Ayaan Hirsi Ali: On Christianity
Above is a copy of Random House's Canadian release of Ayaan Hirsi Ali's most recent book, Nomad: From Islam to America. Notice the praise in the blurb from Richard Dawkins:
"This woman is a major hero of our times."Initially, I was struck by an apparent irony in the choice of Dawkins for this snippet since Ali goes on to say some positive things about Christianity, a religion that Dawkins has heavily criticized, but I then recalled that Dawkins himself retains a sort of cultural identity with Christianity. Not only has he called himself a "cultural Christian," but he has suggested -- though perhaps a bit facetiously -- the formation of an organization entitled "Atheists for Jesus":
Of course Jesus was a theist, but that is the least interesting thing about him. He was a theist because, in his time, everybody was. Atheism was not an option, even for so radical a thinker as Jesus. What was interesting and remarkable about Jesus was not the obvious fact that he believed in the God of his Jewish religion, but that he rebelled against many aspects of Yahweh's vengeful nastiness. At least in the teachings that are attributed to him, he publicly advocated niceness and was one of the first to do so. To those steeped in the Sharia-like cruelties of Leviticus and Deuteronomy; to those brought up to fear the vindictive, Ayatollah-like God of Abraham and Isaac, a charismatic young preacher who advocated generous forgiveness must have seemed radical to the point of subversion. No wonder they nailed him.I wonder whom Dawkins meant by "they" . . . the Romans? Because Jesus was 'nice'? Well, I won't delve into Dawkins's midrash on the gospel accounts today, but merely note that he would like to instrumentalize Christian beliefs, bringing Christian ethics "to genuinely good use" in people by "infecting them with niceness," for this is more or less Hirsi Ali's position on Christianity. In Nomad -- and I'm using the Free Press edition released just this year (2010) in the United States -- she notes three institution that could help ease the transition of millions of Muslims living in Europe today into Western culture:
I believe there are three institutions in Western society that could ease the transition into Western citizenship of these millions of nomads from the tribal cultures they are leaving. They are institutions that can compete with the agents of jihad for the hearts and minds of Muslims. (page xviii)These three are public education, the feminist movement, and Christian churches (pages xviii-xx). The third might be surprising to some people, but here's her reasoning:
The third and final institution I call on to rise to this challenge is the community of Christian churches. I myself have become an atheist, but I have encountered many Muslims who say they need a spiritual anchor in their lives. I have had the pleasure of meeting Christians whose concept of God is a far cry from Allah. Theirs is a reformed and partly secularized Christianity that could be a very useful ally in the battle against Islamic fanaticism. This modern Christian God is synonymous with love. His agents do not preach hatred, intolerance, and discord; this God is merciful, does not seek state power, and sees no competition with science. His followers view the Bible as a book full of parables, not direct commands to be obeyed. Right now, there are two extremes in Christianity, both of which are a liability to Western civilization. The first consists of those who damn the existence of other groups, They take the Bible literally and reject scientific explanations for the existence of man and nature in the name of "intelligent design." Such fundamentalist Christian groups invest a lot of time and energy in converting people. But much of what they preach is at odds with the core principles of the Enlightenment. At the other extreme are those who would appease Islam -- like the spiritual head of the Church of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who holds that the implementation of Shari'a in the UK is inevitable. Those who adhere to a moderate, peaceful, reformed Christianity are not as active as the first group nor as vocal as the second. They should be. The Christianity of love and tolerance remains one of the West's most powerful antidotes to the Islam of hate and intolerance. Ex-Muslims find Jesus Christ to be a more attractive and humane figure than Muhammad, the founder of Islam. (page xx)This is a fascinating if perhaps contradictory passage. The first group of Christians is criticized for its fundamentalism . . . and perhaps implicitly for investing so much "time and energy in converting people"? She dismisses the third group as dhimmis, though she doesn't use the term here, preferring to refer to these Christians by the more widely understood expression, "those who would appease Islam." She prefers the second group, presumably liberal Christians, and seems to want them to offer the "spiritual anchor" that many Muslims say that they need. In other words, she'd like this second group to convert Muslims to Christianity.
I suppose that there's nothing wrong in Ms. Hirsi Ali wishing for this, but I should perhaps note that to the extent that conversions are taking place from Islam to Christianity, they seem to be doing so through the efforts of the first group, those Christians whom she terms "fundamentalist."
I don't have a copy of Nomad and haven't read the book, but I've looked through it at Amazon Books and seen that Ms. Hirsi Ali has some other interesting remarks on Christianity, including the Pope's views on religion and reason, and for those who are interested, go to Amazon's Nomad page and search the text for her views on "Christianity" and "Catholicism," among other things.
Her nomadic life is certainly taking her to places where she offers some rather intriguing observations . . .