The Last Dregs of Christendom: Islam vs. Postmodernism


Twilight of Islam and Christianity

Douglas Wilson recently posted a great critique of a speech given by Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on the threat of Islamic fundamentalism (read “The Last Dregs of Christendom”). The speech itself is well worth listening to, but Wilson directs his critique at one specific piece, namely Gingrich’s claim that our struggle with Islam is primarily about preserving “Western values.”

“So?” Wilson asks. “Who cares about that?”

Such indifference to Western values is bound to perplex a few readers. What about the Enlightenment? Scientific progress? Democracy? Capitalism? What do you mean, “so what”?

The West certainly has plenty to offer in the realm of societal order, economic efficiency, and overall justice — and these are fine things to preserve — but when we’re talking about a serious and persuasive religious ideology (i.e. a spiritual force), engaging a struggle in the name of Western values is a bit risky, if not futile.

As Wilson says:

Western values only have value if they are a coded way of referring to something else. And that something else cannot be another horizontal fact, like representative government, or womens’ rights, or anything like that. That just pushes the question back a step. Why should we prefer those? And if we say that Western values simply means “our values,” then why should those outrank “their values”? In the ebb and flow of Darwinian struggle, ours sometimes loses to theirs.

In other words:

“Western values” as an appeal works only if it is a coded references to Christendom, and that only works if Christ is still there. Anything else is arbitrary, jingoistic, and stupid. Anything else is a couple of dogs fighting over a piece of meat.

This brings up a great question: When it comes to the West, is Christ still there? We’re not talking about whether “faith-based institutions” are getting enough funding or whether gay marriage is legal or illegal. We’re not talking about anything political.

Wilson is asking whether our Western culture as a whole is truly centered around Christ, and he answers with a resounding “no,” explaining first that such values are not dependent on God’s will, and second that “Western values” have begun to represent a rejection of absolute truth altogether.

Here’s the first argument:

Western values are only to be preferred in a conflict like this if they are grounded in some way in the will of God. If they are not, then they will go down before the will of Allah like dry grass before the scythe. Islamism will go through deracinated Western values like a hot knife through butter. It goes back to Chesterton’s adage — if you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything.

Here’s the second:

Western values are a bundle of wind, a bunch of nothing. The postmodernists have pointed out to us that there are different communities out there, and they all have their values, and so now these communities careen around in our global village like so many bumper cars. Who’s to say?

Now there have been times, times of unreflecting youth, when a people with their false little democratic gods on a shelf might successfully stand against another people with their false allah-god up in the air…That kind of thing has been done…

But that was before the rot of postmodernism set in, the reductio that made all our crackerjack thinkers realize (some of them reluctantly) that our great Kantian sky hook wasn’t actually bolted to anything, and one man’s guess was as good as another’s.

Therefore, it would seem that if we as a Church (not just as Americans) are serious about battling Islam in our culture, we are not going to be able to rely on Western values alone — partly because they are not [necessarily] dependent on God’s will, and partly because they are in a state of rapid deterioration.

If we can’t convert (or even impress) Muslims with our values, our morals, or our tolerance (or with our military power, might I add), I would argue that victory can only be attained by cultivating spiritual transformation on an individual, cultural level.

This is our fundamental challenge, and the Gospel — confrontational and controversial though it may be — cannot be removed from the mission.

What are your thoughts?

Do “Western values” stand a chance against Islamic fundamentalism, or even Islam in general? Must Christianity play a role? Does it depend on the desired outcome?

(Note: The image above is provided by Daveness_98 / / CC BY-SA 2.0)

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  • aarondarrisaw

    Wilson's quote rightly challenges the presuppositions of current day Western values. If we don't presuppose that our values have some vertical (or non-horizontal) relationship, there is no justifiable or reasoned defense that can be given to preserve Western values over and against Islamic fundamentalism besides preference. And if the battle for society's values can be reduced to preference, then…may the most influential and passionate party win, which is precisely what Islam is doing (esp. in Europe).

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Timothy-Jerry/1537451252 Timothy Jerry

    Great article! The west must return to the foundation that built the society to begin with, and that is Chrsit, and the Scriptures.

    Because we have left our foundation as a culture, we lose the strength to oppose the radical nature of Islam. Materialism, will never be able to stand against the radical eternal ideologies of Islam. Nor will they stand against the zeal of Marxist propaganda.

