Book Review: The Cube and the Cathedral by George Weigel

on January 3, 2013


For those of us devotees of Downton Abbey perhaps we should pause and consider the line that was drawn in the sand when the world pivoted and the Edwardian era came to an end. That was the era of gloved servants, silver salvers, “dressing” for meals, weekend hunts and the pecking order of the downstairs help. “World War I, the Great War, was the product of a crisis of civilizational morality…”  WWI changed the face of the world.  In The Cube and the Cathedral George Weigel takes us on a fascinating trip beginning with WWI and continuing through the 20th century (almost one hundred years now) using these two structures to illustrate the political and cultural decisions that have changed Europe and which should give America pause for thought.

But perhaps the time for concern has past. Perhaps we are there. “There” being the secular wasteland that has crept and crawled and clawed its way into our lives, our living rooms, our schools and government. Mr. Weigel wrote this book in 2005 and it has never been more relevant than it is today. To read it is to read, in part, our life today.

Drenched in the blood-soaked fields of two world wars, smothered and terrorized by Nazism, Fascism and Communism, European leaders took on the daunting task of forming a European Union bereft of its history and all that formed the religious and cultural foundation. In effect, “airbrushing fifteen hundred years of European history from their collective memory.” Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn describes what Europe had fallen into as the “rage of self-mutilation” because “men had forgotten God.” Mr. Weigel asks the question “Why did those same politicians and intellectuals deem any reference to the Christian sources of contemporary Europe’s commitments to human rights and democracy a profound threat to human rights and democracy?” The answer is complex. Europe wants to solve worldwide problems with “soft power.” “American power made it possible for Europeans to believe that power was no longer important.” Europe is to bring to the world the fulfillment of Immanuel Kant’s vision of “perpetual peace.”

In a chapter entitled Puzzles Mr. Weigel fleshes out a laundry list of questions addressed to Europe. There are cultural, political and religious facts that will have you scratching your head. Cultural and political aside, the one word that describes Europe – “Christophobic”, is at the basis of one of its most pressing problems. Christianity is mocked and is engulfed in the “cult of the contemporary.” What follows Christophobia is demographic suicide. Birth rates have decreased and population replacement is dangerously low. These alarming figures will, of course, affect welfare, pensions and health care systems. A familiar scenario.

The cult of atheistic humanism is publicly put into play as God, or anything that references Him, is replaced by “self.” “Human greatness required rejecting the biblical God, according to atheistic humanism.” To be free, one has to be free of God. And what follows is the moral suicide of culture. The “Cube” engulfs the “Cathedral” as the populace rejects all that the once glorious cathedrals represent. References to the “Christian sources of European civilization” are argued against in the political arena as leaders attempt to craft a Constitutional treaty. The French theologian, Henri de Lubac, stated that “it is not true, as is sometimes said, that man cannot organize the world without God. What is true is that, without, God, he can only organize it against man.” Communism, Nazism and Fascism have proven, without a shadow of doubt, that God must come into the governance of men.

Mr. Weigel cites many sources for the importance of God in government. He also lists in several pages names of the great thinkers, theologians, clergy and saints who have contributed to the spiritual life of Europe. And these contributions cannot be dismissed or down-played. “The indifferent attitude of the political imperative of tolerance has poisoned the culture and culture, above all, drives history.”

The cube, La Grande Arche de la Défense in Paris vs. the glorious cathedral, Notre Dame: two structures symbolizing where Europe has been and where it is now – and will continue into the future unless God breaks through. The common thread in the book is sustained, though each chapter could stand alone as lecture or commentary. Mr. Weigel’s research supports his thesis that without God in government there is no hope and without hope – no future.

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