Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Christopher Hitchens picking on Prince Charles: read all about it! The first part is fun stuff- it makes me happy to read someone wholeheartedly defending materialism. Toward the end, he connects the prince's vapid anti-intellectual soul talk (and his desire to be crowned as the defender of all the faiths, instead of just the Anglican one) with the desire of some Muslims to proselytize more in Europe. The prince delivered his speech at the Center for Islamic Studies, which is connected by religion to the Islamic Forum of Europe. He writes:

"I quote from a recent document published by the Islamic Forum of Europe, a group dedicated to the restoration of the Islamic Caliphate and the imposition of sharia, which has been very active in London mosques and in the infiltration of local political parties. "The primary work" in the establishment of a future Muslim empire, it announces, "is in Europe, because it is this continent, despite all the furore about its achievements, which has a moral and spiritual vacuum.""

I think this is supposed to disturb me because a Muslim empire would be scary- and, granted, I wouldn't enjoy living under sharia. I like my cute skirts and driver's license. The creepy thing about the quote from the IFE, though, is that I've heard it all before:

"The primary work is in Europe, because it is this continent, despite all the furore about its achievements, which has a moral and spiritual vacuum.
-Islamic Forum of Europe

"ECM is an international, interdenominational mission that seeks to plant and support local churches throughout Europe... Please contact the appropriate office to find out more about ECM and to see what you can do for this needy continent."
-European Christian Mission

"When it comes to spirituality, Europe is needy. God is using people who are willing to go, live among the peoples of Europe, and tell them about His love."
-Greater Europe Mission, which would also like to tell you about the 40/70 Window of evangatastic opportunity. If you weren't familiar with the 10/40 Window to begin with, you should definitely look up the 40/70 Window, because you are way behind on your world domination strategy. When you've caught up with the rest of the (evangelical Protestant) church, come on back to Europe; it's where the action is. And get excited: studies are being conducted as to how best conquer Europe for Jesus (again).

And from WGM, the missions organization that I grew up hearing about, a plan of attack being devised one country at a time: "Alcoholism and suicide rates in Hungary are the highest per capita of any nation in the world. People are finding that a new job, more possessions, and a new government system are not what they are looking for. They need to know that Jesus Christ is the answer to their problems." I don't know how the Hungarians would assess this description of their country, but it sounds like WGM is seeing their moral and spiritual vacuum as a conversion opportunity.

Oddly, I think I like WGM for some of the same reasons that I like Gülen. The quote from their Hungary page sounds like something he might write; people are abandoning their faith because they have nowhere to seek refuge from their doubts. In a post-Communist world, how can one feel the greatness of faith to God? The answer is not to gain more of this world, but to be transformed by the perspective of the hereafter.

After all, how could a person of religious conviction, someone who believes that there is a deep, peaceful order to the universe that transforms the faithful participants in hir faith, look at the state of Europe today and not see spiritual vapidity?* This is certainly how it was presented to me as a teenager, when I went with Teen Missions International on a summer trip to Austria. These people, I was told, had been enthralled** for generations by false religion, and now they were losing hope entirely. Marx and materialism were the only things that Western Europeans believed in now, but we were coming to show them a more excellent way. These poor people were following after secularism like children after the Pied Piper, but we would stand in the streets with our puppets and simple German songs, luring them heavenward instead. Austria would be won for Christ!

We built a garage on an orphanage, so I don't regret the trip. I have to admit of myself, though, that I have personally attempted to recolonize spiritually vacuous Europe with my faith. My own history places me in an awkward position, then, when I hear that the Muslim hordes want to claim Europe for Allah. To be honest, part of me wants to tell them not to bother- you can stand in that square all day singing simple German songs about the Just One and the river of Paradise, but they don't care. As far as I can tell, Austrians just want to do their grocery shopping. Vienna is under seige by Muslims, you say? That's so 400 years ago. And Austria won, so, whatever.

And yet, Byzantium did fall to the Ottomans, which led directly to the Battle of Vienna; for those who closely associate the cause of Christ and the political successes of Christendom, I suppose we've lost these battles in the past, and have come close to losing the war.

"The primary work is in Europe," says the Islamic Forum of Europe***. I think when this is quoted to me, I'm supposed to picture a meeting of nefarious men, perhaps in a dank basement, sitting at a poorly lit table and planning the end of times. I'm supposed to imagine networks of infiltrators with secret agendas, meeting once a week for strategy sessions on how to bring on secularism's demise. The IFE, you see, is pressing their advantage with weak-kneed leaders like Prince Charles, demanding concession upon concession, until eventually Rowan Williams will be handing over the treasures of the Anglican Church to be melted down and carefully gilded on the domes of mosques.

