On Sunday they packed 'em in -- a circumstance you wouldn't have noted for some long while in English churches, which, like European churches in general, seem to resound mainly with historic echoes. But there was praying to be done, and it seemed to the English people meet, right and their bounden duty -- as the Book of Common Prayer would have it -- to lay their sorrows and perplexities before the Lord.
And so, three days after the explosions and screams that scarred a London morning, something like the old European civilization popped back into view. I didn't say that the old civilization itself -- abounding in faith and zeal and confidence -- made a return appearance. I said something like it emerged for just a moment. It was a sight for sore eyes, because even before the bombs exploded, Europe was in trouble. In trouble it remains. It appreciates better now the measure of that trouble, if not fully the nature of the solution.
Modern Europe lacks a first-order purpose. That lack discloses itself in the London explosions.
Europe is full of second-order purposes: enjoyment, economic security and vacations. What does Europe exist to affirm? It's doubtful if Europeans know any more.
Not Christian transcendence. In most of Europe, Christian practice barely exists. The famous, now dormant, European Union constitution lacked any acknowledgement of the historical fact of the continent's Christian past. No, no, not secular enough.
Accordingly, the European population base is in grave decline. As Robert Samuelson wrote recently in the Washington Post, "Europe's birthrates have dropped well below the replacement rate of 2.1 children for each woman of childbearing age. For Western Europe as a whole, the rate is 1.5. It's 1.4 in Germany and 1.3 in Italy."
It is what happens when those second-order purposes -- enjoyment, etc. -- choke out the older, nobler ones -- justice, reverence, etc. "Me First" is Europe's reigning principle. The first-order purposes require inconvenient sacrifices: me second, third or fourth. Who cares to change a diaper? Pay for a nanny? Send the kids, or the kinder , through college? Down goes the birthrate.