  • Theodor W. Adorno

    islam does not have a prayer (pardon the pun). it is a religion without a center and will collapse of its own weight, or lack thereof. even the old catholic church has a better chance of making it into the 22nd century than islam.
    we see this in europe where the 2nd and 3rd generation muslims are almot totally indifferent to their father's religions. in fact muslim men have overtaken blacks in english prisons. oddly it is blacks from the carribbeans who convert to islam and demand all the appurtanance of muslim 'kosher' food in these prisons. the muslim men from the middle east and pakistan prefer to watch porn instead.
    islamophobia is real and there is no need for it. the west has won the culture war before we even fired a shot. not to worry. they tool will come around our 'decandent' ways.

  • http://www.remnantculture.com/ Remnant Culture

    Very interesting perspective. Thanks for weighing in, and I hope you're right. I would agree that (in truth) Islam is “a religion without a center” but I think much of Western postmodernism is similar in that respect.

    As far as the trends in Europe, I hear a lot of different opinions (or interpretations) of how the new(er) generations of Muslims approach their faith — some similar to yours, some different. It's such a new phenomenon (the influx of Muslim culture into Europe), and it will be interesting to see what the implications are.

  • Julia

    I'm confused. Maybe it's because it's 1 a.m. But why is Islam a perceived threat? And to what specifically? I am a life-long Christian who is a part of a Middle Eastern community and know many Muslims intimately. Personally, I don't see how, within America, Islam is any more of a threat to Western values (enlightenment, scientific progress, democracy, or capitalism) than Christianity. What I mean is most of the Muslims I know (in America) are educated, scientifically-minded, pro-democracy, and pro-capitalism. I know some more conservative Muslims with whose values I disagree, but they are in the minority. At the same time, I also know Christians whose beliefs are anti-enlightenment, anti-science, anti-democracy, and anti-capitalism. Again, I am generally appalled by many of these values, and likewise, I would like to believe that these are in the minority. My questioning is not referring to terrorists, “Islamic-extremists,” human-rights abusers, or anything of the like. Nor am I referring to Muslim countries. I am referring to Muslims who are here in America, as it seems to me their imported faith is perceived as a threat to America somehow, and this is confusing me based on the Muslims I know. More or less the Christians I know and the Muslims I know are very similar in terms of Western values and their critique of American culture. Perhaps the Muslims I know are very “advanced” (tongue-in-cheek). Or perhaps I've misunderstood.

  • Julia

    I haven't finished watching this video yet, but one of my friends just posted it, and I thought it was timely!

    http://www.cnn.com/video/data/2.0/video/living/…

  • http://www.remnantculture.com/ Remnant Culture

    This obviously lends to a nuanced discussion, because, as you say, there is no one single Muslim sect/culture/political system. However, I would argue that there is a very powerful and prominent movement toward Middle-Easternizing (for lack of a better word) the West. I don't see this as very prominent in America (yet), and think we will have to wait a generation or two to see how well Middle Eastern culture assimilates with American culture. Indeed, like the previous commenter's comment, much of the (sub)cultural analysis varies, and we can/should have those discussions. Some think the majority of new(er) generations of Muslims have become Westernized and some think they want to incorporate Sharia. We have seen examples of both.

    That said, Gingrich's referenced speech (and Wilson's commentary) is talking about those who DO want Sharia law recognized in the West. I disagree with many of Gingrich's policy proposals, but it's hard to disagree with the sociological facts presented. Muslims have tried to integrate Sharia law throughout Europe, from Italy to the Netherlands to Britain — and I would say in some cases they appear to be on the road to success (particularly in Britain). Perhaps some would say law is not “anti-West” and I might agree if we're talking about West=postmodernism=relativistic fiesta (a primary thrust of this post).

    Obviously there are plenty of Muslims (and non-Muslims) who think Islam is not a threat to the West, because their ideology (and/or theology…if the two can be separated) is open to and/or persuaded by democratic capitalism. But that's not who I'm talking about when I say “fundamentalist Islam.” This is a pretty prominent discussion in Orientalist studies (whether Islam is compatible with the West), even among Muslims, so I don't think it should be that controversial to say it's a valid debate we need to have. As a small example, this discussion has been going on in Pakistan politics for some time, whether we're talking about Musharraf's book (In the Line of Fire, which assumes this discussion at length), or the late/great Benazir Bhutto's book, which does a much better job of reconciling Islam and the West (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/19/arts/19iht-bo…). But still, even BHUTTO thinks asking the fundamental question is necessary, and answering it is *complicated*.

