Australian theologian Rufus Black sees the West as ill-equipped to deal with the challenge of Islam. He saysthe West
…is caught between two extremes of its own. One extreme is the Protestant and Catholic conservatism that occupies positions of political power from the West Wing to the Vatican. The other is the liberalism – which dominates the seats of cultural power in the universities and the arts – that has successfully made the undoing of belief one of its chief projects. Neither wing has the resources, nor the serious desire, to engage creatively with Islam.
But he has a solution:
To develop the middle ground required for a creative engagement across the spectrum of Muslim belief we need a true reformation of Christianity. What is required is a religion that is both substantive and modern. One that is as serious about harmonising its beliefs with modern science, history and psychology as it is about preserving its tradition of rituals, symbols and stories.
I think Mr. Black has over-identified the West and Christianity. Of course, this is exactly the mistake that Islam tends to make, so it is not too surprising.
Instead of calling the one side “conservative” and the other “liberal,” the positions he describes might better be called Constantinians and Secularisers. The first group tends to identify Christianity and the West, or Christianity and whatver nation state they find themselves in. If they’re American, then they see either a large overlap or an identity between the goals of the faith and the goals of the nation.
The second group, in contrast, reacts against their own religious heritage, using the tools of suspicion drawn from Marx, Freud, and the sociological tradition. God, they think, is merely a projection – either of the individual or of the society. This god may be of value to some people, but a commitment to disinterested truth and reason is better.
The “reformed” Christianity he proposes sounds no different than the liberalism I see in so much of American religious academia. Things may be different in Australia, but academic culture in the West has been mized for so long I have my doubts.
So – what does Christianity need if it is to engage with Islam? If we can get past the idea that a large conceptual entity – Christianity – can DO anything, we can perhaps make a start.
First, we need a Christianity that can differentiate between itself and the West. Yes there is historical overlap. But not only has the West turned its back on specifically Christian positions (not to mention actual participation in the church), but we also find larger numbers of practicing Christians outside the West today.
Second, we need a Christianity that does not consider social control to either be its goal or in its best interests. If we don’t need to be in control, then we will not need to kill – or even threaten – those who are different.
Third, Christians need to reconnect with the Christian tradition in an intelligent way. They need to be sure that when they encounter outsiders (like Muslims) that they are representing Jesus and not just Western ideologies with a veneer of Christianity.