Suddenly, religion is back, just as "progressive" people were rejoicing that heads of government could be sworn into office without any reference to God, and just as some Europeans presented a first draft for a European Union constitution in the belief that no allusions to "Christian roots" or "religious values" were needed.
But now European politicians and people around the world are confronted with a U.S. president who starts his cabinet meetings with a Bible reading and prayer; one who believes he knows what the Christian God is demanding and what is good and evil. At the same time, a frightening Islamic fundamentalism is emerging to challenge the rich, technologically superior "kingdom of Satan." Are we about to witness an unprecedented apocalypse of religious origin?
After centuries of painful experience, the "old" Europe has banned religion from its laws and constitutions. The separation of church and state is complete. So why do others not follow this teaching? Some believe the Islamic states and people only need a little bit more time. After all, they say, Islam is six centuries younger than Christianity and has not yet undergone an Enlightenment. Just as modernity forced churches and confessions in Western societies to agree to reforms, Islam, too, will realize that religion must not be a reason for war. And now this - a return to the Middle Ages.
In fact, the Middle Ages left Europeans with the precious heritage of two golden rules: One holds that worldly and spiritual power have to be separated; the other demands that we unite reason and faith.
Europe has fared well with these rules, and it would have fared even better if it had followed this advice more closely. Much has gone awry in Europe since pure reason concluded it could do without the power of faith, could even deride it, and then created an all-powerful state.
The Enlightenment eliminated all flawed expressions of faith and excesses of the church so comprehensively that it also threw out its positive elements - such as the conscience - with the bathwater. The impact of the godless ideologies of the 19th centuries was far worse than that of religion, which was replaced by the worshipping of the state, a race, an economic class or a nation. The resulting catastrophes have taught us that man is not all reason.
The "old" Europeans can become young again if we manage to rediscover a balance of reason and faith - if we counter the exuberance of Christian zealots in the New World with the wise insight of their history, and if we fight the inhuman excesses of Islamic extremism rather than showing cowardly tolerance.
But anyone who wants to talk religion with religious people has to have a religion.
Originally published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Read this article on Ecclesia, the Orthodox Church of Greece, website.