The Future of the Past

By Robert Royal on The Catholic Thing – January 2, 2017

Some European newspapers have reported lately – very quietly – that, according to police in Germany’s North Rhineland/ Westphalia region, from 2011 to 2016 there were 3500 cases of vandalism/desecration of Christian churches. About two per day in only one region of Germany, every day for the past five years.

You’ve probably never heard of this. Neither have most Europeans, because. . .well because. It’s hard to get even these rough numbers. Police (in several countries) don’t want to scare the public that they’re unable to provide basic safety. (Remember those women harassed last New Year’s Eve?) And there’s also, of course, political correctness in play.

German authorities say that the North Rhineland/Westphalia church attacks are largely the work of salafi jihadis, who steal from poor boxes to help fund their activities. Salafists typically forbid the use of reason (kalam) in religious matters; they’re divided about violent jihad. There are about 7,500 salafists in Germany, 17,000 in France, millions in Egypt and India, and smaller groups from Sweden to China. There must be a good, though unknown, number in America.

If you’re looking for what may become the defining reality of 2017, it may well be how the West will or won’t handle – over and above attacks like the ISIS-inspired massacre on the Berlin Christmas market – challenges such as the ones presented by Salafism and other such movements.

China and Russia will call for creative and tough economic and foreign policies. Domestic politics will be a war zone. But Islamism involves fundamental challenges of thought and belief.

Salafist protestors in Germany

Salafist protestors in Germany

Indeed, more than an external threat, it involves a crisis within the West itself. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that the problem in Europe is not too many Muslims but too little Christianity. A belated rationalization for allowing over a million unvetted Muslims into Germany – and under Schengen agreements, effectively into all of Europe and beyond.

Yet she touched on a truth, though maybe not the one she intended. It’s not only the East that’s in turmoil, but the West as well, as we see in the first signs of the breakup of the European Union and the populist revolt that led to Donald Trump.

The old liberal order based on pluralism and live-and-let-live tolerance had a good run – while the West was still under the sacred canopy provided by the Judeo-Christian tradition. When you believe, as you can read in Genesis, that human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, then it’s easy to explain why we respect one another as beings endowed with reason and free will.

When you, like many among Western elites, no longer believe that human dignity goes all the way down, it’s harder to say why one person should respect another still in the womb, or someone who disagrees with you about politics or faith.

Our political parties have increasingly sorted themselves out along radically opposed lines with Republicans pushing faith, family, nation, and Democrats race, gender, and class. That’s a simplification, of course, but a rough guide to where the country will be heading with one party or another in power. Under President Trump, the Little Sisters of the Poor need not fear and Planned Parenthood should worry. If Hillary Clinton had won, the positions would be reversed.

There’s a similar split over the defense of the West. Trump advocating sterner measures, Democrats believing that we can continue to treat Muslims as just one more faith group in a religiously pluralist America.

There are delicate questions here – and others not so delicate. A Democratic administration that rode roughshod over Christians and others who resisted the new morality of the modern state, and soft-pedaled the Islamist threat, hasn’t been able to make that distinction.

We, of course, can coexist with Muslims who want to coexist with us. But the presence of jihadists – essentially an amorphous armed force within our society – is going to drive us quite close to religious tests for entry into the country and perhaps more.

Police response to Salafist protestors

Police response to Salafist protestors

The Catholic political philosopher Pierre Manent has argued that France is faced with a similar crisis because it’s elites still largely believe that, according to the Enlightenment rules of the Revolution, this problem can’t happen. That if everyone is welcomed by the secular state, they will see that it’s to their advantage to assimilate and get along. Such conflicts that arise, therefore, can only be over money and social exclusion. As if there were no other visions of politics, society – or religion.

That’s proven false repeatedly, on 9/11 in New York and Washington, and on other occasions now in Madrid, Copenhagen, Boston, Paris, Brussels, Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray, Nice, San Bernardino, Columbus, Orlando, Cairo, and yesterday in Istanbul.

Our secular and – sad to say – religious leaders have twisted themselves in knots denying that there’s any “authentic” religious factor in these attacks. Even the Vatican, which you might think would appreciate the central role of religion in human life, has joined the chorus, claiming that money, power, oil, the arms trade – anything but religion – is the real motive.

All this is similar to the debate over the Soviet Union during the Cold War, when a large slice of Western opinion wanted to play down the differences with an aggressive atheistic system armed with thousands of nuclear weapons, mostly – it should be said – out of fear of what facing the truth would entail.

The West is now nearly as divided as the East in religion, and what faith means to people. We will not overcome this split in 2017 – indeed it’s likely to grow larger as the already considerable resistance to a President Trump gathers momentum. But a sane society would regard 3500 attacks on Christian churches – and who knows how many elsewhere? – as an alarm bell.

What this all means is not “war with Islam,” – a red herring – but the perpetual struggle against all those, including those in our own culture, who threaten the foundations of human freedom and dignity.

Happy New Year.

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15 Responses to The Future of the Past

  1. Robert Royal writes: “Our secular and – sad to say – religious leaders have twisted themselves in knots denying that there’s any ‘authentic’ religious factor in these attacks. Even the Vatican, which you might think would appreciate the central role of religion in human life, has joined the chorus, claiming that money, power, oil, the arms trade – anything but religion – is the real motive.”

    These leaders deny the religious factor (“nothing to do with Islam”), because they themselves have so thoroughly succumbed to a secular mindset, that they simply cannot believe that religion could still be a powerful force in the life of any individual. They cannot even imagine how such a thing is possible.

