Long article in yesterday’s NYT Sunday Magazine on how the West’s march towards rational secularism is stopped dead in its tracks by the political fundamentalism of radical Islam.
A little more than two centuries ago we began to believe that the West was on a one-way track toward modern secular democracy and that other societies, once placed on that track, would inevitably follow. Though this has not happened, we still maintain our implicit faith in a modernizing process and blame delays on extenuating circumstances like poverty or colonialism. This assumption shapes the way we see political theology, especially in its Islamic form — as an atavism requiring psychological or sociological analysis but not serious intellectual engagement. Islamists, even if they are learned professionals, appear to us primarily as frustrated, irrational representatives of frustrated, irrational societies, nothing more. We live, so to speak, on the other shore. When we observe those on the opposite bank, we are puzzled, since we have only a distant memory of what it was like to think as they do. We all face the same questions of political existence, yet their way of answering them has become alien to us. On one shore, political institutions are conceived in terms of divine authority and spiritual redemption; on the other they are not. And that, as Robert Frost might have put it, makes all the difference.
The article traces the evolution of Western “political theology” from the dawn of man to the present day. There are at least a dozen places in the article where I have a serious beef with the author’s assumptions and facts – especially his sweeping statement that pro-Nazi theologian Friedrich Gogarten was anything more than an aberration. But that isn’t the point.
The point of the whole article is an important one – the West has lost touch with the idea that faith can rationally drive politically activism and until we get back in touch with that reality we are hosed. (‘hosed’ being a technical academic term, of course)