'THE COMING CLASH BETWEEN ISLAM AND THE WEST'
THE HEALING OF CIVILIZATIONS: ORTHODOX CHRISTIANITY, WESTERN CAPITALISM AND ISLAM
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of Capitalism's only competitor, Communism, various thinkers have spoken of 'The Triumph of the West' or, as one writer, Francis Fukuyarna, put it in a best-selling book, of 'The End of History and the Last Man'.
History, he said, has always been marked by the clash and conflict of civilizations, values and ideologies: with only one system, Capitalism, left, history had ended. Indeed, at first sight, the only ideologies or systems which seem to be left in the world are variants of Capitalism in different stages of evolution to maturity following a historical pattern.
On the one hand, in East Asia there are countries with booming economies which have recently freed themselves from more or less feudal systems and won economic, though not political, freedom. Where until recently agriculture was virtually the only activity, manufacturing has taken over. These countries are similar in their work-ethic, puritanical moralism, lack of political freedom and their criminal underworlds, to the Capitalist economies of the West in the period of the Industrial Revolution. These values of East Asia have been called Confucian and some talk of 'The Asian Way', emphasising economic freedom together with semi-religious values of individual responsibility, morality, honesty, family life, mothers who stay at home, respect for the old and the authority of the State. But in fact these are the former values of Western industrial societies, which imposed them to keep their proletarian masses under control before the First World War. From a modern Western viewpoint these Asian countries resemble sweatshops and their governments profess the repressive political and moral hypocrisy of their own Victorian Age.
On the other hand, there are the post-industrial economies of the contemporary West which have in recent years turned away from manufacturing to the services. They profess faith not only in economic freedom but also in political freedom. They have rejected the puritanical moralism as well as the worker exploitation of the recent past in favour of humanist values, political and personal freedom and democratic pluralism. From an Asian viewpoint they are lands of decline, unemployment, crime, drugs, AIDS, debauchery, family breakdown and suicide.
Until recently it seemed then that there were no alternatives to these two variants of Capitalism, the old-fashioned 'Confucian' or Asian form and the modern Western one. In 1993, however, in the 'Foreign Affairs' journal, a Harvard Professor, Samuel Huntingdon, wrote an article called 'The Clash of Civilizations'. In this he recognised seven other civilizations or ideologies, including the Orthodox Christian one, competing with the modern Western one. According to him, the major one, the opponent of the West, is now Islam.
Islam is the only ideology in the world, which in opposition to modem Western values, is based on a transcendental certainty, that of Allah as expressed in the Koran and interpreted by Islam. And in fact the opposition between the two is very sharp, nowhere more so than in the Islamic Republic of Iran which calls the United States 'the Great Satan'. This opposition between the religious and the secular, between Capitalism based on interest and usury and anti-usury Islamic banking, does seem real. And Islam would appear to be the only, ideological system in the world which is winning not only individual recruits but also whole countries to its cause. What are the aims of these two systems?
The aim of Western Capitalism is economic growth. This is its be-all and end-all, for economic growth brings money and Capitalism is the ideology of capital, of, in other words, money. But in the Gospel, this is called Mammon, which is opposed to God. From an Orthodox Christian standpoint what is missing in Western Capitalism and its humanist freemarket economics is the concept of man as a spiritual being and the contentment or inner happiness that spiritual life brings. The Market Economy unquestioningly presumes that economic growth means human contentment, inner happiness, because it sees man only as a material being with material needs. Given the record of Capitalism, family breakdown, abortion, crime, worker exploitation, drugs and pollution, it is clear that Capitalism does not bring man contentment, suggesting that man is not only a material being but also a spiritual being. Indeed Capitalism is dedicated to creating new material wants, making contentment impossible. Neither in the modern West, nor in East Asia, are the values of Capitalism conducive to the spiritual life of man and his inner happiness (though it could easily be argued that they are much more conducive to human happiness than Communism). But on the other hand, can it be argued that the values of Islam bring human happiness?
