In 1980, Pope John Paul II visited a rapidly secularizing France. He saw churches that resembled museums. Weekly mass attendance among Catholics had dropped almost to ten percent. He saw seminaries, nunneries, and monasteries that looked like ghost towns. "Eldest daughter of the church, what have you done with your baptism?" he asked.
Since then, the answer to that question is not very much. Mass attendance is still anemic. Vocations are staggeringly low. And France is on the cusp of legalizing gay marriage. But Pope John Paul II would have been pleased to see that at least the resistance to the total overthrow of Christian morality is greater there than in other European countries. France's intractable Catholic genes still affect the body politic no matter how much the secularists try to eliminate them.
Secular Europe was shocked to see hundreds of thousands of French men, women, and children take to the streets of Paris last weekend to protest against gay marriage and gay adoption. As the protesters marched near the Eiffel Tower, they carried aloft placards, containing such messages as "all born of a father and mother" and "paternity, maternity, equality."
French President Francois Hollande still plans to push the gay marriage bill, but analysts say the protest has given some legislators pause, noting that the parliament has already put off one of its in vitro fertilization bills. A majority of the French oppose gay adoption and support for gay marriage has declined by ten points in the most recent poll to below 55 percent.
The protest was a point of light in an otherwise dark and gloomy cultural landscape, upon which new shadows fall. In nearby Belgium, which legalized gay marriage almost ten years ago, the rout of Christian morality appears complete, extending to all issues, as evident in the news this week that its regime of euthanasia now covers even the deaf and blind.
Two deaf identical twins in their forties, who worked as cobblers in Antwerp, decided to have themselves euthanized by lethal injection after learning that they were going blind. The nonchalance of it all is the most striking feature of the news. "They were very happy. It was a relief to see the end of their suffering," said the presiding doctor casually. "They had a cup of coffee in the hall, it went well and a rich conversation. The separation from their parents and brother was very serene and beautiful. At the last there was a little wave of their hands and then they were gone."
What the opponents of euthanasia predicted -- that its use would move quickly from the terminally ill to the non-terminally ill -- has come to pass. With a little wave of its hands, Belgium has said goodbye to Christian civilization.
European secularists dismayed by the protest in Paris not only took heart in that grim development but also in the thumping Christians received this week from the European Court of Human Rights. They cheered the news that the rulings had generally strengthened the right of employers to punish Christians for not participating in the promotion of gay rights. The court upheld the disciplining of a clerk at a British marriage registry for not presiding at civil partnership ceremonies for gay couples. It also upheld the firing of a British relationship counselor who declined to provide "sex therapy" to gay couples. The other rulings were mixed: a nurse who was told not to wear a crucifix at work lost her case, but a British Airways stewardess rebuked for wearing a small cross won.
The results were widely seen as a net win for secularism. Mistreatment of Christians remains the last acceptable form of discrimination in Europe. The religion that built the continent continues to be marginalized while its historic adversary, Islam, enjoys more and more rights.
Still, the protest against gay marriage in Paris suggests that Christianity isn't wholly irrelevant. The continent's experiment against God is turning increasingly toxic, causing at least a few of its prodigal children to glance back at the master's house.
As Pope Benedict XVI told the French on his visit to the country in 2011, "What gave Europe's culture its foundation -- the search for God and the readiness to listen to him -- remains today the basis of any genuine culture."