Monday, December 02, 2002

Mathew Bates points to a column from Paul Sheehan in the Sydney Morning Herald on the rise of a more fundamental version of Christianity, particularly in Africa and other parts of the third world. Sheehan has clearly just read the much more detailed (and much better) article on this subject by Philip Jenkins in the October Atlantic Monthly and is giving us the Cliff's Notes version, and is comes to a much more alarmist conclusion than Jenkins himself does. (This is typical Sheehan). There is also a very interesting follow up letters column from this month's issue. We are getting what is essentially pre-Enlightenment Christianity in much of the poor world. It's not homogeneous of course - there is pre-Enlightenment Christianity in the rich world and vice versa. The question is whether Christianity in these countries will evolve into something more modern and Western as these countries develop, and/or as people from these countries emigrate to western countries. I am personally reasonably optimistic: the Enlghtenment was essentially a Christian project and Christians worldwide are constantly in contact with its consequences (which include development, freedom and prosperity).

The problem with Islam and Islamic people in the west is that there is no such thing as post-Enlightenment Islam. To retreat into Islam is to retreat into the past almost by definition, and if you are part of a minority in the West that perceives itself as embattled then retreating into Islam is a way of emphasising the differences between you and mainstream society. None of these things are really true for fundamentalist forms of Christianity.

This is not to say that fundamentalist Christianity cannot cause problems in the west: clearly it can and does. (See, for instance, abortion clinic bombings in the US). However, the stance that "Fundamentalism is the only true Islam and if you are not a fundamentalist you are not a Muslim" is a positition that finds far more opposition and works far less well if anyone attempts to apply it to Christianity.

No comments:

Blog Archive