Monday, November 12, 2007

If we are in a fourth world war, as Norman Podhoretz proclaims, it is a religious war.

Asia Times Online :: Asian News, Business and Economy - The inside story of the Western mind
America's "war on terror" proceeds from a political philosophy that treats radical Islam as if it were a political movement - "Islamo-fascism" - rather than a truly religious response to the West. If we are in a fourth world war, as Norman Podhoretz proclaims, it is a religious war. The West is not fighting individual criminals, as the left insists; it is not fighting a Soviet-style state, as the Iraqi disaster makes clear; nor is it fighting a political movement. It is fighting a religion, specifically a religion that arose in enraged reaction to the West.

None of the political leaders of the West, and few of the West's opinion leaders, comprehend this.
I do not view religion as an instrument for strategic ends. On the contrary: we are in a strategic crisis precisely because religion is not an instrument, but rather the expression of the existential requirements of humankind. Nonetheless, we are in a war, and war concentrates the mind wonderfully. Radical Islam threatens the West only because secular Europe, including the sad remnants of the former Soviet Union, is so desiccated by secular anomie that it no longer cares enough about its future to produce children. Muslims may form a majority in Russia by mid-century, and may dominate Western Europe 100 years hence. Without the demographic decay associated with the decline of religion, radical Islam would be a minor annoyance to the West rather than a deadly adversary.
After the fall of communism, two concepts of humankind remain in contention. One regards the weak and powerless as special objects of God's love, and believes that every individual is sovereign by virtue of divine love. The other concept values strength and service, and requires submission to the collective effort of ordering the world. Christianity addresses a God who self-reveals through love, and whose loving nature must make a world that is amenable to human reason. The other concept entails worship of a despot who rules by caprice.
God's self-revelation through love, as I noted, is the subject of mainstream Catholic theology. Revealed religion does not merely teach doctrine to its members, but changes their lives. Whether one can prove that God exists, for example, is not the right question. It is not even the wrong question, for it makes the subject of the discussion existence, rather than God. What Christians and Jews yearn for is the love of a personal God, that is, a God who is not mere Being, but a personality. It is the experience of Divine Love that makes it possible for humane and civilized societies to flourish, for the imitation of God must honor the sovereignty of the weak and helpless within the human family. Modern democracy is a Christian phenomenon, born of the Dutch rebellion against Spain in 1568, and borne by the Puritan migration to the New World. It arose as a religious response to Europe's crisis, not as a political scientist's cookbook recipe.

That is why secular political philosophy fails so miserably in the context of religious war. I have ridiculed Washington's search for a "moderate Islam" and its efforts to "democratize" the Muslim world. One cannot simply teach political systems, or as Immanuel Kant put it, devise a constitution for devils, if only they be rational. More than mere rationality is at stake.

If there were nothing more to human consciousness than knowledge, what one man knows could be taught to any other man. Democracy, rule of law, free institutions, would be techniques to be learned, like brain surgery. Yet we observe Muslims who learned brain surgery as well as any Westerner building car bombs in Britain. There are things we know for certain on the strength of our own intelligence, and things that must be revealed to us. We do not have to take on faith the Pythagorean theorem, but we cannot prove that planting car bombs in front of night clubs is wrong.

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