Friday, March 07, 2008

Can Christianity Help Us Fight Islam?

Vera addresses a difficult question:

[T]he current versions of Western Christianity are obviously insufficient to keep the unwanted influences of any other religion out, and the versions that were in force during the times of Charles Martel or Isabel la Católica are unacceptable to us. I am not convinced that there is any usable version of kinder, gentler but tougher Christianity between the two.

The other problem is that . . . I don't trust clergy as potential defenders of religious freedoms. Think about all the Islamic trouble is the last few years, starting with the blasphemous cartoons. Some of the clerical voices rose in defense of the secular society and the freedom of speech, but there was just too many of "respect for religion? yes, yes, please, us too!".

Convincing someone who rejects both the moral and metaphysical tenets of my religion that a politically and socially empowered Christianity is nonetheless useful to her is undoubtedly a pretty steep hill to climb. So naturally I have to give it a go.

What are the costs?

Her second objection is the easiest to address. Undoubtedly, Vera has drunk too deeply from the well of hyperbolic left-wing agitprop claiming that the religious-right-wants-theocracy. But while there is much in their agenda she wouldn't like, let's at least understand what it is:

Abortion. Overturning Roe would "take us back" to 1973. But America in 1973 was not a theocracy. It was a society with a whole lot less of everything abortion claims to cure: crime, bastardy, and failed marriages. And I would add that, to the extent that an end to abortion increases total fertility, then it would solve the problem that immigration claims to cure: an ageing, declining population.

To extent there is such a creature as the "religious right," it is unified by this issue. When you move beyond it, the movement becomes progressively more divided, but let's try to find some other issues.

Pornography. Whatever the artistic merits of Fanny Hill, the book was banned until 1966. Although that particular SCOTUS decision was subsequently overturned, the genie never went back in the bottle. But even if we did suppress pornography, we'd go back to the 1950s, and America in the 1950s was not a theocracy. It was society with a whole lot less of what pornography claims to cure: sexual assault.

School Prayer. Up until the 1940s, this was a local issue, and the practices of schools in this regard reflected the expectations of their local communities. But America in the 1940s was not a theocracy; it never, that I know of, forced a Jewish girl to bend her knee to a Christian God. Someone could argue that "school prayer" is a proxy for all manner of issues involving the role of religion in the public sphere generally, and I will tend to agree, but before you complain, specify in your complaint a practice adovcated by a Christian conservative with an actual following that has a chance of being implemented by the jurisdiction in which you actually live. The fact that the public school in a tiny Baptist town in the South might ask minister to teach an elective Bible class does not affect you if you live in Brookline, MA.

That's it! The balance of the religious right's agenda is defensive; they fight being put upon the secular state, fight having unelected judges impose their will, fight to keep their private affairs private, beyond the reach of the state.

But, okay, at the margin, a socially vital Christianity means that Jews and atheists will confront higher levels of official fealty to opinions they don't share. To the extent they believe abortion, porn, and nihlism are the defining features of democracy and freedom, then there is real costs to them of political Christianity.

What are the benefits?

Is there an upside? Are the social and political benefits to a society, in the context of resisting Muslim agression, of a political/social reinvigoration of Christianity sufficient to justify it to someone such as Vera?

After 9/11, news reports told us that the churches filled up. And what did those who wandered in to their local, say, Methodist or Episcopal church hear? A reading of Psalm 83?

1 Do not keep silent, O God!
     Do not hold Your peace,
     And do not be still, O God!
2 For behold, Your enemies make a tumult;
     And And those who hate You have lifted up their head.
3 They have taken crafty counsel against Your people,
     And And consulted together against Your sheltered ones.
4 They have said, “Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation,
     And That the name of Israel may be remembered no more.”

5 For they have consulted together with one consent;
     And They form a confederacy against You . . . .

12 [Deal with them] who said, “Let us take for ourselves
     And The pastures of God for a possession.”
13 O my God, make them like the whirling dust,
     And Like the chaff before the wind!
14 As the fire burns the woods,
     And And as the flame sets the mountains on fire,
15 So pursue them with Your tempest,
     And And frighten them with Your storm.
16 Fill their faces with shame,
     And That they may seek Your name, O LORD.
17 Let them be confounded and dismayed forever;
     And Yes, let them be put to shame and perish,
18 That they may know that You, whose name alone is the LORD,
     And Are the Most High over all the earth.

Probably not. Probably they heard very little to fortify them for the struggle ahead, and when the final history of Western Christianity is written, this will be the moment we chose suicide over survival.

But the political correlations are still beneficial in several ways:

  1. Christians are more likely to serve in the military, and therefore put their lives on the line to defend our country.
  2. Christians [and let me count Mormons for now] are more likely to have large families, and thereby keep our demographics from collapsing.
  3. Christians are more likely to oppose immigration, at least judging by their partisan alliances.
  4. Christians are more devoted to our actual constitutional traditions, and highly resistant to the moral claims of Muslims.

Granted, this may not be the Christianity of Charles "the Hammer" Martel. But it is not nothing. It may, in fact, be enough to save our civilization.


bobvis said...

Given the benefits claimed from adopting the policies in your post, it seems like we could adopt these policies on consequentialist grounds. We don't necessarily need Christianity to feel abortion is wrong, that pornography is destructive to society, and that school prayer is a right that should not be trampled upon. Do we?

(By the way: I'm really saying this just to get your reaction. I'm not really trying to strongly disagree with you on anything yet.)

Φ said...

Bobvis: thanks for commenting. We don't get much traffic out here in phi-ville. :-)

Certainly a consequentialist case could be made for the suppression of abortion and pornography in the terms I do; indeed, this is usually how pro-lifers and anti-porn activists make their case to the broader public. Some of the people making the case are secularists themselves, and such social benefits as they claim for this suppression are often the stated objectives of secularists generally.

But my point was not, or not primarily, to actually make that case, nor even that secularists should be persuaded by it. On the contrary, I will stipulate that many secularists will remain devoted to abortion-on-demand and pornography, despite the social costs these things inflict. My point was to try to address Vera's concern that a politically active Christianity is necessarily seeking to impose a theocracy. To which I answer, no, its ambitions are much more modest.