Islam in America and the end of Christendom

There has been a lot of fuss in the news recently about opposition to the construction of mosques in the US – from Temecula Valley to Ground Zero. The most notable piece of micro-rhetoric has been Sarah Palin’s anguished tweet regarding the proposed construction of an Islamic cultural centre and mosque very close to what many regard as the ‘cemetery’ of 9/11 victims: ‘Peace-seeking Muslims, pls understand, Ground Zero mosque is UNNECESSARY provocation; it stabs hearts. Pls reject it in interest of healing.’

The ostensible concern is that mosques will become ‘hotbeds of radical Islam’, schools for terrorists. On the face of it, this seems unlikely. Does terrorism really benefit from having this sort of official infrastructure and visibility? Radicalization rarely happens via institutional channels. Indeed, the counter-argument is that the provision of sufficient legitimate public places for congregation and worship is more likely to mitigate the impetus towards militancy than to exacerbate it; and conversely, that opposing the construction of mosques will only reinforce the impression that Americans are bigoted and racist.

So presumably there are deeper reasons. In Europe the memory of having once been a Christian continent has largely faded, so there is not the same knee-jerk fear of the intruding religious Other. This is not to say that Europeans are not concerned about the impact of the growing muslim presence on their societies. Many of them are. But what they fear losing are largely post-Christian or de-Christianized national and cultural identities: the quaint xenophobia of middle England, the regulated tolerance of the Dutch, the self-righteous libertarianism of the French, and so on.

The situation in the US is very different. If opposition to Islam in the US is for the most part religiously motivated – and the media reports suggest that this is the case – then presumably what is at stake here is not just national security but America’s specifically Christian identity. One wonders, therefore, whether it will be the growing but probably largely symbolic presence of Islam rather than modern secularism that in the end will mark the demise of American Christendom.

Christian America has happily accommodated the presence of the cathedrals and shrines and devotional practices of secular materialism. If there is resistance to some of the corrosive domestic values of modern culture, it is generally with a view to sanctifying or sanitizing its basic forms and methods and aspirations, not to critiquing or subverting them. But Islam constitutes a foreign, incomprehensible, and probably unassimilable threat, one that competes directly for spiritual authority.

An article in our excellent local paper notes that Jon Stewart concluded a piece on the Fox coverage of the mosque protests (‘Wish You Weren’t Here’) by observing that ‘Christian Americans were most worried by the competition posed by Islam in the US market-place of ideas’.

I suspect that in quite a profound way he’s right. Few people take the intemperate pronouncements of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seriously, but his claim that ‘There is no truth on earth but monotheism and following tenets of Islam and there is no way for salvation of mankind but rule of Islam over mankind’ strikes right to the heart of evangelical presumption. Modern evangelicalism developed as a reaction to – or perhaps better an adaptation to – the secular-rational assault on biblical truth; it does not know how to deal with the sort of challenge that Islam is increasingly posing to its religious hegemony.

Mosques are a visible, concrete sign that the church’s complacent co-existence with secularism, the pact by which the illusion of American Christendom has been preserved since the Second World War, is no longer viable. The form of this world is passing away – and in any case, there are better ways for the church to relate to its neighbours.

Johan T. | Sat, 07/24/2010 - 19:20 | Permalink

Thanks Andrew for another well written analysis of today's religious/Christian world. Loved the last sentence... Yes, there're better ways to relate to our neighbours.

peter wilkinson | Thu, 08/05/2010 - 22:17 | Permalink

An item in last week's New York Times drew a parallel between the proposed mosque at Ground Zero and some Carmelite nuns who, some time ago, wanted to set up a centre alongside the site of Auschwitz concentration camp to pray for the souls of those who died there. Jews, understandably, protested, even if Catholics maintained that they were not the only ones to die at Auschwitz, and anyway, what was wrong in praying for the souls of the dead? Pope John Paul II reflected on the issue, over many months, and then persuaded the nuns to withdraw and set up their centre in a town nearby.

The parallel drawn in the New York Times article was that in a democracy like the United States, which believes in freedom of conscience, Muslims have just as much right to establish a Mosque close to Ground Zero as the nuns had to their centre close to Auschwitz.  But human feelings, even if not always strictly logical, play their part. The issue of the mosque is not, primarily, one of Muslims versus Christians, or even Islam versus Christendom, but the association of the mosque by many with the fanaticism of those who committed the atrocity, even if the association is logically unfounded. 

The higher issue is not one of rights, but sensitivity to the natural feelings of those in the USA who were affected by the outrage. As the article concluded: everyone has rights, but the exercise of rights is not always the right thing to do, and the Imam who is seeking to establish the mosque should follow the example of John Paul II with the Carmelite nuns, and have the submission withdrawn.

“The higher issue is not one of rights, but sensitivity to the natural feelings of those in the USA who were affected by the outrage.”
They attack us because we use drones and cluster bombs that kill and maim their civilian families. Suicide bombers kill to get revenge because we have not left them anything to live for by killing their immediate family members. Come on, people! Wake up to the reality and leave them the heck alone!!! They are humans and have sensibilities just like us. My cousin was buried in the rubble at ground zero but the question I have is this: is this how we show xtian pacifism? Is this what Jesus taught? Is this how we turn the other cheek or is this how we love our neighbour? Methinks not!!! Don’t we see their numbers increasing exponentially worldwide? People are converting in droves in almost every country. Why do you think that is? Because we are seen as the oppressors and they the underdogs. We should be looking for a way to reconcile our differences with them. Do we really want Nebuchednazar to come and rule the house of David again? Because thats what the reality is beginning to look like unless we drastically reverse this policy which the west holds against them. Its like a chinese finger puzzle, the more you pull the tighter it gets and the more difficult to release. So my opinion and advice is to let them have their mosque there and let’s stop the violence against them. Violence only breeds more violence. We know this yet we foolishly pursue violence against them. Then we complain when they hit back. DUH!!!

Sorry…seems I maybe got a bit carried away. I don’t usually do this but just found this very interesting website on which I thought I could air my thoughts. We need to start thinking differently with a new approach to this problem. I don’t see them doing anything to xtians or churches in muslim countries because they wisely know that their enemy is the western secular governments and not xtians or xtianity. We don’t seemed to have fathomed that about them yet.