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Is Europe in decline by taking up roots?

8 Dec

From Samuel Gregg:

In his Mémoires d’Espoir, the leader of Free France during World War II and the founder of the Fifth Republic, General Charles de Gaulle, wrote at length about a subject on many people’s minds today—Europe. Though often portrayed as passionately French to the point of incorrigibility, de Gaulle was, in his own way, quintessentially European.

For de Gaulle, however, Europe wasn’t primarily about supranational institutions like the European Commission or the European Central Bank, let alone what some European politicians vaguely call “democratic values.” To de Gaulle’s mind, Europe was essentially a spiritual and cultural heritage, one worthy of emulation by others. Europe’s nations, de Gaulle wrote, had “the same Christian origins and the same way of life, linked to one another since time immemorial by countless ties of thought, art, science, politics and trade.”

On this basis, de Gaulle considered it “natural” that these nations “should come together to form a whole, with its own character and organization in relation to the rest of the world.” However, de Gaulle also believed that without clear acknowledgment and a deep appreciation of these common civilizational foundations, any pan-European integration would run aground.

Today’s European crisis reflects the enduring relevance of de Gaulle’s insight. This is true not only regarding the quasi-religious faith that some Europeans place in the type of supranational bureaucracies that drew de Gaulle’s ire. It also applies to the inadequacies of the vision that informs their trust in such institutions. Until Europe’s leaders recognize this problem, it is difficult to see how the continent can avoid further decline, whether as a player on the global stage or as societies that offer something distinctly enriching to the rest of the world.

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On being Intellectually Honest in the Political Islam discussion

23 Nov

Shadi Hamid, Muslim and scholar of Political Islam at Brookings, writes a good piece on the discussion surrounding Islam, democracy, and groups like ISIS.  In a day where even asking the question about whether Islam is compatible at its core with democracy and whether ISIS can be quickly dismissed simply as a departure from Islam, his article is poignant.

I’m not a scholar of Political Islam, but in my own area (Christianity and Political Theory), I know it to be intellectually dishonest for me to say that liberal democracy arose in the West despite orthodox Christianity and in no way because of it.  From what I know of political Islam and what we observe in history, it is not implausible to say that liberal democracy will arise in the Middle East despite orthodox Islam and not because of it.  That is an intellectually honest statement on my part, but it invites charges of bigotry.  I will have to live with that.

The reason why the charge of bigotry is sure to follow a statement like that is because of the postmodern liberal fallacy that all religions are the same.  They are all equally compatible with liberal democracy or they are all irrelevant to it.  Religions are infinitely malleable and can be molded into whatever shape we want.  In other words, religions are like cars.  They are basically the same, take you to the same places (in this life or the next), and only differ really in furnishings and brand names.  But when we buy into this fallacy, we analyze religion and politics using only half our brains.

No, it can be the case, and it isn’t bigotry saying so, that some religions are more or less compatible with liberal democracy than others.  It can be the case, and it isn’t bigotry saying so, that some religions require little adjustment for the teachings of their core central figures, sacred texts, to accommodate liberal democracy than others.  It can be the case, and it isn’t bigotry to say so, that some religions will need to recover its orthodoxy in order to embrace liberal democracy (I think this is what the Reformation did in church history) while others will need to depart from that orthodoxy and invent something radically new in order to do so.

Hamdi writes:

Every time the Islamic State commits yet another attack or atrocity, Muslims, particularly Western Muslims, shudder. Attacks like the ones in Paris mean another round of demands that Muslims condemn the acts, as if we should presume guilt, or perhaps some indirect taint.

The impulse to separate Islam from the sins and crimes of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, is understandable, and it often includes statements such as ISIS has “nothing to do with Islam” or that ISIS is merely “using Islam” as a pretext. The sentiment is usually well-intentioned. We live in an age of growing anti-Muslim bigotry, where mainstream politicians now feel license to say things that might have once been unimaginable.

To protect Islam – and, by extension, Muslims – from any association with extremists and extremism is a worthy cause.

But saying something for the right reasons doesn’t necessarily make it right. An overwhelming majority of Muslims oppose ISIS and its ideology. But that’s not quite the same as saying that ISIS has nothing to do with Islam, when it very clearly has something to do with it.

If you actually look at ISIS’s approach to governance, it would be difficult – impossible, really – to conclude that it is just making things up as it goes along and then giving it an Islamic luster only after the fact.

It is tempting, for example, to look at the role of former Saddam-era Baathist party officers in the organization’s senior ranks and leap to the conclusion that religion can’t matter all that much. Yet many younger Baathists came up through Saddam Hussein’s late-period Islamization initiative, and, in any case, just because someone starts as a Baathist – or any other kind of secular nationalist – doesn’t mean they can’t, at some later point, “get” religion.

