Sunday, September 28, 2014

ISIS, Transcendence, and the Failures of the West and the Church

It might not simply be a taste for blood and sex that draws thousands of Westerners to ISIS. It might also be that ISIS offers them a commodity that has become increasingly  discredited in the West – transcendence and a higher reason for being.

In support of this point, writer Janie B. Cheaney offers these affirmative quotations to explain the attractiveness of ISIS:

  • “[A] yearning for a transcendent cause that liberal society can have trouble satisfying,” wrote Ross Douthat in The New York Times.
  • “His discontent … is driven by ideas, and by the human needs those ideas seek to satiate,” observed Charlie Cooke at National Review.
  • “The Islamic State not only has the romance of revolution and the promise of action and power, but also religious and apocalyptic appeal,” concluded Michael Brendan Dougherty of The Week.
  • “Because it gives meaning to life,” Michael Ledeen summed up on his own blog. (World Mag, Oct. 4, 2014, 22) 
According to the videos aired in the West, these jihadists seem to celebrate the fact that they are faithfully serving Allah by doing the “right thing.”

Several years ago, I attended an interfaith conference at a local liberal church, where I was surprised to see a 15 year-old waiting expectantly for the conference to begin. Intrigued, I asked him why he had come:

  • I want to hear what the Imam says.

I asked him, “Why the Imam? Why not also the Rabbi and the Pastor?” His answer saddened me:

  • I have some Muslims in my family. They take their faith seriously.

What an indictment of the church! What has happened to us that we reflect our Lord so lamely?

However, this is also an indictment of Western society. Cheaney puts it this way:

  • The West has spent the last two centuries chasing true belief from the main stage of public life. Pluralism, our highest communal value, requires no one to believe anything that would render anyone else’s beliefs invalid.

It is worse than that! Pluralism – also called “religious pluralism” or “multi-culturalism” – claims that, since everything is relative and there is no religious or cultural truth – we cannot say that one religion or culture is more true than another. In fact, judging one religion better than another is now labelled “arrogant,” “imperialistic” and “chauvinistic,” especially in Western media and the university. No one wants to be labeled a “narrow-minded bigot,” and so Christians have been marginalized, silenced, and made to feel ashamed of their faith.

However, by purging such religious truth claims from educated society, the West has paid a great price. Not only can it not speak convincingly against ISIS, it can no longer hold up a better portrait of transcendence for our hungry and deluded youth. Cheaney therefore writes:

  • The poverty of pluralism becomes apparent when rootless young Muslim men find transcendent meaning in slaughtering infidels… It fulfills a need that won’t be satisfied at any bargaining table. It will have to be fought and defeated.

However, how can we fight against this ideology if we do not have one to hold up in place of Jihad. Cheaney therefore observes:

  • But faith can only be fought with faith, and Western culture has undercut itself… It picked the juicy low-hanging fruits of Christianity [like love, justice, equality, and forgiveness] while disregarding the Son who shines on them, valued the comforts but discounted the Comforter.

Oddly, this is something that Ayaan Hirsi Ali, ex-Muslim, ex-Dutch Parliamentarian, and atheist, seems to understand better than most Western intellectuals and even Christians:

  • The Christianity of love and tolerance remains one of the West’s most powerful antidotes to the Islam of hate and intolerance. Ex-Muslims find Jesus Christ to be a more attractive and humane figure than Muhammad, the founder of Islam.

  • I have a theory that most Muslims are in search of a redemptive God. They believe that there is a higher power and that this higher power is the provider of morality, giving them a compass to help them distinguish between good and bad.  Many Muslims are seeking a God or a concept of God that in my view meets the description of the Christian God.  Instead they find Allah. They find Allah mainly because many are born in Muslim families where Allah has been the reigning deity for generations… (p. 239)

  • The Christian leaders now wasting their time and resources on a futile exercise of interfaith dialogue with the self-appointed leaders of Islam should redirect their efforts to converting as many Muslims as possible to Christianity, introducing them to a God who rejects Holy War and who has sent his son to die for all sinners out of a love for mankind… The Vatican and all the established Protestant churches of northern Europe believed naively that interfaith dialogue would magically bring Islam into the fold of Western civilization. It has not happened, and it will not happen…. To help ground these people in Western society, the West needs the Christian churches to get active again in propagating their faith. It needs Christian schools, Christian volunteers, the Christian message… The churches should do all in their power to win this battle for the souls of humans in search of a compassionate God, who now find that a fierce Allah is closer to hand. (Nomad, pp. 247, 249, 250, 251)

We all need the Transcendent. Since the West marginalizes it, the pilgrim will just go elsewhere, even in the gutter, to find it. Oddly, it is an atheist that sees this more clearly than the rest of us.

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