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The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America, and Politics without God [Hardcover]

George Weigel
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

16 Mar 2005
This provocative book by leading Catholic commentator George Weigel examines Europe's crisis of culture and exposes it as a crisis of secularism Contrasting the civilization that created the "cube" of the Great Arch of La Defense in Paris with the culture that produced the "cathedral" of Notre-Dame, Weigel contends that Western Europe has abandoned its Christian roots and has embraced in its place a soulless secularism that threatens to erode the traditional order in the region. He traces the rise of secularism back to horrors of the twentieth century - the slaughters of World War I, Naziism, and communism - which were themselves breakdowns, not consequences, of the traditional European culture. He goes on to look formation and expansion of the European Union, arguing that this has fostered the move towards secularism. Weigel contends that a Europe that abandons its Christian heritage is not one that is better prepared to protect human rights, democracy, or even its own citizens. Weigel believes that Europe, especially Western Europe, is at such odds with the US on international affairs because it has abandoned the Christian roots that had always anchored the region's worldview. He offers a provocative analysis of what he sees as the beginning of Europe's demise and what the results could be for both Europe and America.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; export ed edition (16 Mar 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465092667
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465092666
  • Product Dimensions: 21.3 x 16.9 x 2.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,553,968 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"Sheds light on the history of the twentieth century for everyone."

About the Author

George Weigel, a Roman Catholic theologian and one of America's leading commentators on religion and public life, is the author of acclaimed international bestseller, Witness to Hope as well as numerous other books. He lives in Maryland, USA

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First Sentence
At the far western end of the axis that traverses Paris from the Louvre down the Champs Elysees and through the Arc de Triomphe, crossing the Seine at the Pont de Neuilly, is La Grande Arche de la Defense-like the more famous Pompidou Center, one of the grands projets of the late French president, Francois Mitterland. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars EUROPE: ALL IS NOT LOST, YET 13 Nov 2006
By Michael JR Jose VINE VOICE
Anyone wanting a quick way to assets the general merits and intellectual muscle flexed in the book should glance at the chapter headed `Two Ideas of Freedom', contrasting the secular and sacred versions of Freedom with luminous brevity. However, the general easy-reading contemporary nature of the prose will be better gauged from the later chapter `The Cost of Boredom', which sums up why white post-Christian Europe cannot be bothered to procreate with sufficient vigour to stem its population decline, and our `postpolitical wilderness' of rule by faceless bureaucrats.

As an American theologian and the biographer of Pope John Paul II, George Weigel is well placed to speak with perspective on Europe's current problems. The main thrust of the book is a critique of atheistic secular humanism (ASH) and its many virus variants which have infected the Euro-Russian continent. The emphasis is on the 20th century, and picks up the root philosophical and cultural causes of World War I and II, and the rebellion of the `Les Soixante-Huitards' (1968 riots) with remarkably fluent and coherent reference to Western European history as far back as the High Middle Ages of Aquinas and Occam (1200-), and glancing reference much further back. The Cube is the intellectual symbol of the sterile closed-universe ASH viewpoint, the architectural colossus of 'La Grande Arche' of Paris, being an open cube of white marble and glass about 40 stories tall and 348 feet wide. The cathedral is the rather more famous church of Notre Dame, which despite its ancient complexities and beauty in spire and tower, would `fit comfortably inside the Grand Arch'. This current edition is dated 2005, and probably just missed the rioting and looting and epidemic of car-burnouts that afflicted France that year.
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Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  50 reviews
195 of 214 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars As the light dims in the public square 9 April 2005
By John Zxerce - Published on Amazon.com
Weigel suggests Europe is a society adrift, untied from the source of its greatness - the very cultural foundation which provided the values making Europe great is now disintegrating, leaving Europe (and soon the entire West) on sinking sand. More specifically, as the past is erased, re-written, or ignored the rich Judeo-Christian history of Europe is being left behind. And at what cost?

Weigel asks provocative questions... Why is European productivity dwindling to an all time low? Why is European politics rife with senselessness? Why does Sweden have a considerably higher level of its population living below the poverty line? Why is Europe undergoing the 'greatest sustained reduction in European population since the Black Death of the 14th century'?

Could the recent woes of Europe be tied to the ever decreasing Christian minority on this now decidedly post-Christian continent?

As I ponder Weigel's book I'm reminded of Orwell's quote, "We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men." Weigel restates the obvious, "culture determines civilization". And he goes on to say, without its distinctly Christian history, Europe would not be what it is. Unfortunately, he may have more accurately written, `Europe would not have been what it was.'

