chapter  3
13 Pages

Deus ex machina: representing God on the stage of the European Union


With the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty on 1 December 2009 the issue of the ‘representation of God’ in the European Union (EU) shifted from being a controverted matter of constitutional law and normative political theory to being one of the modalities of implementation. Whereas the much-noted controversy about the inclusion or not of an invocatio deo in a new European constitution had concerned the non-justiciable preamble, the inclusion in what became Article 17 of the Lisbon Treaty had created a requirement for ‘open, transparent and regular dialogue’ with the churches and religious associations or communities of the member states of the Union. Still at issue in the various meetings held to discuss the modalities of implementation, however, whether acknowledged or not, lay the question of just how proper or appropriate any such representation might be. The curious phrase deus ex machina (literally ‘god out of a machine’) can be taken to resonate with what some of the more radical secularists and humanists have seen as a distinct anomaly: the oddity and artificiality of representing God, god or gods on any public stage at all in Europe in the twenty-first century. The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary traces the phrase’s origin to ‘a kind of crane by which characters, usually gods, were lowered or swung round into view in Greek theatre’, the unnatural – and, to moderns, perhaps farcical – nature of which can only encourage contemporary secularists’ animus against the entertainment of religious arguments in debates on public policy.1