Christianity is an indispensable cog in the idea of “Western civilization” along with other core values of “the West” supposedly based on the moral and ethical foundations of Christianity. Perhaps no one can imagine “Western civilization” secluding Christianity as depicted by Samuel P Huntington in his famous 1993 Foreign Affairs essay, “The Clash of Civilizations.” He says, “Religion is a central defining characteristic of civilization,” referring to Christopher Dawson’s supposition that “the great religions are the foundations on which the great civilizations rest.” Western civilization embraces many elements, but among them are the moral, ethical, and legal systems that evolved from European Christendom.
The ardent supporters of “the clash of civilizations” believe that Christianity has not been struggling against Islam or any other faiths; instead, it is more briskly imposing itself than ever before. The recent crackdown on the caliphate of the Islamic State in Syria is an example.
Contrariwise, despite the claim made by the supporters of “the clash of civilizations” that Christianity is competing with Islam in the world, evangelicals and populists on both sides of the Atlantic have unfathomable doubts that Christianity has not surpassed Islam; instead, they believe, it has been gradually declining in the “new world” and “old world” equally.
Recent studies support such claims. The International Religious Demography Project’s study at Boston University suggested that the Islamic population increase to 24% from 13.6% during 1950-2015, while the Christian population declined to 33% from 35% at the same time in the US. A recent article by Paul Seabright rekindled the debate over the future of Christianity.
Is Christianity losing to Islam or any faith? Is Christianity diminishing more than before? My answer is, of course, no. Does one religion need to lose to another religion? I believe Christianity is neither losing out to any faith nor diminishing due to any other religious beliefs.
Christianity does not need to compete or “clash” with any other religion either. Instead, I think, the greatest threat to Christianity is from within.
First, the galloping income and wealth inequality in the US is the upshot of the relinquishment of the core values of Christianity by the US. Adam Smith, the founding father of economics, as best known for his 1779 work The Wealth of Nations and 1759 contribution The Theory of Moral Sentiments, laid the Christian moral and ethical foundation for economic freedom. Smith writes that human beings are governed by “self-interest” and “sympathy.” He was quoted in Dugald Stewart’s book Account of the Life and Writings of Adam Smith as saying:
“How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it.”
However, today’s American Christians irrationally accentuate “self-interest” such as “greed is good” for shameless and merciless economic growth, but another aspect, “sympathy,” is dumped into the dustbin. Consequently, a vast discrepancy persists between the underlying Christian value system and Western capitalist economic freedom.
One example is enough to explain the issue. Annually earning US$31.5 million, JPMorgan Chase chief executive officer Jamie Dimon could not answer a question raised by Democratic congresswoman Katie Porter about how his own employee should deal with $567 monthly income shortfall in a hearing with the House Financial Services Committee where seven top bank leaders were invited to discuss income inequality in the US 10 years after the global financial crisis last year. Income inequality is the outcome of the abandonment of the biblical value depicted in II Corinthians 8:14.
Today’s American Christians irrationally accentuate ‘self-interest’ such as ‘greed is good’ for shameless and merciless economic growth, but another aspect, ‘sympathy,’ is dumped into the dustbin
Second, the world economy was hit hard by the economic recession triggered by the financial crisis that appeared in the last quarter of 2008, and many economies have still not recovered fully. The economic downturn was the outcome of an unbridled and stubborn pursuit of selfish goals by a small group of greedy capitalists with power and wealth on Wall Street and other financial centers in the West, causing a severe setback to the life of hundreds of millions of powerless, vulnerable, poor and weaker people. Karl Marx, in his first Volume of Das Capital, seems to be accurate as he says:
“The closer a society conforms to a deregulated, free-market economy, the more the asymmetry of power between those who own and those excluded from ownership of the means of production will produce an accumulation of wealth at one pole and an accumulation of misery, agony of toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole.”
That an outsized section of the population is suffering from the senseless acts of greedy people seems legal, but it is immoral and unethical because it runs counter to the moral and ethical foundations of Christianity.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu refers to “the ‘macho’ pursuit of success at any cost triggered the global financial crisis.” The Nobel laureate believes that the economic meltdown was a “distortion [of] what God would want to see that happen in God’s world.” Archbishop Tutu’s observation indicates the distortion of the Christian moral and ethics by the rapacious capitalists as he says:
“With this meltdown, we have exalted the principle of success – success at any cost – for the worst thing to happen to any human being in our culture is to fail. And so, people have done extraordinary things in order for their bottom line, to please their shareholders, and we have lent in this morass, where the Law of the Jungle has seemed to prevail: survival of the fittest, and the devil takes the hindmost. God says, ‘No, please, no. That way is the way to self -destruction. No, I have made you for family. I have made you for togetherness. I have made you for gentleness, for compassion, for caring, for sharing.’”
Similarly, the great French scholar Alexis de Tocqueville, a meticulous observer of the newly established American Republic, warned two centuries ago:
“Without the internal constraints of civic and religious values, materialistic liberal democracy would be in danger of self-destruction.”