There is a role for Islamic apologetics – if defending Islam rather than analyzing it is your objective. I am a Muslim myself, and it’s impossible for me to believe that a just God could ever sanction the behavior of groups like ISIS.

But if the goal is to understand ISIS, then I, and other analysts who happen to be Muslim, would be better served by cordoning off our personal assumptions and preferences. What Islam should be and what Islam is actually understood to be by Muslims (including extremist Muslims) are very different things.

For scholars of Islamist movements and Islam’s role in politics, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, there should be one overarching objective: to understand and to explain, rather than to make judgments about which interpretations of Islam are correct, or who is or isn’t a “true” Muslim.

In addition to being a Muslim, I am an American, as well as a small-l liberal. I have written about how, even if we personally believe liberalism is the best available ideological framework for ordering society, that should not be allowed to distort our understanding of mainstream Islamist movements such as, say, the Muslim Brotherhood and its analogues across the region.

It makes little sense to compare Islamists to some liberal ideal, when they are a product of very different contexts than our own.

The “is ISIS Islamic?” debate can seem circular and exhausting. But it’s an important one nonetheless. Islamic apologetics lead us down a path of diminishing the role of religion in politics. If the past few years of Middle Eastern turmoil have made anything clear, it’s that, for Islamists of various stripes – mainstream or extremist – religion matters.

 Original Link from the Washington Post

A new civil religion, not secular humanism, is being imposed

6 Nov

From Bruce Frohen:

In court at least, one no longer hears the argument that federal policies are establishing a “religion of secular humanism.” The reason for this is simple: raising the issue is a guaranteed way of losing, immediately and with extreme prejudice, the suit in which the claim is made. This does not necessarily mean that criticizing decisions interpreting the First Amendment’s prohibition against a national, established religion for promoting their own kind of religion is clearly wrong, only that it violates judicial self-conceptions. Judges find it insulting to have their precepts, which they have been told since law school are rooted in the only enlightened, democratic vision of law possible, actually bespeak something so “irrational” and “superstitious” as faith. These decisions are rooted in faith. But it is a political, not a properly religious, faith.

The claim that judges are imposing on us a secular humanist religion is inaccurate. But its inaccuracy does not stem from its entirely valid charge that post–World War II religion clause jurisprudence is rooted in a specific conception of the human person and his relationship to God. Rather, the inaccuracy of the secular humanism argument comes from its failure to make the distinction between religion qua religion and its political doppelganger, civil religion.

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Is America beginning to operate under the “image of liberty”?

29 Sep

From Steven Smith:

As the celebration of Constitution Day attests, Americans still honor our Constitution. But is it alive and well and with us still, actively guiding our decisions and shaping our law? Or is it something that we gratefully acknowledge for its historical significance but then ignore—like the Mayflower Compact, for instance, or maybe the Magna Carta?

It is surely true that we continue to invoke and talk about the Constitution as ifit were our currently governing law. And at least some of what happens in modern governance does seem to conform to what the document prescribes. For example, every state is still represented in Congress by two senators, even though some people think it is unfair that Wyoming and Nevada get as much representation in the Senate as New York and California do. Those senators are directly elected by the people, which is not what the original Constitution provided, but that change was formally and explicitly authorized by the adoption, in the constitutionally prescribed manner, of the Seventeenth Amendment. So, in this case, we seem to be adhering to the Constitution in a plausible, straightforward sense.

In other areas, though, our laws seem only distantly related to, or even incompatible with, what the Constitution prescribes. In these areas, the Constitution exercises a kind of ceremonial or perhaps diversionary function; it provides a venerable facade that covers or disguises the real workings of government. This sort of situation is hardly without precedent; a look back at the disintegration of republicanism in the Roman Empire yields important lessons for contemporary American government.

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How comprehensive does God intend gender complementarity to be? Cherney: “Are Women Real?”

16 Sep

Most evangelicals are gender complementarians (equal but different). But some limit that complementarity to the church and home. But how comprehensive does God intend gender complimentarity to be? Thorny issue on which reasonable Christians disagree. Here is one take.

“From Lily Cherney (Are Women Real?):

Growing up as a secular person, as a materialist, I didn’t have any category in my world for the existence of real categories, of “natures.” All was one, or all was bits and pieces, or whatever—it was all just matter in motion. The idea that there is some real thing called human nature, and moreover that it gets even more complicated than that and there is a feminine nature and a masculine nature—those were supernatural ideas, as floridly and extravagantly supernatural as unicorns or resurrections or Narnia. That they also, strangely, matched my actual experience of the world more accurately than the materialist story—that they seemed to come with better evidence—was… spooky.”

