Should God Be Based?
Excellent essay by Shadi Hamid on the grotesque masculinist Andrew Tate's apparent "political" conversion to Islam. Hamid points out that when Tate converted, he didn't talk about the theological or spiritual aspects of Islam. Rather:
“Islam very closely reflects my personal beliefs,” he said in an interview with the Muslim polemicist Mohammed Hijab. “In my personal life, I’ve learned that if you don’t have standards, and if you’re not a strong person who’s prepared to defend his ideas, you’ll get crushed.”
As Tate sees it, where Christianity in the West is weak, undemanding, and devoid of firm rules, Islam is exacting, masculine, and vigorous. It refuses to be mocked, and it refuses to accommodate itself to progressive norms—particularly when it comes to gender and the family. Where Christianity has, in effect, accepted defeat, Islam, Tate said in the same interview, “feels like the last religion on Earth,” the only faith that stands a chance of mounting an effective resistance to moral decay and decline. (Whether Tate himself is moral, or wishes to be, is secondary.)
It's hard for me, as a Christian, to disagree entirely with what Tate said. (That's Tate above, explaining his conversion to a Muslim podcaster.) In an era in which many churches are making themselves ridiculous by their wokeness (see the Church of England is considering gender-neutral pronouns for God?) or other forms of desperation to be "relevant," Islam, whatever its flaws, ain't doin' that. Even if you reject Islam, as I do, you have to respect it for at least taking itself seriously. Hamid goes on to cite Sohrab Ahmari and me in this context:
Yet, Tate’s conversion does tell us something important about what is happening in America right now.
As the culture continues to secularize, to become more detached from any underlying moral vision, right-wing intellectuals have responded by gravitating toward more demanding forms of Christianity, particularly Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholic integralism. Among the more prominent converts has been the conservative author Sohrab Ahmari, who grew up in a secular home in Iran, immigrated to the United States, and eventually embraced Catholicism, which Ahmari credits with imposing a “tremendous order and metaphysical direction” to his life. Like Islam, these religious orientations are perceived to be tougher, more masculine, more grounded in rules rather than sentiments. They order freedom by constraining it. They not only entail exacting rites and rituals; they are explicitly about not making concessions to secular modernity.
Some of these Christian culture warriors have come to view Islam as a resource and Muslims as allies in the long struggle against progressive cultural dominance. The conservative author Rod Dreher—who converted to Eastern Orthodoxy in 2006, before it was cool—described his admiration in a post titled “Islam: ‘The Last Badass Religion.’”
“That’s something I respect about Muslims in general,” Dreher wrote, “they take their faith a lot more seriously than we Christians do. The only forms of Christianity that are going to survive the dissolution now upon us are going to be those that are serious about the faith, and incorporate it into disciplined ways of living.”
Ahmari put it this way: “I view Islam with greater respect as a Catholic than I ever did as a secular [person] or as an atheist.”
Yep. If you haven't seen it before, check out this review I wrote 25 years or so ago for Touchstone, of a memoir by the then-new Episcopal priest Chloe Breyer, about her seminary experiences. This passage is so relevant:
Our Chloe decides to set up a Bible study for a group of Bellevue patients who are in from Rikers Island, the notorious city prison. She plays a video segment from the Bill Moyers series Genesis. The inmates see Bible scholars agreeing that Genesis gives us plenty of questions, but few answers. Her students don’t get it.
“They’re supposed to be experts, right?” says Tyrone. “So then why are they giving us all this stuff about not having any answers? I mean, it doesn’t take a Ph.D. not to have answers! And if they don’t have any answers, then who does?”
Others chime in with contempt for the equivocating liberal scholars Breyer so admires. Finally, a Muslim convert speaks up. “See, this is what I’m telling you, man. The Koran is the place to go for answers! . . . I became a Muslim because the Koran has the most truth in it. You don’t argue about what it means. You read it, and you know what to do. The Prophet got the word directly from God.”
“Is that right?” asks Tyrone. “Is that how it is? The Koran has more answers than the Bible?” Undeterred, and unable to grasp the significance of the moment, Breyer sets out to teach these poor sinners that the Bible doesn’t have to be taken literally. There are lots of gray areas, she tells them, and they should feel empowered by the fact that they can interpret Scripture any way they like. The inmates are unmoved.
“They want answers, not questions,” Breyer writes. “[T]he more contradictions I point out in the Bible, the more the inmates decide there is no point in wasting their time with a religion that lacks answers.”
Smart cookies, those crooks, who intuitively grasp the worthlessness of Breyer’s baptized sophistries to their broken lives.
The disintegration of our civilization is accelerating. The only meaningful resistance is going to come from strong forms of religion. Resistance does not have to be strictly political, or, God forbid, violent. That's external resistance, some of which will be necessary. But internal resistance -- all of it is necessary! As I wrote yesterday, after spending the morning hiking to a remote cave in the Irish Burren, a hole in the ground that for seven years was home to St. Colman Mac Duagh, a hermit and wonderworker who became one of Ireland's greatest saints, you are going to need a religion strong enough to inspire some of its men to feats of great asceticism -- and who can captivate the religious imagination of the many of us who aren't capable of that level of devotion, but who admire it and seek to imitate it within our own limited capabilities.
Michel Houllebecq, in his misunderstood (by those who didn't read it, but who had an opinion) novel Submission, writes about an Islamifying France. The France of the novel is turning to Islam because its non-Muslim people are spiritually and morally exhausted, see their ancestral Christian faith as a dead end, and just want somebody to tell them what to do. (One thinks of Cavafy's poem of decadence "Waiting For The Barbarians," especially the final lines: "Now what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?/Those people were a kind of solution.") The point of the novel is that it does not matter if the French people embrace Islam as a religion. All the Islamist party cares about is whether or not they embrace Islam politically. And they do, in a democratic vote. This is not what Houellebecq wants to see happen, but his own view on society derives from the atheist Auguste Comte's conviction that all societies must be religious, one way or another.
