November 21, 2015


The Islam America Needs Now (Gideon Strauss, November 20, 2015, Providence)

Maritain's efforts to figure out the relationship between his faith and his political life involved a slow, honest, and arduous journey. It was a journey that demanded serious study of the Christian scriptures and of centuries of Christian theology and philosophy and serious attention to the political realities of his day. The journey did not result in Maritain loosening himself from his commitments and convictions as a Catholic Christian, but rather involved a hard-won deepened practice and understanding of those commitments and convictions.

"Simply treating Isis as a form of 'terrorism' or 'violent extremism' masks the menace," writes Scott Atran in The Guardian. "Merely dismissing it as 'nihilistic' reflects a willful and dangerous avoidance of trying to comprehend, and deal with, its profoundly alluring moral mission to change and save the world. ... Current counter-radicalization approaches lack the mainly positive, empowering appeal and sweep of Isis's story of the world; and the personalized and intimate approach to individuals across the world. The first step to combating Isis is to understand it. We have yet to do so."

After Paris America needs Muslims who are willing to go on a journey similar to that of Jacques Maritain. These Muslims will remain motivated by the "positive, empowering appeal and sweep of [the] story of the world" told by Islam. America needs Muslim opinion leaders who will remain committed to Islam's "profoundly alluring moral mission to change and save the world." Yet these opinion leaders must be willing to do the slow, hard, subtle work necessary to discover how that story and that mission, instead of winning recruits for the murderous Islamic State, can equip Muslims to become fellow builders of a revitalized American democracy and a strengthened and emboldened global political order that attaches "supreme ethical significance to human beings agonizingly caught between individualist atomism without community and 'totalitarian' statehood without freedom."

It behooves Christian political thinkers like myself (my own Calvinist tradition has as often as not coddled its own dreams of religious-political dominion in the here-and-now) to support Muslims on this difficult journey, to engage Muslims in serious and respectful dialogue, to offer robust challenge, and to be open to robust challenges about the ways in which our deepest loves and fondest hopes equip us for life in democracies alongside fellow citizens who do not share those loves or those hopes. As a Christian, I cannot leave my Christian faith inside the house when I step out into the public square. The why and the how of my political life have everything to do with my Christian commitments and convictions. Surely no less should be expected of - or allowed to - Muslims in a pluralist democracy?

Posted by at November 21, 2015 8:22 AM