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Nietzche’s restless heart, and ours

15 Sep

From RR Reno (clip):

Nietzsche’s almost unwilling final affirmation of the ascetic impulse echoes St. Augustine’s basic insight into the human condition. Our hearts are restless. The human animal wishes to give itself to something higher. It is a need more basic than our instinctual urges. It is a nature more fundamental than everything our age wishes us to affirm as natural.

Our restless hearts suggest that the real dangers of the present age are not to be found in an open-ended, nihilistic non-judgmentalism that encourages us to imagine our world devoid of compelling truths. Such possibilities are abroad, but, as anyone who has been exposed to our educational establishment knows, it requires the constant infusion of disciplinary energy to keep young people from actually believing something.

Instead, if Nietzsche is right, the danger we face may be idolatry. Deprived of a God worth worshiping, we will find substitutes, even to the point of ­prostrating ourselves before birds or animals or reptiles that our modern minds have transformed from graven images into shrill moral imperatives and brittle political causes.

The last century’s graveyards testify to the reality of this danger. Turned away from something truly greater than ourselves, we do not come to rest in a modest ­loyalty to humanity. Instead, as Nietzsche’s and Augustine’s insights into the human condition warn us, we fall into a devotion to subhuman primal powers that reward our service with debasement.

The Secularization of the Christian Mind

3 Sep

An original goal among the secular social reformers of education was not only to provide public education (uniformity of method) but also secular education (uniformity of secular thought).  That is, they sought to capture the minds of the public school classroom to see to it that the next generation only thinks, explains, analyzes, critiques, understands using secular or naturalistic categories.  Most secular reformers were perfectly content to leave God on the walls of public school classrooms (10 commandments) so long as He was no longer the foundation of the public school classroom (the standard and foundation for knowledge).  I’ve noticed this among students today, even Christian students.  They are thoroughly socialized and secularized to explain all things in the world by interpreting them through purely secular or naturalistic grid.  This is what Nietzsche meant by God is Dead.  Not that no one believes in Him, but that modern man no longer uses Him (revelation) to make the world intelligible any more.

Consider Political Theory.  If you ask students where government gets its power or where government comes from, you will see the evidence of secularization even among the Christians. If they provide any answer at all it will likely be a secular theory of government, not a Christian one.

Theologian Robert Lewis Dabney in presenting the Christian view of human government could not be accused of being unfamiliar with the secular view.

Dabney on the Civil Magistrate:

According to Enlightenment philosophers, “one traces [the powers of the civil magistrate] to a supposed social contract. Men are to be at first apprehended, they say, as insulated individuals, separate human integers, all naturally equal, and each by nature absolutely free, having a natural liberty to exercise his whole will, as a “Lord of Creation.” But the experience of the exposure, inconveniences, and mutual violences of so many independent wills, led them, in time, to be willing to surrender a part of their independence, in order to secure the enjoyment of the rest of their rights. To do this, they are supposed to have conferred, and to have entered into a compact with each other, binding themselves to each other to submit to certain rules and restraints upon their natural rights, and to obey certain ones selected to rule, in order that the power thus delegated to their hands might be used for the protection of the remaining rights of all. Subsequent citizens have given an assent, express or implied, to this compact. The terms of it form the organic law, or constitution of the commonwealth. And the reason why men are bound to obey the legitimate commands of the magistrate is, that they have thus bargained with their fellow-citizens to obey, for the sake of mutual benefits…
The other theory may be called the Christian. It traces civil government to the will and providence of God, who, from the first, created man with social instincts and placed him under social relations (when men were few, the patriarchical, as they increased, the commonwealth). It teaches that some form of social government is as original as man himself. If asked, whence the obligation to obey the civil magistrate, it answers: from the will of God, which is the great source of all obligation. The fact that such obedience is greatly promotive of human convenience, well-being and order, confirms and illustrates the obligation, but did not originate it. Hence, civil government is an ordinance of God; magistrates rule by His providence and by His command, and are His agents and ministers. Obedience to them, in the Lord, is a religious duty, and rebellion against them is not only injustice to our fellow-men, but disobedience to God. This is the theory plainly asserted by Paul in Roman 13, 1 Peter 2…. [However] while we emphatically ascribe the fact of civil government and obligation to obey it, to the will of God, we also assert that in the secondary sense, the government is, potentially, the people. The original source of power, the authority and the obligation to obey it, is God, the human source is not an irresponsible Ruler, but the body of the ruled themselves, that is, the sovereignty, so far as it is human, resides in the people, and is held by the rulers, by delegation from them…
[The secular social contract theory] is atheistic, utterly ignoring man’s relation to his Creator, the right of that Creator to determine under what obligations man shall live; and the great Bible fact, that God has determined he shall live under civic obligations.

From his Systematic Theology (pp. 862-866)

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