Thursday, March 13, 2008

Islam and Christianity: Religious War Coming?

S├ębastien Mamerot, Siege of Antioch
Medieval Miniature Painting, 1490
(Image from Wikipedia)

Religion and politics are difficult to disentangle, whether among Christians (who make a crucial distinction) or among Muslims (who make no significant distinction), a point that I'm reflecting on these days due to a couple of my courses (on British and American culture at Kyung Hee University and on Islamism at Yonsei University).

Hence my dark thoughts for today.

In an interview by Mark Galli for Christianity Today, "Our Geopolitical Moment" (March 2008, Vol. 52, No. 3), the political scientist Walter Russell Mead -- who is the Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy on the Council on Foreign Relations and currently a visiting professor of political studies at Bard College -- argues that evangelicals play a crucial role in American foreign affairs.

Mead observes that our current "global system of politics, power, investment and trade, and culture and ideology . . . was first dimly sketched out by the Dutch, taken over by the English and then by the Americans." American evangelicals have come to prominence in a world where America largely holds sway, which tends to make Americans happy but which greatly dismays a force formerly powerful in the world. Mead characterizes two visions of the past 300 years of world history:
We Americans look at the last 300 years of history, and we basically see a world that's getting better and better. The rule of freedom expands. The economy develops. We have risen to become the world's greatest power. The American people are extraordinarily comfortable, affluent, and secure. It's easy for us to make the argument that God's purpose is being fulfilled through history and through the rise of American power. And to some degree, it probably is.

But suppose you are a sincere and pious Muslim. What you see in 1700 marks the beginning of the rise of England and America, the beginning of the great decline and collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Ultimately it will be divided into little pieces. The English are beginning to challenge the great Islamic empire of India. The Persians are beginning to lose their greatness. Over the next 300 years, it just gets uglier and uglier. The Muslims are driven out of Europe and in many cases, ethnically cleansed or persecuted. The English stopped the expansion of Islam in Nigeria. The Spanish colonials stopped the expansion of Islam into the Philippines. What you see is a history that's gone wrong, a very different attitude about the modern era and the values that have shaped it.
This is a point similar to one that Bernard Lewis made in his Atlantic Monthly article, "The Roots of Muslim Rage" (September 1990) in his book What Went Wrong?: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East (Harper 2003), and I'm assuming that Mead has learned from Lewis on this point.

Mead goes beyond Lewis, however, in drawing upon Harvard professor Joseph Nye's arguments about "soft power," and he notes that the worldwide spread of evangelical Christianity, particularly of the Pentecostalist variety, tends to enhance America's image among those who convert:
In terms of creating American soft power, this is extraordinary. If you travel around a lot of the developing world, what you see is the extraordinary progress of Christian missions and evangelization. Christianity in general leads people in many cases to have very positive feelings about the United States and American foreign policy. Polls taken, say, among Pentecostals in Nigeria, showed great support for America's war on terror at a time when, in a lot of the world, that policy was profoundly unpopular. Polling evidence shows that in places like Kenya, Nigeria, and other African countries where Christianity has become a very vibrant presence, people are optimistic about their future; they actually are glad to see American values playing a larger role in their countries.
In The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, Philip Jenkins -- the Distinguished Professor of History and Religious studies at Pennsylvania State University -- has noted that the enormous growth of Christianity throughout Asia and Africa through conversion and population increase is outpacing even the growth of Islam, often in the same areas.

Given Samuel Huntington's arguments in his clash of civilizations theory -- see his article "The Clash of Civilizations?" (Foreign Affairs, Summer 1993) and his book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (Simon & Schuster 1996) -- namely, that the fault lines between civilizations are, fundamentally, the lines of conflict between great religions, then I ask the question posed in the heading to this blog entry.

Is a war of religion coming?

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At 10:33 AM, Blogger Hathor said...

I didn't think so until I started to see so much fear about Islam. I don't understand the fear either of terrorism or the religion. Since I became aware of Islam, I have never liked the religion, but I have not feared it. I guess I never thought it would just take over my brain. The events of 9/11 did not even have the effect of the random shootings that occur in my city or the drive by that was too close to my home. There have been more people murdered in this city during the past seven years, than were killed on that day.

The KKK wasn't evil, it was just some awful inconvenience that black people had to endure. Hitler was very bad, but the holocaust just may not existed. Now that a few Muslims have killed maybe ten thousand of Americans (in their minds, mostly white), all are the scourge of the earth and the devil incarnate. Obama is the anti-Christ, the sleeper agent that will rule this country.

I don't know the exact quote, but it seems to be true that "if you tell a lie often enough, it is believed to be true."

I remember a Kenyan telling us black children at a Presbyterian HBCU that Christianity was in Africa before the white man. I think one of us had said something to the effect that the missionaries had given Africa, Christianity.

At 2:31 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yes, there is a lot of fear -- both rational and irrational -- of Islam. I think that most Muslims are just trying to get through each day the way most of us try to, but there are certainly some Islamist groups to worry about.

I suppose that some of these Islamists even fear non-Muslims.

I think that one of the Nazis, either Goering or Himmler, made the remark about lies.

