September 14, 2009
— Martin E. Marty
While the staff took time away from the Center, this writer took a day off in Nebraska, after a year which included time spent in Prague, Helsinki, and Paris. In none of these four places did my dimming journalistic eye and ear detect massive and suicidal “self-loathing.” According to Christopher Caldwell (of the Financial Times and the Weekly Standard), I should not expect to have found it in “my” Nebraska, because it has enough at least residual Christian vitality. But in his Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West, Caldwell does find such loathing. Reviewer Stephen Holmes of NYU Law School nails Caldwell for his alarmism and contradictions, as he captions his review Chicken Little Goes to Europe in the September American Prospect.
Holmes does agree with Caldwell enough to observe overcast skies, but no “sky is falling,” as proclaimed by Chicken Little. What the Chicken Little Flock has to say about Europe, and its religion and ethos, has a bearing on American public life because, if Caldwell is right, there is still enough lively religion in America to help it serve as a fortress against – you guessed it – Muslims, Islam, and Islamism. The author of Reflections is accurate in his observations that European women bear far fewer children than in the past, that several million Muslims have immigrated beckoned by Europeans who wanted Turks, North Africans, and now others, to do their dirty work, and arrive to seek footholds in the form of jobs and opportunities
So Muslims are in Europe, and Caldwell joins or helps lead the ranks of those who see nothing ahead but the “loss” of Europe and its values as Islam establishes “beachheads” behind enemy – that is, Western, Christian, and post-Christian – lines, “patiently conquering Europe’s cities, street by street.” Holmes calls all this inflammatory, which it is intended to be, plus nonsensical, which, though not intended, it is. Meanwhile Muslims fill a vacuum created by Europeans of old stripes who, yes, “are mired in ‘self-loathing’ and ‘hand-wringing’’” or “self-flagellation” in their “guilt-based moral order.” As Holmes spots it, the great failing of Europe is that it has developed an “ideology of tolerance” and hospitality. The word Holmes uses to summarize Caldwell’s complaint is that Europeans have fallen for “humanitarian universalism.”
Lawyer Holmes here turns theologian: “Readers may be forgiven for feeling lost at this point. Isn’t Christianity one of the cultural sources of humanitarian universalism? After all, Christ allegedly died for all mankind,” a theme which even noted secular philosophers like Jürgen Habermas applaud as the great Christian reflection. Where does America come in for plaudits by Caldwell and his kind, there being flocks of big Chicken Little’s out there? Holmes summarizes Caldwell: “America will not be flushed down history’s drain, at least not yet,” because “mass immigration of Muslims” has not yet occurred here. And because Americans are not afraid of blood. Caldwell’s America should boast, notes Holmes, because it houses one-fourth of all the world’s prison inmates and is tough enough also to wield the death penalty and other practices to be associated with non-self-loathing Christian populations. Holmes: “Caldwell’s suggestions are sophomoric fantasies” which are “contributing little to the understanding and nothing to the very real problems surrounding immigrant communities in Europe today.” They also sell well in today’s America where many agree with Caldwell that not Muslim extremism but “Islam itself” is the problem. On that scene, maybe the sky is falling in.
Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.