America Goes the Way of Europe: Christians Becoming Minority

View of the Cathedral of Learning in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, January 26, 2009
View of the Cathedral of Learning in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, January 26, 2009 (Jon Dawson)

America is going the way of Europe. There are fewer Christians. Young people in particular are losing faith. White Christians have become a minority.

The Public Religion Research Institute interviewed more than 100,000 Americans across all fifty states and found that:

  • White Christians comprise only 43 percent of the population anymore. As recently as 1976, that was 81 percent.
  • Catholic and mainline Protestant churches have gradually lost flock. A decline in evangelical Christians — once thought to be bucking the trend — has been more sudden. They went down from 23 percent of the population in 2006 to 17 percent today.
  • The Catholic Church is undergoing an ethnic transformation. A quarter century ago, 87 percent of Catholics were non-Hispanic whites. Today that’s 55 percent.
  • 38 percent of Americans under the age of thirty call themselves unaffiliated with any church. Only 12 percent of seniors do. Read more “America Goes the Way of Europe: Christians Becoming Minority”

Trump’s Ban: Alternative Facts Create Real-Life Policy

Businessman Donald Trump appears at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 27, 2015
Businessman Donald Trump appears at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 27, 2015 (Gage Skidmore)

Donald Trump has always had a difficult relationship with the truth. His sheer volume of daily falsehoods overwhelms an unprepared news media — and buries unsavory stories which the Republican would prefer to keep hidden.

Trump even manages to construct entire narratives via a steady diet of alternative facts delivered to his supporters.

This weekend, we saw something new: For the first time, those falsehoods came together to generate, enact and justify policy. Read more “Trump’s Ban: Alternative Facts Create Real-Life Policy”

Muslim Registry Would Require Investigation of Thought Crimes

Visitors wait in line outside the Islamic Institute of Orange County, California, October 17, 2010
Visitors wait in line outside the Islamic Institute of Orange County, California, October 17, 2010 (IIOC)

As the Trump transition rolls along, the infamous “Muslim ban” has returned to the forefront.

It all started on December 7, 2015, when then-candidate Donald Trump spoke to supporters after the San Bernardino mass shooting. He advocated a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” This proposal is still on his website.

It has been willfully forgotten or explained away since, but the fact remains: Trump’s first instinct was to call for a Muslim ban of indeterminate length.

It doesn’t stop there. Even in July, Trump said his plan had undergone an “expansion” and would bar individuals from places “compromised by terrorism.” This includes NATO allies like France and Germany. They “totally” meet this definition, Trump said, because they “allowed people to come into their territory.” Read more “Muslim Registry Would Require Investigation of Thought Crimes”

Dutch Leaving Churches at Faster Rate

The Basilica of Saint Nicholas in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, February 11, 2013
The Basilica of Saint Nicholas in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, February 11, 2013 (Bert Kaufmann)

The Netherlands has continued to secularize at a rapid pace in the last decade. A survey conducted every ten years by the country’s largest Christian broadcaster found that less than one in five still attend church on any regular basis.

A quarter of respondents described themselves as atheist, up from 14 percent in 2006.

Only another quarter said they worried the country’s dwindling religiosity could precipitate a moral decline, down from 40 percent ten years ago. A majority argued that faith should play no major role in either politics or education. Read more “Dutch Leaving Churches at Faster Rate”

Why a Western “War of Ideas” with Islam is Futile

In the wake of recent Islamic terrorist attacks in Europe and the United States, well-meaning liberals have revived calls for a “war of ideas,” arguing that the “ideology” of the terrorists must be defeated as much as the terrorists themselves.

American president Barack Obama maintains that “countering violent extremism” involves more than a military effort. “Ideologies are not defeated with guns but better ideas and more attracting and more compelling vision,” he said last year.

British prime minister David Cameron has similarly argued, “What we are fighting in Islamist extremism is an ideology.” Not only those advocating violence must be challenged, he believes, but everyone who promotes “parts of the extremist narrative.”

Politicians in other countries and thought leaders across the Western world have argued much the same.