However, from the perspective of the Christian tradition there is more to lament than the secondary effects of a decline in productivity, and art. That is, merely reviving religion as an end in itself is not what Europe needs, but rather a call back to its first love, the God who blesses and rewards those who diligently seek Him.

Of course the current intellectual elites regard God as an embarrassment as they continue to scoff at His name. What is the final price? The world has yet to know.
118 of 132 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Europe in jeopardy 21 April 2005
By Scaramanga - Published on Amazon.com
The issues covered are perhaps the most important issues facing the West as we begin the third millenium. We'll hear a lot about it as the de-Christianization of Europe seems to be number one item on the new Pope's agenda.

The book is very important in that most Westerners - and I mean the educated westerners - don't even realize that a stage is being set for a war of religion/ideologies, just as liberals (in the American sense of the word) have convinced themselves that religion doesn't matter. See the review by an Urs Guber below who states that "Italy just happens to have the densest Roman Catholic population." I'm sure Urs believes she (?) knows a lot about Europe, but the statement betrays her complete ignorance of the trends under way.

Italy is one of the LEAST Catholic countries in Western Europe, as - for instance - reported by CNN recently; the percentage of practicing Catholics - and Christians in general - has been falling rapidly in Italy, Germany, and France. Apart from an identity crisis it represents (whose long-term consequences are hard to predict), it has opened a great opportunity to Islam. Last year, a mosque was built at the site of a Catholic church in Granada (if you don't know what that means, you had better read up on history), and it's no coincidence that the largest mosque in Europe was built a stone's throw from the Vatican. Why the anti-religious left doesn't find that troubling is beyond me. Is Catholic Italy worse that Italy AD 2060 under sharia law? There will be no fashion in Muslim Italy - that's guaranteed. So even if you don't give a damn about religion or ideology, but couldn't live without Armani or Blahnik, you should be concerned.
28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Forgetting our past, dooming our future 28 Jun 2005
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Why is it that the 70,000 word constitution of the European Union does not once mention the term `Christianity'? How is it that the framers of the EU document utterly fail to acknowledge the Christian heritage of Europe? Can European democracy long flourish in a culture that rejects the heritage that give birth to it? And what future is there for a free Europe which has spiritual and cultural amnesia, forgetting its very foundations?

These questions are explored in an important new book by American social commentator and Catholic theologian, George Weigel. He argues that there are two main competing visions for the future of Europe. One is that of secularism as represented by the La Grande Arche in Paris, a huge glass and metal cube built to commemorate the bicentenary of the French Revolution.

The other is Christianity, as represented by Notre-Dame Cathedral, which tourists are informed can easily fit into the grand cube.

One vision follows a two-hundred year history of humanism, secularism, and atheism. The other follows the two thousand year history of the Christian church. Which vision, asks Weigel, can better protect democracy, human rights and meaning and purpose for modern Europe? Which vision will hold sway?

Weigel argues that the answers to these questions will also help explain the issue of the "Europe problem". For example, how does one account for Europe's weakness in the face of international terrorism, it refusal to recognise the failures - and terror - of communism, its declining fertility rates, its fixation with international organisations such as the International Criminal Court and the UN, and its rampant Christophobia?

Why has Europe repudiated its Judeo-Christian foundations and embraced secular humanism? Can such a Faustian bargain be in its best interests?

Weigel argues that nations survive not just on economic or political strengths, but on cultural, moral and spiritual realities as well. It is culture and religion that ultimately makes for strong nations. What men and women honour, cherish, worship and value will determine a nation's future.

But as modern Europe has done its best to minimise, ignore or repudiate the moral/cultural/religious factor, it is in the process of digging its own grave.

After traversing the various historical and philosophical cross-currents leading up the current "Europe problem", Weigel reminds us of what Europe would look like if denuded of its Christian heritage. Gone would be a myriad of famous names, which he takes pains to list. Here are just a few, from the `B' list: Bach, Bacon, Becket, Bede, Benedict, Bernard of Clairvaux, Bonhoeffer, Boniface, and Bosch.

It was out of the Judeo-Christian worldview that such thinkers, writers, artists and scientists emerged. To seek to wish away that background is to commit cultural and social suicide, something Europe in now firmly embarked upon. In truth, "there is no understanding Europe without Christianity".

Indeed, were it not for the Christian heritage that brought them into existence, we would not be experiencing the many institutions we now enjoy and take for granted (democracy, rule of law, open markets, genuine pluralism, etc.). As Weigel reminds us, the democratic project did not emerge as "a kind of political virgin birth". It arose out of rich soil: that of Judeo-Christian religion.