Paul Kingsnorth, another Orthodox convert, and I were talking about why it is that so many Christian young men are turning to Orthodox Christianity. I told him that in my view, Orthodoxy gives them something to do, something to fight -- meaning especially, fighting their own passions. Orthodox asceticism is akin to what some Muslim theologians call "inner jihad": waging holy war against one's disordered passions. This is attractive to young men. Paul was saying how in the absence of robust Christianity in post-Catholic Ireland, so many teenage boys are becoming hyper-woke, in an effort to have a cause to fight for. Thinking about this later, I wondered how these young Irish men (and their American counterparts) would react if they encountered Orthodoxy. The thing is, it's not hard to find a religion of strict rules. What I find notable about Orthodoxy is the shared sense that the struggle is not so much about following the rules as it is about purifying the heart -- and in that mission, having heroes, both living (monks) and dead (saints) to imitate. I'm embarrassed to find this difficult to explain here. I think it's more the case that Orthodoxy gives you not so much a set of rules to follow as an adventure story to inhabit, and join, a narrative of conquest (of self), and glory.
Anyway, I know I'm kind of an outlier here, but it's harder and harder for me to see the point of tame religion. Paul Kingsnorth kept talking about the "wild Christianity" or the Celtic monks. He's talking about how they would live out in the woods, seeking God with everything they had in them. Seriously, think about what kind of follower of Christ leaves the world and dwells in a damp cave for seven years, seeking to die to the world and to himself, so as to better know God? St. Colman only came out of that cave when the local Christians demanded that he be their bishop. I don't want to live in a cave as a hermit, and I think that calling is something God only issues to very few people. But I love a Christianity that cherishes hermits as heroes of the faith.
And not just of the distant past! Father Lazarus El Anthony is an Australian who converted to Coptic Christianity ages ago, and lives as a hermit in the Egyptian desert. There are a series of videos on YouTube of him teaching. Here's one:
Incredible. I want what he has. How many lost boys in America and elsewhere in the West today would be stopped in their tracks by a Father Lazarus?
Meanwhile, my friend Niall Gooch, an English Catholic, has the number of far too many contemporary churches:
I hope God raises up in Ireland men who can lead young men out to the forests and to the ruins, in search of wild Christianity, the Christianity of the medieval monks of Ireland. They weren't prim conformists afraid of their own shadow. They were holy men, wild men, men who loved ferociously and saw vivid wonder. We all need this kind of faith. If we don't give it to our young men, we should not be surprised if they turn to fraudulent bullies like Andrew Tate, or to a violent form of religion or politics. No more Synods on Synodality that are more or less elaborate rationalizations for queering the Church. No more Moralistic Therapeutic Deism in its Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox forms. To hell with it all.
And by the way, the American-born children of Muslim immigrants are rapidly assimilating. Though they are far more religious than non-Muslims of their Millennial and Zoomer generations, they are also far less likely to be pious by comparison to Islamic norms. Nobody, of any religion, escapes facing modernity. Islam looks more resilient in the West by comparison to Christianity, but it's got problems too. And though I can tell you that Orthodoxy has a lot of inner strength, the sad truth is that American Orthodox are not holding on to their youth. We've all got problems. But in the end, the religions that make strong claims and serious demands on their followers will survive. All the rest will be assimilated into the giant vat of therapeutic pudding.
UPDATE: Sorry, I'm stuck in the airport and had to post that before my laptop died. Found a power outlet, and I want to add a couple of things.
First, I should make it clear that I have little tolerance for forms of Christianity that try to be overtly masculine, but just end up baptizing jerkiness. Anybody can grow a long beard, or take up cigar-smoking, and so forth -- and certainly anybody can act like an ass. Macho is not a synonym for manly.
Second, I think one reason this whole topic got to me in a big way today is that I left Ireland this morning after a great three days there, both deeply impressed by the spiritual heritage of the country, and deeply distressed by the collapse of Christianity there. Yes, the sex scandal absolutely played a significant role, but I am persuaded by Irish Catholics to whom I have spoken that the scandal simply accelerated a process that had begun earlier. The rapid enrichment of Ireland in the 1990s, and the desperation with which the Irish, especially the young, wanted to prove themselves to be modern and progressive, probably had as much to do with it. As with the postconciliar Catholic Church in general, the collapse in Ireland would not have been as rapid or as total as it has been had the internal rot not been far advanced already.
The past cannot be changed. The fact is, what had once been a stronghold of Christianity no longer is. It has been lost. Poland, I keep hearing from young Poles, is next. This is not reason to panic, but it is reason to wake up and stop doing the things we are doing now, because it's not working. And look, the leadership class in most churches cannot be counted on to pull its collective head out of its backside and captain the ship through the storm. This is going to have to come from the grassroots, somehow. Don't wait for somebody to come save you and your community. Get started doing it yourself! Why not?
In some churches, the leadership class doesn't want you to do anything, because your actions show them up. The conservative Catholic online priest Father Zuhlsdorf has a new post up urging young Catholic men who want to go to seminary to learn a trade to prepare themselves for persecution ahead -- including persecution from the Vatican. One thing we have all learned these past two decades is how untrustworthy so many of our institutions are. I am not an anti-institutionalist by nature, but when we have seen so much failure of leadership across so many institutions, public and private both, you just quit believing that these people have our best interests at heart, and are capable of reforming themselves.
UPDATE.2: These are Christian men! Axios!
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