  2. toadspittle says:

    Agreed, absolutely, Catholic Thing.
    Religion is indeed The Paramount Problem. Was with the 100 -Years War, was with the Crusades, was with the Muslim conquest of Spain. Was with the partition of India. Was in Bosnia.
    My God can beat up your God. Etc.
    Some thoughtless people might suggest a plague on all their houses.
    Not Toad, of course. Who loves everybody, as he must.
    But also detests virtually the entire human race, as an insane body.)

    Heavens! Dreary Old Toad is climbing out of his pram big-time, these last few days, isn’t he?
    It surely cam’t go on.

  3. geoffkiernan says:

    “It surely can’t go on” It will continue mate as long as a particular part of you point southward for that is the nature of the beast. I propose a ‘be kind to toad’ minute’
    By the way I can see myself in the pic above…. which one are you?

  4. geoffkiernan says:

    PS…Identify the villain, Isolate the villain and deal with the villain but then the general population needs to educate themselves (That they still need too at this late stage says a lot)
    Gee my brain is starting to hurt, three times in a many minutes!! It surely cant go on.

  5. Tom Fisher says:

    The old liberal order based on pluralism and live-and-let-live tolerance had a good run – while the West was still under the sacred canopy provided by the Judeo-Christian tradition. When you believe, as you can read in Genesis, that human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, then it’s easy to explain why we respect one another as beings endowed with reason and free will.
    When you, like many among Western elites, no longer believe that human dignity goes all the way down, it’s harder to say why one person should respect another still in the womb, or someone who disagrees with you about politics or faith.

    This is an excellent article in may respects. But the above extract is not rooted in history. The characteristic features of the liberal order (freedom of the press, freedom of religion, etc. etc.) post-date the period of Christian hegemony in Europe. They grew out of a Christian culture, and you could even argue they can’t survive in a post-Christian world. But as a matter of historical fact, when Europe was thoroughly Christian (say, prior to the mid 17th century) it was taken for granted that ones opinions about faith or politics had to (on pain of punishment) conform to the given order.

    We live in seriously disturbed times. But it simply isn’t true that under the “sacred canopy” the liberal order flourished. The liberal order may always have been unsustainable. But that is another matter

  6. Tom Fisher says:

    These leaders deny the religious factor (“nothing to do with Islam”), because they themselves have so thoroughly succumbed to a secular mindset, that they simply cannot believe that religion could still be a powerful force in the life of any individual. They cannot even imagine how such a thing is possible.

    Absolutely right. Religion is always (by that kind of progressive) seen as a proxy for something fundamentally economic. The disastrous failure to take religion seriously as a force in human affairs is crippling. As this article argues so well

  7. toadspittle says:

    “….they simply cannot believe that religion could still be a powerful force in the life of any individual. They cannot even imagine how such a thing is possible.”
    I find it hard to believe that anyone could underestimate the force of religion today . But if any do, they will learn fast. Particularly if they live in Turkey, now cited as the battleground between Christianity and Islam.

    “I can see myself in the pic above…. which one are you?”
    I’m not there, Geoff. I’m home, far away from “demos,” in the company of my fur-bearing, “dumb,” friends. And intend to stay that way until I die.

    …Which will probably be when Isis comes here to cut off my head.

  8. GC says:

    Let us pray, Toad, that this site isn’t just about you, however it may seem.

  9. toadspittle says:

    People will suspect it is, when you make comments that that, GC.

    …But you are right. Too much reference to Toad, including from him. It must stop.
    We must all concentrate on vilifying the Pope even more.
    Like today’s instalment of bile: “No Mercy for Sex Abuse Victims”
    Another sure-fire winner for CP&S!

  10. mmvc says:

    Like today’s instalment of bile: “No Mercy for Sex Abuse Victims”

    Can you refute what the authors have written in this article and the one linked to?

    If not, you can hardly refer to it as ‘vilifying the Pope’ or ‘bile’.

  11. toadspittle says:

    “Can you refute what the authors have written in this article and the one linked to?”
    No, not for a second, Mmvc. Don’t have the information. Nor do I care.
    But it was, in my opinion, vilifying bile.
    I might be wrong, of course. But I doubt it.
    And, if as is being suggested – he’s going soft on the apparently endless epidemic of paedophile priests – he deserves everything he gets.

  12. Brother Burrito says:

    Toad, having left this blog as an author, I feel I can speak freely.

    Whether you know it or not, you have been and are performing what is called in military terms “running interference”. In other words, you are driving others to distraction with your nonsense.

    This is the devil’s work. For the sake of your soul, desist!

  13. toadspittle says:

    I’m strongly inclined to agree, Burro. Though it’s not my soul that I’m concerned about.
    It’s this blog. It’s not what it was. It has gone mad, I reckon.
    I should quit, No doubt.
    “Whether you know it or not, you have been and are performing what is called in military terms “running interference”
    …I know it.

  14. The Raven says:

    Toad

    Don’t mean to pick nits (okay, that’s a flat out lie, you are nit-infested and I intend to pick all of them), but the 100 years war? The one between the Catholic Angevins and the Catholic French? How was that a religious war?

    And are you sure that the Moorish conquest/reconquista or the partition of the Sub-continent or the dissolution of Jugoslavia can really be ascribed to no other cause than religion? (the last two surely belong more to the intellectual milieu of the so-called ‘Enlightenment’ with its invention of the idea of ethnicity and nationhood).

  15. toadspittle says:

    No doubt you are right, Raven.

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