It is clear that with materialism prevailing and ruling, religions are collapsing, in a tailspin, particularly Christianity. The churches that I once saw full are now empty, and priest are becoming rare. At first I was inspired. I recalled the absurdities of my education, the obligatory confessions, the Sunday morning masses, and the hypocrisy of the local priests. In some ways, I likened religions to fanaticism, to intolerance and narrowmindedness, and to ignorance. I was secretly pleased as I saw formal religion in decline. I had the impression of taking revenge. Yet I soon realized that this decline had opened the door for certain sects to develop and take root, as we still have a need to believe in something. That each of us develop our own religion is ideal, but there is a danger when spiritual refuge in sought in groups who observe odious beliefs and practices.
Then, when this youthful reaction passed, I realized the stability and hope that religion offers, something materialism cannot replace. I saw how the governments of Christian countries mocked and attack the values of their history, values upon which these societies were built and formed. I defend these values. Christianity is not merely a religion, it is our past, the skeleton of our civilization in the West. We needn’t have faith, we can criticize Christianity, but we cannot deny its role or influence, including today. Now, something new has occurred, a historical incongruity, which I never expected and which troubles me deeply.
I have known Islam since my childhood. I always loved the sobriety of mosques, their purity and spirituality. Opposed to the colorful ornamentation of Christian churches, I found serenity in the empty abstraction of mosques. I loved traveling to the Middle East, to Islamic countries where tolerance reigned, where women were not veiled, where “infidels” like myself were free to enter the mosques, and where the muezzin was a poetic memory.
To my absolute stupefaction, a loud, harsh Islam has begun to manifest itself everywhere. It is a conglomeration of fanatics and intolerance that bears no resemblance to the Islam of my childhood or of history. It isn’t only the bloody fanaticism, and the violent intolerance, it entails a segregation of sects and adherence to Sharia that leads to torture, corporeal punishment, and death. How is it possible? How did we come to this?
In opposition to this repugnant Islam stands the figure of Rumi, the Sufi poet of the 13th century, a figure of serenity and tolerance, the glory of Islam.
But now we have ISIS, and we expect the boundaries of intolerance and brutality to be pushed even further still. It is an unimaginable horror, a depravity that shames and dishonors all of humanity.
But why? How? I do not know, but it occupies my mind constantly.
The only explanation I have heard that seems plausible is the following: ISIS has nothing to do with Islam, even if the opposite is proclaimed. ISIS is in reality a force of destruction for the sake of destruction, killing for the sake of killing. It is uncontrolled, outside of any classification or directing principle. It is vengeful nihilism, but who is seeking vengeance, and for what?
Perhaps the decline of Christianity parallels the decline of Islam, a movement away from a true form of charity, sobriety, and virtue, to a perverted version. Spiritual and moral values are in decline, so they are being replaced. The deification of money has replaced faith and moral principles. Some of those who reject this materialism search for an alternative among the many deviations.
The cowardice of the West is troubling in face of this evil caricature of Islam. In order to avoid attack or trouble, the West submits and permits this form to take root and grow. In England, fanatic mullahs are free to promote wicked ideologies and call for holy war against that very country. A Pakistani police officer in England can protest the miniscule cross that tops the crown on the emblem of his uniform. In France, Islamists want to get rid of the symbol of the pharmacies, a neon green cross. Fanaticism is becoming absurd, and the permissiveness of the West has no limits.
The West is partially to blame for the non-integration of Muslim minorities, in part because it doesn’t offer any ideal, only hamburgers and Coca-Cola. That isn’t sufficient, it has never been sufficient.
I feel Christian. I’m not going to defend the church that I have criticized my entire life, yet I am aware of my heritage, our cultural heritage. For two thousand years it has been our heritage, whether we want it or not. We can accept it or refuse it, but it is part of us all, as Europeans. I was content to leave this heritage where it was, in some small corner, but when it is attacked unfairly and unjustly criticized I am reminded and fully aware of all that Christianity has done for Europe. It brought her to the summit of civilization, produced miracles, and created unity. This past, our past, shame on those who would spit on it. I am proud of it.
Recently I have realized that we are in the midst of a war of religions. Something I never would have thought could happen given the dominance of secularism in my time. Yet these Islamic assassins go from city to city in the Muslim world, leaving death in their wake, led by a deformed Islam. They attack the heart of the West. Of course, it must be left to the governments to defend and react as necessary, if they can, and if they are willing. However, it is up to us as individuals, to volunteer in our own way, beginning with forging our own faith, our own values and principles, a personal philosophy that guides our lives.