Their attempts could be futile if Middle East expert Adam Garfinkle is right. Read more “Why a Western “War of Ideas” with Islam is Futile”

European Right is Allowing Putin’s Friends to Monopolize Anti-Islamism

French president François Hollande, German chancellor Angela Merkel and European Council president Donald Tusk march with other world leaders in Paris, January 11
French president François Hollande, German chancellor Angela Merkel and European Council president Donald Tusk march with other world leaders in Paris, January 11 (Bundesregierung)

By continuing to denounce “Islamophobia” even after the bloody attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, Europe’s mainstream right is allowing nationalists who also sympathize with Russian president Vladimir Putin to monopolize popular resistance against radical Islam.

In France, Socialist Party president François Hollande failed to invite representatives of the far-right Front national to a national remembrance ceremony for those killed by Muslim extremists in attacks on the Charlie Hebdo satirical newspaper and a Jewish supermarket in Paris last week.

Yet it is the Front that sees its anti-Islamism vindicated by the attacks. Party leader Marine Le Pen, who is more popular than Hollande according to polls, urged the French not to mince words. “This is a terrorist act committed in the name of radical Islamism,” she said. “Denial and hypocrisy are no longer an option.”

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel, a Christian Democrat, has censured anti-Islam demonstrations and accused their participants of racism. Numbering in the tens of thousands, the protesters, who call themselves Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes, say they fear an “Islamization” of Germany as a result of high immigration from Muslim countries.

The movement’s demands look far from extreme. It calls for immigration and integration policies to mirror those of neighboring Switzerland and the Netherlands.

The German political and media establishment’s reaction to the protests has been way out of proportion to what they call for. Rather than taking seriously the concerns of voters and admitting the real impact immigration has on housing and welfare policy as well as policing, Germany’s leaders compare citizens who are peacefully demonstrating in the streets of Dresden with Nazis. In doing so, they are only confirming the protesters in their anti-establishment views and convincing others, who might share their worries, that there is no hope of achieving change through the established parties.

If Lutz Bachmann, the anti-Islam movement’s founder, is to be believed, the German “patriots” not only seek tighter immigration controls and better integration of newcomers into German society; they also want an “end to warmongering, among other things against Russia.”

It is unclear to what extent anti-Islam and pro-Russian sentiments overlap in Germany. It is clearer they do in other countries.

Le Pen openly admires Putin and her party got an €9 million loan from a Russian bank last year. Pierre Lellouche, a mainstream conservative French politician, told NPR in December “there is a mix of exalting nationalism, exalting the church and Christian values” in Russia that appeals to European nationalists. Moreover, he said, Russia was presenting itself “as the ultimate barrier against the Islamization of the continent.”

Nigel Farage, the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, has also expressed admiration for Putin while the Austrian Freedom Party defended his occupation and annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine.

Notably absent from Putin’s European fanbase is the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders. Although the anti-Islam politician blamed the European Union more than Russia for instigating last year’s unrest in Ukraine, his party also sharply criticized Putin after the downing of a civilian airliner over eastern Ukraine in July in which almost two hundred Dutch passengers died. The rebels who shot down the aircraft were likely armed by Russia.

Wilders, who allied with Le Pen in last year’s European Parliament elections, has been critical of Islam since before he became a Euroskeptic and the Netherlands coped with rising anti-immigration sentiment more than a decade ago when populist leader Pim Fortuyn first suggested multiculturalism had failed as a policy.

Like Germany’s anti-Islamists today, Fortuyn was denounced as a racist and a xenophobe by much of his country’s establishment. After he was killed in 2002, however, right-wing parties began to co-opt his policies. Multiculturalism was recognized for what it was: an excuse for doing nothing at best; an excuse for relegating foreigners to big-city ghettos at worst. Learning Dutch became a requirement for citizenship. History and values courses were introduced. Immigration was curtailed and police began to specifically target repeat offenders from ethnic backgrounds, something that would previously have been considered racist.

Mainstream right-wing parties in France, Germany and elsewhere should take a lesson from their Dutch counterparts. The Netherlands’ Christian Democrat and liberal parties cannot outbid Wilders’ anti-Islamism but they can give voters who worry about Muslim radicalization and the existence of a permanent migrant underclass that strains the country’s welfare system a better choice. Between Wilders’ proposal to shut the borders and the left’s refusal to see the problem — although even the Labor Party has come around to Fortuyn’s views — the Christian Democrats and liberals offer a workable policy of tackling radicalization and improving the integration of mainly Muslim immigrants and their descents into Dutch society.

