Elizabeth Kantor, editor of the Conservative Book Club and author of the superb Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature, writes about my new book Religion of Peace? Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn't.
We're proud to be offering Robert Spencer's Religion of Peace? Why Christianity Is -- and Islam Isn't as a Main Selection of the Conservative Book Club. This is the book all of us have been waiting for.
By "all of us," I mean:
1) The host of folks annoyed and frustrated by the flood of anti-Christian bestsellers that have been pouring off the presses for the last two years, from Sam Harris' condescending Letter to a Christian Nation to Christopher Hitchens' God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything; plus
2) Everyone who's ever shouted at a television screen or argued back to the editorial page when a commentator made Christian "fundamentalists" out to be the moral equivalents of the Islamists who brutalized the women of Afghanistan and murdered 3,000 civilians on 9/11; as well as
4) Robert Spencer's personal friends, who've been waiting for years for him to write a book about the Christian faith, because they know something about what that faith means to him.
The first three categories add up to a large proportion of the Conservative Book Club membership, and I belong in all four. Robert Spencer is an old and dear friend of mine; in the 1980s we were both students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I studied English literature (with the last generation of English professors who saw studying and teaching literature as their job). Spencer was working toward an M.A. in religious studies and, in his off hours, engaging in lively intellectual exchanges with the Muslims on campus.
In his previous books, Robert Spencer set forth an exhaustively documented case about the danger in which we now stand from Islamic jihad -- and the ultimate source of that jihad in the founding documents of Islam and the life of its Prophet. In Religion of Peace? he answers the objection he hears over and over again, as he travels the country warning about the dangers of jihad and encroaching Islamic law. (Believe it or not, sharia is making headway not just in Asia and Africa, but in Europe and Canada as well). Yes, Spencer's interlocutors may admit, the Koran does include exhortations that inspire believers to violence, and Muslims do want to impose their religious law on other people. But, they add, so does the Bible, and so do Christians.
Religion of Peace? blows this nonsense out of the water. The book begins with an up-close look at the cultural cringe that too many Westerners have learned from their "multicultural" (i.e., West-bashing) educations. Spencer tells the fascinating story of one American college student, "Rachel," who was so ashamed of her own culture that her professor, an American Indian, was moved to quote a Cheyenne proverb: "A nation is never conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground," and to ask, "Who had conquered Rachel's people? What had led her to disrespect them?"
From there, Spencer goes on to dismantle the case for moral equivalence between Christianity and Islam, taking on each piece of supposed evidence that Christianity is a source of violence, prejudice, and oppression. He exposes the multiple absurdities of the "theocracy" scare books and shows that the violent passages in the Bible have never justified or inspired violence as the Koran most certainly has (and continues to do). He sets the record straight on the "dominion" movement among American Protestants, on Christian anti-Semitism, on Timothy McVeigh (he was an atheist, not a Christian), on the Catholic Church and Galileo, on "patriarchal" oppression in the West, on the Inquisition and the Crusades. Along the way, he gives us shocking glimpses of the gulf between the Christian and the Islamic mind: When Christians in Cairo began putting fish bumper stickers on their cars in 2003, Muslims responded by putting shark bumper stickers on theirs. ("If they want to portray themselves as weak fishes, okay," explained an Egyptian Muslim. "We are the strongest." No empty boast in a country where Christians suffer continual harassment, punctuated by violent persecution.) Spencer also makes a moving argument that Christianity is the indispensable source of the freedom and dignity we enjoy. Finally, he appeals to everyone who doesn't want fall prey to the jihad to rally around the banner of the Judeo-Christian civilization of the West.
The question the reader is left with, at the end of this powerful book, is whether there's still time. Is there still a chance for us to do as Spencer suggests -- for all of us, not only Christians and Jews, but also atheists and peaceable Muslims -- to put aside our disagreements, face the jihadist threat, and rally around the freedom that's the legacy of Christianity, but that non-Christians in the West also enjoy? Or is it too late for that?
If it is -- if, in the end, we come not just to a clash of cultures, but to the clash of religions that the jihadists are bent on forcing -- then the implication of this book is that peaceful Christians will face violent Muslims with the weapons Christians have always used: patience, reason, love even of our enemies, willingness to die (not to kill) to spread the gospel. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christians. But the possibility that Christian martyrs might ultimately defeat jihad by means of the heroic suffering by which Christian martyrs defeated Roman paganism is not a prospect to which any of us can look forward with equanimity.