First in a series. Read Part 2 and Part 3.
February 2008 – According to an increasing number of press reports, Christians who live in Muslim-majority nations around the world appear to be enduring increased hostility and persecution from radical Islamists who advocate jihad, or Muslim holy war, against unbelievers.
This would be a perfect moment for Western Christians to come to the aid of their suffering brethren, by not only marshalling prayers and financial support, but by the coordination of whatever political pressures can be brought to bear to advance the cause of religious freedom.
But Western Christianity is faltering. While it flirts with oblivion across much of Europe and fights to avoid irrelevance in North America, the Christian faith in the West seems unable to confront a resurgent and aggressive Islamic fundamentalism that sees cultural and religious weakness as an opportunity for domination.
What is causing the weakening of Christianity in the West? One factor is that Western Civilization seems intent, for a variety of reasons, on separating itself from its Judeo-Christian roots.
In an effort to create a purely secular culture, atheistic humanists have been busily trying to banish the competition – religious traditionalists – and the competing ideology – a Christian worldview – to the fringes of public life.
It is the organized nature of secularism that worries Mark Steyn, author of America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It. He said atheistic humanism is “the organized rejection of God – not the freelance atheism of individual skeptics but atheism as an ideology and political project in its own right.”
This secularization has led to a moral relativism that jettisons Christianity as the foundational religion of the West while simultaneously asserting that all religions and cultures are equivalent.
Robert Spencer, author of Religion of Peace? Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn’t, said “the dominant assumption among Westerners is that no religion or culture is superior to another – especially Christianity and Christian culture. …”
The unrelenting humanist assault on Christianity appears to be paying off. While the secularist beliefs of most Europeans have been well-documented, American views about religion are also in the midst of a tectonic shift. When the Gallup organization polled Americans in 1957 and asked them if religion was helpful in life, 85% said they thought it could “answer today’s problems,” and only 7% said it was “old fashioned/out of date.” In 2006, the trend was in the opposite direction: 58% and 24%, respectively.
Sadly, this trend seems to be strong among younger Americans. According to the Barna Research Group, a study of attitudes among Americans ages 16 to 29 found that they exhibited “a greater degree of criticism toward Christianity than did previous generations when they were at the same stage of life.”
A press release from Barna stated that, in the 2007 survey, “just 16% of non-Christians in their late teens and twenties said they have a ‘good impression’ of Christianity.” Among young non-Christians, Barna said, most of the perceptions of Christianity were negative, such as that Christianity is judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%), and old-fashioned (78%).
Even young Christians are being affected: Half said they perceived their own faith to be judgmental and hypocritical.
Moreover, the assault on religious belief appears to be eroding the confidence of Westerners in their own civilization. “Attacks on Christian history and doctrine are an integral part of a larger effort to instill a sense of cultural shame in even non-Christian European and American youth,” Spencer said.
This shame comes at a devastating price. Spencer insisted that it is “a shame that militates against their thinking the West is even worth defending.”
As Steyn noted, “The meek’s prospects of inheriting the earth are considerably diminished in a post-Christian society. … [C]hances are they’ll just get steamrollered by more motivated types.”
As Steyn and Spencer both argue, those “more motivated types” are Islamic jihadists, who have no problem believing in the superiority of their faith and their culture.
If Western Christianity is weakening, the blame cannot be wholly laid at the feet of secular humanists. To the contrary, much of the fault lies with the church itself. The last 40 years have been a time of spiritual crisis in Europe, Canada and the U.S., and by and large much of the church – at least the Protestant variety – seems to have lost its faith.
“If ever there were a time for a strong voice from the heart of Christianity, this would be it,” said Steyn. “And yet most mainline Protestant churches are as wedded to the platitudes du jour as the laziest politician.”
Steyn said mainline Protestant churches are, “to one degree or another, post-Christian. If they no longer seem disposed to converting the unbelieving to Christ, they can at least convert them to the boggiest of soft-left political clichés. …”
This is not happening without a fight, of course. By and large, the Catholic Church in the West, the Orthodox churches in the east, and a shrinking number of Protestant evangelicals and mainliners in Europe, Canada and the U.S., are fighting bravely.
