A survey of European multicultural society reveals that it is not just a result of immigration, but more importantly of its own mentality, generally known as New Age cultural relativism. On the one hand the growing presence of non-European culture is exposing the unspoken changes taking place in the European social pyramid (dependence on a foreign work force; problems of a guaranteed retirement system), on the other, New Age culture, synonymous with eclecticism and relativism that reduces authentic cultural plurality to a kind of fragmentary vision like we might see in an MTV ad, is the expression of a new socio-spiritual paradigm in a society in search of direction. Given today’s separation between Church and State, religion and public discourse, Churches should consider intercultural education as an alternative, golden opportunity. It can no longer be considered an optional; it is an absolute necessity, indispensable to the development of a new collective and personal identity, stressing three main objectives:
1) increased knowledge (knowledge of the dynamics of today’s globalization; knowledge of religious traditions);
2) formation of personal identity (reflection on ones inherited values; ability to bear witness in pluralistic environments, balanced discernment);
3) perfection of dialogue and collaboration skills (skills for handling future challenges).
We need to emphasize the role played by religion in intercultural dynamics. Paradoxically, fundamentalism can only be cured by religion itself, not by any attempts to suppress it. This is also true of the prevailing relativistic mentality which, despite the fact it considers itself irenistic, comes across with strong religious connotations. Just as moral education moves from the ethic of obedience to that of cultural responsibility, with focus on the free consent of the individual, so must we educate to cultural responsibility in the real sense: dialogue between two alterities which leads to mutual solidarity. Theo Sundermeier, a Lutheran missiologist (Understanding the Foreigner, Brescia, Queriniana 1999), speaks of xenotic culture, translating the interactive meaning of the Greek word xenós (guest / foreigner) into an educational criterium.
On the other hand, superficial knowledge of the other, or a lack of social integration, easily leads to a populist sub-culture (irenism, libertinism “We all love each another…”, “We all believe in the same God”; “Everyone should do his own thing”, as well as pigeon-holing and banal generalization: “all Muslims...”; “The Chinese eat ants.”), and it is only through conscious dialogue with different cultures that we can achieve true pluralism, i.e. cultural/religious harmony. A good example of this is India, where members of different religions have been living together for thousands of years in a climate of authentic pluralism without losing track of their own identities, as compared to modern European society which has not achieved authentic pluralism and is in danger of lapsing into populism due to a lack of respect for personal identity and that of the other. The permissiveness in New Age culture represents an idealistic, seductive type of interculturality.
Thus the European Church must not only take into account the various major religious traditions, still in upheaval, present in Europe today, but also the populism and syncretism of New Age culture within its own framework. To put it provocatively: the Church’s Catholicity [in the socio-cultural sense of a unifying force between different