The "God gap" in realpolitik

A study in Chicago comes to an interesting conclusion:

American foreign policy is handicapped by a narrow, ill-informed and “uncompromising Western secularism” that feeds religious extremism, threatens traditional cultures and fails to encourage religious groups that promote peace and human rights, according to a two-year study by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

The council’s 32-member task force, which included former government officials and scholars representing all major faiths, delivered its report to the White House on Tuesday. The report warns of a serious “capabilities gap” and recommends that President Obama make religion “an integral part of our foreign policy.”


The Chicago Council on Global Affairs
could have saved time and money by just reading me two years ago:

It is with the language of faith that Islamic terrorism must be engaged and defeated, and therein lies the disconnect for the diplomatic West. Having reasoned itself out of faith, its incomplete arsenal is fit for battle, but not for victory. The West can speak only of borders, boundaries, markets, and measurement. Faith exists beyond boundaries and borders; it defies markets and measurement. The negotiables of the West are worldly and “the world” means nothing in the face of paradise. Islam, like all faith, is not of this world but of the world to come. Islam’s extremists, like all extremists, would like to speed their agenda along.
. . .
We should consider that Islamic terrorism may not be defeatable, except on its own terms, on the battlefield of the supernatural.

To secularists and avowed agnostics who work to expunge all religious language from governments, that idea is anathema. I doubt it makes many Christians or Jews happy, either. But the war on terror is as much about ideas and ideals as about security and strategy. If one side’s ideas are mayhem in service to transcendence and the other side is thinking about meetings and signed papers, then secular Western diplomacy is boxing with one glove.

Truthfully, though, I was only jumping off of Pope Benedict’s Supernatural Gambit.

Some wags will dismiss this study, indulging in a bit of paranoia to claim that it is nothing more than “Obama’s Chicago friends trying to “help him and his Muslim interests.”

Paranoia will not help, though. Two years ago it was urgent that the West understand the need to acknowledge and include religious ideas and language in its diplomacy; things are not less urgent, today.

Related: George Weigel on The Vatican and Russia

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Manny L.

    “American foreign policy is handicapped by a narrow, ill-informed and “uncompromising Western secularism” that feeds religious extremism, threatens traditional cultures and fails to encourage religious groups that promote peace and human rights, according to a two-year study by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.”

    Frankly I’m skeptical, if not out right dispute this argument, and not for paranoid reasons. I see no reason to believe that Osama Bin Laden would feel any less anti west if we promoted Christianity along with our diplomatic and business interests. I can see how that could rile the Islamicists up further. And who says we are “uncomprimising?” Frankly we have been extremely comprimising with the Islamic world that it borders on appeasement. Whether we are comprimising or uncomprimising, whether we are secular or non-secular, terrorists will find a reason to justify their jihad.

    Look people are groping for a solution, and perhaps there is no solution to the Islamo-Fascist problem. Sometimes there is no way to avoid conflict. Except pure capitulation. And i’m not going to do that.

  • http://www.savkobabe.blogspot.com Gayle Miller

    Quoting my cousin Stuart: It’s interesting to note that the same people who interdict our children reading the Bible in school, will encourage those same children to read the Bible in prison!

    And pure capitulation is not, repeat not, an option.

    On your recommendation, E, I have just finished reading One Second After and it scared the peewadden out of me! (yes, I made that word up).

  • Pingback: » Links To Visit – 02/24/10 NoisyRoom.net: Where liberty dwells, there is my country…

  • craig

    Manny L., the Islamic world will not be won over by appeasement. We cannot avoid conflict and must not shrink from it. In that we agree.

    The point is that the Western world is approaching the conflict with secular blinders on, perpetually unable to understand the enemy because we disregard everything he freely tells us is important to him. The most important competition here is not military, political, or economic, but philosophical.

    The Islamic world cannot be won over by converting murderous terrorists; it must be won at the margins, by converting the ordinary citizen whose loyalty will go with the side that offers a balm for his deepest concerns.

    The utterly conventional Ivy League secularism that the State Department promotes insists that the peoples of the world can be satisfied with bread, circuses, and the occasional appearance of free elections. Following Marx, it pretends that the human hunger for transcendentals (purpose, truth, justice, beauty, etc.) is merely a relic of material dissatisfaction. That is why we are consistently surprised at how terrorists come from the ranks of the rich and well-educated: according to secular dogma, it should not be thus. We get the answer wrong because we misunderstand the question.