African Christianity goes way back. The Ethiopian eunuch mentioned in Acts is supposed to have taken Christianity to Ethiopia, according to some church legends, though the Ethiopian Church seems to date somewhat later and to be dependent upon the Coptic Church of Egypt . . . but I'm no expert. At any rate, both of these Eastern Churches are old.

Even much of the present-day growth of Christianity in Africa has been accomplished through Africans themselves, and mostly since the end of colonialism.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:12 PM, Blogger Malcolm Pollack said...

Hitler was very bad, but the holocaust just may not existed.

Hathor, are you saying the Nazi Holocaust might be a fiction?

At 1:59 AM, Blogger Hathor said...

malcolm pollack,
Since I don't you well enough to know if your question is tongue in cheek; I'll say, I am not saying the Holocaust might be a fiction. It is not.

At 2:03 AM, Blogger Malcolm Pollack said...

Oh - sorry! I must have misunderstood you there.

Don't mean to seem so twitchy...

At 3:54 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Malcolm, I wondered if that point might be misread, but in the context of Hathor's remark about lies being told enough to become 'truths' in the minds of people who hear them repeated, I figured that readers would understand.

At any rate, the point seems to have been sorted out quickly enough.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:06 AM, Blogger Malcolm Pollack said...

Sorry once again, Hathor. After re-reading your comment your intention is obvious.

That was particularly dull-witted reaction on my part.

At 5:50 AM, Blogger jeanie oliver said...

what are the major religions practiced in South Korea? Do your students discuss their own religious beliefs? It has been such a no-no for so long for me to bring up religion in the classroom even on an historical basis.
At Viola, I was told to skim over the "cavemen" and age of the earth in 6th grade world history.(the Baptists in town were not happy with our book and the pictures it showed.) At Calico, one of my major conferences followed after I told the children that my best friend in first grade in Jonesboro was Catholic. It had come up because of a news article in Time For Kids.
I know this is random, but it might give you a better idea what some of the masses still think in rural Southern America. If they can't make it past cavemen and Catholic, do you think they are going to try understanding Islam

At 6:09 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Jeanie, I never realized that Catholicism was still a live issue in the Ozarks. Catholics and evangelicals seem to get along fairly well these days despite the theological differences.

The two major religions in South Korea are Buddhism and Christianity. Confucianism is prevalent as culture, and everybody is Confucian to some degree, but it no longer functions in the 'religious' sense that it once did. There's also Shamanism, but that often amounts to little more than a collection of superstitious ideas in the minds of most people here -- though the Shamans themselves probably have a more systematic understanding.

People seem willing to talk about religion, but Koreans are not especially good at analyzing their beliefs, for this society lacks a culture of discussion (a point upon which my wife agrees).

As for understanding Islam, I suspect that pious Christians can understand it better than a lot of other people can. They don't much like it, but they draw upon their own piety to understand how Muslims can be so devout.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:22 AM, Blogger Malcolm Pollack said...

Pity about that lack of a culture of discussion. What's needed is a real public conversation about how that might be holding Korean society back.

Oh, wait a minute...

At 6:31 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I got ya beat, Malcolm -- I've been having that public discussion outloud with myself for several years now here in Korea.

So far, I find myself in complete agreement with me.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:11 AM, Blogger jeanie oliver said...

Malcolm Pollack,
I found your blog, and enjoyed reading about the Spitzer issue. I was worried that perhaps I did not fit the guidelines as an "unknown" to leave commment. You are somewhat like my father in that you are succinct in your definitions of allowable personages in your sphere.
Maybe Jeff would stand as a comment-character reference for me!

At 5:25 AM, Blogger Malcolm Pollack said...


By all means, do come and comment! Any friend of Jeffrey's is a friend of mine.

At 5:34 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Who's "Jeffrey"?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:34 AM, Blogger Malcolm Pollack said...

Whoops! That's "Jeffery's".

At 5:35 AM, Blogger Malcolm Pollack said...

The correction was already underway, amigo. Keep yer shirt on.

At 5:40 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Oh, that's me!

Okay, I can vouch for Jeanie.

She's the daughter of my high school math teacher, Mr. Jim Scott, one of the brightest, most talented men whom I've ever met.

I also worked for him one summer on his surveying team and learned the word "antigogglin" . . . although not from Jim himself.

Anyway, Jeanie should fit in. That's "should" in the predictive, not the "imperative" sense.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:42 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Shirt? Shirrrt? I don't got to wear no stinkin' shirt.

I'm sittin' here in my pajamas . . . at most.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:50 AM, Blogger Malcolm Pollack said...

Jeanie, you will be most welcome. I'm pleased to meet you.

I warn you though: my relentless pursuit of truth has led me to adopt and express various harsh and reactionary opinions, and some readers have suggested that I am nothing more than a black-hearted curmudgeon. I shall not indemnify you against any disillusionment or loss of party affiliation you may suffer as a result of our acquaintance.

At 7:40 AM, Blogger Hathor said...

The picture here, could be in a cartoon I saw yesterday called Jane and the Dragon

At 8:12 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks for the link, Hathor. My kids will be interested in this . . . as should I, being the international expert on things Medieval that I am, and all.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:57 AM, Blogger LGtBT said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 6:34 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I'm not familiar with Seth MacFarlane or his Cosmos, so I have nothing relevant to say, but thanks for commenting.

Jeffery Hodges

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