Does Atheism Lead to Islam?

Does Atheism Lead to Islam? February 23, 2017


As a society becomes increasingly secular and unchurched, what’s the natural next step? Will it continue to become freer, more liberal, more peaceful? Or will it take a sharp 180-degree turn into ultra-fundamentalist Islam?

You might find that idea absurd. If so, you’re probably not archbishop emeritus (which I’m assuming is code for “ultra-conservative old fossil who pines for the Inquisition”) Carlo Liberati, of Italy, who reportedly said the following:

Because of their “stupidity,” “pagan and atheist” ways, and “laws that go against God,” Italy and all of Europe will be Muslim in about 10 years, said Monsignor Carlo Liberati, the Catholic archbishop emeritus of Pompeii.

What does he mean by that? Well, he’s glad you asked:

“Italy and Europe live in a pagan and atheist way,” he said, and “they make laws that go against God and follows practices that are proper to paganism.”

“All of this moral and religious decadence favors Islam,” said the archbishop. “In 10 years we will all be Muslims because of our stupidity.”

(I thought Italy was supposed to have open-air slave markets first?)

We can infer from the archbishop’s statement that he holds the delusional belief, also found among evangelicals, that all religions that aren’t his version of Christianity are interchangeable. In his mind, atheism, paganism and Islam are all the same – somehow. The usual justification for this is that everyone in the world secretly knows that the speaker’s religion (whichever one it is) is the true one, and all alternative beliefs are just different ways of rebelling against that knowledge.

It’s a terrific feat of doublethink to believe that permissive and “decadent” laws create a welcoming climate for Islam, while simultaneously believing, as bigots like this inevitably do, that Islam can be wholly identified with its most rigid and fundamentalist adherents. If moral laxity is corrosive to Christianity, why isn’t it also corrosive to Islam? Why would Muslims be attracted by “laws that go against God”?

One answer that’s often heard is that a culture of self-indulgence discourages people from having children, leading to societal collapse and takeover by other cultures that are more fecund. In practice, this usually manifests as the racist fear of brown immigrants “outbreeding” white Europeans. The archbishop clearly shares this fear (he says “they have children and we do not” – an ironic complaint coming from a lifelong celibate). But considering that he expects this transformation to happen in ten years, he must have been contemplating something more immediate.

No, what I think the archbishop was really getting at was this: he probably believes that every country has to be some religion’s theocratic possession. If Christianity has abdicated the throne in Europe, well, then there’s nothing to stop Islam from coming in and taking over. In his mind, it’s impossible to conceive that secularism could be a governing philosophy in its own right and not just a power vacuum.

This partakes of the profoundly racist vision of Muslims as a relentless horde, waiting just over the border to rush in and conquer, unless they’re kept out by exclusionary laws (a delusion, sad to say, that’s also held by the current U.S. president). It dehumanizes them all as invaders with a single purpose, rather than a vast and diverse group of human beings who all want to make their own way in the world. It’s certainly true to say that some Muslims dream of imposing a harsh theocratic vision on the world, but then again, so do some Christians.

The reality is that, if anything, Muslims have more to fear from the West colonizing them, rather than vice versa. It’s not as if the U.S. and Europe don’t have a long history of invasion and overthrow – from the Crusades to George W. Bush’s misadventure in Iraq – whenever predominantly Muslim countries are governed in a way that isn’t to our liking.

I don’t have any desire to live under an Islamic theocracy, either. And there’s a legitimate debate to be had about how we can preserve secular ideals while also offering sanctuary to an influx of people who may not all value them in the same way. But whereas I think these points make an excellent argument for “and that’s why no one should be forced to obey religious laws”, the church’s subtext is clearly “so kick out the brown people and give us back the absolute power we used to have”. What they fail to offer is any reason whatsoever for why we should want theocracy under them any more than we want it under their Muslim counterparts.

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