Friday, March 24, 2017

The Challenge of Islam: Part 1 - the end of secularisation

I was reminded of this post from July 2014 by a story in The Tablet about retired Major-General Tim Cross, an Anglican, who was in despair about the attitude at the Foreign Office that religion really couldn't be the real explanation of anything important in, say, Iraq. The message is sinking in, but very slowly.

The other posts in the short series this post introduced are:
2. Religious Liberty
3. Caught in the Critique of the Decadent West

I've been reading up a little on the sociology of religion, and the latest stuff is no longer about the Secularisation Thesis: the inevitable secularisation of society. This was to do with the ideas of the Enlightenment, wider education, and prosperity, eroding religious belief, as expressed in that stupid poem by the over-rated Matthew Arnold, published in 1867.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl'd.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,

As Linda Woodhead explains, in her Introduction to a collection of articles, the secularisation story no longer works. It only ever worked if you ignored the contrary evidence - such as the big revival of religious practice which started pretty well as soon as Arnold's lacrimose effusion came off the presses, and another even more impressive one in the 1950s - but now it is obvious that things simply aren't travelling in the right direction.

Woodhead explains how sociologists' faith in the secularisation hypothesis was shaken first by the Salman Rushdie affair. Rushdie's book The Satanic Verses was condemned by the Ayatollah Khomeini, who issued a 'fatwa' (ruling) against Rushdie, ordering that he be killed. This was in 1989. It made the sociologists realise that religion, or at least Islam, was actually stronger, in its ability to shape events, even in the West, than it had been before: it wasn't fading away in obedience to the Secularisation Thesis. And then, 22 years later, there was 9/11

If Western sociologists had been paying attention, they would have noticed the revival of Islamic practice and zeal with started in Egypt in the 1970s, and was continued by the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, and has continued some more in the overthrow of a whole heap of secular-minded regimes across the Arab world in recent years. To give them due credit, however, sociologists like Woodhead have been more on the ball than Western politicians, who appear to have clung to the Secularisation Thesis right up to the last few months. I suspect many of have not abandoned it yet. The idea that all the Middle East needs is prosperity and education, and religious zealotry will dissipate, is still rattling around in the corridors of power. Do these people read the newspapers? Syria was a prosperous nation with a big, educated middle class. They've got money coming out of their ears in the Gulf. There are universities of international standard in Egypt. And guess what? It was as those universities that the Islamic revival began. It was there, not in the slums, where young women started to wear head scarves.

In truth, the Secularisation Thesis was kept on its shakey legs after the War not by the inevitable effects of education and prosperity, but by the Cold War. It was the resources poured into Communist and anti-Communist factions, by East and West, which made the world outside North America and Western Europe look as if it was focused on secular issues. Once that was out of the way, an awful lot of people have turned to traditional religious themes to assert their identity and culture and distinguish themselves from their colonial past. We are now living in a period in which radicalised Hindus are persecuting Muslims in India, radicalised Buddhists are persecuting Muslims in Burma and Sri Lanka, radicalised Sunni Muslims are persecuting Shia Muslims in Iraq, and Christians are being persecuted by pretty well everyone. It's not a pretty sight, but it's not secularisation.

Is victory for the homosexual lobby and 'reproductive rights' feminists at the United Nations around the corner? You've got to be joking. I follow the excellent Friday Fax, which covers the infinitely depressing machinations of the World Government in Waiting. The progressive lobby's breakthrough is always round the corner. They've got the western nations in their pockets, they have the procedures taped, they like to see aid money being used to buy votes. But things are not going their way. A horrible realisation should begin to dawn on them some time soon. We have a world-wide revival of traditional values on our hands.

To repeat, this has actually been going on at least since the early 1970s. And it is not just Islam. Even Christianity is benefitting: the Catholics of southern India and West Africa, pressure from Hindus and Muslims notwithstanding, have had a very good few decades, and the very visible presence of their priests in the West has more to do with the massive numbers of vocations they have than persecution. In China, too, Christianity is on the march, as the most vigorous alternative to Communism.