    However, in the end, much of this “Islam vs. West” stuff is somewhat beside the point. As I'm trying to argue in this post, THIS battle isn't the ultimate battle, and it isn't even the most sure-fire way to win a battle if we (in the West) really DO think there is a dichotomy.

    Unless you are a pluralist (which I am not–SURPRISE!), the real conflict is between the God of Judaism/Christianity and the god of Islam. Here things can get complicated (if we're really wanting to discuss the merits/TRUTH of each religion), but in this post I am simply calling for a realignment of the “the struggle” (pardon the pun!)toward what is truly competing here — and that struggle, in my opinion, transcends political ideology and human systems (e.g. “the West,” or a fushionist, Turkish-style government, or whatever).

    On the whole, then, I think the Islam vs. West argument is a great discussion to have, which is particularly illuminated by the fact that there IS so much disagreement on it. However, I'd prefer the Christianity vs. Islam argument for two reasons: (1) because the goal of Christianity (as of Islam) is to convert and to save others for the afterlife, and (2) because the earthly “winner” will likely determine the overall success of the said converts in #1.

  • http://www.remnantculture.com/ Remnant Culture

    This obviously lends to a nuanced discussion, because, as you say, there is no one single Muslim sect/culture/political system. However, I would argue that there is a very powerful and prominent movement toward Middle-Easternizing (for lack of a better word) the West. I don't see this as very prominent in America (yet), and think we will have to wait a generation or two to see how well Middle Eastern culture assimilates with American culture. Indeed, like the previous commenter's comment, much of the (sub)cultural analysis varies, and we can/should have those discussions. Some think the majority of new(er) generations of Muslims have become Westernized and some think they want to incorporate Sharia. We have seen examples of both.

    That said, Gingrich's referenced speech (and Wilson's commentary) is talking about those who DO want Sharia law recognized in the West. I disagree with many of Gingrich's policy proposals, but it's hard to disagree with the sociological facts presented. Muslims have tried to integrate Sharia law throughout Europe, from Italy to the Netherlands to Britain — and I would say in some cases they appear to be on the road to success (particularly in Britain). Perhaps some would say law is not “anti-West” and I might agree if we're talking about West=postmodernism=relativistic fiesta (a primary thrust of this post).

    Obviously there are plenty of Muslims (and non-Muslims) who think Islam is not a threat to the West, because their ideology (and/or theology…if the two can be separated) is open to and/or persuaded by democratic capitalism. But that's not who I'm talking about when I say “fundamentalist Islam.” This is a pretty prominent discussion in Orientalist studies (whether Islam is compatible with the West), even among Muslims, so I don't think it should be that controversial to say it's a valid debate we need to have. As a small example, this discussion has been going on in Pakistan politics for some time, whether we're talking about Musharraf's book (In the Line of Fire, which assumes this discussion at length), or the late/great Benazir Bhutto's book, which does a much better job of reconciling Islam and the West (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/19/arts/19iht-bo…). But still, even BHUTTO thinks asking the fundamental question is necessary, and answering it is *complicated*.

    However, in the end, much of this “Islam vs. West” stuff is somewhat beside the point. As I'm trying to argue in this post, THIS battle isn't the ultimate battle, and it isn't even the most sure-fire way to win a battle if we (in the West) really DO think there is a dichotomy.

    Unless you are a pluralist (which I am not–SURPRISE!), the real conflict is between the God of Judaism/Christianity and the god of Islam. Here things can get complicated (if we're really wanting to discuss the merits/TRUTH of each religion), but in this post I am simply calling for a realignment of the “the struggle” (pardon the pun!)toward what is truly competing here — and that struggle, in my opinion, transcends political ideology and human systems (e.g. “the West,” or a fushionist, Turkish-style government, or whatever).

    On the whole, then, I think the Islam vs. West argument is a great discussion to have, which is particularly illuminated by the fact that there IS so much disagreement on it. However, I'd prefer the Christianity vs. Islam argument for two reasons: (1) because the goal of Christianity (as of Islam) is to convert and to save others for the afterlife, and (2) because the earthly “winner” will likely determine the overall success of the said converts in #1.