Thus the financial crisis, a byproduct in the absence of internal constraints of religious value in misusing of economic freedom and liberal democracy, is pushing self-destruction of Western democracies.
Third, capitalist greed has triggered climate crises in the world that are now at cataclysmic levels. As a result, the planet Earth is at the brink of collapse and humanity is nearly imploding. The present climate crisis is also the byproduct of the integrity deficit, moral decay, and erosion of ethics of Christianity.
It is believed that historian Lynn White Jr was correct as he argued in his 1967 contentious essay titled “The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis” that “Christianity was an anthropocentric religion which could be blamed for our ecological crisis.” However, this is untrue because the Bible has often been perverted in interpreting its meaning in a human-centric way.
Greedy capitalists, with the help of errant interpretation of Genesis 1:26-28, claim that the Bible has authorized humans to subdue nature. However, theology student Liz Jakimo claims, “Rather than giving human beings rights over nature, these verses give us the responsibility to care for nature in a way that is consistent with God’s will.” She believes that the verses indicate more of a caretaking or stewardship role of humans to nature.
The Bible clearly says that God possesses the natural world, as Psalm 24:1 depicts. However, greedy capitalists have been trying to destroy God’s garden, and the Christians on Capitol Hill and in the White House are helping them in the destruction of God’s world. Seeing President Donald Trump revoke the Paris Climate Accord, “God must be weeping” as Archbishop Tutu often says in a different context, and it relinquishes of the Christian value toward nature.
Fourth, a man who is twice divorced, a pathological liar, a blatant braggart, involved in alleged extramarital affairs with a sex entertainer, involved in alleged sexual assaults, an unapologetic xenophobe, a misogynist, a bigot, who seems a vessel of all Christian sins, earned the support of millions of Christians in the presidential election successfully. Michael Massing writes in The Guardian that 80% of evangelicals voted for Trump in 2016, and almost 70% of white evangelicals responded to a recent survey that handling of the American presidency by Trump was excellent. Besides, a recent CNN poll suggests that he is going to be re-elected in the 2020 presidential election. It tells the saga that not only ordinary Americans but also hardcore evangelical Christians abandoned Christianity.
Fifth, although the Bible itself doesn’t talk about refugees and migration, it uses lexicons of “strangers” and “sojourners.” Today’s “strangers” and “sojourners” are refugees, immigrants, asylum seekers, displaced and stateless persons. The Bible says how these people should be treated; for example, Genesis 18:1-15 talks about welcoming strangers; Exodus 23:9 says, “Foreigners and refugees are not to be oppressed”; Leviticus 19:34 teaches us, “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born.” Thus “border wall” narratives and the miserable plight of Central American migrants on the US-Mexico border and those who voted for Brexit for xenophobic reasons are representative of the derailment of Christianity in the US and the UK respectively.
Last, some churches themselves are under severe crisis due to sexual abuse and misconduct by Catholic priests and bishops globally. It looks like pedophiles and sex abusers fill the churches. It is the real enemy of Christianity from within.
Ben Shapiro, in a recent book, made the argument: “Western civilization succeeded because it balanced the anchoring moral foundations of its Judeo-Christian heritage with the revolutionary dynamism of Enlightenment liberalism.” If he is assumed to be correct, then, the crisis “the West” has been facing today is a product of the intensified disequilibrium between the moral foundations of Judeo-Christian heritage and the revolutionary dynamism of Enlightenment liberalism.
Greedy capitalists, warmongers, fearmongers, arms manufacturers and traders have been hijacking Christianity and using as a vital tool of “the clash of civilizations” to sell wars and conflicts and earn profit and control resources to fulfill their insatiable quest for wealth. A part of the profit goes as an act of “corporate social responsibility” to think-tanks, academia, and media for production and expansion of the “clash of civilizations” narrative. Western scholars are producing a discourse of “clash of civilizations” and media are disseminating these narratives. Christianity is supposed to expand the mercy, compassion, and care for poor and needy people, but warmongers have been dispersing hatred, racism, and bigotry.
The election of Donald Trump as president of the US and xenophobic Britons voting for Brexit are the outcomes of the “existential threats” perceived by white supremacists on the two sides of the Atlantic. The way Trump has been handling domestic and foreign policy, and chaos in the UK due to Brexit, look like a situation that the great political philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau noted centuries ago in his book The Social Contract:
“Nations, like men, are teachable only in their youth; with age, they become incorrigible. Once customs are established and prejudices rooted, reform is a dangerous and fruitless exercise; a people cannot bear to see its evils touched, even if only to be eradicated; it is like a stupid, pusillanimous invalid who trembles at the sight of a physician.”
Therefore, the US and the UK particularly and “the West” generally look like unteachable adults and have relinquished the core values of Christianity, a key constituent of the Western civilization, which can be termed the “apostasy of Christianity.” If Christians in the US and the UK fail to rescue their faith from the perversions of core Christian values by white supremacists, greedy arms traders, and capitalists, Christianity itself will be lost in the future.
This the second part of the two-part essay “The Clash of Civilizations or abandonment of Civilization?” The first part can be read here.