We’re always being told that Christians need to find a way to “embrace the modern world” or find our “own way to be modern”. The quick reply, of course, is that one should not embrace evil and vulgarity just because they happen to be popular right now. If something in modernity is good, let it argue itself on its merits. This reply can be addressed to anyone, but for Christians the stakes are particularly high.
Before this year, my impression was that all religions were eroded by modernity, with Judaism being hardest hit, then Christianity, then Islam, but all of them facing the same grim fate if liberalism is not overturned. I’d been hearing reports (e.g. the one linked by Kristor a while back) for some time that Orthodox Judaism is actually thriving in the modern world, but it took a long time for this (to me) counterintuitive fact to sink in. In fact, it seems that Christianity is, among the world religions, uniquely maladapted to modernity; it’s response more resembles that of tribal animism. Both liberal and conservative Christianity are in manifest decline over all the former lands of Christendom. Meanwhile, Islam inspires its youth in ways Christianity can’t even fathom. Liberal and Orthodox Judaism are both succeeding by their own measures (e.g. worldly accomplishment and retaining the next generation, respectively). Hindus never feel the need to explain why their pantheon of gods and fantastic mythology is consistent with modern science and history. Neither Hindus nor Muslims feel the need to judge their own historical behavior against liberal norms. It’s as if everyone knows who modernity is aimed at. Conservative Jews who want to separate themselves from modern corruptions don’t have to reject the core modern narrative of heroic oppressed minorities versus the evil and stupid white Christians. Indeed, they can embrace it with zeal. (I hope most of them don’t, but the point is that when they do it just means despising another group, not their own selves and ancestors.) They can insist to hostile outsiders that by embracing their heritage, they are defying all those anti-semitic, medieval-minded Christians in the red states, and are thus being supremely modern. The core of modernity is hatred for Christianity. Other groups can be modern “in their own way”, because this just means they can hate Christians in their own way. Christians don’t have that option.
Thus, this article is interesting, but it gets things exactly backwards. It argues that because modernity grew out of Christianity, Islam will be able to smoothly modernize to the extent that it is similar to Christianity. The truth is the reverse. Religions are able to smoothly accept modernity (i.e. contemporary anti-Christian bigotry) to the extent that they can differentiate themselves from Christianity. Islam’s modernization problems come from that faith’s similarity to ours.