Tuesday, 8 February 2011

For the West: co-religionists or just an embarrassing irrelevance?

In a hard hitting article in USA Today Joseph Bottum asks the question as to who will protect the rights of middle-eastern Christians.
"...This American abdication has produced only more oppression — and it's accelerating at a horrifying rate. Nearly every day since Christmas, Christians have been murderously attacked for the simple fact of being Christians.
Our willful blindness is shameful, and our inactivity is wrong. The United States must preface every diplomatic exchange with an Islamic country by demanding religious liberty and a halt to persecution. And we need to do it now — while there are still a few Christians left to defend in their ancient homelands."
Read it all here

It has to be said that the writer's faith in the West's own rhetoric is touching if misplaced. Western governments have never done that much to protect Christian minorities, even in the imperial past when they were directly responsible for their welfare.
It was William Dalrymple in his moving and brilliantly written book, "From the Holy Mountain" who reminded us that islamist propaganda has always sought falsely to portray Christianity as a foreign, wholly western faith, and Christians as having no place in what should be an exclusively Muslim culture. The ancient Christian communities of the Middle East (in existence centuries before the birth of Islam and its subsequent wars of conquest) have been consistently and callously ignored by those who are at least nominally their brothers and sisters in Christ in favour of the benefits of realpolitik and, in more recent years, the need to protect the supply of oil without which our western economies would soon grind to a halt. On the other hand, it has to be conceded that, for obvious reasons, too much open western support  may compound the difficulties of Christian communities and even increase their persecution.
Worryingly for all of us, the emergence of "democracy"  (in the sense of rule by the majority) in Egypt or anywhere else in theMiddle East, without a parallel growth of a culture of tolerance and respect for minorities, would not by itself guarantee the religious rights and physical safety of our fellow Christians in the region and could make their plight worse than it is at present. The worst possible course of action would be for the West naively to promote democratic rights without democratic responsibilities.

But before we become too smugly confident about our own political and cultural traditions, this is a lesson we need to discover for ourselves here  in a society where, for example, the rights of sexual preference now are deemed to outweigh those of a formative religious heritage. There is an increasingly delicate balance to be found between a benignly secular democratic state and an aggressive state-sponsored secularism which seeks to impose its majority values. The current debate about multiculturalism and integration is a very necessary one, but we need to reflect on the possibility that those who have come to our shores with a deeply held (if not particularly tolerant) religious faith, might not find anything in our celebrity-obsessed and hedonistic 'culture' which engages their hearts and minds in a way which makes them want to belong to it.

For an analysis of the relationship btween freedom and tolerance see this from Joseph Weiler's book, 'Exiting a Dead End Road: a GPS for Christians in Public Discourse.' here on the MercatorNet site
Here's a small snippet from the chapter:
"We have gone a long way towards the complete destruction of the true meaning of freedom and tolerance. We do not want to emancipate ourselves from our instinctual drives and we have proclaimed the superiority of pleasure over conscience.

In this way we have lost the idea of happiness, that is the properly human way of taking pleasure not against the other human being or disregarding her/his dignity but together with her/him in a true community of love. We do not want to accept the self discipline and the virtues that we need in order to develop our potentiality for the greater freedom. The greater freedom is what St. Thomas Aquinas would have called a “bonum arduum” (something very valuable that demands a high price to be won). The reward of the efforts needed to acquire the greater freedom is the possibility to live a great love. As a consequence of our cowardice we, the people of this generation, live only small loves that are not enough to fill our lives, which therefore remain void and tasteless. We say we are tolerant only because we have no passionate interest in the lives of others and only want to be left alone. And we are left alone until our world peters out “not with a bang but with a whimper”.

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