Sunday, March 14, 2004


By Mark Steyn -- writing in the March 13th edition of "The Spectator". Some excerpts:

As Max Hastings wrote in the Guardian, `It is hard not to hate George Bush. His ignorance and conceit, his professed special relationship with God, invite revulsion.' Just for the record, he does not claim a `special relationship' with God, just a relationship. But to secular Europe, where fewer and fewer profess any sort of relationship with the Big Guy, even that modest claim is enough for them to lump him in the same category as his near neighbours in Texas, the incinerated cultists of Waco. Malcolm Fraser, the former Australian prime minister and like Sir Max a nominal conservative, calls the Bush administration `fundamentalist'. If one had to distil into one sentence the contempt that Britain's great thinkers have for Tony Blair, it would be from Jeremy Paxman's interrogation about the Prime Minister's relationship with the President: `Do you pray together?' The studio audience sniggered.

America is the last religious nation in the Western world, the last in which a majority of the population are practising believers and regular attenders of church (or synagogue, or mosque). So Bush praying is only a joke to foreigners like Pax'n'Max. No Democratic candidates have been suicidal enough to mock him on those grounds, and even in the party's more decadent precincts it's understood that the hard math of electoral politics requires campaigners at least not to appear ungodly. God-wise, to the American people, Bush is normal, not weird. Going to church is normal. Going to Bible study is normal. Buying albums of sacred songs by country singers is normal.

Anti-Americanism makes strange bedfellows. The Arab Islamists despise America because it's all lap-dancing and gay-phone sex; Europe's radical secularists despise America because it's all born-again Christians hung up on abortion. They're both right. The free market enables Hustler to thrive. And the free market in churches enables religion to thrive. In Europe, the established church, whether formal (the Church of England) or informal (as in Catholic Ireland, Italy and Spain), killed religion as surely as state ownership killed the British car industry. When the Episcopal Church degenerates into a bunch of wimpsville self-doubters, Americans go elsewhere. When the Church of England undergoes similar institutional decline, Britons give up on religion entirely.

`When men cease to believe in God,' said Chesterton, `they do not believe in nothing; they believe in anything!' The anything most of the Western world's non-believers believe in is government: instead of a state church, Europe believes in the state as church - the purveyor of cradle-to-grave welfare will provide daycare for your babies and take your aged parents off your hands. The people are happy to have cast off the supposed stultifying oppressiveness of religion for a world in which the state regulates every aspect of life. The French government's recent headscarf ban - which, in the interests of an ecumenical fig-leaf, is also a ban on yarmulkes and `large' crucifixes - seems the way of the future, an attempt to push all religion to the fringes of life. A couple of years back, a Canadian `human rights commission', in its ruling that a Christian printer had illegally discriminated against a gay group by turning down a printing job for pro-gay literature, said he had the right to his religious beliefs in his own home but he had to check them at the door when he left for work in the morning. Who's in the closet now?

Last year, I had a long talk with a `senior EU official' and I was amazed at the way, quite unprompted, he used the phrase `Europe's post-Christian future', presuming that I would agree with him that this was a condition to aspire to. Europe's quite post-Christian enough, and most of the horrors of our time came about through the most prominent expressions of its post-Christian state, Nazism and Communism. And yet faith in secularism is indestructible.

Note: The above is a relatively brief excerpt of a large article on religion in the USA and Europe. Links to "The Spectator" are rather pesky to pursue these days, however. You can only see the Table of Contents without logging in and your "Back" button will not work to get you out of there. To log in you need to register, which is also difficult. Registering defeated me so I log in as with the password "rationalreview". They obviously do not really want online readers.

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