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If Mecca is ever razed by an invading army, it will not be Israeli or American or European, but will march up from Africa south of the Sahara – though it would take a couple of generations more for the impending Christian transformation of Africa to proceed that far. If I were an Arab, I would be looking anxiously south. The current crisis in the Anglican Communion is revealing. Elan and freshness of thought are actually with the conservatives. The prominent role of the Nigerian Archbishop Akinola is also telling (his province contains many more practicing Anglicans than Britain and North America combined).
The challenge from Islam may produce a number of surprising and unexpected responses in the West, of greater significance than the military conflict. Interesting times ahead.
Bloomington, Indiana, USA
Thank you for bringing this issue forward. Prof Philip Jenkins of Pennsylvania State University predicts an “historical turning point” in Christianity, “one that is as epochal for the Christian world as the original Reformation.” In the October 2002 edition of The Atlantic Monthly, he wrote, “In the global South (the areas that we often think of primarily as the Third World) huge and growing Christian populations – currently 480 million in Latin America, 360 million in Africa, and 313 million in Asia, compared with 260 million in North America – now make up what the Catholic scholar Walbert Buhlmann has called the Third Church, a form of Christianity as distinct as Protestantism or Orthodoxy, and one that is likely to become dominant in the faith.” (Click here for the article.) This may look like a “Third Church” to Catholic eyes, but what I perceive is the proliferation of Anglo-Saxon, that is, American, Christianity, albeit in the patchwork raiment of local peoples. Growth of church membership in the southern hemisphere concentrates in denominations of American or British origin. Observes Prof Jenkins, “it is Pentecostals who stand in the vanguard of the Southern Counter-Reformation. Though Pentecostalism emerged as a movement only at the start of the twentieth century, chiefly in North America, Pentecostals today are at least 400 million strong, and heavily concentrated in the global South. By 2040 or so there could be as many as a billion, at which point Pentecostal Christians alone will far outnumber the world’s Buddhists and will enjoy rough numerical parity with the world’s Hindus.”
Samuel Huntington’s characterization of American civilization as “Anglo-Protestant” has merit, but his shot goes astray. No predestination prevents other peoples from adopting the Anglo-Protestant principle as their own. Of the 6,000 languages spoken on the planet, two go extinct every week (Why radical Islam might defeat the West, July 8, 2003). We are well into a Great Extinction of the Peoples, such as has not occurred since the collapse of Rome. Just as the endangered peoples of the 4th century embraced Christianity as a promise of immortality beyond the grave of their culture, so the peoples of the South flock to the same Cross. Seventeen hundred years ago they acknowledged the authority of Rome. Today the source of Christian authority is America.
The secularists who dominate American foreign policy seem to think that they can export the shell of the American system, namely its constitutional forms, without its religious kernel. It seems that the peoples of the South know better. It is no stranger that America’s hold over the world’s imagination should find religious expression first and political expression later, than that radical Protestants should have founded America in the first place. The new Christians of the South will surprise us for ill as well as good. Such matters of the spirit lie beyond anyone’s capacity to predict and well may have huge strategic impact, as you observe.
Your recent assertion that the philosophical underpinnings of American civilization are more Hebraic than classical Greek is intriguing. The Hebrews saw themselves as God’s chosen people, and it is certainly true that we Americans similarly see our country as being called out from among nations to bring a message to the world. But, where the Hebrews and early Christians preached a message of universal brotherhood, ours seems to have devolved into one of universal suffrage. It is one thing to construct a model of society where all are equal in the sight of God, but quite another to found a government on the principle that a crack addict is entitled to an equal voice in the affairs of state as, say, a Medal of Honor winner.
The founding fathers of the United States, men born of the Reformation, Enlightenment and Age of Reason, extended this principle by declaring that “rights” were inherent in the individual and that political power flowed from God to the individual, who then passed on limited authority to the state. However, these principles are far from being “self-evident.” They are, in fact, not only a mystery to most of the rest of the world, but increasingly to Americans as well.
But does the proposition that the only acceptable form of government is one that derives its legitimacy from the consent of the governed imply that only a Boolean choice either of “one man one vote” or tyranny is possible? Or is there room in this world for more than one legitimate definition of democracy?
Dear Mr. Taber,
That America’s roots are Hebrew rather than Greek is widely argued. See for example the Catholic writer Michael Novak’s On Two Wings (San Francisco 2002): “The way the story of the United States has been told for the past 100 years is wrong. It has cut off one of the two wings by which the American eagle flies, her compact with the God of the Jews – the God of Israel championed by the nation’s first Protestants – the God who prefers the humble and weak things of the world, the small tribe of Israel being one of them; who brings down the mighty and lifts up the poor; and who has done so all through history, and will do so till the end of time.” His book contains many an interesting anecdote, although from an American vantage point, therefore, even the crack addict is important in the sight of God (although I believe a crack addict once convicted of a serious offense may lose the right to vote in American elections).
Democratic constitutions clutter up the dustbin of history. Every satellite of the failed Soviet empire had one. Democracy does not work unless the people truly believe that the individual is sovereign – not the people, I hasten to add. Since the odious J J Rousseau, we have had enough varieties of the “fuehrer principle” to choke on, in which an absolute leader embodies the spirit of the nation, disdaining the vulgarities of democracy in which candidates must persuade even crack addicts. One cannot be a little bit pregnant. Either the individual as a living image of God has such rights as pertain to his station, or not. If democracy comes to the peoples of the southern hemisphere it will come as a consequence of the evangelizing described above by Douglas Bilodeau, not as a set of transitional measures by the political scientists of the Pentagon.
