10/9/2014—Nicholas Kristof put in his two cents today in the New York Times concerning the Bill Maher show on HBO, which I haven’t seen, in which Maher and Sam Harris denounced Islam as dangerous and violent—but untouchable by politically correct liberals—while Ben Affleck called their comments racist. Kristof says he sided with Affleck and reminded his readers of the diversity of Islam. The fanatics are Muslim, but so are their “decent, peaceful” opponents.
I have written repeatedly on this blog that the current round of wars in the Islamic world today is reminiscent of the Wars of Religion in Europe in the 16th and 17th century that ended in 1648, with public exhaustion with Christianity leading to rapid secularization. I have predicted the same likely pattern in the Islamic world, eventually.
I did not know until now that the great Protestant theologian, Wolfhart Pannenberg, who died just over a month ago, located the secularization of modern European society at precisely this point for precisely this reason. I read this in a short book by him, now apparently out of print, Christianity in a Secularized World (1988).
You could say all the same things about Christianity in 1648 that Kristof says today about Islam—that the religion was not violent but that violent men used religion to gain power and feed their ideological and psychological needs. It was true then about Christianity, which also had its long history of relative tolerance and social unity, just as Islam has had.
Pannenberg’s point is that when religion becomes a threat to social peace, people will turn against it out of pressing need, will cut religion’s ties to the political world where it does its damage, and will relegate it to the world of private life. Whatever its merits, Islam is now a threat to social peace and Muslims are likely to come to the same conclusion about religion that Christians in Europe did.