In my last posting , I wrapped up some very general reflections on the relation between faith and reason with this aside: "Western civilization¯having put Christianity on the defensive for so long, and then seeing its Enlightened sons of reason turn on their own mother¯now finds itself quite without resources for mustering a vigorous response to Islam’s much more imperious claims on behalf of its faith." As it happens, I wrote that sentence well before it emerged that two reporters for Fox News had been forced at gunpoint to convert to Islam after they had been kidnapped by some shadowy jihadists in Gaza, but that lamentable event certainly confirms my point about the asymmetry between Western and Islamic values.
The increasingly influential columnist and commentator Mark Steyn gets at this problem in a recent column in the New York Sun , where he says:
[In Malaysia], where a long English Common Law tradition is under sustained pressure from sharia, a lady called Lina Joy is currently enduring death threats and a long legal battle because she committed the "crime" of converting from Islam to Catholicism.
Well, that’s Malaysia for you. But how about Michigan? Nazra Quraishi, a kindergarten teacher at a local Muslim school, wrote to The Lansing State Journal last month as follows: "Islam is a guide for humanity, for all times, until the day of judgment. It is forbidden in Islam to convert to any other religion. The penalty is death. There is no disagreement about it. Islam is being embraced by people of other faiths all the time. They should know they can embrace Islam, but cannot get out. This rule is not made by Muslims; it is the supreme law of God."
. . . Christians and Muslims are both "people of the book." But there’s a difference: Christianity started out as a religion of the weak, held by the lowliest in society and advanced by conversion and example, independent of the state. A distinction between religion and temporal power is embedded in its founding narratives. Compare the final words of Jesus to his disciples, on the day of his ascension: . . . "Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth." . . . with the final words of Mohammed to his disciples: "I was ordered to fight all men until they say, ‘There is no god but Allah.’"
That’s quite a difference. Christ is saying go to the remotest parts of the world and persuade others of what you know to be the truth. Mohammed is saying fight all men until they submit to your truth: It’s not a plan for converting an existing empire (as Christianity did) but for establishing a new empire. Islam was born and spread as a warrior’s creed and, while that can be sedated, the intensity of anger of today’s western Muslims suggests that the Mohammedan fighter endures at the heart of their faith, albeit significantly augmented by greater firepower. Oh, come on, you say, what about the Spanish Inquisition? Well, for one thing, the Inquisition killed fewer people in a century and a half than the jihad does in an average year. But, in the larger sense, it’s easy to argue that, numbers aside, it was always an aberration and distortion of Christianity’s roots. It’s less clear that the jihad in its most violent form is a distortion of Mohammed’s message. With Islam, it’s the moderate variants of the Balkans, the Central Asian Stans and South Asia that are the aberration. And they’re all now fading.
So, if you’re pinning your hopes on Islamic reform, the difficulty is that most prominent Islamists are doing no more than Mohammedan karaoke. Here’s Osama bin Laden during the post-9/11 Afghan campaign: "I was ordered to fight the people until they say there is no god but Allah, and his prophet Mohammed."
No doubt, upon reading this, the Moral Equivalency Brigade will immediately retort with the Inquisition or the Thirty Years War or the slave trade, just as they liked to point to racial inequality in the United States during the Cold War ("Who are we to judge?"). But such specious arguments only confirm, unfortunately, my wider point when I praised John Caputo’s book Philosophy and Theology : When reason turns on itself the way it has in Western civilization in the past hundred years or so, the forces of irrationality and religious obscurantism will win out.
On the surface, it might seem surprising that conventional liberals seem to be more insouciant than conventional conservatives about the threat that militant Islam represents to their dearest values (compare the reaction to homosexuality in the three groups, for example). But I call that judgment superficial precisely because it sticks to the surface: it ignores how liberalism has been feeding on its own substance for so long that it no longer seems to notice. Every one who ages can recall the day when he looked into the mirror one morning and suddenly realized "I’m no longer young!" I await the day when liberalism wakes up, looks at itself in the mirror, and finally realizes "I no longer believe what I always said I believe!"
By sheer coincidence I am writing up these morose reflections on the same day that this month’s Magnificat has devoted its daily reading to the witness of Blessed Anthony Neyrot of Rivoli (c. 1425-1460), and his story is astonishingly relevant. ( Magnificat , by the way, is a Catholic periodical that provides the scriptural readings of each day’s Mass, prints in full the Psalms that are to be recited that day during Morning and Evening Prayer, and adds at the end a few edifying reflections relevant to that day’s readings. To subscribe, visit here: http://www.magnificat.com/us/indexus.htm).
Here is the account of Blessed Anthony’s life that was appended to the feast day memorializing the Beheading of John the Baptist (August 29), a sober reading indeed for this sobering feast:
After entering the Dominican Order, Anthony Neyrot of Rivoli, Italy, began to lose his initial fervor. Against the counsel of Saint Antoninus, his superior, the restless young religious insisted upon venturing away from his friary, ambitious to preach in southern Italy. But as Anthony was journeying by ship, his vessel was intercepted by Moorish pirates along the Sicilian coast. Taken prisoner, he was made a slave in Tunis, Tunisia. When he agreed to apostatize, he was released, after which he married outside the faith. But when news reached Tunis of the holy manner in which Anthony’s former superior Saint Antoninus had died, the ex-friar was stung with remorse. Finding a Dominican priest, Anthony tearfully confessed his sins. On Palm Sunday of 1460, he publicly asked forgiveness from his fellow Catholics and was thereafter readmitted to his Order. Anthony then went to the Moorish king and boldly professed his return to the Catholic faith. Immediately he was imprisoned and, on Holy Thursday, he was stoned and stabbed to death.
It sounds like those two reporters for Fox News now have their own patron saint.