Friday, August 24, 2007

Of Islam And Christianity

I have heard some people call for a Muslim "Reformation," implying that Islam needs to go through the same process Christianity went through when the Protestants undermined the authority of the Catholic Church. But I have always found the analogy to be deeply flawed. The great Protestant reformers—men like Luther and Calvin—were religious fanatics who wanted to back to the "old-time religion." They were not advocates of religious liberty, and they ushered in more than a century of religious wars. So if there is a Muslim Reformation today, the closest equivalents of Luther and Calvin are probably Ibn Wahab and Sayyid Qutb—the founders of modern Islamic fundamentalism.

That is the argument offered in an excellent article in the Washington Post.

There have been those who have argued that modern Christianity is just as dangerous as Islamic fundamentalism and even that America is in imminent danger of collapsing into a Christian theocracy. As a corrective to this wild exaggeration, I offer a fascinating overview by Christopher Hitchens of how he was received an a book tour for his best-selling anti-religious screed God Is Not Great—a tour that deliberately took him deep into the Bible Belt and uncovered a deeper reserve of secularism than many of us might have suspected. After an appearance in Little Rock, Arkansas, he observes: "At the end of the event I discover something that I am going to keep on discovering: half the people attending had thought that they were the only atheists in town."

One of the things Hitchens notes is the generally polite reception atheists are given by religious believers. I have noticed this, too. I have gotten death threats from environmentalists, but when I upset Christians, they mostly tell me that they are going to pray for me. They are almost annoyingly nice.

Yes, the influence of religion is rising, relatively to its low point at the middle of the last century. But thankfully we have a very long way to go to get to that theocracy.

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