Tuesday, December 14, 2010

On speaking about Islam: UPDATED

It's time for a little penitential apology, followed by a little Christian rejoicing with the help of Athanasius (see icon to right).

About 18 months ago, I posted a YouTube video illustrating the demographic surge of Islamic communities in the West. The video also highlighted the decline of non-Islamic communities and made a bald-faced call for non-Muslims to, darnnit!, reproduce. The tone of the clip was regrettable, as I noted in my blurb, but I posted it as a quick reference for busy moms: (a) the Western world is in the middle of a demographic crisis; (b) in general, practicing Muslims are, however, reproducing.

UPDATE: So, yes. My two points (a and b) hold (even though there has been an increase in the birthrate, it is still below replacement levels), but here is a Much Better Breakdown of what's going on in the numbers. Read Kacie!

As a student of philosophy, my question is: Why?

The clip, however, should not have been posted. There were other ways for me to pose the question, and other ways to communicate the information. It's not that the facts aren't true or that we shouldn't think about what they mean for us; the point is that, unless we speak the truth in love, we are "resounding gongs." I may resound, but I'd rather not be a gong.

This morning, I received an email (this is only one of several over the past year) from Anonymous, which I'll quote here in its entirety. Then I'll post my response and a few more thoughts on thinking about Islam as a Catholic/Christian.

Here is the comment:

Dear Philosopher mom,

I have only just been introduced to your blog and my first visit was to the page where you quoted the brilliant T.S.Eliot, whom I greatly admire.
But slowly, I came to this page on Islam and shortly after, had the distinctly unexplainable experience of viewing this video that brought to mind some of the war propaganda employed in the early 20th century.
My point of contention here is a simple one for I am a humble student, building my path in the world of academia and in life.
I believe, and find support in a particular scholar, that being of the Islamic faith, or Muslim, does not necessitate an abrogation of the culture of where that individual may find himself. It's not as if being Muslim means that you are no longer a Swiss or a Spanish, that you can no longer speak their language or love that country and locality. The rich history of that place is not put under the mercy of the delete button as soon as the person behind the keyboard accepts Islam.
I personally don't appreciate the manner of speech of those who, while pretending to speak for all of Islam, as ridiculous as that sounds, purport the idea that the faith will silently vanquish its foes.
From the 8th to the 13th centuries, Islam contributed to every thing under the sun; from literature and philosophy to industry and technology. Muslims worked side by side with Jewish and Christian intellectuals, and freedom of speech and religion fostered these relations. This wasn't called the Golden Age for nothing.
And you probably know this better but most of Aristotle's work, if not all of it, survived primarily because of its translation from Greek to Arabic. I'm not suggesting that I'm particularly fond of philosophy, a simple student as I said I am I can hardly make that suggestion but nonetheless, that is history that gets easily overlooked despite its apparent nature.
I myself found the video to be a bit embarassing, especially since I believe strongly in the preservation of cultures and languages. And on that note, of the 7000 languages spoken in the world at this very moment that I'm writing to you, only half of them will survive and make it to the next generation. How come people do not lament that loss or the loss of all of the great indigenous traditions.
In the end, I had really wished to tie my view with what I had read at the very outset of my introduction to your blog, quoted Eliot as you had. If considered through that lens, Islam can be seen as the one constancy that ties together all the streams of intellect and consciousness. This shared value system can address the want for harmony and repair the fragmented ethos of wisdom of modern man.

thank you for giving me this space and I hope I have not offended you in any way.

This is a well-considered comment, and deserves a response. So here I went:

Dear Anonymous,

Yes, this post really got me into trouble! Thanks for sharing your perspective on it as a practicing Muslim, and I am truly sorry for any embarrassment it caused you. I do regret posting it, not because I think the demographic information is erroneous, but because of the tone. I keep it up as a reminder to me that I make significant lapses in judgment from time to time.

I am grateful that so much culture has been preserved over the centuries: I believe God has at times used men and women of Islam to preserve what is good and true in human accomplishment. Some of the most beautiful names of God are in the Koran.

Of course, as a Catholic, I also believe that the fullness of His revelation is in the person of Jesus Christ. God is not only Majesty, but has also chosen to be "with us" in the Emmanuel, Jesus. And so, instead of Islam, I believe that Christ is the one who unites all streams of consciousness (as Eliot says).

Thus spake I.

But there are a few more notes I'd like to make and questions that keep bugging me.

First, as I said, there are better ways to talk about the demographic changes in the West. George Weigel's The Cube and the Cathedral comes to mind as a great, quick read on the subject.

In answering my question-- Why is the West in a demographic decline? --Pope Benedict's reflections, as summarized here, are a good place for the Catholic to start. I do believe that the fundamental reason for post-Christian Europe's refusal to reproduce is that post-Christian individuals have lost their own desire to live. We now question, both individually and as a society, whether it is a good thing to exist and to pass on existence to another. The answer is increasingly, "No, it is not."

This is why I am not so concerned about "the Islamic tide" or the supposed replacement of Christian Europe by Muslim Europe. It is not Islam, or any other set of ideas, that threatens the West: Even if Islam were to disappear today, the West would still be lost so long as it has lost hope in the meaning of life. The West must recover its hope in human commitment, human dignity, and the salvation of the human family in Christ. With that recovery, nothing more will be necessary.

These are the terms in which we should discuss demographics.

Second, and in more response to the comment above: I appreciate anyone who seeks to find a constant thread that ties together all human experience and consciousness. That is the fundamental philosophical question: Why? But, as I wrote in my response, the answer is only found in the Source of all that is: in English, "God."

We can argue and study the extent to which Islam saved civilization (best sources: Neuhaus and Bat Ye-Or). We can try to understand whether or not Allah and the Judeo-Christian God are the same One (you don't have to be Pat Robinson to ask this question). These are good and necessary questions.

But, as T.S. Eliot found and as all Christians have found, the tie that binds all human experience together is God. And this God is not an alien God, utterly ineffable and seated utterly apart in Majesty. We have been shown--through revelation--that the answer to the fundamental, philosophical question is this: from the beginning, God willed to be with man. Even when we rejected him, he sought to come back and be with us again.

This is the message of Advent, the message that sets Jews and Christians forever together and forever apart from Islam: God desires to walk with man, God desires that all be gathered into his people.

The most intimate and all-binding Truth is the Person of Jesus Christ: God Made Man, Emmanuel, God With Us. In Him, every human experience and thought is brought together. This is the Theosis. In the words of Athanasius, "God became man that we might become gods."

It is a big pill to swallow, and a big difference between the two faiths. Indeed, I would argue, it is all the difference.

And if the West would reclaim its creeds, its belief in the Theosis, there would be no demographic crisis.


Kacie said...

Actually, I believe the demographic information is erroneous... I was asked to do research on it. I am a Christian, I have no agenda except finding the truth. You can see my post about it here, with sources: http://wellthoughtoutlife.blogspot.com/2010/11/no-muslims-are-not-taking-over-europe.html

Erika said...

This is great! Thanks for doing all the work... :)

e said...

Great post, Erika. Your honesty and humility are always an inspiration to me. I can't ever imagine you having a lapse in judgment...but maybe I'm biased...
My favorite line in the whole bit:
I do believe that the fundamental reason for post-Christian Europe's refusal to reproduce is that post-Christian individuals have lost their own desire to live.