Chancellor Merkel recognized in 2010 that multiculturalism has “utterly failed” yet she has since given the Germans no alternative. All she says now is that fears of Islamization are tantamount to racism.

President Hollande, while offering valiant defenses of French democracy and freedom, insists fanaticism and terrorism “have nothing to do with the Muslim religion.” The fanatics and terrorists, of course, disagree and so do shockingly many other Muslims in Europe who would never turn to violence but do believe blasphemy should be punishable by death and that Western Islamophobia is as much to blame for last week’s horrors in Paris as is the perversion of their faith.

As long as European leaders — like Merkel — won’t come up with answers to radical Islam and the failing integration of many Muslims into Western society, or — like Hollande — deny there is even a problem, far-right parties will turn to the uncompromising Russian president for protection and more and more voters will turn to far-right parties as the only ones offering any kind of response.

The obvious solution is for conservatives and liberals — and preferably leftists, too — to stand up for European values and demand that those who want to make a life here share those values. To those who won’t, they should say, as the Labor Party mayor or Rotterdam, Ahmed Aboutaleb, did last week: “Pack your bags and leave.”

Putin’s Holy War: A Challenge the West Underestimates

Russian president Vladimir Putin lights a candle during a visit to the Saint Sergius of Radonezh Cathedral in Tsarskoye Selo, December 8
Russian president Vladimir Putin lights a candle during a visit to the Saint Sergius of Radonezh Cathedral in Tsarskoye Selo, December 8 (Kremlin)

The West is in new cold war with Russia, argues national-security expert John R. Schindler. Beyond the geopolitical standoff in Ukraine, where the two blocs support opposing sides in a civil war, Russia and the West advance rival visions of the world.

After Russia’s annexation of the Crimean from Ukraine in March, America’s president, Barack Obama, insisted his country was not entering into another cold war with the Russians. “After all, unlike the Soviet Union, Russia leads no bloc of nations. No global ideology,” he said.

Schindler disagrees. A former National Security Agency analyst and former professor of national-security affairs at the United States Naval War College, he argues at his blog that Russia should be seen as “the vanguard of the diverse movement that is opposed to Western postmodernism in its political and social forms.”

During the last couple of years, the contours of that movement have become more defined.

Nationalist revival

Where Putin cautioned against nationalism shortly before his reelection in 2012, warning that Russia’s multiethnic society would lose “strength and durability” if it was “infested” by it, his regime has since revived medals and military parades from the Soviet era and mandated the increased use of the Russian national anthem and flag. Relations between the Kremlin and Russian Orthodox Church have also warmed.

This nationalist revival has seemed design to shore up Putin’s popularity.

Urban and middle-class Russians, whose economic prospects had improved during the early, more liberals years of his rule, have grown dissatisfied with corruption and nepotism at the top of Putin’s “power vertical”.

Rural and working-class voters, by contrast, have seen little economic improvement and are starting to turn to communist and nationalist, rather than leftist, opposition parties.

Putin’s appeals to Russian patriotism and tradition, including his infamous ban on gay “propaganda,” look like attempts to charm those constituencies.

Russian exceptionalism

The rehabilitation of the Church, after many decades of suppression under communism, echoes in Russian foreign policy. The country has become more vocal about the plight of Christians in the Middle East, especially in Syria, where Russia’s ally, Bashar Assad, is fighting an uprising of mostly Sunni Muslims against his secular dictatorship.

When Putin informed parliament of the Crimean annexation in March, his speech contained various appeals to Russian nationalism and Orthodox mysticism, including citations of saints from the distant past.

“This was the culmination of years of increasingly unsubtle hints from Putin and his inner circle that what ideologically motivates this Kremlin is the KGB cult unified with Russian Orthodoxy,” according to Schindler.

Russia defended its role in Ukraine by arguing that Russian “compatriots” in the former Soviet republic were in danger from a new, pro-Western government.

Mark Galeotti, a New York University professor and Wikistrat analyst, argued at the time that Russian propaganda revealed “a growing belief in what we could call Russian exceptionalism, a belief that Russian civilization has a distinctive and unique place in the world and must be protected from homogenizing Western influence.”

