Sunday, September 24, 2006

The "Clash of Civilisations"

This article is a modified and shortened version of a sermon given by me on Trinity 13 2006 at St Hilda's Mission, Maitland, NSW, Australia.

Sin, like virtue, has many manifestations. And so, when sinners fight, it is often possible to see fault on each side, as one type of selfishness battles another. Unfortunately, the sins and errors of men, though often incompatible with each other, will unite against their common enemy: Christ and the Church. A modern example of this is the so-called “clash of civilizations” between Islam and the post-Christian West.

The modern West, as it sees itself, stands for individual freedoms and human rights, equality, democracy, and for freedom of inquiry and technological advance. Whereas, from the West's perspective, Islamic fundamentalism stands for oppression, tyranny and ignorance.

But the Islamist sees things differently. He sees politically active Islam, at least potentially, as the means to harmony with God and between people through submission to God’s will. And human reason is one of the things that must also submit. He sees respect within families and orderly authority as guarantees of a successful society when in conjunction with Sharia law enforcing moral health. On the other hand, the West is perceived as devoted to sexual corruption, social disorder, impiety, and thus hypocrisy when it claims superiority.

But what does the Church say? Or, more to the point, what does Christ say through the Scriptures? With Islam and against the secular West we reject the idea that freedom means freedom from responsibility or freedom to sin (Gal. 5.13-15). And we also reject putting individual above the community (1 Cor. 5.1-6), ignoring or artificially undermining traditional gender roles (1 Cor. 11.2-16, 14.34-38), and allowing science or industry carte blanche (1 Cor. 6.12) in their manipulations of nature.

But against the Islamism, and with the West that we helped create, we reject the view that virtue can be coerced by all-encompassing law (Mt. 5.5, Rom. 8.3a, Gal. 3.21) and that women's lives must be utterly submerged as inferiors beneath an overwhelming and self-serving exercise of raw male power (Pr. 31.10-31). Similarly, we do not accept that the egalitarianism, liberty and respect for others consciences which underlie democracy are too risky to allow (cf. Gal. 3.28, 1 Co. 7.23, 8.7-13).

Instead, what the church is for is both liberty and moral order within society (Lev. 25.10, Mic. 4.4, Rom. 13.1-7), and both submission and sacrificial chivalry within the family (Eph. 5.22-29). And so we must be willing to criticise both the West's devotion to lust and the Islamist's devotion to coercive violence, while appealing to both sides to abandon their common illusion: that, with enough moral effort or the right social, economic or technological programme, humanity can solve its fundamental problems and establish near Utopian conditions on Earth. In other words, we must preach the Gospel, including the doctrine of Original Sin, and place our trust in God's grace, not human works.

Ironically, as we do this, even if we “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4.15), both the secular West and radical Islam will probably still join in despising us. The Islamists pretend to blame us for the sins of the West, while the secular West often pretends to equate devout Christians with Islamic suicide bombers! And it is pretence or self deception. We should not be surprised. The World hates us, just as Jesus predicted. But “greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world” (1 Jn 4.4). So, let us take courage and remember to pray for all those who are deceived.
Update: I wrote the first version of this more than a fortnight ago. Since then, events have perhaps made it seem to some that the "Clash" is primarily between Islam and the Church, rather than Islam and the West. But it is still worth remembeing that many of those in the West criticising Islam (and its recent reactions) are hungering for a showdown with "Islamofascists" out of unChristian hate and a deeply committed libertarianism, whether of the left or the right. It is dangerous for Christians to think "the enemy of my enemy is my friend". We must be careful with whose rhetoric we ally ourselves. I am sure the Pope understands this, judging from what he has said and how he has handled himself. He knows that some of the Muslim criticisms of the modern West are valid and that Islam retains much of value from its Judeo-Christian background. Indeed, this correlates with the point that the Byzantine quoted by the Pope was making: that it was what was new in Islam that was distorted. He was willing to grant there was good in it, but only insofar as it drew on the true Revelation both Christians and Muslims accepted.


