Saturday, October 24, 2015

Belloc’s Prophecy

Most people in the West assume that the struggle between Islam and Christianity is one that has to be won by force.

Joe Sobran explained in an article about the Catholic polemicist Hilaire Belloc written in 2001 why that is not so. In his book called The Great Heresies, written at time when Islam seemed backward and irrelevant, Belloc predicted that it would one day challenge the West again. He believed that a great Islamic revival, even in the twentieth century, was altogether possible.

Belloc saw Islam not as an alien religion, but in its origins as a Christian heresy, adopting and adapting certain Christian doctrines (monotheism, the immortality of the soul, final judgment) and rejecting others (original sin, the Incarnation and divinity of Christ, the sacraments). Its simple, rational creed had a powerful appeal to Arabs who had known only the arbitrary gods of grim pagan religions. It swept the Arab world, then made converts — and conquests — far beyond Arabia.

Christians had good reason to fear Islam… but because Islam has little attraction for Christians, the West has generally failed to grasp its appeal for others, its profound and permanent hold on the minds of believers...

Islam is a simple religion, easily understood by ordinary people. Its commandments are rigorous but few. When it conquered, its subjugated people often felt more liberated than enslaved, because it often replaced burdensome old bureaucratic governments with relatively undemanding regimes — and low taxes. As long as its authority was respected, Islamic rule was comparatively libertarian. It offered millions relief from their traditional oppression; for example, no Muslim could be a slave.

Belloc distinguishes sharply between Islam and such barbarous conquerors as the Mongol hordes of Genghis Khan. The Mongols were purely destructive; they were known for slaughtering whole cities and making huge pyramids of severed heads. Such savagery was alien to the Muslims. Where they conquered, daily life usually went on much as before and culture thrived.

Man, especially irreligious man, is apt to equate power and progress. Many of those who say America is “the greatest country on earth” really mean only that America has fantastic military might, capable of annihilating any other country — and some of them, at the moment, are in the mood to do some annihilating. To the pious Muslim this attitude seems crass and barbaric. He may conclude from it that the decadent West understands only one thing: force.

And would he be far wrong? Belloc admitted that the idea of a new Muslim challenge to the West seemed “fantastic,” but only because the West was “blinded” by “the immediate past.” Taking a longer view, he saw Islam, though inferior in material power, as having a great advantage: its religious faith was still strong, while the West was losing its religion and consequently its morale. He thought it entirely possible that Islam would catch up technologically, while he doubted that the West would undergo a spiritual revival.
Joseph Sobran noted back in 2001 that the West is still strong, but it is dying. Islam is still weak, but it is growing.

Most Christians learn about Islam from the ugly caricature that is presented on Western television news, so they do not understand it's appeal in many parts of the world. This is unfortunate, because you cannot beat something that you do not understand.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent. I am an American of Protestant and Orthodox background, now teaching in a Catholic school, with theological credentials in both Christianity and Islam, and with extensive experience with Muslims, and I agree absolutely with this post. (I also used excerpts from Belloc's work in my medieval history class just yesterday.) Unfortunately most of Belloc's and Sobran's remarks would only cause defensiveness and/or rage amongst American evangelicals, who share our government's belief that it isn't necessary to know anything about Islam as a belief system. (We're the people who put an army on the ground in Mesopotamia without knowing the difference between a Sunni and a Shi'ite.) I have encountered amongst evangelicals a hostility toward even the academic knowledge of Islam, and a deliberate cultivation of ignorance coupled with hostility. Along the way, Christians in predominantly Muslim countries suffer because of the combination of American power and American ignorance. The point I am making here is that most Americans, including and perhaps especially conservative Protestants, have NO IDEA what we are up against with Islam, and they don't want to know. "Most Christians learn about Islam from the ugly caricature that is presented on Western television news, so they do not understand it's appeal in many parts of the world. This is unfortunate, because you cannot beat something that you do not understand." Ne'er was truer word blogged. I have tried to help, I really have, and it is impossible to reach people who seem determined to slouch blindfolded but boastful to their doom.