But from empty churches in Europe to “prosperity gospel” mega-churches in the U.S., the vibrant, Biblical Christianity upon which Western Civilization was founded seems to be shriveling before our very eyes.
It is Christian relativism that Steyn says is causing the church to die a slow death. He said, “That’s why the Church of England and the Episcopal Church and the Congregational Church and the United Church of Canada and many others are sinking beneath the bog of their own relativist mush. … There’s no market for a faith that has no faith in itself.”
Rushing into the vacuum
If much of Christianity is failing to provide a vigorous assertion of divine truth, Islam, which Steyn claims is “the West’s fastest-growing religion,” is rushing into the vacuum.
In Europe, Steyn said, two forces are squaring off for an eventual fight for cultural dominance: “[O]n the one side, the modern social-democratic state that the American Left thinks should be our model; on the other, the resurgent Islam that the American Left insists is just a scam cooked up by [former White House Deputy Chief of Staff] Karl Rove.”
In the United Kingdom, for example, Islam has made tremendous inroads. Whether by virtue of the immigration of large numbers of Muslims from the Middle East or the conversion of native Brits, Islam is a force to be reckoned with.
“There are, officially, one million Muslims in London, half of them under 25,” Steyn said.
These Muslims are making a statement by their religious enthusiasm. “Tablighi Jamaat, an Islamic missionary group, announced plans to build a mosque in the East End – right next door to the new Olympic stadium,” Steyn noted. “The London Markaz will be the biggest house of worship in the United Kingdom: it will hold 70,000 people – only 10,000 fewer people than the Olympic stadium, and 67,000 more than [England’s] largest Christian facility (Liverpool’s Anglican cathedral). …”
This is not to suggest that native Britons will soon be outnumbered by Muslims. Instead, it is the comparison of this energetic faith with a dying – or at least weakening – version of Christianity that is the most striking. For example, according to The Christian Science Monitor’s Peter Ford, “though Muslims make up only 3% of the British population, more people attend [Muslim] Friday prayers than go to Sunday church, a recent survey found.”
In Mannheim, Germany, the Monitor’s Isabelle de Pommereau said: “Every weekend, roughly 150 Roman Catholics attend mass at the Liebfrauen Church, while up to 3,000 Muslims throng the Yavuz-Sultan-Selim mosque.”
That is not a phenomenon affecting only one German city. While there were only a handful of mosques in Germany just 10 years ago, Pommereau noted that “today 159 mosques dot Germany, with 184 under construction. …”
While it’s true that the U.S. does not have the high percentage of Muslims that many European countries do, there are communities that are being faced with growing Muslim populations.
In Walkersville, Maryland, for example, city officials are having to decide whether or not to approve an application to build a Muslim worship and recreation center that can accommodate 10,000 people.
Of course, in the U.S. communities have had to deal with new immigrant populations before, with people who came with distinct cultures that made the locals nervous.
But in the U.S. as in Europe, it’s not so much the fact that Muslims are different as it is the fact that, within the Muslim communities, there are radicals advocating jihad.
In Boston, for example, construction on a $24 million mosque was halted because of allegations that it had ties to Islamic extremists, according to the Monitor.
And according to CitizenLink.com, the Khalil Gibran International Academy, a New York school dedicated to Arabic language and culture, was accused of having ties to Islamic terrorist groups. The principal was forced to resign in September after supporting T-shirts which said “Intifada NYC.” “Intifada” is an Arabic word for an uprising or rebellion.
While these are certainly issues with great political ramifications, they also have religious implications. The religious vacuum into which Islam is pouring seems to have been generated in part by an aggressive secularism, but also by a weak and effete Christianity.
Christianity, then, is missing the opportunity created by the advance of secular humanism, an opportunity to raise a powerful witness to the spiritual needs of mankind that can only be fulfilled through Christ; to address the Western addiction to sex, entertainment and consumerism with the power of the Gospel; and to inform the public discourse about cultural devolution with kingdom solutions.
If Christian leaders don’t begin to change course soon, then Christians in the West might eventually find themselves a persecuted minority like their brethren elsewhere.