Historically, Islam grew out of a Christian sect, which believed that Christ was not God, only a man. But Islam took the teaching of this sect a stage further, becoming a sect of a sect. It not only refused Christ, relegating Him to the level of a mere prophet, it simplified and reduced the New Testament Revelation and replaced it with the Jewish Old Testament and, above all, added the tribal and cultural customs of the nomads of the Arabian peninsula. All this it bound together and made absolute in 'The Book', in Arabic, 'The Koran'. Later Muslims adopted pagan Greek philosophy and knowledge, being especially influenced by Aristotle, and were able to develop a civilization. Nevertheless Muslims believe that the Koran is word for word inspired by Allah: there are no textual variants, it is an absolute record, binding on all, and Muslims must submit to it. Indeed the word 'Islam' means 'submission'. From an Orthodox Christian standpoint, Islam represents a return to the Old Testament and its anthropomorphisms, or attribution to God of human and sinful values. It is entirely unacceptable because it rejects Christ as True God and True Man and thus also rejects the Holy Spirit. Like Judaism it too fails to understand the Old Testament, which can only be understood in the light of the New Testament, as Christ Himself showed in His own quotations from the Old Testament during His life.
The Capitalist Market Economy with its humanist values promises man earthly riches and prosperity with economic and sometimes political freedom. Some it makes rich, others remain relatively poor. Islam promises man faith in and submission to a transcendental god above all things, in a once and for all Revelation, the Koran. Is there really not some alternative to these two extremes, both linked to special forms of civilization, the Western and the Arabic?
It is our belief that alone of the eight civilizations mentioned by this Harvard Professor, the Orthodox Christian one is capable of overcoming or healing the present and coming clash between Islam and the West. This is because only Orthodox Christianity tells of the Transcendental God Who became Incarnate Man and 'dwelt among us', unlike both Islam, which accepts only a transcendental god, and the West, which accepts only fallen man. Only Orthodox Christianity speaks of the continuing Revelation of the Holy Spirit, Who makes Christ present among us, and not the finished revelation of the Koran, or the revelationless West. Only Orthodoxy possesses the Ascetic Science of Spiritual Fathers and Mothers, of the Philokalia, to meet man's inner needs and bring him spiritual contentment here and now and in the world to come. And more than this, only Orthodoxy speaks of the Resurrection-Victory of Christ over Death, Death whose sting is taken away neither by the free market, nor by Mohammed who failed to rise from the dead.
It is our conviction that the humanist values of the West cannot meet man's spiritual needs, cannot answer any of the ultimate questions regarding man's destiny, precisely because it is humanist, seeing man as an intelligent biological species, a clever animal, and no more. Modern Western values may create greater or lesser material wealth, greater or lesser political freedom, but no more - and no doubt they would not claim to be able to do any more. But what can Islam do? Can it bring down its god to be among us? Does it inspire through the Holy Spirit? Can it bring the inner contentment of Orthodox Christian Ascetic Science? Can it reassure that its founder rose from the dead? Can it bring Love or Peace or Forgiveness? Or does it bring oppression both to men and to women and 'holy' war?
Islam may object, referring to the Crusades or Western Imperialism: but this is none of the work of Orthodox Christianity, but of Medieval Catholicism and post-Medieval Capitalism. Orthodox Christendom has never attacked Islam, it has only defended itself against it. Westernisers may object that the history of the Orthodox Church is full of examples of Erastian bishops kow-towing to the wishes of corrupt Emperors, Kings and Dictators, as Western bishops similarly kow-towed, and that therefore its arguments are as redundant as those of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. But to this we answer that the 'Orthodox' bishops who behave thus do so precisely because they are not Orthodox, they suffer from a lack of Orthodoxy and a surfeit of worldliness, they neither know nor practise the Ascetic Science of the Orthodox Faith, inspired by Christ and the Holy Spirit.
Moreover, unlike in the West, the abuses of 'Orthodox' bishops have never been erected into a this-worldly system or dogma whereby a mere man, be he Pope of Rome or King of a Western country, is acknowledged as Head of the Church. Although individual Orthodox have compromised themselves, the Orthodox Faith itself has never been compromised, unlike either Roman Catholicism or Protestantism. The abuses of 'Orthodox' bishops have always been seen as what they are, abuses, and therefore consistently challenged and condemned down the ages by countless Martyrs and Saints and Church Councils, by the collective conscience of the whole People of God
It is our conviction that the clash of Islam with the West, the clash of the absolute transcendental god of the Koran with the humanist 'economism' or Mammon of the modern West is not inevitable. Both Western Europe and also the Islamic lands of Arabia, the Middle East, Turkey, Iran and North Africa were once Orthodox Christian lands. It is for these lands which fell away from the Church for the mess of pottage of worldly values to recover their historical roots and heritage in the Church of Christ. In so doing they will find not clash but healing. And this task is made no less great and momentous by the need for Orthodox Christians themselves also to become closer to what we are called to be, Orthodox Christians, internally and not only externally. If not, then we shall perhaps in our own lifetime see the words of Christ in the Gospel come true: 'When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?'