In regards to your response (Letters, April 6th, 2004, “Are Americans good enough to be Americans”) to my previous letter, may I further inquire into your thought process?
You stated in your last paragraph, “Nothing in your history qualifies you for the role you now play on the world stage.”
Once again, it would appear that you embrace the faulty notion that “history” is a finite definition, which allows for the permissible reaction and participation in challenging the dynamics of current events with success.
If I may, history is nothing more than the resulting sum of a previously unknown and undefined mathematical equation, which resulted from a complex interaction of the then present variables. In other words, history is infinitely fluid, non-defining and not restricted by a static model because variables are just that, variable. Nothing in history is repeated in its entirety or pure form, which would then qualify it as an absolute model of study worthy of repetition. You also stated in your response, that: “You [America] are in the first phase of a civilizational war with peoples and countries for whom no veil separates past and present.”
I would argue, “past and present” (I assume you meant history) is not a necessity for success. Just ask Japan. What better quote (if you want history), than the one made about awakening a “sleeping giant.” What history, can I ask, at that time, should Japan have followed prior to its attack on Pearl Harbor? Japan had a lengthy history of military existence and strategy that far surpassed anything in the United States at that time.
But what may I ask, was the result? Again, I would offer that the United States, in its youth, has the advantage of acting without the model of “history” which could be more advantageous than you realize, frozen as you are from the constrained thought process most likely inherited by the so called “higher institutions” of education (probably European). The commonly quoted and often-worshipped statement, “those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” is an obscene cult-like mantra, in my opinion, bequeathed to those who refuse to think for themselves.
New wars require new ideas, not history. Iraq is not Vietnam. The radical movement of Islam is not communism.
In closing, I would argue that success in warfare (whichever form), or economic superiority, comes not from history, but from a basic “survival instinct which is often heightened (intuitively) from perceived or real threats. Intuition, not history, is the defining chasm that learned men have failed to heed. History proves that.
Dear Mr. Van
If we are to ignore history and rely on intuition, permit me to enquire as to what your intuition might be regarding the objectives of America’s war in Iraq. To successfully fight a war, it is helpful to know who the enemy is, what the goal of the war is, and most important, to know what would bring the war to an end. If America’s goal is to introduce democracy into Iraq, what will you do in the event that the mission fails? Do you fall back to the tri-partite division proposed by Leslie Gelb, the former chairman of the Council of Foreign Relations? Do you install a congenial strongman, as Daniel Pipes proposes? If you install a strongman, how will you be able to tell whether he is congenial? If you split the country into three, how will you manage amongst the contending factions? What will your mission be then? During the first three decades of the Cold War, America’s mission was “containment,” that is, nothing in particular. Under the Reagan Administration the mission became to bring down the Soviet empire – and against all skepticism you succeeded. Russia let its pensioners starve, sold its women, reduced its life expectancy by 10 years, declared bankruptcy, in short, suffered all the humiliations of the defeated party. The answer, of course, is that your intuition will lead you from one mission definition to another, until you are lucky enough to stumble on the right one, or unlucky or exhausted enough to give up. If you win the war, as America has on most occasions in its history, you stand to lose the peace – as you have done every time it has fallen to your lot to make the peace.
Let me first tell you I appreciate your insight into many problems. However, your analysis is one of the saddest things I read. What you are saying is that any nation that becomes humane and is not interested in subjugating another nation is destined to extinction. I am not European (neither by nationality nor origin), but I think most of what Europe is today is one of the most beautiful things. Human rights, freedom, personal happiness, peace. Why does it have to die?
Something really interesting is what you think of Asia. I mean going by your analysis, the teeming millions of India and China, hungry for success, land, opportuities etc, should end up at the top. Because although you tend to favor America, let us not forget that the white (and I mean white/blonde) population of America will slowly become a minority while Africans, Asians, and Latinos populate all of the US. It is a politically incorrect but factually correct assessment that the national character and face of US will change beyond recognition. This is actually the same for Europe, because even there, there are enough North Africans, Central Asians, Indians and Chinese to simply make up a new France, Germany, UK, etc.
No one is sadder than this writer at Europe’s passing (Why Europe chooses extinction, April 8, 2003). It horrifies me to think that the hope of mankind lies in a land where one can obtain neither a decent cup of coffee nor a proper cup of tea (What is American culture?, Nov 18, 2003). Only with great difficulty can I reconcile myself to this – the hope, that is, not the coffee. American civilization may be Anglo-Protestant, as Huntington maintains, but the Anglo-Protestant spirit well may pass to entirely different peoples. Without diminishing by one whit the enormous achievements of the Chinese, the Indians, and other Asian peoples, their economic success nonetheless depends upon the Pax Americana which has given them a stable world market, a reserve currency, a banking system, international trade agreements, not to mention the 7th Fleet, which helps keep Asia at peace. I have thought it pointless to cavil at the Chinese for being heavy-handed with dissidents; it is China’s next generation which will have to address the matter of rights and opportunities for even the humblest of its citizens.