Columnists > Voices

Visions of the future

Books worth reading as Mars pulls warlike at the leash

Issue: "Weapons of mass hysteria," March 15, 2003

JOURNALISTS WHO THINK AFLAQ IS A MISSPELLING of the name of an insurance company advertised by a duck have trouble understanding Middle Eastern events. Michael Aflaq was the intellectual founder of the Ba'ath Party, a secular socialist group that became Saddam Hussein's ticket to dictatorship. But Saddam is now pushing faith in Allah, not Aflaq, and the length of the likely war in Iraq may be determined by his success in that pursuit.

Writer David Brooks, who describes himself as a "recovering secularist," is also learning. In the March issue of The Atlantic Monthly, long a liberal stronghold, he describes his realization that advances in science and increases in wealth do not signify the demise of religion: "Secularism is not the future; it is yesterday's incorrect vision of the future."

Mr. Brooks asks American professors to "accept the fact that you are not the norm." He notes that "foundations and universities send out squads of researchers to study and explain religious movements," but what's weird are academic pockets of "secular fundamentalists who are content to remain smugly ignorant of enormous shifts occurring all around them."

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Mr. Brooks observes that "The recovering secularist has to resist the temptation to treat religion as a mere conduit for thwarted economic impulses ... faith is its own force, independent of and perhaps greater than economic resentment." He concludes, "We are inescapably caught in a world of conflicting visions of historical destiny.... Understanding this world means beating the secularist prejudices out of our minds every day."

Understanding the world these days means understanding the nature and aims of post-Aflaq Islamism. WORLD's March 23, April 27, and Nov. 30 issues last year noted some books useful in that regard, and to that number should be added Daniel Pipes's Militant Islam Reaches America (Norton, 2002) and Don Richardson's Secrets of the Koran (Regal, 2003). Secular fundamentalists who do not comprehend Islam's motivational force are worthy successors to the 20th-century pundits and academics skewered in Mona Charen's Useful Idiots: How Liberals Got It Wrong in the Cold War and Still Blame America First (Regnery, 2003).

Lit-Sen Chang's Asia's Religions: Christianity's Momentous Encounter with Paganism (China Horizon and P&R Publishing, 1999) and David Marshall's Jesus and the Religions of Man (Kuai Mu Press, Seattle, 2000) provide brief introductions to Buddhism, Hinduism, and other eastern religions, and hint that some of them have plagiarized aspects of Christianity. D.N. Jha's The Myth of the Holy Cow (Verso, 2002) came under attack by India's government for delving into the origins of one of Hinduism's central tenets. Robert Johnson Jr.'s Athena and Eden: The Hidden Meaning of the Parthenon's East Fa?ade (Solving Light Books, 2002) argues that Genesis and the Parthenon sculptures tell the same story from opposite viewpoints, with Athena (portrayed with a serpent beside her) as a deified, heroic Eve.

Also in the stack by my treadmill-again, I'm only mentioning the worthy one-third of those received-is Martin Palmer's The Jesus Sutras (Ballantine, 2001), which describes a Christian incursion into China over a millennium ago and the way those pioneers tried to explain Christianity in terms Taoists and Buddhists could understand. That effort became an attempted bridge too far, both theologically and geographically. A book with essays by John Piper and others, Beyond the Bounds: Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity (Crossway, 2003), alerts us to a current theological danger.

Philip Hamburger's Separation of Church and State (2002) shows the turning of the tide. It's great that a Harvard University Press book shows how the fear and prejudice of secular fundamentalists from Harvard and other universities have transformed the First Amendment into an excuse for intolerance and discrimination. Doug Wilson's The Case for Classical Christian Education (Crossway, 2003) amplifies and clarifies the powerful vision that launched a thousand schools. Mr. Wilson praises the good and skewers the "weirder manifestations of 'classical education' [that turn] what should be the kids' life-their education-into an instrument of torture and death.... The classroom is for the child; the child is not for the classroom."

Secular fundamentalism is dying, but in the meantime-and this is a mean time-we have to turn our thoughts to war. A. Jay Cristol's The Liberty Incident (Brassey's, 2002) shows how the fog of battle in 1967 led to 34 American deaths. Lawrence Kaplan and William Kristol's The War Over Iraq: Saddam's Tyranny and America's Mission (Encounter, 2003) makes the maximum case for war. We should enter into it prayerfully, not exuberantly.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.


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