November 15, 2007


Anti- and Anti-Anti-Islamists
: The West and the challenge of Islamic fanaticism
(Fred Siegel, 19 October 2007, City Journal)

[H]aving written a book that decries the Protestant Reformation’s plunging Europe into a century of religious war, Lilla does a 180-degree turn in the Times Magazine, inexplicably praising the Reformation as a model for Muslims. “The complacent liberalism and revolutionary messianism we’ve encountered,” he writes, “are not the only theological options. There is another kind of transformation possible in biblical faiths, and that is the renewal of traditional political theology from within. If liberalizers are apologists for religion at the court of modern life, renovators stand firmly within their faith and reinterpret political theology so believers can adapt without feeling themselves to be apostates. Luther and Calvin were renovators in this sense, not liberalizers. They called Christians back to the fundamentals of their faith, but in a way that made it easier, not harder, to enjoy the fruits of temporal existence.”

Lilla ignores the fact that Sunni Islam has already experienced something akin to a Reformation, in the form of eighteenth-century Wahhabism, which called Muslims back to the unadorned faith first preached by Mohammed. But while the Western liberal tradition stands on the two legs of Athens and Jerusalem, the singular focus on submission to God’s word in Islam—preached nowhere more intensely than in Wahhabi Islam—leaves no room for a second leavening tradition. What Islam has missed is not a Reformation, but an Enlightenment.

And whom does Lilla nominate to lead a renovated Islam? None other than Tariq Ramadan, the grandson and intellectual heir of Hasan al-Banna (about whom more later), the founder of the fascist-influenced Muslim Brotherhood, from which both the PLO and al-Qaida descend. Lilla explains: “If we cannot expect mass conversion to the principles of the Great Separation—and we cannot—we had better learn to welcome transformations in Muslim political theology that ease coexistence.” But he does not explain how the Salafist Ramadan, who has close ties with Islamic extremists, is to be the bearer of good news.

My puzzlement grew as I stumbled upon another recent article of Lilla’s for the New York Times, this one about his experiences as a Roman Catholic who became an evangelical Christian and now rejects both faiths. Lilla is still on a mission, albeit a very different one. He writes of a slight acquaintance who is hoping to be born again: “I wanted to warn him against the anti-intellectualism of American religion today and the political abuses to which it is subject. I wanted to cast doubt on the step he was about to take, to help him see there are other ways to live, other ways to seek knowledge, love, perhaps even self-transformation. I wanted to convince him that his dignity depended on maintaining a free, skeptical attitude toward doctrine. I wanted . . . to save him.”

Lilla the Hobbesian has not explained, as far as I’m aware, how he squares secularism with his embrace of Tariq Ramadan’s Islamism as the hope for the future. Perhaps it’s the other Lilla—the one who wishes that Christianity had openly recognized its nature as a political religion—who has moved in Ramadan’s direction. But either way, his sentiments reveal the underlying logic of his book. In effect, he thinks it better to encourage Islam than to allow the malign fruits of Christianity to continue blooming. Given the choice between Hobbes and Christianity, he prefers Hobbes. Given the choice between Hobbes and Ramadan’s Islam, he’ll reluctantly take Islam. What he can never countenance is Christianity, which he seems to view as our most urgent threat.

To the chagrin of the Brights, American anti-Intellectualism has been a key to our success.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 15, 2007 9:09 AM

Siegel has it right, as I've noted here before.

Luther, and especially Calvin, were fanatics, with Calvin's Geneva the early-modern equivalent of the Iraqi hamlets that Al Q took over.

How could it be otherwise with Protestant determinition, like the Wahhabists, to strip aways 1400 years of tradition in an effort to get back to a mythic early X'ty? And indeed sola scriptura has much in common with Wahhabist interpretation of the Koran. Ditto the stripping of the altars, etc.

What is needed is an Enlightenment, not a Reformation a la Protestantism. And one might in fact argue that Enlightenment happened in spite of Protestantism, and even perhaps that Enlightenment owed much to the humanist Baroque Catholicisim that flowed from Trent.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at November 15, 2007 9:51 AM

it was unreforrmed nations that fell for the enlightenment, to their discredit.

Posted by: oj at November 15, 2007 3:06 PM

Jim is on the right track. The spiritual jailhouse has already had its Luther-style, so-called "reformation." In the case of Protestantism, this had been capitulation to the princes, discarding the traditional Christian balance between the two cities; in the case of the jailhouse, subjugation of religion to the state had always been central, more particularly within the Sunni mob family.

Posted by: Lou Gots at November 15, 2007 5:47 PM

as benedict concedes the reformation ceeated the balance of church and state

Posted by: oj at November 15, 2007 11:18 PM

John Calvin the fore-runner of Al Qaeda? Geneva akin to Fallujah? That is beneath you - it sounds like something Margaret Atwood might write.

By that logic, we should believe that most of the Popes between 800 or 900 and 1550 were as secular and corrupt as Saddam Hussein, no? Or as pure as the Dali Lama?

I also don't understand about capitulation to the princes - Luther was protected by German princes, to be sure, and the religious wars immediately after 1517 were sparked by the Reformers and their defiance of the Church, but they were fought (on both sides) by a variety of "princes" who used religion as an excuse. The struggles were political - the princes weren't fighting over Biblical text but power and money. Rome and her allies had their share of princes, too.

Posted by: jim hamlen at November 15, 2007 11:34 PM

Actually, it sounds more like Andrew Sullivan.

Posted by: ratbert at November 16, 2007 8:22 AM