After Secularization (special double issue)   /   Spring/Summer 2006   /    Articles

American Religion and European Anti-Americanism

Thomas Albert Howard

The American invasion of Iraq in 2003 roiled transatlantic relations, offering a jarring impetus for intellectuals and policy makers to consider afresh various social and cultural differences between Western Europe and the United States, many of which had been wholly or partly obscured during the Cold War and its immediate aftermath. “The war in Iraq has made the Atlantic seem wider,” the German journalist Peter Schneider noted in a 2004 New York Times op-ed, “but in reality it has had the effect of a magnifying glass, bringing older and more fundamental differences between Europe and the United States into focus.” Topping Schneider’s list was what we might call the religion factor. The United States is a deeply religious nation, he noted, “while in Europe the process of secularization continues unabated.”11x Peter Schneider, “Across a Great Divide,” The New York Times (12 March 2004).


Other European intellectuals have expressed similar, if less dispassionate, sentiments, agitated in the extreme that the moral pitch of President Bush’s foreign policy—underwritten by a cabal of “neoconservative” intellectuals and “evangelical” electoral shock troops—constituted no episodic phenomenon, but expressed something entrenched, and irredeemable, in American history and culture. In part, this worry gave rise to  a spectacularly staged series of essays in Europe’s newspapers of record on May 31, 2003, spearheaded by Jürgen Habermas with the late Jacques Derrida riding shotgun. In the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Habermas and Derrida called for a “core Europe”—principally France, Italy, Germany, and the Benelux countries—to serve as a “locomotive” of European integration “to counterbalance the hegemonic unilateralism of the United States.” Besides offering policy suggestions, their essay engaged in transatlantic cultural analysis, touching upon religious differences: “In European societies, secularization is relatively developed…. [This] has had desirable consequences for our political culture. For us, a president who opens his daily business with public prayer... is hard to imagine.”22xJürgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida, “Unsere Erneuerung; Nach dem Krieg: Die Wiedergeburt Europas,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (31 May 2003).

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