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S. M. Hutchens on Secularists Who Don’t Get Hell & Terrorists Who Do
In The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11 (2007), Dinesh D’Souza places the heaviest part of the blame for Islam’s hatred of the United States on the American left. The perception of many Muslims that this country is the fountainhead of world-pervasive satanic influences that corrupt morals and degrade human life, he indicates, is not irrational. The importations about which they are so angry—those which normalize sexual promiscuity, attack the integrity of the family, encourage rebellion of the young, mock legitimate authority, and glorify feminism and homosexuality—are largely the products, D’Souza indicates, of the well-financed, media-encouraged cultural aggression of the left.
Muslims, however, are not the only ones who perceive the evil in left-wing religion and its media evangelists. These same influences are also condemned by traditional Jews and Christians as inimical to divine law, humane ethics, and a value system that is both ancient and universal. The primary vision of the United States impressed upon Muslims, however, and which their more warlike leaders have had no difficulty in exploiting, is not that of a nation with the soul of a church, but the one promoted by a world-pervasive secularist media that routinely ignores, caricatures, or derides people of faith, and that is particularly offended by the restrictive sexual ethic upon which they will reliably insist.
The main line of criticism of this book from both the left and the right appears to be that D’Souza’s analysis is culpably incomplete, that he does not take appropriate cognizance of other, historical and political, reasons for this hatred. D’Souza, however, is aware of these. What he attempts to explain is the intensity and apparent irrationality of this hatred, a hatred that makes serious Muslim believers, usually labeled “radical” or “fundamentalist” or “Islamicist,” appear less than sane—the more devout, the more hate-filled and bizarre.
The gap in understanding here, I suggest, is not simply between liberals and conservatives, but between people who believe in God and people who don’t, wherever the latter may lie on the socio-political spectra. Serious, practicing Christians understand the affronted Muslims because they have been similarly affronted, and by the same people. It is by no means difficult for them to see why, when Muslims are receiving so much morally diseased material from America, so many have come to regard this nation as satanic.
Those who hold to what the comparative religion textbooks identify as traditional Christian beliefs share with Muslims the conviction that all earthly events have eternal dimensions, that what they do with their minds and bodies before they go to meet their Maker determines whether they shall spend eternity in happiness or misery. Belief in and confession of the holy name of God, the Almighty, the Merciful, the Maker of the World and the Judge of all men, who has given humanity his word and set an order in the world which is sin to transgress, and which sin, if unmet by the mercy of God, will ruin the soul, is common to Muslims, Jews, and Christians, when they believe the historical tenets of their faiths.
Characteristically, the modern liberal (and uncharacteristically, his conservative antagonist), even if he is religious, is an atheist with respect to this God: If a man indulges in pornography, or a child is disrespectful to his parents, or a woman is immodest—if, that is, these things can actually be defined—these may or may not have negative personal and social results of which reasonable people could disapprove or even deplore. But since (one remembers H. Richard Niebuhr’s remarks on the subject) there is no God who holds people responsible for their actions, and no soul that can be marred, much less damned, by behavior that the True Believer, in agreement with his God, identifies as damning and damnable “sin,” there is nothing to propel any reasonable person to the hatred seen in “radical” Islam’s protest against exported immorality.
The villains of D’Souza’s piece can see only fanaticism in those who believe that the natural pleasure-seeking of the human animal could actually send him to a place called “hell.” If it could, hatred of it could be justified, but since it obviously cannot, what we must have here is the irrationalism of blind, ignorant religiosity.
It is the same hatred, I propose, of which we see Christians accused who persist in identifying homosexuality as sin. If there were in fact a divine authority who defined sexual perversion and declared that no sexual pervert would inherit the kingdom of God, thus identifying an innocent proclivity issuing in a lifestyle preference as a damnable sin, maybe hatred of gayness would be rational. But since this is obviously not the case—since we sensible moderns are atheists with respect to such a God—we must assign those who believe in this old tribal deity, obsessed with fecundity, along with the radical Muslims, to the category of those who are sick with religion, and attribute their exaggerated reactions—reactions of the sort that would lead young men to hijack airliners and fly them into occupied buildings—to malice that can only arise from the bottomless absurdity of religious fanaticism.
Until D’Souza’s critics can demonstrate a comparable level of understanding of the depth and importance of Muslim religious opinion about the United States, however, their rejoinders on historical, political, and economic reasons for the hatred shown in the September 11 attacks will not be convincing. Where religious causes are present among religious people, they suffuse and control all others. Because secularist analysts have, in accordance with the pattern of reason associated by definition with secularism, made themselves unable to assign religious causes of war to anything but a root of unreason, they have made themselves unable to understand either the loves or hatreds arising from this root.
Since they do not understand these loves and hatreds, it is supremely difficult for them—and here I include the many professing Christians who labor from secularist premises—to assign them proper weight in their proposals for the causes underlying historical phenomena. While the religious may misinterpret history, the irreligious can conceive no meaning in it, so are forever condemned to misunderstand it in both its larger and smaller manifestations. From this weakness, I suspect, comes the widespread inability to give D’Souza’s thesis the credit it deserves.
S. M. Hutchens works as a reference librarian in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He holds a doctorate in theology. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.