Really, though, I just picture missionaries. With silde shows, and a table full of cultural items: folksy musical instruments, perhaps, or wooden shoes. Maybe a chunk of the Iron Curtain.

Certain sillyheads claim that liberals, for unfathomable reasons, secretly support the reestablishment of the Caliphate. Let me, therefore, make this absurdly clear: I do not want to live under sharia. In the case of Europe: I do not want Vienna to be conquered by Islam, or the Sistine Chapel to be turned into a mosque, or good Christian children to be forced to pray Muslim prayers in school.

Conversely, however, I do not want Vienna to be conquered for Jesus. I don't want to hear R. C. Sproul preaching in the Sistine Chapel. I really don't want good Muslim children to be forced to pray Christian prayers in church, particularly if my tax money is funding that school. And don't be deceived by all the fearmongering about Islam- we Christians have our own version of sharia, and some among us are working, right now, towards implementing it.

None of this regulatory nonsense relates even superficially to creating a society in which one can feel the greatness of faith. None of this provides a refuge for the weary. None of this is infused with the perspective of the hereafter.

More importantly, though, it has to be said, over and over, that what Muslims are not being stopped from implementing restrictive, faith-based practices by Christians any more than Christians are being stopped from implementing restrictive, faith-based practices by Muslims. Fundamentalists are being stopped from imprisoning women in their homes by secularists. Fundamentalists of all stripes are being stopped from requiring religious tests for public office by secularists. Fundamentalists, whose desire to control outstrips their commitment to their faith, are being stopped from reshaping society in their own image by secularists, who claim that public space should be, well, public.

If this field of ours has a pearl in it, it would be that notion of public space.

*Well, huh. Pretty much anytime I ask a rhetorical question like that, I can find an answer if I poke around long enough. Turns out that there is "grave danger" in believing that Europe has become irreligious. The author's distinction between Europe's understanding of religion vs. the way a similarly worded poll question would be answered in the US was interesting, as well as the lists of practices like "church taxes" that not even the most nut-jobby right wingers in the US would propose. Is Europe a spiritual nightmare? Perhaps only if you're evangelistic about USians First Amendment freedoms.

I can't say I'm convinced, though, that the EU can still be considered the coming of the ten-headed Beast even though the membership has expanded beyond 10 nations. Not that the whole "no really, Revelation is a blueprint of the future" perspective ever made much sense, but saying that the 10 heads are 10 groups of nations? What's the point of having a blueprint if it's not even right? And really, if you have to keep changing "what the text clearly says about current events" in order to match it to how those events actually play out, then talking as though the text has some mystical, otherworldly knowledge about Europe's future just makes you just look like a cheap magician at a child's birthday party. "Look at that pigeon, children, while I stuff a bunny in this hat! Ok, look back- oh hey, there's a bunny in this hat! Admire my hat's infallible bunny producing powers!" That's an insult to a perfectly good hat, which could be quite useful doing hat-like things like shielding the eyes or covering bad hair, but isn't designed to be a bunny machine.

**Enthralled is derived from the Old Norse word thrǣll: slave. To be enthralled is to be enslaved. Enthrall has an overlay of spectacle, though, as though our eyes specifically have been taken captive; we're enthralled by dancers, by orchestras, and in this case, by priests.

Sometimes, when a Viking warrior died, a thrall or thralls would join him on the funeral pyre so that someone could attend him in the afterlife. That's unrelated, except to note that Europe has always been a pretty damn religious place, at least from the time that they started keeping written records.

***Does this sound a little self-aggrandizing to anyone else? Like, maybe the Islamic Forum of South America would be saying that the primary work is in South America, and so on? Am I really to believe that the Islamic Forum of Europe would say publicly that the primary work is, say, in Indonesia? That seems unlikely to me, just on the face of it.

1 comment:

Craig Dove said...

First, why oh why do you read Hitchens? I remember that he wrote something I liked fairly recently, but I forget what it was - and when I saw the title to this piece (independently of your blog post), I immediately thought, "more paranoid nonsense from Hitchens."
Second, it might be true that the secularists are the ones holding the fundies at bay in Europe, but a lot of US history is about clashes of different denominations and sects within Christianity. We can't require a test of faith for public office, for instance, because we can't agree on what that might look like (or, the Presbyterians don't trust the Episcopalians).
But you knew that.