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June 19, 2006

Clash of (Collapsing) Civilizations?

Filed under: Western civilisation — limewoody @ 6:41 am

By David Warren
I want to say boldly something I've hinted at, or said only parenthetically before. It is something very big that I think is overlooked by nearly everyone who comments on the terror wars. Whether themselves religious or irreligious, most assume that Christian belief is declining in the West, while Islamic belief is ascending in the East. Hence the general fear, among people who are still Christian — and therefore know what power religion can have, and how haplessly secular materialism resists it — that the West is ripe for Islamicization. Worse, the writing on the wall is enlivened by alarming demographic trends.

But what if only the first of these propositions is true?

Without question, the civilization that was once Christendom is in a bad way, not only in Europe, but also across North America. Ignoring polls that tell us nothing, the proportion of people in the West who actually believe in the Trinitarian God, the incarnation of Christ, the working of grace, an absolute moral order, the immortality of the soul — et cetera — has probably never been lower (since, say, the 3rd century AD). It remains significantly higher in America than in Europe. But perhaps only because we have heard Europe's splash at the bottom; whereas America is still sliding down the well.

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I am ignoring, for the moment, why this should be; I am only stating the large fact. I am aware Christian belief is on the rise, steeply, through much of Africa and Asia. But here I am comparing the West, as conventionally defined, to that part of the East corresponding to historical Muslim territory: especially, its heartland in the Middle East.

Now, it is taken for granted by almost everyone that the violence and disorder emanating from so much of traditional Islamdom may be attributed to the spread of Islamic "fundamentalism" or "purism" or "political Islamism". True enough. It may also be true that the great mass of Muslims are being swept along for the ride: much as Hitler and Mussolini were able to bring disaster upon the great mass of otherwise indifferent Germans and Italians — by manoeuvring them into a position where their failing national identities could be placed directly on the block. We have every reason to fear such a catastrophe is gathering again.

But no reason to think it is because the great mass of Muslims have been seized by religious enthusiasm. On the contrary, I have the strongest possible hunch, from everything I know about the current Muslim East, that the opposite is true. The world of Islam is suffering a crisis of belief, parallel to that in the West, though so different in its outward expressions that we do not recognize it. Indeed, the failure of what we fondly call "moderate Muslims" to stand against the fanatic tide, is among the leading indicators that the "mainstream" of Islam has hollowed out.

Plummeting birthrates — a sure sign of a society's terminal decadence — are not confined to the West alone. The Muslims are outbreeding us, in the short run, but their own birthrates are in steep decline. (Ours could well begin rising again, before theirs finish falling.) In guessing what is to come, and thinking what to do about it, we should entertain the proposition that we are witnessing a double collapse of civilization, and thus civility. In effect, the wreckage of Islam is tumbling into the wreckage of Christendom.

We don't see this possibility because our eyes are trained upon what is typical of the crack-up of a Christian society — absurd parodies of old Christian doctrines, such as tolerance for anything at home, and surrender-pacifism abroad. But the same planetary loss of faith, infecting the Muslim world, produces instead absurd parodies of old Islamic doctrines, such as Talibanism at home and gratuitous terrorism abroad. In other words, both civilizations are entering their "second childhood" of senile dementia, but each in his characteristic way.

So that a better way to phrase the question, "Who will win this clash of civilizations?" might be, "Which one is collapsing faster?"


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