Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Islam and "Calvinist values" in the Netherlands

Today’s NYT had this interesting op-ed, on "the end of the Holland of Erasmus and Spinoza," marked, the author, the Dutch Jewish novelist Leon de Winter, says, by the assassinations of Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh, two odd, and in the latter case unlikeable, public figures.

De Winter argues that the upheavals of 1968 hit the Netherlands harder than any other European country, with "the news media, politicians and artists gnaw[ing] away at the traditional values of Calvinistic civic society." At the same time a large population of "guest workers" from Morocco arrived to provide unskilled labor in a prosperous economy. When the demand for their labor declined, the Moroccans didn’t go home, but remained, in effect as wards of the generous Dutch welfare state. According to de Winter, "Many of these young men [the children of the first generation of immigrants] have found an expression for their growing sense of frustration, alienation and anger in orthodox Islam. They have no use for Holland’s tolerance of alternative lifestyles, or for its professional blasphemers."

Here, in a nutshell, is de Winter’s argument: the transgressions for which Dutch society is famous (or infamous) once rested on (and took advantage of) solid religio-cultural social capital ("Calvinist values"). Those have weakened (see, for example, de Winter’s commentary on the murder of Theo van Gogh), and, obviously, the Muslim immigrants never shared them. But the "salvation" of Dutch civil society can be sought only here: we must "somehow stimulate young Muslims to identify with the Calvinist values of the majority."

What I find most interesting here is that a self-consciously Jewish Dutch intellectual--whose debt to Lee Harris and Robert Kagan, among others, is made clear here--is calling for a revival and spread of Calvinism, or rather the "Calvinist values" that traditionally buttressed Dutch toleration. Here’s a taste of a long article ("Wake up, we’re at war!") published in August, 2004 my quick and dirty translation from the German):

On the one hand there are Europeans and Americans who are convinced that we have earned Islamic hatred because of our deeds....

Others, among them American conservatives, "born again" Protestants, "neocons," and Jews of varying intellectual tendencies, observe that the current problems of the Arab world are only in small part the consequence of western misdeeds, but rather have to do above all with specific Arab-Islamic conditions. This group recognizes in the hostility of Islamism the contemporary form of something for which there is no other word than "evil."

Religious as well as non-religious people can begin something with this terminology. The religious understand it as a firm theological given; to the non-religious, it seems to be the only thing that can encompass the mass murders of the past century and the drive to annihilation that is unique to Islam.

The European Jews with whom I have spoken about these themes since September 11th belong for the most part among "those, for whom the category ’enemy’ is suggestive for the way they organize human experience.

For de Winter, the cultural of toleration in which Jews can live and prosper has a religious source. The question is whether it can be effectively transmitted as secularized "values," or whether the ground on which disaffected Muslims can be met can be anything other than genuine religion itself. For more, go here (Kurds in the Bible Belt), here, and here (on the different challenge on Christianity in Africa).

Discussions - 2 Comments

and say something here that, I believe, strikes to the core differences, notions of "Calvinistic civic society" aside, between the foes in this post-9/11 conflict. For me, at the very heart of the matter is human guilt, a guilt that transcends generational transitions but is yet buoyed and utterly confounded by it. Ergo, we see four young middle-class British kids ready to sacrifice themselves and other innocents upon this alter of guilt that compels and seemingly controls them.

More to the point, it is a central difference between Christianity and all other religions that Jesus *alone* atoned for mankind’s shortcomings... both personally and collectively. A central tenet of all non-Christ centered religions is that I, or we must atone for our own sins. Ergo, we often see bloody displays of wholesale groups immersed in self-flagellation or self-mutilation in the Islamic world.

In short, rich or poor, big or small, powerful or powerless, a Christian would never strap him/herself with bombs to kill no matter what. Why? Jesus atoned for everybody’s sins, and any attempt by us to play Jesus is the ultimate sin against his Sacrifice upon the Cross! Obviously, every other religion rejects this truth, even as they reject the work and person of Christ.

For me, that is the bottomline in this war of terrorism.

de Winter takes too short a view of history. The seeds of Europe’s problem were sown in the 19th century when naturalism squeezed Christ out of the picture. Everything that has happened since was predictable. Morality went to the dustbin a generation after Nietzsche (hence the "values"), the dogs of war followed, and then America set up the pickets to protect from another onslaught. But security and prosperity coupled with socialistic welfare negated any character reformation achieved in the War. The result is what we see today: legalized prostitution (and any other deviant behavior) with parallel decline in birthrates and general disappearance of the European family.

Additionally, he misunderstands the source of the vitality of the ’values’ he wishes the Muslims would adopt. "Under the effusive "anything goes" exterior, the majority of Dutch people held on to their disciplined Calvinist values," he writes, describing the radical change in Dutch society. That statement strikes me as particularly incoherent - and belies de Winter’s incomprehension of true religion, Christian or Islam. True religion does not have to be intolerant towards others, but it does not tolerate a simple division of personal belief and public persona. Islam particularly demands an adherence in all aspects of life moreso because salvation is self-generated. Calvanistic values (whatever that euphemism means) do not stand alone from their Christian roots.

Which brings us to a convergance: the morally leparous European society is not reproducing at a rate that sustains itself. Nor does it present the gospel to the Muslim immigrant, in word or deed. Thus, integration becomes impossible for a group that holds to its religious worldview. Its like the frog that, when placed in water, will sit there as it gently warms up until it is boiled to death. That’s the modern European b/c his "values" are 200 years in the making, and the degradation in the culture does not shock him. But if the frog is dropped into the boiling water, it will jump out. That’s the Muslim immigrant, holding to his religious worldview. The culture is so depraved that it must be corrected at all costs, and such correction can only come through Muslim domination. Ultimately, Europe’s situation will get worse before (if) it gets better.
The prophet Habakkuk cried out to God and asked Him why He tolerated injustice in Judah. God’s answer was not quiet what one would have expected:
5 "Look at the nations and watch—
and be utterly amazed.
For I am going to do something in your days
that you would not believe,
even if you were told.
6 I am raising up the Babylonians,
that ruthless and impetuous people,
who sweep across the whole earth
to seize dwelling places not their own.
7 They are a feared and dreaded people;
they are a law to themselves
and promote their own honor."
I think Europe finds itself on the verge of similar judgment.

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