Saturday, May 4, 2019

Can We Believe?

From Andrew Klavan at The City Journal:
The West is falling. Quietly, politically, without a violent upheaval, the Islamists are taking control of France. A dissolute literature professor named François retires to a monastery near Poitiers, the place where Charles Martel stopped the last advance of Islam in 732. A man at once mesmerized and dejected by the sensual pleasures of cultural decadence, François is seeking to reconnect with the Christian religion that formed the great French culture of the past. 
But faith in that religion will not come to him. “I no longer knew the meaning of my presence in this place,” he says of the monastery. “For a moment, it would appear to me, weakly, then just as soon it would disappear.” He leaves the monastery, ready to convert to Islam and submit to the new order. 
“I’d be given another chance; and it would be the chance at a second life, with very little connection to the old one,” he says. “I would have nothing to mourn.” This sequence from Michel Houellebecq’s controversial 2015 novel Submission is a near-perfect fictional representation of a phenomenon I’ve noticed in many intellectuals since the latest rise of radical Islam. These thinkers see the great days of the West ending, while a violent, intolerant form of Islam infests its ruins. They believe that Europe has lost the will to live and that the loss is linked to a loss of faith in Christianity. But while they yearn to see the West revived—and while they may even support Christianity as a social good or a metaphorical vehicle for truth—they cannot themselves believe. 
By chance, Houellebecq’s novel was published on the very day of the Islamist massacre of workers at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, as this essay is being published shortly after the slaughter of peaceful Muslims by a white supremacist in New Zealand. But such upsurges of hateful violence should not be allowed to silence the underlying debate among people of goodwill. 
Why We Should Call Ourselves Christians, a 2008 book by Italian philosopher and politician Marcello Pera, is the clearest example of the phenomenon I’m describing. Written in response to 9/11, it depicts a Europe paralyzed by self-hating lassitude, willing to pay homage to any culture but its own. “The West today is undergoing a profound moral and spiritual crisis, due to a loss of faith in its own worth, exacerbated by the apostasy of Christianity now rife within Western culture,” Pera writes. He makes clear that by Christianity, he means the entire Judeo-Christian tradition, and he goes on to say, “Without faith in the equality, dignity, liberty, and responsibility of all men—that is to say, without a religion of man as the son and image of God—liberalism cannot defend the fundamental and universal rights of human beings or hope that human beings can coexist in a liberal society. Basic human rights must be seen as a gift of God . . . and hence pre-political and non-negotiable.” (Read more.)


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