Where anti-Westernism was previously a means to an end — to rally public support for Putin’s policies — it became an end in itself, according to Galeotti.

Imperial ambitions

But this also presented a problem, as the Atlantic Sentinel reported: Russia’s appeals to ethnic nationalism necessarily excluded the millions of non-ethnic Russians who live in the country and its “near abroad.”

This website predicted that Russia’s regional integration schemes, like the Eurasian Union, which is due to go into effect next year, were now more likely to be seen in neighboring countries as attempts to reconstruct the Soviet Union.

“The price of a prouder, stronger Russia may well be the defeat of Putin’s imperial ambitions,” we warned.

Alternative worldview

Infusing Russia’s alternative worldview with religion could preempt that. The Orthodox Church is transnational and it has “become the close political and ideological partner of the Kremlin,” writes Schindler — “a preferred vehicle for explicit anti-Western propaganda.”

[Church] agitprop, which has Kremlin endorsement, depicts a West that is declining down to its death at the hands of decadence and sin, mired in confused unbelief, bored and failing to even reproduce itself. Patriarch Kirill, head of the church, recently explained that the “main threat” to Russia is “the loss of faith” in the Western style, while [Russian Orthodox Church] spokesmen constantly denounce feminism and the LGBT movement as Satanic creations of the West that aim to destroy faith, family and nation.

Whether or not Putin really believes all this is immaterial. His regime has created and nurtured a virulent ideology that justifies its actions and explains why the West must be opposed at all costs.

Given the economic crisis that Russia now finds itself in, thanks to Western sanctions, during the long and cold winter now starting, we ought to expect more, not fewer, Russians turning to this worldview which resonates with their nation’s history and explains the root of their suffering.

This is an ideology that resonates beyond Russia. Some Europeans, like French nationalist party leader Marine Le Pen and Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, sympathize with Putin’s outlook.

Schindler warns, “As discontentment with American-led Europe spreads, the Russian option may look plausible to more Europeans, worried about immigration, identity and the collapse of their values and economies, than Americans might imagine.”

Some Good Might Come of the Islamic State

The Iraqi and Syrian fanatics who call themselves the Islamic State are quite possibly the most brutal and murderous lot political Islam has produced, at least in living memory. But the ordeal they have wrought on everyone who doesn’t their zealotry could have a silver lining, argues Adam Garfinkle at The American Interest.

Garfinkle, a Middle East expert, believes the Islamic State represents the last hurrah of militarized political Islam. Read more “Some Good Might Come of the Islamic State”

Erdoğan Victory Reinforces Turkey’s Islamization

Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is almost certain to win his country’s first direct presidential election on Sunday.

A victory for Erdoğan, who has ruled Turkey for more than a decade, would likely reinforce the NATO member state’s Islamization and exasperate opponents who have proven unable to thwart what they perceive as a drift toward authoritarianism. Read more “Erdoğan Victory Reinforces Turkey’s Islamization”

Crossed Swords? Rethinking the “Clash” of Christians and Muslims

Two Faiths One Banner cover
Ian Almond, Two Faiths, One Banner: When Muslims Marched with Christians Across Europe’s Battlegrounds (2011)

Since Samuel Huntington unveiled his “Clash of Civilization” thesis in a 1993 Foreign Affairs article, a cottage industry of critiques have emerged to challenge it. Great thinkers, such as Amartya Sen, Amin Maalouf and Edward Said, have expended time and ink to refute Huntington’s controversial thesis. For the most part, these works have presented rationale critiques that focus on theoretical problems raised by Samuel Huntington’s board game like simplification of geopolitics and global history. Few of these critiques have, however, tried to counter Huntington’s argument with primary source research or been as readable as Ian Almond’s Two Faiths One Banner: When Muslims Marches with Christians Across Europe’s Battlegrounds (2011).

In this slim book, Almond shows that European history is far more muddled than Huntington’s depiction of one overarching “clash” between two visions of Abrahamic monotheism. Indeed the individual motivations and allegiances proves far to complex to paint with even the most vivid neoconservative or Marxist brush strokes. In making this argument, Almond cuts across wide historical periods, as well as the politics of several different centuries, demonstrating a mastery of facts, figures and a flair for colorful details. Read more “Crossed Swords? Rethinking the “Clash” of Christians and Muslims”