Many of us on the conservative side bemoan the decline of religion on moral grounds. The Judeo-Christian tradition spells out moral absolutes, so that we don’t have to keep reinventing the wheel to figure out the big “rights” and the big “wrongs.” (David Klinghoffer points out the disaster that happens when you keep having to reinvent the moral wheel.)
Religious morals are important for day to day life and they are an important part of a healthy, functioning society. I’ve long thought, though, that religion’s chief virtue lies in its focus on the inevitability of death. All religions tackle death, with some offering reincarnation, some offering instant Heaven, some offering reunification with God at the end of days, etc. This statement is true not just of modern religions, but of ancient Pagan ones as well. To the extent that death is the great mystery, which none of us can avoid, it’s comforting to have a belief that there will be meaning, and possibly endless life, once death overtakes us. Secularism is the only religion that skirts death entirely. It offers no meaning or consolation. When you’re dead, the essence that is you vanishes and your body rots in the ground. End of story. How depressing. How frightening. How nihilistic. And why am I waffling on about this?
I’m waffling about this because of an article in American Thinker that I read about the rising tide of Islam in ultra secular Europe. The article points to the fact that the few remaining Christians in Europe are trying to fit themselves in the Islamist mold, and then goes on to look at Allah — and why Allah is not the same God as the Judeo-Christian concept of God.
It’s an interesting article and one I think you’d enjoy. As it is, it took me down the completely different path of thinking about the many Europeans who have turned to Islam, not because of pressure, but because they’re searching for meaning in their lives. Christianity in Europe is so weak and self-doubting that it offers no draw to someone glumly contemplating a moral vacuum of a life followed by a meaningless death. Islam, however, for all that it practices and preaches submission, is robust in its beliefs: we are the best, Allah will care for you, and whether you die peacefully or violently, the afterlife will be wonderful. Since death is the one great unifier, the thing that binds the stockbroker in London and the sheep herder in Nepal, a religion that offers assurances about death, and that actually seems to believe in those assurances, is going to be very enticing — especially as life becomes less stable and violence more prevalent in so many formerly peaceful First World enclaves.
I don’t know if our Judeo-Christian culture has the strength any more to counter the fear of death. J.K. Rowling gives it a good try in her last book, as did C.S. Lewis in his last Narnia book, but that’s probably not enough. A good, thoughtful children’s book is not going to do away with a culture that has taken the greatest human fear — death — and ignored it. And with Islam hollering in the background about those 72 virgins (or raisins), I fear many in our world, as they see death creeping closer, with grab onto the Islamist life raft thrown their way.