Albion Land said...

This is what I have been arguing for a long time. The clash is not so much between Islam and Christianity but between Islam and the post-Christian, or secular, West.

But let us not forget that Islam, like Christianity, will not rest until all people are one. The difference lies in the methodology, and the theological and philosophical pillars that underlie that methodology -- coercion vs conviction.

Anonymous said...

It's also what the Pope has been saying for a long time, Albion. I think what might have surprise him was to find just how quick the Western secular media were to side with Islam (if not actually radical Islam, then at least hypersensitive easily-offended Islam) when they perceived a chance to make the Pope, and by extension the Church, look silly. Or perhaps he was expecting that, too. After all, he's not silly.

poetreader said...

A good treatment, Father Kirby, but it does have to be remembered, that ultimately the conflict really is between the Church and those who hate Christianity. In opposing traditional Christianity, Islam, Western Secularism, and modernist religion speak with one voice, no matter how much they may be at odds on other matters. Islam (even moderate Islam)has in common with modernism that it was deliberately constructed in opposition to the truth of the Catholic Tradition, and both ideologies are entirely committed to driving traditional Catholicism out of existence.

As an aside, it needs also to be noted that Islam's criticism of the West for its sexual immorality is a little hypocritical. Until the recent collapse of Western morality, the whole civilized world was aware of and dismayed by the sexual perversity of the Islamic world. Osama's father, as reported in [i]The Week[/i]for 9/14, had at least 22 wives, no more than 4 at a time, and many of them for less than 24 hours, which is all quite in accord with [i]sharia[/i]. There is also the sad misuse of boys in Afghanistan, condemned by Islamic law, but yet an integral part of the society.

No, hate is not justified. We are not asked, but commanded to love our enemies, but we are also expected to use wisdom in identifying our enemies, and, though it is not PC to say so, Islam is an irreformable enemy of the Church.


Fr. Robert Hart said...

With Mohamed all of the many kinds of heresy were combined into one new religion. Can we not see at least an echo, if not a fulfillment, of I John 2:18? "Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time." Who is this one antichrist that sums up the work of all the heretics who had come before, be they Legalists, Gnostics or Arians? Be they Montanists with a "new prophecy" or Pneumatamachoi that deny the Holy Spirit. All of these antichrists had the system of their doctrine swept up into the substance of Islam by the antichirst himself, who I have long identified as that raider who came out of the desert to convert the cities and cultures of Middle Eastern Christianity into an extension of the desert, a place of barreness.

Fr. John said...

This is important to think on. Fr. Kirby has gotten to the essence of the situation. And yes both secular humanism (it is world wide and not confined to the West)and Islam of all stripes seek our destruction. This is most clearly seen when the left wing media use the Islamic reaction to the Pope's lecture to try and discredit the Church and to minimize the Pope. They must know that Islamic true believers want desperately to kill them, and yet they cannot resist going along with the fantastic charges leveled at His Holiness by those same Muslims.

Look at this from Lucifer's point of view; both secular humanism and Islam are useful tools to attack the Church. Why not work both ends to attack the same target? And if they get in each other's line of fire so what? More souls for Hell to consume.

The danger for Christians here is in choosing sides. We need to make sure that we are on Christ's side and soldiers in His Army. Remember, many of the most vocal opponents of the Muslim terrorists believe orthodox Christians to be potentially just as dangerous.

In a world of "conflict resolution", mandatory "diversity training", and and a strict rule that religious beliefs should not be allowed to influence public policy in any way, Christians are headed for the kind of conflicts that will cost them their jobs and lead to their marginalization in society.

Until we get a new attitude about promoting the gospel we will continue to be marginalized. For us the question must not be whether Jerusalem is to be Jewish or Muslim , rather the question should be why is it not Christian?