Christians are caught in the middle of a clash between radical Islam and secularism, writes David Quinn
Islam, Christianity and secular liberalism are all universal creeds, that is, they aspire to convert the entire human race to their ways of thinking. It may seem strange to say this about secular liberalism which presents itself as being above the fray. It tells us that its aim is to turn the public arena into a neutral space in which all beliefs are treated equally on the proviso that no belief system tries to impose itself on all others. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is nothing neutral about secular liberalism.
In its current, increasingly aggressive form, secular liberalism seeks to reduce religion to the level of a private hobby. The law increasingly makes no provision for freedom of conscience. Nurses in Sweden are obliged to perform abortions. In Scotland they are not obliged to perform the abortion itself, but must help prepare the woman for abortion.
In Belgium, a Catholic hospice run by nuns was found guilty of violating the law by not acceding to a patient’s demand for euthanasia. The hospice was fined just €1 but next time how big will the fine be?
In America, religious organisations are told their insurance schemes must cover items such as the abortion pill. Also in America, Christian colleges are being told they must make provision for transsexual rights. This includes allowing individuals who were born male but believe they are female to use female toilets and changing rooms making a complete mockery of the notion of biological gender.
In Denmark, the Lutheran Church has been told it must perform same-sex marriages. So called ‘anti-hate’ laws are increasingly impinging on free speech. The list goes on.
This makes confrontations between the aforementioned universalist creeds absolutely inevitable. They are already happening, although Christian opposition to overreaching secularism is confined to the legislature and the courtroom. In both cases it is fighting a mostly losing battle.
But the clash with Christianity is a clash with a religion that has been converted to democracy and pluralism. The Christian Democratic parties that arose with such success after World War II are proof of that.
The commitment of secular liberalism to democracy and pluralism is increasingly open to question, however, as the above examples ought to show.
The clash between Islam and secular liberalism (and Christianity) is where most of the heat today is being generated. Islam has not yet come to terms with democracy and the ambition of secular liberalism to reduce religion to a private hobby is obviously causing multiple problems especially with a religion that refuses to lie down.
The clash between secularism and Christianity is a clash mostly generated by secularism’s determination to reduce religion to a private hobby. Christianity, using exclusively peaceful means, has to do a much better job fighting against this, including by raising the awareness of ordinary Christians to what is at stake.
But when a religion refuses to accept the rules of the democratic game at all, then we have a much bigger problem, hugely exacerbated by the fact that within this religion are extremely violent elements which have, in the space of just 18 months, launched seven terrorist attacks in Europe, killing hundreds of people.
The response of secular liberalism to this has been to promote multi-culturalism. The belief has been that if every sub-culture within the broader society is treated with equal respect, then all will be well.
Where has this worked? It sounds like an excellent idea until we discover that one of these sub-cultures does not respect the rules of the game, it does not respect democracy itself, and a portion of it is willing to kill to achieve its aims.
In France, a different approach was tried; everyone must become secular when entering the public arena. Their religion must be left at the door. Thus, even when a religious believer genuinely feels that their religiously-inspired convictions have at least as much to offer society as the convictions of (say) a socialist, they are told they cannot enter the public arena with those beliefs, while the socialist is given free and unhindered entry. They see the manifest unfairness of this and whereas Christians are too quiescent in the face of such treatment, it stings Muslims much more and contributes to their deep sense of alienation.
What is the answer? The answer is that Islam must come to terms with democracy in the same way Christianity has. There must be an Islamic Democracy in the same way there has been a Christian Democracy.
For its part, secular liberalism needs to lose its hostility towards religion. Some secular liberals speak about Christianity as though they are still fighting the Christianity that produced the Syllabus of Errors. It is as if Christian Democracy and the Second Vatican Council never happened.
If Islam does not adapt, and if secular liberalism does not adapt, then what is likely to happen? The answer is that the far-right, that is, the nationalist, anti-globalisation, anti-immigrant right, will continue to grow in strength with terrible consequences.
And the more Europe’s secular elites try to repress the far-right, and the more they ignore the factors contributing towards its rise, the more they will strengthen it as growing number of voters will become convinced that our ruling elites do not respect democracy and are unwilling to tackle the problems that confront us, or else misdiagnose those problems.
In the middle of all this, Christianity offers a via media, a way of religious thinking that obviously respects religion, including Islam, but also respects democracy and invites both Islam and secular liberalism towards greater moderation.
This is the best way to stop the rise of the far-right, to blunt Islamic fundamentalism and to draw secular liberalism away from its current very aggressive, Jacobin phase.
Whether Christianity can actually succeed in this is a whole other question, of course. It certainly cannot succeed unless more Christian leaders take up the challenge before them, a challenge that is epochal and which will shape the future of an entire continent.