Friday, September 11, 2015

Friday BookReview -- "Christianity, Islam and Atheism: the struggle for the soul of the West"

by David Pence

For the 'Amazon' reviewing service, I rated William Kilpatrick's book 3 of 5 because I think there are major conceptual errors in the author’s conclusions, and I meant this as a critical review. However, I highly recommend reading this book for its excellent writing, copious research, and multiple insights. My goal is to highly praise the author and sharply criticize him.

The first great insight of the book is his description of an American religious political dilemma: the confrontation of the three forces of Christianity, Islam, and atheism. Throughout the book, he shows atheist multiculturalists and Islamist apologists as fellow travelers. He repeatedly documents how the multiculturalists protect a political Islam at odds with their own core tenets. What unites them is their mutual interest in preventing a vibrant masculine Christianity asserting itself in political life. One of his most perceptive chapters, "the Warrior Code vs. the Da Vinci Code" shows how the war against gender roles has emasculated Christianity -- a fundamentally "patriarchal religion." This has played no small part in diminishing our spiritual, psychological, and physical ability to defeat the threat of Islam. That chapter is worth reading as a stand-alone essay probing the heart of the three-pronged problem before us.
One of the many Syrian churches destroyed in recent years

Kilpatrick divides his book into five parts -- 1) the Islamic Threat; 2) Islam’s Enablers (atheists, multi-culturalists, and soft Christian enablers all get their just rebukes); 3) the Comparison (a withering contrast of Muhammad and Christ); 4) the Culture War and the Terror War; and 5) the Cold War with Islam (his excellent debunking of the "moderate Muslim" strategy and his proposals "What Christians Should Do.")

Dr. Kilpatrick has a PhD in counseling, a Masters in education at Harvard, and thirty years teaching experience in the Boston College education department. In 1992 Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right from Wrong was published and won him a reputation as a serious writer on character and education. He has said in interviews that this latest book continues his earlier work. Just as the multicultural educational psychologists were teaching in a way that could not build character and citizenship in students, he argues that the cultural predominance of atheistic relativism cannot build an American civic culture that can defeat jihadist Islam.

In his section on what is to be done, he debunks the "moderate Muslim strategy" which he says defines a moderate as basically a western liberal. Saint Augustine wrote, "Be moderate in all things but your love of God." It certainly is no goal of a man who is ordered to submit to Allah, to submit moderately. He derides the notion that Islam is too big to fail. He reminds us that Kemal Ataturk (d. 1938) had almost completely secularized Turkey in a generation; and Ireland dissolved as a professing Catholic nation in even less time. "Like communism, Islam may prove to be more fragile than it appears." In the War of Ideas chapter he uses the communist analogy effectively to argue we must fight with conviction and a determination to win: "… our aim should go beyond resisting jihad; it should be the defeat of Islam as an idea… So our overall aim should be to cast doubts in the minds of Muslims about the words and example of Muhammad. In other words, we should want Muslims to lose faith in Islam just as Soviet-era communists lost faith in communism." He also shows convincingly that neither Islam nor Christianity is a "religion of peace." They are both religions serving a God who is not a pacifist, but one of them is based on the life of a warrior-conqueror whose armies killed an awful lot of people.

Dr. Kilpatrick challenges Christians to be much more robust in our presentation of the Gospel. "Because the current conflict is in large part a spiritual struggle, it follows that Christianity must play a leading role. Islam claims to be a true account of the universe; thus any effective resistance to it must address that claim." This can only be done if there is a deep spiritual revival of Christianity: "Christians need to recover the sense of the sacred."

"Christian renewal depends on family renewal that requires a reemphasis on sexual morality, on the sanctity of marriage, and on the rewards and duties of family life." But, he says, "Neither family renewal nor Christian renewal will get very far without a reemphasis on the masculine nature of Christianity…The masculine spirit of the band of brothers who first launched Christianity needs to be recaptured to attract more men to Christianity and counter the masculine appeal of Islam. If the masculine side of Christianity needs to be reemphasized, so also does the masculine nature of Christ. The power and authority of Christ is a central element in the Gospels yet our therapeutic culture prefers to picture Christ as sensitive and mild."

With so many bracing insights, helpful categorical distinctions, and pungent phrases, how could a serious Catholic man object?

In his chapter on the Islamic Threat, Kilpatrick recounts ten thousand Christians martyred in northern Nigeria since 1999; two hundred thousand murdered in East Timor by Muslim-dominated Indonesia in 1975; and two million Christians killed in Sudan (many crucified) from 1983 to 1995. Why the silence of  American Christians? “One effect of American individualism on Christianity is an overemphasis on the personal nature of one’s relationship with Christ and a corresponding neglect of one’s membership in the Church, the Body of Christ.”

That one early insight about the African and Asian human species character of the Body of Christ will give way for the rest of his book to a more nebulous idea and less sacramental community of identity—the West. Kirkpatrick’s conception of the communal identity which contends with Islam is "the West." The subtitle of his book is "the struggle for the soul of the West." This is a serious conceptual problem and it undermines the actual religious and military strategy which Christians in general and Americans as one Christian nation must employ to defeat the modern jihadists. It is Christianity -- not the Western nations -- which must live with Islam in some situations, and contest Islam in others. It is Christianity, not the West, which must convert and offer a different worldview to contradict Islam. Christianity is a world-wide movement. The "West" is a soul-less shell, and it was not Islam who robbed its soul. The worldwide movement of Christianity is not going to be awakened as a rejuvenation of the Occident. NATO and the EU (two prominent institutional forms of the West) are not yet prepared to fight the spiritual fight this book shows so clearly must be waged. In fact, NATO’s first shooting war [in the late 1990s] was a technocratic high-altitude bombing of the Orthodox Christian nation of Serbia. The organizational impetus of both groups today is aimed at accelerating enmity with Orthodox Russia. It will be African bishops, Christian nations, Asian nation states, and Orthodox Russia and Serbia who will be the allies of a Christian America in this war. Those players are never mentioned in this impoverished rendition of the Body of Christ and the emerging nations of a new Christendom.