    What our secular propaganda tells the Moslem world is that we are shallow, cynical, and soft: well-fed livestock content to remain at the level of our base instincts. Instead of convincing them to trade their deficiencies for ours, it instead inspires them to further proselytism for their supposed solution, namely Islam.

    In order to convert the Moslem world, we must aspire to become more human, not less. We must have a reason for aspiring at all that is not simply an infantile “I want”, and that reason must be something (Someone)true. In this we cannot cheat; so long as our aspirations are held not because they are true but because they are useful, they remain mere appetites and will be discarded in a real emergency.

    But if our deficiencies are not primarily material, neither are theirs. Islam’s irrationalism, arbitrariness, fanaticism, and fatalism are shameful and crippling to their societies — and they know it. But these can only be countered by proposing to replace them with a sound sense of divine order, purpose, and tranquility whereby Islam’s vices can be overcome by their opposite qualities — we used to call these prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. In other words, we need to re-learn the true catholic faith ourselves in order to re-teach it. But, I fear, that cannot happen without much martyrdom (the Christian kind, not the diabolical parody).

  • Manny L.

    “In order to convert the Moslem world, we must aspire to become more human, not less.” -Craig

    Ok, that’s a nice statement, but I don’t exactly know what it means in practice. Have we been less human in dealing with the middle east world? Do you realize how much development – human development, buildings, bridges, schools, education – the west provided (through our corporations) to the middle east? It’s not like we haven’t.

    I have internet friendships with people in the middle east (in Egypt and Saudia Arabia who are studying English literature) where we share thoughts on mostly western works. The average person in the middle east, as far as i can tell, does not hate the west. They have prejudices, for sure, but frankly they admire us as well. They watch our films, TV shows, read our literature and newspapers. I believe that Pres Bush is right, they want to strive for a more modern outlook.

    And that is what leads to the fundemental problem they face: there are those that want to turn toward some conservative view of Islam that probably never existed and are reacting to the modernizing elements in their culture. The schism is at their end, and no matter what we do (other than completely turning away from any relationship) the Islamists will not be happy if any modernization occurs.

    “In other words, we need to re-learn the true catholic faith ourselves in order to re-teach it. But, I fear, that cannot happen without much martyrdom (the Christian kind, not the diabolical parody).” -Craig

    So if you are advocating preaching Christianity to the Saudia Arabians, then I don’t see how it helps in any way. It adds a further complication to an already complicated relationship. Do you think that bringing the crucifix to downtown Riyadh is not going to stem Islamic radicalism? i don’t see it.

    They have to work out the relationship between the modern world, which is in a large part secular, with Islam. That is for them to work out. We can only defend our interests and provide a model if they so choose to emulate.

  • James Stephens

    Years ago I went through SERE–Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape–in the Navy. There was a follow-up SERE seminar. During the seminar I saw a videotaped lecture by a Navy lieutenant who had been born in Egypt. He was a navigator on Navy patrol planes, and his talk was directed towards naval airmen. He gave a nice brief on the nationalities involved in the Afghan war–the one with the Soviet Union, and gave some food for thought to those of us who might face the risk of capture by a Muslim enemy in combat. I wouldn’t say that he was preaching, but he pointed out that happy-go-lucky flying playboys needed to become devout Christians before they faced combat with Muslim warriors. A Muslim captor would respect the world view and person of an honest Christian far more than that of a Red Army soldier (assumed to be an atheist) or a secular Christian-in-name only American.

  • craig

    (1/2)

    The whole thrust of my post was that we need to relearn the “whys” underpinning Western civilization. We have ignored them for a half century at least. We ourselves don’t understand anymore why we value reason, justice, rule of law, compassion, life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and so on — so how can we possibly spread these ideas? We can’t and don’t.

    Go back to my previous list of problems endemic to Islam: irrationalism, arbitrariness, fanaticism, and fatalism. Once upon a time we held ourselves civilized because our culture prized reason, fairness, compassion, and freedom as attributes of the divine order. Now we don’t care about those things as long as we are dominant; now we ourselves are in danger of becoming “lesser breeds without the Law”.

