Lower and middle class Americans have always seemed so naïve to nuanced European sophisticates. Those church-going, bible-spouting, conservative hayseeds – what could they possibly have to say that anyone beyond the borders of the US would want to hear?
Yet now cultured and refined Europe sees its fragile worldly wisdom beginning to fracture as the cherished truisms of statist economics and devout scientism hit the stone floors of reality.
Take the headline in Pajamas Media yesterday, “Slow Bleed.” It links to a New York Times article about the stormy transition of a Methodist church in Lancaster into a mosque (a smug essay on the travails of England which was probably written by an American journalist who wouldn’t be caught dead in church herself).
Wait! It’s not what you think. For more than thirty years before this church became a mosque, it had been turned into a factory making scarves for export to the Middle East. There simply weren’t enough Methodist church-going citizens in Clitheroe to keep Mt. Zion open. [Methodists have declined into marginal numbers in Britain: about 500,000 the last time they counted themselves. The number has probably decreased even further by now.]
Only five percent of England walks through the front door of any church on a Sunday morning. Ninety-five percent do something else, including sleeping it off, reading the Sunday papers, or using their time for sports or gardening or any other more meaningful pastime than the pointless boredom of church services.
But that indifference doesn’t mean they welcome the frequent mosque-going habits of their moderate Muslim neighbors. “Not in my backyard” is the rallying cry when it comes to Allah’s crowd.
Nor do their Muslim neighbors much respect the habits of a goodly number of the natives, what with their teenaged mothers, absent fathers, and savage Saturday nights (now there’s a ritual practiced religiously by its followers). In other words, life as lived by the members of the underclass. This creature is one of the progeny — another unintend consequence — fashioned from economic entitlement nightmares which include the dole. A part of the parasitic life-style of living off the earnings of others seems to be a hypersensitivity to having their indolence pointed out. That happens in America, too.
Meanwhile, the small minority of Muslims in Clitheroe – some three hundred people, many of them professionals born in Britain – are determined to have a house of worship.
The leader of the movement for a mosque has simply taken up the cause of his father before him:
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“We’ve been trying to get a place of worship for 30 years,” said Sheraz Arshad, 31, the Muslim leader here, his voice rattling around the empty old Mount Zion Methodist Church that will house his mosque. “It’s fitting it is a church: it is visually symbolic, the coming together of religions.”
Fitting? Perhaps. But I wonder how long it will be before the cross, high atop the church, comes down? Religions “come together” in a limited way, especially when one of them is Islam. Just ask the dwindling numbers of Christians in the Middle East – who “dwindled” not through indifference but because of active persecution.
With a population of 14,500, a Norman castle and an Anglican church established in 1122, Clitheroe is tucked away in Lancashire County [sic] in the north. People here liked to think they represented a last barrier to the mosques that had become features in surrounding industrial towns. But Clitheroe had not bargained on the determination of Mr. Arshad, a project manager at British Aerospace.
The city fathers like Mr. Arshad. Born and bred in Clitheroe, he is one of its citizens. And since the formerly Mt. Zion Methodist Church was no longer making scarves, and was already zoned for a church, why not give the petitioners what they wanted? After all, they have been exemplary citizens:
Mr. Arshad decided to get organized and demonstrate that he was a moderate Muslim who could take part in all the town’s affairs.
He formed an interfaith scout group — Beaver Scouts — that honored many religious occasions, including the Taoist and Jewish new years. He established the Medina Islamic Education Center as an interfaith group for adults, and persuaded the local council to allow the group to lead a key committee. He organized a series of lectures on global conflict that attracted important academics.
Meanwhile, in a musty afterthought, Clitheroe’s Christian remnant reconciles itself to its own decline and death:
At St. Mary Magdalene Church, where the first stone was laid in the 12th century, the congregation has dropped to about 90 people on Sunday, and the average age of congregants is 75, said the Anglican vicar, Philip Dearden. Christenings are now rare, and he has only seven weddings booked for the year.
“Lancashire is the last place to see secularization in Britain,” Mr. Dearden, 64, said. “We’re seeing it now quite drastically. People don’t have a conscience about religion; they don’t come anymore.”
Leaving aside the questionable theology of people “having a conscience about religion” (I’d flee from such a proposition myself), it is interesting to ponder that first stone, laid in the Middle Ages. This was long before the bloody sectarian wars which would sunder the fabric of English faith. It took nine centuries for Mary Magdalene’s to find itself on life support, and England to find itself with neither faith nor reason sufficient to maintain a robust identity when faced on its own soil with the fact of so many – so very many – former colonials bound to have their day in the sun.
Remember that sun? The one which never set on the British Empire? It is sinking now, even as the Sun of Allah rises on its green swards. Hearing British citizens speak about this, one feels the bitterness. Yes, it is galling, this recognition that religious faith, once tossed away in the name of the higher gods of science and rationality, cannot be reclaimed. Or, as One Cosmos so bluntly describes the situation, what results is…
…the kind of spiritual nihilism we see in a supine UK that cannot rouse itself in the face of absolutist Islamic barbarians who mock the hyper-sophisticated moral paralysis of the neutered Eunuchs even as they use them for their own ends.
Meanwhile, in America, firmly Judaeo-Christian despite the determined incursions of enemies like the ACLU and CAIR, or the publication by ignorant academics of indignant and poorly written screeds on the death of faith, the hayseeds continue to throng their churches on a Sunday morning. Insulaar and clueless, academia has been churning out those books breathlessly proclaiming the latest God obituary for three generations now and yet church pews continue to fill, new congregations and splinter denominations continue to form.
Of course our agnostics and atheists have always been with us, and some of them are quite orthodox and earnest in their beliefs. They found their own anti-churches and preach sermons about the evils of religion. Our atheists are firm believers and staunch supporters of their own cult, code and creed. As Chesterton said, “if there were no God, there would be no atheists.”
Meanwhile, in those places not inhabited by Muslims in Europe, the dust of spiritual indifference settles like a pall. Nature – including spiritual nature – abhors a vacuum. Islam is simply filling the vast empty space created by the demise of scientistic belief as a systematic faith.
C. S. Lewis, anyone?