The forms in which Islam makes its challenges to our society in the West are variations on an old theme. The old ways of tackling them are not likely to work – if Afghanistan and Iraq show anything at all, it is that violence is welcomed by radical Islamists; they truly see that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of growth. However strange many of us find the various Youtube clips (to which I have no intention of linking) of young men in Syria rallying others to their ranks, if we are wise, we will recognise they have an appeal to others whose mindset we fail to grasp, and we will wonder how that might be met; we might, if we are very wise, wonder why it exists. The other challenge to Christianity comes from the aggressive secularism which tends to dominate our media and political class. That is not to say that they will not, from time to time, pay lip service to the ‘importance’ of ‘faith’ to individuals; but it is to say they will insist it is kept out of public discourse. They fail to see that this, itself, is an ideological position. When people say, as some do, that this means we are back to a position analogous to that in which Christianity grew, they have a minor point, but miss a major difference. The minor point is the similarities in terms of promiscuity and spiritual relativism; the major difference is that this is a society which sees Christianity as having been tried, weighed in the balance and found wanting. One reason why secular polemicists major on the misdeeds of Christians in the past is to ‘prove’ that Christianity is, in Lord Ridley’s words, a ‘virus’ which needs to be ‘exterminated’. As our own Geoffrey Sales rather predicted someone would, Ridley (whom I have met) wants religion to be taken out of schools altogether; as a Tory peer he is presumably not of the opinion that the State should provide the money which would be needed to fill the holes in funding if all churches withdrew financial support for education in this country. The sort of lack of self-reflexivity mixed with arrogance which is typical of this type can be seen in his comment: “rationalists no longer expect to get rid of religion altogether by explaining life and matter: they aim only to tame it instead, and to protect children from it”.
It is reflective of some of the lesser minds who concentrate on science, that Ridley thinks in terms of religion as ‘explaining matter’; there’s little to be done with one who starts from there and claims a monopoly on being rational. But he reflects, with devastating accuracy, the mindset of which I have been writing here. Unencumbered by much in the way of actual knowledge of religion, emboldened to speak with ignorance by the fact that the people to whom he is speaking share it, Ridley peddles the old, broken, solutions for how to deal with Islam; he assumes that Western rationalism will win out. One has to have some level of admiration for someone who can so defy the experience of the last century. He sees Islam and Christianity as both need extirpation. He is a Cameron created ‘Tory Peer’. He says openly what many of his fellows say in private. Perhaps, like so many Cameron Conservatives, he desperately wishes to atone for his sins on that front – after all to be an ‘out’ Conservative is much more likely to see one criticised than to be openly gay – by aligning himself with liberal pieties elsewhere. If you want to know why the British Government has done (and said) nothing of significance about what is happening in Mosul, there is a short answer; it doesn’t really care.
To those of you who have followed me thus far, I apologise if you were expecting some answer to the dilemma in which Christianity finds itself; but I hope some attempt to outline the problem coherently might be a place to begin such an exercise.