Ready to compete

"Ready to compete" Continued...

Issue: "Is Christianity in the U.S. doomed?," June 20, 2009

JM: Islam is going to have a much harder time going through that than Christianity had, because the Quran is the word of God and there is only the literal translation. Reform-minded Islam is a tiny, tiny percentage. On the optimistic side, think of Dearborn: Look at what's happening to Islam in America. There are a lot of Muslims in America who are extremely happy living in a pluralistic world. Go to Indonesia; that's also changing.
But does Islam intrinsically discourage competition within it?

AW: One problem that Islam's going to have is that Muhammad was a ruler. When the Saudis create a theocracy in which they enforce the law of the Quran in the most ruthless manner, where there is an absolute, indistinguishable world of alliance between the church and the state, that's not a misinterpretation of the Quran as far as I can see.
How does the opportunity Christians have to read the Bible fit in, as compared to reading the Quran?

AW: The Bible is published in 95 percent of the languages of the world, various dialects. It's also presented in cartoons, Bible theater, teenage magazines. . . . There's actually huge resistance to translating the Quran, because Muslims believe that it is the word of God spoken to Muhammad in Arabic, and it can't be translated into any other language. So most people that Muslims are converting do not understand a word of what they are taught to recite. Today, I think this competition and pluralism, which is the essence of American doctrine, is its strength.
Why don't we hear about the advantages of competition for Christianity?

JM: People haven't gone out and reported it. Secular intellectuals are wholly blind to it, and evangelical intellectuals have not yet really wanted to get hold of it. A lot want to say, "We're right, we're right, we're right," rather than actually engaging in full-scale intellectual debate.
Evangelicals from Puritan days to the present have often preached of declension, with a sense that the old days were better.

JM: Before the Revolution, America wasn't that religious. In Salem, where The Crucible was set, some 80 percent of households had no religious identification.
Today, do you find more optimism or pessimism among American evangelicals?

AW: There's really no middle ground: Either the sky is falling or empires are being created that will never, ever decline. Some "pastorpreneurs" have these incredible notions about growing by 10 percent or 20 percent a year, and on the other hand there's a sudden shift of some people saying, "Everything is falling, the numbers are collapsing, evangelical America has no influence on politics, we must retreat from the secular world, we have to create a cocoon where we can protect our values from a corrupt world."
And some people go back and forth.

AW: You can see these two things existing together, sometimes even within the same brain, in the same mental space. A lot of people are truly schizophrenic between the notion of the immanent Christianization of America and the immanent destruction of Christianity in America. During the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal: "We've lost the culture war, we have to just give up. We have to retreat, just deal with the private world, just let this sinful world out there be as it is." When Bush came along suddenly everything had changed, and we were back to building a Christian republic in which everybody should adhere to the same principles.
What do you make of the atheist bestsellers during the past several years?

JM: You do not suddenly wake up in a panic about God being bad or terrible if you think you've already won the argument. If you went back 10 or 15 years, the idea that Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens could write a bestseller on the subject would have seemed odd, because-certainly in Europe-most of the educated elites would have assumed that God was disappearing anyway, so what's the worry?
Do you think they make a strong case?

AW: Two things really annoy me about the neo-atheist position. One is that they write about evangelical Christians in much the same way and in much the same tone as white supremacists used to talk about blacks. And the second thing is that there's a notion of unilateral moral disarmament where the other side is expected to disarm. If you're arguing about gay marriage, people who are liberals and who support gay marriage are allowed to bring their most profound moral beliefs to that argument, as they should be, but then they say, "You can't base your contrary arguments on religious beliefs, because that shouldn't be part of the public square." That's nonsense. Everybody should be allowed to bring their most profound beliefs; for many, many people, their most profound beliefs are based on their faith, and no one should question their right to bring those arguments and to engage in political organization on the basis of those arguments.
Still, the atheists get a lot of press attention.


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