I wrote recently that if 9-11 did anything it brought the East into the mind of West "like nothing else has done in modern history...practically every international company and non-profit organization, every Western government and almost all of the cultural institutions of Western civil society to confront issues posed by radical Islam. " One segment of Western civil society finally waking up to the challenges of radical Islam are the conservative Christian theologians and laymen academics of most Western denominations.
It's good to see cardinals, pastors, thoughtful laymen and academics, thinking through the implications of this most recent encroachment of the East into the West. Their insights -- fundamentally different from overly-political government analysis, or the equally tedious "peace process" reports from DC think tanks -- challenges most secular notions of our current encounter with Islam, and pose questions a government analyst wouldn't touch with a 50 mile pole.
One recent example is an article in the October issue of First Things reintroducing readers to the now-politically incorrect ideas on Islam of Franz Rosenzweig, one of the 20th century's greatest theologians.
The author, the pseudonymous "Spengler," summarizes Rosenzweig's thoughts on Islam. Unfortunately, the article is not available online, but let's just say genius aside Rosenzweig would probably not be given a permanent position at any Western university were he alive today. As "Spengler" writes:
Contemporary academic thinkers almost universally eschew Rosenzweig's view of Islam. But it makes no sense to affirm Rosenzweig''s depiction of the unique bond between Jews and Christians...while ignoring what makes this bond so different from other human responses to the transcendent
And what is it that Rosenzweig writes about Islam in his 1921 masterpiece The Star of Redemption?
The concept of the Path of Allah is entirely different than God's path. The paths of God are the disposition of divine decrees high above human events. Bu following the path of Allah means in the narrowest sense propagating Islam through holy war. In the obedient journey upon this path, taking upon one's self the associated dangers, the observance of the laws prescribed for it, Muslim piety finds its way in the world. The path of Allah is not elevated above the path of humankind, as far as the heaven stretches above the earth, but rather the path of Allah means immediately the path of his believers.
Spengler writes that Rosenzweig was "quite prepared to believe that Islam was more humane and tolerant than Christianity during some of its history. But that historical fact remains beside Rosenzweig's point, for he sees Islam as the path of obedience: 'The path of Allah requires the obedience of the will to a commandment that has been given once and for all time. By contrast, in [Judeo-Christian] brotherly love, the spore of human character erupts ever anew, incited by the ever-surprising outbreak of the act of love."
Oooops. That'll make 'em squirm at the next biennial inter-religious dialog conference. It's also why it will never be discussed. I actually disagree with Rosenzweig's conclusion, but my understanding of things theological is very narrow at the moment. I'm only pointing out the challenging ideas of someone who knew more about such things.
Lucky that radical Islam is an ideology. At least Western secular analysts can tackle that part of the challenge. But radical Islam is religion, too. That's where the problem lies. Most Western analysts are trained in universities that are often hostile to any sincere expression of religious faith, let alone serious Western theological thought.
Students in middle east studies and related fields have little exposure to authentic theological understanding of any issue, let alone radical Islam. This leaves most analysts, even experienced ones, with very narrow lenses with which to view the threat from radical Islam. Those lenses are informed by one of several Western political ideologies. None of them are adequate enough to completely understand the threat and the risks of action. The end result is a disjointed and contradictory image of the enemy.
I sense an opening here for sincere theologians to pose tough questions, and offer insights and answers that many analysts and policy makers may never consider.