  • http://www.remnantculture.com/ Remnant Culture

    This obviously lends to a nuanced discussion, because, as you say, there is no one single Muslim sect/culture/political system. However, I would argue that there is a very powerful and prominent movement toward Middle-Easternizing (for lack of a better word) the West. I don't see this as very prominent in America (yet), and think we will have to wait a generation or two to see how well Middle Eastern culture assimilates with American culture. Indeed, like the previous commenter's comment, much of the (sub)cultural analysis varies, and we can/should have those discussions. Some think the majority of new(er) generations of Muslims have become Westernized and some think they want to incorporate Sharia. We have seen examples of both.

    That said, Gingrich's referenced speech (and Wilson's commentary) is talking about those who DO want Sharia law recognized in the West. I disagree with many of Gingrich's policy proposals, but it's hard to disagree with the sociological facts presented. Muslims have tried to integrate Sharia law throughout Europe, from Italy to the Netherlands to Britain — and I would say in some cases they appear to be on the road to success (particularly in Britain). Perhaps some would say law is not “anti-West” and I might agree if we're talking about West=postmodernism=relativistic fiesta (a primary thrust of this post).

    Obviously there are plenty of Muslims (and non-Muslims) who think Islam is not a threat to the West, because their ideology (and/or theology…if the two can be separated) is open to and/or persuaded by democratic capitalism. But that's not who I'm talking about when I say “fundamentalist Islam.” This is a pretty prominent discussion in Orientalist studies (whether Islam is compatible with the West), even among Muslims, so I don't think it should be that controversial to say it's a valid debate we need to have. As a small example, this discussion has been going on in Pakistan politics for some time, whether we're talking about Musharraf's book (In the Line of Fire, which assumes this discussion at length), or the late/great Benazir Bhutto's book, which does a much better job of reconciling Islam and the West (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/19/arts/19iht-bo…). But still, even BHUTTO thinks asking the fundamental question is necessary, and answering it is *complicated*.

    However, in the end, much of this “Islam vs. West” stuff is somewhat beside the point. As I'm trying to argue in this post, THIS battle isn't the ultimate battle, and it isn't even the most sure-fire way to win a battle if we (in the West) really DO think there is a dichotomy.

    Unless you are a pluralist (which I am not–SURPRISE!), the real conflict is between the God of Judaism/Christianity and the god of Islam. Here things can get complicated (if we're really wanting to discuss the merits/TRUTH of each religion), but in this post I am simply calling for a realignment of the “the struggle” (pardon the pun!)toward what is truly competing here — and that struggle, in my opinion, transcends political ideology and human systems (e.g. “the West,” or a fushionist, Turkish-style government, or whatever).

    On the whole, then, I think the Islam vs. West argument is a great discussion to have, which is particularly illuminated by the fact that there IS so much disagreement on it. However, I'd prefer the Christianity vs. Islam argument for two reasons: (1) because the goal of Christianity (as of Islam) is to convert and to save others for the afterlife, and (2) because the earthly “winner” will likely determine the overall success of the said converts in #1.

  • http://www.remnantculture.com/ Remnant Culture

    This obviously lends to a nuanced discussion, because, as you say, there is no one single Muslim sect/culture/political system. However, I would argue that there is a very powerful and prominent movement toward Middle-Easternizing (for lack of a better word) the West. I don't see this as very prominent in America (yet), and think we will have to wait a generation or two to see how well Middle Eastern culture assimilates with American culture. Indeed, like the previous commenter's comment, much of the (sub)cultural analysis varies, and we can/should have those discussions. Some think the majority of new(er) generations of Muslims have become Westernized and some think they want to incorporate Sharia. We have seen examples of both.

    That said, Gingrich's referenced speech (and Wilson's commentary) is talking about those who DO want Sharia law recognized in the West. I disagree with many of Gingrich's policy proposals, but it's hard to disagree with the sociological facts presented. Muslims have tried to integrate Sharia law throughout Europe, from Italy to the Netherlands to Britain — and I would say in some cases they appear to be on the road to success (particularly in Britain). Perhaps some would say law is not “anti-West” and I might agree if we're talking about West=postmodernism=relativistic fiesta (a primary thrust of this post).

    Obviously there are plenty of Muslims (and non-Muslims) who think Islam is not a threat to the West, because their ideology (and/or theology…if the two can be separated) is open to and/or persuaded by democratic capitalism. But that's not who I'm talking about when I say “fundamentalist Islam.” This is a pretty prominent discussion in Orientalist studies (whether Islam is compatible with the West), even among Muslims, so I don't think it should be that controversial to say it's a valid debate we need to have. As a small example, this discussion has been going on in Pakistan politics for some time, whether we're talking about Musharraf's book (In the Line of Fire, which assumes this discussion at length), or the late/great Benazir Bhutto's book, which does a much better job of reconciling Islam and the West (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/19/arts/19iht-bo…). But still, even BHUTTO thinks asking the fundamental question is necessary, and answering it is *complicated*.

