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It’s interesting to see how our western culture, totally permeated with relativism and tolerance, is now quickly moving towards absolutist positions of rejection and even racism, generally known as populism.
The last twenty-five years have seen what has been called a clash of cultures between the Islamic and the western world. Some have tried to present it as a clash between religions, but the truth is that in our post-modern/post-Christian societies, Christianity can face even more opposition than Islam, although in a subtler way.
Islam extremists and terrorism were like an earthquake in a otherwise fairly stable environment - a wake-up call for a world that takes for granted principles like democracy, open-mindedness, and a “live and let live” attitude that still permeates every aspect of our relationships. The real big clash our societies is facing today is actually between relativism and absolutism, not between Christianity and Islam.
It’s interesting to see how our western culture, totally permeated with relativism and (theoretically) tolerance, after a period filled with different attempts to integrate immigrants of different religions, is now quickly moving towards absolutist positions of rejection and even racism, generally known as populism. Since relativism can exist only in a society where no one has absolute ideas or agendas, once it became clear that most of the newcomers wouldn’t have accepted this live and let live dogma, the citizens of our tolerant and open countries discovered themselves full of absolutism. America first (or whatever your European country is, first) is just the outcry of a huge identity crisis that affects our western world. Challenged by an invasion of “we-know-who-we-are-and-what-we-want” kind of people, Europeans are desperate to find fixed points they can hold on to so desperate that politicians without any strong moral values are heard invoking our Christian heritage, as if it were a cultural sign, rather than a faith identity.
Truth is, we are now facing a very old problem. This world continually swings between extremes and the church too often follows those extremes instead of presenting an actual viable and original alternative. We therefore find Christians who choose the “law and order party” and others who prefer the “peace and love tolerance party”.
The first approach uses fear to reject cultures that we feel to be alien and dangerous. The problem with this approach is that it is defending something that no longer exists on grounds that it doesn’t really acknowledge. You cannot defend some Christian values while neglecting others. You can’t denounce terrorism because it doesn’t respect the sacredness of life and kill millions of children in their mothers’ womb, you can’t protect the right to be wealthy when you have done a lot to keep other countries poor, you can’t defend women’s rights while you are promoting a billion dollar porn industry. The notorious “European Christian roots” have too often become an excuse for rejecting foreigners rather than an actual declaration of identity. When Christianity becomes cultural instead of personal and based on heritage rather than faith, it becomes no more than another ideology.
The second, more liberal and tolerant approach, struggled from the beginning to harmonize a welcoming attitude for anything that is “different” or poorer with the reality of people who didn’t always have good intentions or didn’t want to integrate. How do you manage that? The result is often denial. According to this view, Islamic terrorists are only a small minority and the immigration problem doesn’t have anything to do with religion. This clearly avoids facing the facts that although terrorists are a small minority, they are also the fruit of a silent majority that does consider non-Muslims as inferior, Islam as having the right to expand itself in other territories and even supports practices that we would consider barbaric, like physical punishment for crimes. But why do so many men and women deny the factual faults of Islamic culture? I believe the answer is once again fear. Every psychology will tell you that denial (like anger) is just one of the many ways we can respond to situations that we perceive as negative or dangerous. “I don’t like it, therefore it doesn’t exist” is an attitude that is more common than we would think and that can transform intelligent and otherwise objective people, into nonsense proclaimers.
Deception and fear are some of our enemy’s weapons against the truth. We, as Christians, are called not to be “unaware of his schemes”. Instead, we too often listen to the voices that bring fear into our houses and join factions of men who propose earthly solutions. The answer cannot be one of anger and rejection, because we are called to love even our enemies, and it cannot be one of denial because we are children of the light, called to spread the truth of Jesus Christ.
Let’s stop following earthly ideologies and limited human beings. As “shrewd snakes and innocent doves” let’s practice discernment and love for our neighbors, whatever their religion, as we present them our Lord Jesus Christ, remembering that our fight is against spiritual realms, not people.
Pier Francesco Abortivi lives in Italy and is EU director for ACCI and president of Progetto Archippo.