Serbian nationalists confront American GIs serving in NATO force

The book encourages that very disturbing tendency by some critics to argue that Islam is not a religion. "One way to reply to the First Amendment argument is to say that while the religious aspect of Islam is protected, the legal aspect (sharia) is not. Another way is to assert that Islam doesn’t qualify as a religious faith. Proponents of this view hold that Islam is a political ideology, not a religion, and therefore is not protected by the freedom of religion clause." This proposition is deeply opposed to the consistent Vatican position that we monotheists (including the Jews, who also don’t quite agree with us on the Trinity, Incarnation, and Resurrection) worship the same God. In his last chapter he says, "Another way to frame the current situation is to think in terms of one religion (Christianity) versus two totalitarian ideologies that despite their differences are united in their hatred of Christianity and the West."

Religion is a social binding of men to God by beliefs and practices. Many critics of Islam treat it solely as a set of ideas, a theological project, or a scripted adherence to the letter of the Koran. But Islam is a set of actions –most simply, daily prayer; and more socially, sharia. It is a yearly fast that disciplines the appetites of men and women and teens to turn toward God. Critics may write books about the closing of the Muslim mind, but millions of Muslims open their hearts and minds to God in acts of daily prayer. As Pope Francis loves to remind intellectuals of the left and right, "realities are more essential than ideas."

Dinesh D’Souza wrote the first serious book on the relations of Christian America, the atheist left, and Islam: The Enemy At Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11. He was pilloried on the right much more than the left because he  saw true religious merit in practicing Muslims whom he had lived with in his youth. D’Souza had a lived experience of a lived Islam. This is very different than the intellectualized opponents of Islam who bear a strong semblance to the anti-Catholic  pamphleteers of the 1950s. Those anti-Catholics were able to quote many Catholic sources (popes and councils usually of a different century and other country) to make a convincing case that trusting Catholics with high office would be the end of a free Christian country. Kilpatrick was fairer to D’Souza than his hysterical critics, but understanding religions as living practices seems to elude many thinkers on the right (including the author). The desire of Muslims to live out their religion in daily practice does not constitute it as a political totalitarian ideology. We might better ask why  Christendom has failed to find better public expression in political forms from Nigeria to Lebanon to Spain to Brazil to the Philippines to America. The public political form of Christendom is in fact the flowering of the different nations. Within the religion of Christianity arose the language-bound territorial civilizations of nation states. The Salafists of Wahhabi Islam seem to understand that Christians live under the protection of armed nation states. The jihadist sees the incredible civilizational edifice much more clearly than the privatized modern Westerner. The Christian nations from Orthodox Russia to Catholic Spain to the Americas need to better live our public protective lives together as Christians again. The party is over, and Dr. Kilpatrick has blown a clarion trumpet to warn us.

Another profound weakness of this excellent book is the deafening silence about the religious fault lines that divide Mideast Islam. There is not a single word about the civil war between the purification Cromwellian Sunnis of ISIS, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, and Wahhabi Saudi Arabia against the minority Shia of Yemen, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, and Syria. For those of us who agree that we are fighting a religious war -- but not against all Muslims -- these distinctions are crucial in picking who can be our allies and who must be our foes.

A last example from the book which shows how historically deficient the author’s psychological approach can be is the author’s explanation of the winning of the Cold War. "The expansion of the Soviet Empire was halted and then reversed due largely to the efforts and determination of three people: Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Pope John Paul II. The Cold War was for the most part an ideological struggle and its resolution should provide us with the confidence that we can win the current war of ideas." This "Western intellectual" interpretation strangely includes Margaret Thatcher, while leaving out Mikhail Gorbachev. And while the requisite white woman is included for the sake of "Western values," too many actual warriors were excluded for this rendition to be considered even close to the truth. The fighting Muslim men of Afghanistan, the bloody Asian holding-action in Vietnam by American and Vietnamese soldiers, the victory of Muslim military nationalists in Indonesia, the emergence of secular Asian nations on the Singapore model, and the pilloried Catholic Asian nationalists like Marcos and Diem fought with swords in defense of fundamental religious and national loyalties, not Western ideas. The splitting of the Communist superpowers by the Nixon-Kissinger diplomacy is certainly a historical lesson to guide how the US should relate to Iran and Saudi Arabia. "Islam is hopelessly warlike" is really not enough. Again, pay attention to Papa Francis: realities are more significant than ideas.  

Boko Haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau

In the same vein of criticism, Ronald Reagan’s deep Christian sense that Mikhail Gorbachev could be reached as a fellow man with a soul in order to pull two peoples away from nuclear war displayed a Christian magnanimity entirely absent in the writings of Dr. Kilpatrick, Robert Spencer, and Robert Reilly about Islam. Reagan’s affinity with the men of other nations whose religious identities would be expressed in many different national customs was a crucial religious element in winning the Cold War  (See our review of Paul Kengor's God and Ronald Reagan). That Reagan trait, which drove war hawks crazy in negotiations with the Soviet Union, seems dangerously forgotten today. The liberals are afraid to praise the uniqueness of Reagan; and the neo-conservatives were always embarrassed by his providential sense of history and Christian demeanor toward the enemy.

Dr. Kilpatrick has done a remarkably useful job debunking attempts to treat Islam as a religion with no public sword. He is bracing in calling for a masculine Christian response. But there is much more to be said.  

The Byzantine coat of arms

No comments:

Post a Comment