There is nothing inevitable about secularisation. The sociologists have now accepted this, and the politicians, eventually, will follow them. This reality will solve some problems, such as the prospect of a right to abortion being established in international law by some international mega-treaty, but obviously creates others. The punch-line of this blog post is simply this: in addressing the problems, which are very real and very pressing, let's not try to pretend that the Secularisation Thesis is true after all. And part of that pretence is the guff about Religious Freedom.

I've argued more than once that appeals to Religious Freedom, to defend the Church against militant secularists in the West, is a complete waste of time. It is even more of a waste of time when directed against non-Christian religious zealots. This is so blindingly obvious that it shouldn't need saying, but I am saying it because I can see the temptation to make this appeal in a recent speech by Lord (David) Alton. I'll address this in the next post.

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  1. Islam is the great danger to the West.

    In its latest attack, one of many throughout history it has targeted Europe using mass, planned immigration. Once established, Muslim communities expand using liberal “human rights” legislation. This has been understood by many for so long now , but not apparently by politicians, and in particular, Secularist politicians.

    Secularists seek to destroy Christianity. But they are fighting the wrong battle. It is even likely that in their false thinking they see the rise of Islam as a weapon against their old enemy, the Catholic Church.

    But battles are lost as much as won. The Catholic Church, in the past fifty years has abandoned certainty, and has collapsed into confusion and disorder. It has ceased to be the “Rock” upon which Christ built His Church, and has effectively handed a victory, initially too Secularism, but effectively to Islam. The immediate cause of this is Vatican II and its aftermath. But that is another story.

    All this will become clear during the next half century.

    1. “Islam…has targeted Europe using mass, planned immigration.” I disagree that there is some sinister plan of conquest behind Islamic migration to the West. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Pakistanis who came to work in the textile mills of Bradford or the factories of Slough, the Algerians who came to work in the French car plants or the Turks who settled in Germany to alleviate labour shortages during the economic miracle – these Muslims were all economic migrants. They wanted to earn money and maybe have access to better health and education than in their home countries. They were emphatically not brandishing the Koran, or dreaming of conquest. I would even say the same is true today – the Afghans encamped outside Calais desperately trying to smuggle themselves into lorries to the UK are also predominantly economic migrants, in terms of their real motives for coming.

      Ironically, the moral decadence and godlessness of the West has radicalised the Muslims since their arrival on European soil. If we have a potential army of occupation in our midst today, I would argue that it is the permissive society that has been its primary inspiration.

    2. Suggest you study the ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood, by way of example.

    3. Francis you are partially right I think. However once these large Muslim communities were established in the West the Imams and Mullahs, principally from Saudi Arabia, armed with limitless supplies of money, saw their opportunity to give them the full teaching of Mahomet as set out in the Koran with particular emphasis on the violent bits.

  2. I do not think it matters as to how Islam came to plant its roots in the West.
    We need to find an appropriate weedkiller and apply it.

  3. Last week the Archbishop of Canterbury, a Rabbi, a Sunni, a Shia and the Archbishop of Westminster stood outside Westminster Abbey to give their take on the terrorist attack on Wednesday. The Sunni looked straight ahead whilst the others stood in a an attitude of prayer as others spoke. At the end the two Archbishops embraced the Shia and the Sunni. The Rabbi embraced no-one. The Shia and the Sunni did not embrace each other. Very instructive although I stand to be corrected if I missed something.

  4. What what Mohamed do? The essential problem is why would any confident right thinking people, nation or culture ever want to allow those that follow the example of that held to be be most perfect human Mohamed in? He and his example is what is being followed. Would liberals allow the followers of Staln, Hitler, Pol Pot free immigration and ethnic displacement rights to prove in an act of self destruction they tolerate anything, are not discriminating and love the free market seeing humans only as economic assets. The plague was carried by rats and Moslem immigration is assisting the spread of Islam....which is the enemy of the world.