A middle-aged man dreaming of the day when he can stop begging for scraps and write for a living.

Friday, October 10, 2014

What Is The Great Existential Threat To Civilization?

Thanks, Bill Maher.

Lately there's been a lot of discussion about ISIS/ISIL, Islamophobia and whether or not Muslims are a threat to civilization (or at least Western civilization). It came to a head when Ben Affleck argued with Bill Maher and Sam Harris, accusing them of bigotry against all Muslims for their criticism of Islam. Some people agree with Affleck that Harris and Maher take it too far, others side with Maher and Harris that Islam is a genuine threat. Also, Christianity has been reformed which is why we don't see these problems in Christian countries. I want to come back to this in a bit.

They're all correct and they're all wrong. Islam is a threat, no doubt about it. Any religion that isn't constrained by secular law is a threat both to its own members and non-members alike. But Islam is not an existential threat to civilization. They're not going to take over the West and establish a European or North American Caliphate. Yes, liberals in Europe have taken the idea of cultural and religious tolerance too far (as I've previously observed it's self-defeating to be tolerant of intolerance). But as hard as those immigrants try to avoid assimilation they can't succeed. Living in a non-Islamic country under non-Islamic rules means that you can't stop your children from encountering non-Islamic ideas and eventually they're going to pay attention. Yes, Muslim families are probably going to outbreed us but future generations born in France and Britain are going to be French and British. The world will continue to turn.

There are steps we need to take to protect ourselves from the threat of religious invasion and domination, and we already know what those steps entail: secularization. Most sane Western nations have already implemented it to great success. It's the reason why those countries aren't under any threat of living under a theocracy, because their laws aren't dominated by religious preference. Christians can be Christian, Muslims can be Muslim and atheists can be atheist. Everyone is protected and no one gets special privilege for their beliefs.

This is how we defeat the Islamic threat: not with bombs and military action but with secularism. When people behave badly we don't bomb a village and hope we got some terrorists in the process, we do police work to identify the perpetrators and arrest them. We show the Islamic world that secularism doesn't just protect our innocent, it protects theirs as well. Islam rejected secularism a thousand years ago when their clerics took back control, but that doesn't mean it can't work again.

Secularism is the reason why people have the mistaken impression that Christianity has been reformed and isn't a threat to us the way Islam has become. No, Christianity has not been reformed, it's been leashed. Before we started instituting secular law religious authorities were brutal about purging anything they considered heresy before it could spread among the population. Men and women were murdered on the strength of nothing more than the accusation of a neighbor hoping to curry favor with the authorities or to exact revenge. Ideological purity was enforced by the priests who recognized no authority but their own, and they interacted as peers with the nobility in a mutually beneficial relationship. Is it any wonder that French Reign of Terror and the Communist uprising in Russia targeted the priesthood as enemies of the people?

Christianity has been restrained by secularism. Its priests and authority figures don't have the right to punish heresy, giving way for people to construct their own liberal interpretations of the old religion. That mighty bastion of the old guard, the Vatican, is currently playing catch-up to modern morality without ever publicly conceding that liberal interpretation is valid. How ironic is it that the current pope, bad as he is, is probably more liberal in his religious beliefs than was Martin Luther the German reformer?

What do you think would happen if we let Christianity off the leash? Do you think the liberal churches would survive very long? How long would it take before a new Inquisition or three are resurrected to root out the heresy within Christendom? Not very long. Fundamentalist Christianity is no better than Fundamentalist Islam, it just doesn't have as much slack.

So let's stop pretending that Islam is the great threat of the Twenty-First Century and buying into the culture of fear that's allowing Christian extremists to undermine secularism in the West. If they succeed it's not Islam that will take over.

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