    However, in the end, much of this “Islam vs. West” stuff is somewhat beside the point. As I'm trying to argue in this post, THIS battle isn't the ultimate battle, and it isn't even the most sure-fire way to win a battle if we (in the West) really DO think there is a dichotomy.

    Unless you are a pluralist (which I am not–SURPRISE!), the real conflict is between the God of Judaism/Christianity and the god of Islam. Here things can get complicated (if we're really wanting to discuss the merits/TRUTH of each religion), but in this post I am simply calling for a realignment of the “the struggle” (pardon the pun!)toward what is truly competing here — and that struggle, in my opinion, transcends political ideology and human systems (e.g. “the West,” or a fushionist, Turkish-style government, or whatever).

    On the whole, then, I think the Islam vs. West argument is a great discussion to have, which is particularly illuminated by the fact that there IS so much disagreement on it. However, I'd prefer the Christianity vs. Islam argument for two reasons: (1) because the goal of Christianity (as of Islam) is to convert and to save others for the afterlife, and (2) because the earthly “winner” will likely determine the overall success of the said converts in #1.

  • http://www.remnantculture.com/ Remnant Culture

    This obviously lends to a nuanced discussion, because, as you say, there is no one single Muslim sect/culture/political system. However, I would argue that there is a very powerful and prominent movement toward Middle-Easternizing (for lack of a better word) the West. I don't see this as very prominent in America (yet), and think we will have to wait a generation or two to see how well Middle Eastern culture assimilates with American culture. Indeed, like the previous commenter's comment, much of the (sub)cultural analysis varies, and we can/should have those discussions. Some think the majority of new(er) generations of Muslims have become Westernized and some think they want to incorporate Sharia. We have seen examples of both.

    That said, Gingrich's referenced speech (and Wilson's commentary) is talking about those who DO want Sharia law recognized in the West. I disagree with many of Gingrich's policy proposals, but it's hard to disagree with the sociological facts presented. Muslims have tried to integrate Sharia law throughout Europe, from Italy to the Netherlands to Britain — and I would say in some cases they appear to be on the road to success (particularly in Britain). Perhaps some would say law is not “anti-West” and I might agree if we're talking about West=postmodernism=relativistic fiesta (a primary thrust of this post).

    Obviously there are plenty of Muslims (and non-Muslims) who think Islam is not a threat to the West, because their ideology (and/or theology…if the two can be separated) is open to and/or persuaded by democratic capitalism. But that's not who I'm talking about when I say “fundamentalist Islam.” This is a pretty prominent discussion in Orientalist studies (whether Islam is compatible with the West), even among Muslims, so I don't think it should be that controversial to say it's a valid debate we need to have. As a small example, this discussion has been going on in Pakistan politics for some time, whether we're talking about Musharraf's book (In the Line of Fire, which assumes this discussion at length), or the late/great Benazir Bhutto's book, which does a much better job of reconciling Islam and the West (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/19/arts/19iht-bo…). But still, even BHUTTO thinks asking the fundamental question is necessary, and answering it is *complicated*.

    However, in the end, much of this “Islam vs. West” stuff is somewhat beside the point. As I'm trying to argue in this post, THIS battle isn't the ultimate battle, and it isn't even the most sure-fire way to win a battle if we (in the West) really DO think there is a dichotomy.

    Unless you are a pluralist (which I am not–SURPRISE!), the real conflict is between the God of Judaism/Christianity and the god of Islam. Here things can get complicated (if we're really wanting to discuss the merits/TRUTH of each religion), but in this post I am simply calling for a realignment of the “the struggle” (pardon the pun!)toward what is truly competing here — and that struggle, in my opinion, transcends political ideology and human systems (e.g. “the West,” or a fushionist, Turkish-style government, or whatever).

    On the whole, then, I think the Islam vs. West argument is a great discussion to have, which is particularly illuminated by the fact that there IS so much disagreement on it. However, I'd prefer the Christianity vs. Islam argument for two reasons: (1) because the goal of Christianity (as of Islam) is to convert and to save others for the afterlife, and (2) because the earthly “winner” will likely determine the overall success of the said converts in #1.

  • Julia

    Thank you for your thorough response once again!