Solzhenitsyn long ago warned that it is because we have forgotten God that our current troubles are upon us. Europe is now at a crossroads. It can re-embrace its past, and enjoy again the well-oiled machinery of democracy and freedom. Or it can reject that past, embrace its opposite, and see that machinery break down.

A society cannot hope to hang on the institutions it values if it rejects the preconditions for those institutions. Europe was birthed in a Judeo-Christian environment, and can only flourish if kept there. If post-Christian Europe continues to embrace the cube, the future looks bleak indeed. If it once again embraces the cathedral, then there is hope. And the history of Europe - and the world - hangs in the balance.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great Analogy, Good Annotated Bibliography, and 150 Unnecessary Pages 17 Nov 2007
By John Roberson - Published on Amazon.com
At its best, this book poses a question using "the cube" (L'Arche de la Defense) and "the cathedral" (Notre Dame) as representatives for two cultures:

"Which culture, I wondered, would better protect human rights? Which culture would more firmly secure the moral foundations of democracy? The culture that built this stunning, rational, angular, geometrically precise but essentially featureless cube? Or the culture that produced the vaulting and bosses, the gargoyles and flying buttresses, the nooks and crannies, the asymmetries and holy 'unsameness' of Notre-Dame?" (2)

He is not suggesting "a return to something like the Middle Ages... That is impossible and would be undesirable if it were possible. The answer may lie, however, in a different way of reading the modern project" (167), and for that he looks to John Paul II. "John Paul II did not propose a return to the premodern world. Rather, he offered a thoroughly modern alternative reading of modernity" (169). Europe is dying, says our author, because people have no hope. The dominant reading of modernity cannot offer hope, even a reason to reproduce, while John Paul II's alternative modernity can. It brings us a freedom to be excellent, not just a freedom to do whatever we want to do.

Weigel argues that 'atheistic humanism' and 'exclusive humanism' lead to totalitarian oppression, but 'Christian humanism' can actually give an account of why to have tolerance, pluralism, inalienable rights, etc. The reason: Christianity offers a transcendent moral reference point. From this he concludes not that we should thrust Christianity on everybody but instead that the public square cannot be worldview-neutral; instead, communication in the public square should be based on certain shared moral commitments, though we may each have different sources for those commitments.

Unfortunately, once we pass page 2's excellent analogy -- the "people of the cube" and the "people of the cathedral" -- the book isn't particularly good. It lightly sketches an argument about the problems of Europe and the promise of a Christian moral foundation for the public square and only hints at arguments as to why 'atheistic humanism' and 'exclusive humanism' cannot provide that moral foundation. None of this is sufficiently argued so you will only come out of the book agreeing with him if you came into the book really wanting to do so.

As a final positive, Weigel heavily relies on sources that are more than worth pursuing (Henri de Lubac, for instance), so "The Cube and The Cathedral" turns out to be an excellent annotated bibliography. The subjects he raises (such as whether we view freedom as freedom for excellence or freedom of indifference, Aquinas vs. Ockham) and the authors he cites (such as John Paul II) are definitely relevant and definitely worth looking into.

My personal analysis: I think he's pointing to some real problems, but I also think he's trying much too hard to salvage Neuhaus's vision of Christianity in the public square.

So: Read the first two pages, then skim through the footnotes and index,and look into the authors and ideas you find there.
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Must Read! 14 May 2005
By Kathleen - Published on Amazon.com
"The Cube and the Cathedral" addresses the thorny question of our time. Why, in the midst of unprecedented prosperity and health, is Europe committing demographic suicide?

George Weigel answers this and other relevant questions in his thought-provoking book, "The Cube and the Cathedral."

Weigel also tells us Americans that Europe's future concerns us. We are not protected by oceans as in centuries past.

Europe is sinking slowly into malaise; its borders are increasingly penetrated by Islamic immigrants, who provide the workforce for Europe's aging population. These Islamic immigrants become radicalized in the secular societies of France and England. As one Islamic talk-show caller states, "We share their nationality; our religion is our own." Radical Islam recognizes no law but Shahria.

The proposed European Union's constitution wants to eliminate all mention of the continents's Christian roots, wiping our 1500 years of Europe's civilization.

Weigel argues that secularlists attempt to eradicate God from the public square in Europe is having disastrous consequences. Europeans are bored and disengaged from public life. They have so little faith in the future, they are not reproducing themselves.

It would be a shame that the sacrifices of thousands of young men who died in the World Wars of the 20th century died for nothing.

The time is now for Europe to halt her descent into cultural oblivion.
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