The “refugee crisis” and the Three Kings

By Wilbert Lambrechts, October 2016

The refugee crisis confronts Europe with the question about its own identity. Who are we, what inspires us, what do we stand for? The Islamic religion in particular challenges the so-called European “values” and European history – much more so than conversely.

Photo: © jala/

The disquiet lies above all on the European side. Europe’s response to this increasingly intense historical encounter between Islam and Europe cannot consists exclusively of invoking our European “values and standards” – even if they have lovely names such as freedom of expression, equality between men and women, or religious freedom. Beautiful ideas alone do not satisfy or pacify. They will not produce inner and outer peace.

The restriction to such values leads to a completely legalistic attitude, a mixture consisting of the enforcement of laws – which we often deal with just a little bit sanctimoniously – and indifference – as urgently necessary as good laws may be. But if they are the only thing we have to offer it means they are nothing less than bricks.

Can there be – looked at psychologically and sociologically – any other response to them in the long term than terrorism if no other bridge to understanding is built? The European religion, Christianity, does not offer a firm base any longer either. In Europe in particular it seems to be in its final throes despite a popular Pope. At least this is what is looks like from Belgium, the country “in the heart of Europe” in which I live.

Why Central Europe?

But Muslims from the Middle East and North Africa presumably also feel drawn to Europe for deeper reasons. And perhaps particularly to Central Europe?

There must be something that is truly attractive for them, also spiritually attractive. From an outward perspective they are looking for work, income, accommodation, peace, a better life. But behind this search there undoubtedly also lies a deeper issue of destiny. Who are you? After all, the Three Kings were also searching for something. The East wants to encounter the West. Who are we and what distinguishes us?

We can also ask this question usefully of ourselves. We can rediscover ourselves in the mirror of Islam. Good thinking can get us moving again. Faith is finished in Europe – or is only acceptable any longer in private. But thinking isn’t. “Anyone who doesn’t think is out,” says Joseph Beuys.

Christianity as a religion may be finished but Christian or human thinking which aims to be good and truthful about our fellow human beings is most certainly not. It is vitally necessary today. We can for the time being set aside the question whether God created the human being or human beings created God.

The European God is, or was, a divine trinity. Why? Because humans themselves are a threefold beings. The human being consists of head (spirit, thinking), heart (soul, feelings) and hand (body, the will). Have we therefore (also?) created Him in our image? Christianity saw God as a trinity because this image is based on the nature of the human being, that is on a human truth quite independently of the question whether or not such a God really exists.

And what kind of society do we want? Most likely one which is human. One which is guided by the image and in likeness of the human being. The triune society. Freedom, equality and fraternity. The answer to the question about the roots of Europe might perhaps lie, beyond platitudes, in trinitarian or triadic thinking.

This is not the same as the Christian belief in the Trinity, although it is related. Neither is trinitarian thinking exclusively Christian or European. It avoids what is rejected in the Koran as the “belief in the trinity” and can also be found in the Muslim tradition. It is not belief but a form of thinking. Such thinking focuses the whole of reality not just the religious one and is in principle accessible for everyone: both the believer and the atheist, both the Christian and the Jew and the Muslim.

It is accessible to the extent that we resolve to think. It is only on this basis that the so-called European values and standards can really be understood – primarily the so-called (triune) separation of powers (Montesquieu). Without triadic thinking such a separation can only be seen as arbitrary dogma.

But the separation of powers can be further developed out of the thinking. A society needs the economy (to satisfy needs), the law (to prevent or resolve conflicts), and culture (so that all talent can develop).

What forms do we want to develop so that these three different, equally important and sacred realms of society can flourish? Naturally respecting the specific logic of each realm!

That too is a trinity – in the way that society is organised.

Triadic thinking creates connections

We cannot reach Muslims with God (they believe they know him better than we do), neither with Christ (although Jesus often occurs in the Koran) or the “Holy Trinity” (idolatrous in Muslim thinking). Does the same apply with regard to threefold or triadic thinking based on perception and thinking?

Such thinking seeks polarities in order clearly to differentiate concepts and then raise them to a higher level in the middle, as Goethe did: polarity and enhancement. Such thinking sees the human form as the interaction of head (senses, brain) and limbs (metabolism, muscular system, reproduction). The head is the seat of the thinking, the limbs the tools for work and volition. The chest with its breathing and the beating heart forms the cradle of the feelings providing balance in the middle. This middle divides the poles – and links them to create a higher unity.

Such a trinity can provide a healthy foundation for upbringing and a human-centred education, to which every child is entitled. An education which takes account of head, heart and limbs in equal measure, irrespective of any confession (while itself being “re-ligio”, that is reuniting what is separate).

It allows for a school which strives for physical, mental and spiritual abilities through developing the thinking, feeling and the will – a consciousness of what is real and possible; intuitive security based on good foundations; inspiration for action. As is evident, we Europeans still have a lot to learn ourselves from triadic thinking. There still lies a great deal of potential in ourselves as well.

Does it not appear that we would be better equipped for the encounter with the people from the East and the South if we obtained a real understanding of the three layers of our being and at last took them seriously?

Triadic thinking is not a replacement for analytical thinking. On the contrary, every piece of information, every fact becomes more valuable in the light of such thinking. Nothing must be left out of account. But information and facts by themselves become boundless and lead to a nihilism which is no longer capable of action.

Facts only become graspable, and thus understandable, if they can be considered in the context of reciprocally fertilising polarities. Then they take on life and become accessible to comprehension and experience. In this way they are given a framework which enables productive action. Polarities are not dualities like, for example, good and evil, light and darkness, theory and practice.

Polarities create a field of tension between extremes which requires productive mediation, a conscious centre of artistic and scientific creativity. Thus gradually a living, breathing third element arises. Polarities demand a third factor, or rather, an actuator. Seeking it is a form of creative thinking and a form in which the I can develop.

If we omit such a search, the opposites become so strong that we are crushed between them and the opportunity of reasonable action is destroyed. Violent constellations are always governed by exclusive dualities.

This constellation can arise between Europe and Islam if we rediscover the triadic thinking which is rooted in Europe and has its origin in religious ground, but outgrew it several centuries ago.

About the author: Wilbert Lambrechts is a literary specialist, Waldorf teacher and creative speech practitioner and teaches German, Dutch, literature and drama at the Hibernia Waldorf School in Antwerp.