    The West collectively can’t believe that a right belief in God matters to real-world concerns. As Yoda says, “that is why you fail”.

    The Left has made “diversity” into a god and rejected the defense of the old ideals as objective truths. The Right has made the belly into a god, thinking that mere material superiority can transform our enemies and make them content to forget doing good and try doing well. That is why we do insane things like write Islamic law into the constitutions in Afghanistan and Iraq, heedless of the implicit capitulation contained therein.

  • craig

    (2/2)

    “Have we been less human in dealing with the middle east world? Do you realize how much development – human development, buildings, bridges, schools, education – the west provided (through our corporations) to the middle east?”

    We are less human when we feed people’s bodies and starve their spirits. The itchy uneasiness and discontent afflicting modern society is a direct result of prolonged starvation of the human spirit.

    The Middle Eastern countries have trillions in oil wealth; they can afford to buy our material goods. In fact, in their spiritual poverty at present, our willingness to supply them with material goods and foreign aid can be construed as a form of tribute. What non-material goods we now provide them are probably more harmful than helpful, because we either end up propagandizing nihilistic secular hedonism (e.g. Hollywood values) or else multiculturalist pap. We are trying to make them materially richer but spiritually poorer. We are also teaching them to treat our civilization as ripe for the plundering.

    “So if you are advocating preaching Christianity to the Saudi Arabians, then I don’t see how it helps in any way. It adds a further complication to an already complicated relationship.”

    People who insist upon the truth always complicate things for other people.

    But we will earn more respect in that part of the world, even from the hardline Islamists, by having Christian principles and standing firm than by sacrificing all to expediency. If we permit the enthronement of anti-Western values in law (oppression of Christians, official preference for Islam, etc.), We will continue to lose respect. It’s not about proselytism.

    In fact, the land is not prepared for it at present. Direct proselytism so often has little effect because the seed is sown on unprepared soil. What is needed is not evangelism but proto-evangelism: developing their cultures to be able to grok the ideas at all.

    The most important cultural salvo fired against Islam in the last ten years has been Pope Benedict XVI’s Regensburg lecture, in which he stressed the centrality of the Trinitarian God to rationality itself. The fact that God’s rationality is intrinsic to catholic Christianity and alien to both secularism and Islam is important. It is the key to deciphering all the “message traffic” in the clash of civilizations. It explains how the West advanced so far in every measure beyond the Middle East, why the oppression of Christianity prevents the Middle East from advancing, and why the waning of Christianity in the West is linked to decline. More importantly, it points out the contradiction buried deep within Islam, and makes the imams address the irreconcilable.

  • Manny L.

    “The Middle Eastern countries have trillions in oil wealth; they can afford to buy our material goods. In fact, in their spiritual poverty at present, our willingness to supply them with material goods and foreign aid can be construed as a form of tribute.” -Craig

    I don’t know how many muslims you know, but the ones I’ve met on the internet and the ones I’ve worked with in flesh and blood real life, I have found them to be way more spiritual than the average American, and not even by a close amount. I have no idea what you mean about feeding them spiritually. That’s rather abstract. If you mean proselitizing and trying to convert them to Christianity, well that would be as likely to work as they proseltizing and trying to convert you. The history of Christians trying to convert Jews over the centuries was an abismal failure, and in most cases an outright disgrace to Christians. I see no reason to think it would be any different in trying to convert muslims.

    Now as to the original subject, I would like to amend my thought. I do think there could be some benefit of people meeting half way to find common ground in spiritual endeavors where there is mutual respect and common ground, much like the Jewish-Catholic relationship of the past few decades. Still I have a hard time envisioning how to put this into practice. Sure the Pope and Bishops can meet with top Imans and work through some common program, but I find it hard to envision how a western government such as the US would meet with a Saudia Arabian government to promote a spiritual agenda.

  • http://fkclinic.blogspot.com tioedong

    Yeah. Hillary came here, not to discuss poverty, terrorism or the rank corruption that feeds the first two, but to tell us to pass the “Reproductive health bill” so that poor people in government clinics can be pressured into being sterilized or use the pill.

    Priorities, you know.


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