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Christianity vs. Islam – a scorecard

You should check out  God is Back by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge. They explore the future of religion worldwide. I got these notes from David Mays. Please check out his site. America continues to have a huge influence on the shape of religion because of our wealth and because o…
By Seth Barnes
You should check out  God is Back by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge. They explore the future of religion worldwide. I got these notes from David Mays. Please check out his site.

America continues to have a huge influence on the shape of religion because of our wealth and because others look to us for how to organize and manage and how to adapt a traditional religious message to modern audiences.  “It is not clear how the world’s religions will fare in a gradually more ‘American’ environment.”

The worldview projected by America is highly offensive to traditional societies, particularly depictions of female sexuality and raw violence.  The internet allows people to question everything their elders tell them.  “The assault on tradition is often an assault on religion.

Three of the most important innovations in radical Islam are 1) making a distinction between the ‘faithful’ and the ‘unfaithful’ Muslim rulers, 2) to reassert the power of Islam as the way to deal with modernity, and 3) to pronounce a death sentence on decadent Western civilization.  What they most resent is ‘sexual and cultural promiscuity.’  For them, Islam is the ideal antithesis of the modern West.  Their way forward is to go backward.  

Christians and Muslims are both very adept at using the tools of modernity — globalization, the media and growing wealth to distribute their books although they approach the religious task differently. The average American home has 4 Bibles but biblical knowledge is abysmal.  Fewer than half of Americans can name the first book.  12% think Noah married Joan of Arc.  But the situation is worse with Islam.  

The Bible is a bottom up affair with hundreds of organizations contributing to getting the Word out.  The Koran is going global almost exclusively on the back of Saudi oil wealth.  It is one of the central pillars of Saudi foreign policy.

Christians have several advantages.  They are much more enthusiastic about translations.  They are effective at turning the operation into a profitable commercial enterprise with an enormous variety of products.  The believers are quite wealthy as opposed to the heartland of the Koran, which is relatively poor.  Whereas the heartland of Islam is theocratic, the West believes in religious freedom.  The uneven playing field (Saudis can build mosques in the West but Bibles cannot be distributed there) in the long-run weakens the home players.  Christianity seems to be doing better at thriving in the face of modernity. 
 
But the Islamic world is a long way behind the Christian one in its engagement with modernity.  Islam has never experienced a Reformation or Enlightenment.  Despite the blessings of oil, the Arab world…lags behind the West in most indices of economic success and political maturity…. There is depressingly little evidence of internal cultural creativity….  Most Gulf countries have an unhealthy reliance on a single windfall, oil, that owes everything to the twin accidents of geology and geography and nothing to the ingenuity and entrepreneurialism of the people. Roughly two in three private-sector jobs in the Gulf are performed by foreigners.
 
The fiercest opposition to pluralism is in Saudi Arabia.  Dubai allows freedom of worship but trying to convert a Muslim is a criminal offense.  Malaysia now has sharia courts that intervene to stop anyone from leaving Islam.  “This aversion to pluralism poisons everything that it touches in the Islamic world.” (293)  If a free discussion of “first things” is prevented, there is no hope of producing world class universities.

The greatest change in foreign policy in the recent past has been the revival of religion.  It is impossible to understand international affairs today without taking faith into account. We are living in ‘the age of sacred terror’ (quoting a book title). Politicians are stirring up religious passion.  Outsiders are rushing into conflicts to defend their religions.  Terrorist outrages have religious connections.  Three out of four most likely flashpoints for nuclear conflict have a strong religious element (Pakistan-India, Iran, and Israel-Palestine).  

There are plenty of reasons to kill without religion.  The 20th century was the most secular and the most bloody in our existence: Godless religions of Nazism and communism killed tens of millions according to George Weigel.

Killing is now much more bottom-up than top-down and the ability of governments to control religious politics has declined.  “The most immediate global threat comes from the ungoverned, undergoverned and ungovernable areas of the Muslim World….


Excerpts from  God is Back
by John Micklethwait is the editor in chief and Adrian Wooldridge is
the management editor for The Economist. One is an atheist and one a
Catholic.

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