Wednesday, February 4, 2015

An important difference between post-Christendom societies and Islamic ones ...

There is an important contrast between Christianity and Islam which should inform the thinking of Western leaders as to what they can expect of Middle Eastern nations with regard to the protection of the rights of religious minorities. This contrast is seen in the different ways the two religions conceive the proper relationship between religion and earthly governments. Christianity, both as described in the words of Jesus ("my kingdom is not of this world ") and in its initial status as an illegal religion in the 1st-3rd century Roman Empire, was always, properly speaking, a religion distinct from the state, while Islam was always conceived of as being most properly embodied in the earthly state.

Said another way, the medieval marriage of "Christianity" with secular government, being contrary to the nature of the church as described in the New Testament and as expressed in Christianity's early history, was really a perversion of the true nature of Christianity; while Islam's consistent pursuit of a worldwide umma and caliphate, and it's continued tendency toward suppression of competing alternatives, are entirely consistent with Islam's founding narratives. It is thus not a surprise that the context in which the ideas of separation of church and state, of freedom of conscience, and of equality of all before the law was that of post-Christendom Enlightenment Europe, reforming itself after the unnatural marriage that was Christendom immolated itself in the Wars of Religion.

When dealing with most of the Islamic states of the Middle East, it is important to remember that they have a very different history and worldview than those of post-Enlightenment Europe. There are, of course, plenty of Muslim citizens of Western nations who have adopted the Western notion of a secular state, and have understood Islam as being a private matter of morals of reverence for their god, and of respect for their equal rights of those of different faiths. But these ideas which were endemic to early Christianity - of being one religion among many, of treating all human beings with the same respect, and of being part of a kingdom which is not of this world - are not ideas which were characteristic of the Islamic world in its infancy, and and are still not ideas which are commonly held in Middle Eastern nations.

Even in the post-Christendom West, there still remain many who, nostalgic for the days of their political supremacy, would seek to restore Christianity as a sort of official state religion. But there is no warrant for doing this in the New Testament, and therefore, when the attempt is made to do it, the result is inevitably a state which represents a false Christianity, untrue to its founding. When Islam seeks to do this, however, it is doing exactly what the Quran calls for. This crucial difference between the essential natures of Christianity and Islam ought always to be borne in mind in deciding Western policies toward the region.

Western politicians have too often understood the Middle Eastern nations as "just like Western nations except for the language and the turbans." But this is a dangerous delusion, and leads to all sorts of quixotic adventures. The people in the Middle East have the right to govern themselves as they think best, and we in the West ought to help where we can reasonably do so, but we need stay hard-headed and remain clear on one thing above all. These nations differ from us in very significant ways, and are not likely to resemble European liberal and secular democracies any time soon.

We in the West should take measures to contain craziness, to keep lunatics from spreading their insanity to other countries, and should intervene wherever we reasonably can to prevent barbarity and destruction. But we need to avoid delusional crusades based on the premise that these nations will easily be made in the image of Western secular democracies, especially in terms of their respect for the rights of religious minorities. They will not.

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