Since the Protestant Reformation began, Europe had been plunged into war after war. One nation against another, countrymen at each others throats, and even family members torn apart because of the perceived need for government to have what each side felt was the “right religion.” The United States was among the first to embrace the bold idea that those of differing religious convictions could live together in peace by stripping religion from the government and giving it a secular character.
A secular government was a bold and radical idea that was untested but unless such an idea could be embraced, the American British colonies would never have been able to form and maintain a single nation since each colony had a distinct religious culture all its own. Not everyone was necessarily on board with the idea but enough were that our fledgling nation embraced it as necessity and we made it our own.
In the more than two centuries since the United States was formed, most of the major nations where some form of Christianity was its main religion, have come to embrace the idea. After several centuries of pointless wars being fought over whose version of Christianity the government would embrace, the endless bloodshed finally came to a close. Because of the wondrous results the West has obtained from this philosophy we have come to guard it rather jealously. In fact, so jealously that we have begun the cycle of violence again except this time it’s Islam against Western Secularism.
The question those of us who have grown up in this era of secular dominance must ask ourselves is whether this war is inevitable. We can’t say that Muslims just have to get used to it. We are several generations too late to effectively make that argument. We have to remember that Muslims did not endure centuries of wars amongst themselves and so are not at the point of exhaustion that the West was at when we created Secularism.
Many Muslims around the world today honestly believe that they can form an Islamic nation without it being oppressive. And they will not be swayed no matter how many examples we show them of the likelihood that such a venture will not only fail but fail spectacularly. I see it as being similar to telling a kid about why they shouldn’t do something. Some kids will listen to the wisdom handed down from their parents but the overwhelming majority in every generation believe that it will be different for them. And so most parents eventually resign themselves standing to the side, letting them try, and hoping that their lives are not completely broken by the experience.
That means that Western nations need to find a way to give Muslims some space. And that’s true not only on a global scale, but its going to have to be true in the Western nations to which we’ve allowed them to emigrate. Steps such as those France has undertaken to safeguard the country’s secular character will do nothing but fan the flames of those Muslims who don’t understand why mixing religion and politics is a bad idea.
What will that space look like? Quite frankly, I have no idea and it’s possible that, whatever we come up with, the West may completely collapse in the process. But the alternative is the further alienation of the Muslims who live among us and we are seeing right now the consequences of such policies.
A good place to begin is with this article posted on Wednesday over on The Atlantic‘s website that explores these ideas and helps us to see the issues involved from multiple perspectives. After reading it, feel free to leave your thoughtful ideas and/or comments below.