christianity in Europe: A part of or apart from culture?

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Yet fear of Islam and immigrations prevailed in the minds of Swiss voters. The minaret ban exemplifies the waning influence of Christianity in Switzerland, rather than its strength.

Some Christian thinkers have wanted Christianity to take a stance "against" culture. Seeing the world as a dark and sinful place, people like Tolstoy or St. Benedict wanted Christians to stay aloof from mainstream culture in order to criticize and shape it from a critical distance.

Others, particularly liberal Protestants, have seen Christianity as part of culture. Sensing no great tension between the church and the world, this tradition tends to harmonize culture and religion, focusing on those cultural aspects that are most accordant with Christian principles. For centuries Christianity has been inextricably linked to European culture, in good and bad ways. It has brought Europe amazing cathedrals, magnificent art, values such human dignity and love, but also the Crusades, the Inquisition, religious wars, and imperialism.

Yet following the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, and the rise of atheism, contemporary Europe has become deeply secularized. Church attendance and religious practices are in decline; cathedrals often feel more like museums than places of worship; and Christian leaders find it difficult to convince their flock of their official social doctrines and values.

As a young Catholic Christian, I can understand why cultural Catholics and Italian politicians are upset about the ECHR's decision. I also share the political, legal, and religious concerns about the minaret ban and its potential negative impact on the situation of Christians who face discrimination or persecution in Muslim lands.

However, I'm puzzled by the extent to which Christians all over Europe have defended a cultural interpretation of the crucifix. As the approval of the Swiss minaret against the views of Christian churches illustrates, the view that Europe has a "Christian identity" is becoming anachronistic.

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