by Stephen Brown:
The growth of Islam in Europe is challenging deeply-held notions that faith is a private matter which should be banished from public life, a prominent sociologist of religion has told a gathering of European Christian leaders.
“We ignore the presence of Islam at our peril,” Professor Grace Davie of the University of Exeter in Britain told leaders from Europe’s main Christian traditions at a 15-18 February meeting in Wittenberg in Germany. “This is a catalyst for a much more profound change in the religious landscape of Europe.”
“The presence of Islam is a catalyst that has reopened issues that Europeans thought were closed,” Davie said on 16 February. “You cannot privatise Islam. We have seen that.” But she said Christian churches had a major task in helping to find ways to deal with such public expression of religion.
“Public expression of religion.” Here we have a good example of the tendency of commentators to take refuge in vague language. Such a statement could only be made by a religiously unserious person. The earlier observation that “Islam cannot be privatised” is right on, but how, exactly, are “Christian churches” supposed to help with this problem? If “faith is a private matter,” what business does Christianity have tackling a public problem?
Davie was presenting the results of recent research on the place of religion in Europe, in which she wrote about the controversy over the cartoons: “The lack of comprehension on both sides of this affair, together with an unwillingness to compromise, led alarmingly fast to dangerous confrontations, both in Europe and beyond.”
The notion that religion should be banished from public life — and particularly from the state and from the education system — was widespread in Europe, Davie noted.
“Religion should be banished from public life.” Europe so far has done a stellar job scrubbing itself clean of the religion that made its existence possible — Christianity — all the while failing to realize that not all religions are created equal. This is not a struggle between secular Europe and “religion” but between a Europe drained of its cultural life-blood and Islam.
But in part due to the presence of Islam, religion was increasingly likely to penetrate the public sphere in Europe, a tendency being encouraged by the ever more obvious presence of religion in the modern global order.
This semantic shell game of “Islam” and “religion” has got to stop. It’s not “religion” that’s the problem here; it is a VERY PARTICULAR religion.
However, this was “probably more of a problem for the secular elite than the Christian churches”, Davie suggested in her comments in Wittenberg. She said, “We need to grasp how to deal with religion in the political sphere and here Christian churches have a huge contribution to make.”
If Christianity has been excluded from the public square — and quite rightly it would seem according to Professor Davie — how is it supposed to make a “huge contribution”? Now that SS Secular Europe is in danger of being swamped by the rising Islamic tide, now they turn to Christianity for help. Better late than never, but as long as “religion” is relegated to the public sidelines — in Europe and elsewhere — Islam will continue to vault from strength to strength.