Awaiting the Secular Millennium

Dr. Johannes Jansen is a renowned Arabist and a professor at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. It was my privilege to meet him in Brussels in 2007, and since then to post translations of his excellent writings on Islam in this space.

Our Flemish correspondent VH has translated a recent article by Dr. Jansen about the much-ballyhooed “victory of moderate Islam”. First, some prefatory remarks by the translator:

Recently the Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) published a research, Religion at the beginning of the 21st century, that mentioned a decline in church and mosque attendance. The report (Dutch language, pdf) can be downloaded here.

The research not only showed that 32% of Muslims regularly drink alcohol, but also that half of the Muslims in the Netherlands hardly ever, or even never, visit a mosque. On top of that, CBS noted a decline in mosque attendance: from 47% in 1998, down to 35% in 2008. The overall impression, as picked up by a large portion of the media, was: “You see, everything will be all right in the end”.

A fatal mistake, as Hans Jansen explains.

Here’s the translation of Dr. Jansen’s article in Hoei Boei:

The end of religion will not happen yet
by Hans Jansen

“Modern intellectuals are waiting for the end of religion like pious Jews await the coming of the Messiah.”

Rodney Stark, the sociologist on religion, said something like this years ago. As anyone who knows pious Jews realizes, that claim is quite nice, but not entirely correct. Because pious Jews do have other things on their minds.

Modern intellectuals, on the contrary, do not have any, or not enough of it, if one believes the newspapers this summer. Modern non-religious intellectuals are indeed awaiting the end of all religions as if nothing else is more important. They don’t need to be told anything, as they show time and again. For God is dead, isn’t He?

With great regularity, and accompanied with an orchestra of publicity, showers of little numbers about public behavior are pored over which appear to support the conviction that the end of all religions is near. The churches are becoming empty. However, the presumption that with many different religions in different circumstances in completely different societies the end would be near as well defies all probabilities. With what other phenomenon has something similar ever occurred? Skeptics of all countries, unite, and rush to the aid of your modern and naïve infidel friends.

As a side effect, or perhaps even as the main effect, such figures are supposed to convince us that the Islam is just another weak bite like modern Christianity is. Historic church buildings are converted into shopping malls in which camping tents and carpets are offered for sale. Only in those who really want to see it this way is a belief in the end of religion confirmed.

When church buildings can be renovated into shopping malls, this must also be possible with mosques, the tacit assumption goes. Moreover, didn’t those Muslims already have something to do with tents, anyway?

One of the nicest researches that brings on the glimmerings of an idea of what is really going on has been described by the aforementioned Rodney Stark. Across the United States in the sixties a decline in church attendance occurred everywhere, albeit differing in extent from state to state. The number of advertisements placed by astrologers in the Yellow Pages was always in inverse proportion to the decline in church attendance.

This is no proof of anything, but it does support the presumption that one unverifiable teaching is quietly being replaced by another unverifiable teaching. Scientists are not supposed to say such things, but the presumption is justified that the former church visitors would have been better off with Catholicism — or even one of the forms of Calvinism — than with astrology.

Back to the nature of secularization. In every movement, whether it is the Consumers’ Association or the editors of the Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad (where I, however, don’t know anybody), the PvdA [Socialists, Labor], the Catholic Church, or Islam, there roughly is a 20-60-20 distribution. This means that 20% of the population take everything the “club” comes up with seriously; 60% stroll along with anything the leadership tells them, does not even consider going against the leadership, but feels little or no passion for the party line; and 20% would mostly prefer not to be part of it any longer, but well, you know, there are always practical concerns that keep them from suiting the action to the word.

Within a company, the group that takes everything seriously can be found in the Workers’ Council or management. In the church the serious-takers are part of the clergy. In “normal” organizations, they prefer to work in the head office, and in the case of Islam, they are the testosterone brigade around the imams and their sermons. This latter group is — given the official rules of Islam regarding women, apostates and those who insult the prophet, and a few other minor points such as jihad, just read the literature on it — mortally dangerous. Just think of what happened to Theo van Gogh and many others like him, for example, the Egyptian Farag Foda.

– – – – – – – –

On the other side of the spectrum are the people who really want to step out of it, such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Ehsan Jami. When the potential apostates do not come out in the open, the others are winning. The approximately 60% in middle of the road are hardly relevant here, for it is a battle between vanguards, the front lines. Those in the 60% are watching the spectacle of this battle between of the wings of their own movement, religion, party, business, or editorial board like an average person would watch a football match.

Mosque attendance is, according to the Sharia, to some extent compulsory, but the omission of that obligation can be caught up with later on, just like any other negligence. A great way to catch up with neglected prayers is to go on Jihad. For which is more exciting: praying in the mosque or going on safari with a Kalashnikov[1] in Kenya?

Only the radicals carry enough religious virus with them to make converts. The less precise usually wither away; just look at the fate of sensible Protestant churches in the Netherlands. Religions shrink on the sensible side, and grow at the radical wings. Examples abound. That also makes sense: for you do not convert in order to remain in doubt.

Islamization has nothing to do with the increase or decrease of mosque attendance. Islamization is all about power. It is the continued imposition of the official rules of Islam on Muslims and others, who did not ask for it, but are in many ways forced to agree, or risk confusion, chaos, threats, whining, complaints, loss of reputation, demonstrations, shouting about civil rights, attacks; in short: exactly what you constantly hear about the jihadist-Salafist frontline of Islam around the world. Most people are more afraid of chaos than Islam, so Islam too often gets its way.

Whoever does not voluntarily agree to the requirements of official Islam will need to be persuaded with violence. The testosterone brigade likes nothing better than doing that. Religion in many respects looks like all other earthly movements, but differs in one essential point of all terrestrial competition, because when desired it can deliver something no other earthly body has on offer: life after death.

In some cases, with people about whom you can hardly say they have a life before death, religion also takes care of that. Religion can deliver what may be unachievable in other ways: love of one’s fellow man, respect, immortality, insight into the essence of the cosmos; you name it, we run it. Something beautiful like that will not easily become extinct. Modern unbelievers really do not have to worry about that.

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[1] Hans Jansen refers here to the recent arrest of four Dutch Muslim citizens (three Dutch-Moroccan nationals and a Moroccan with Dutch residency) on the border of Kenya and Somalia, on their way to a jihadist training camp. At first they said they were just on holiday and lost track.

8 thoughts on “Awaiting the Secular Millennium

  1. It appears that the liberal Egyptian writer Farag Foda was a great loss to the world (and sincere Islam modernizers however few of them there are).

    It was notable that his assassination was ordered by a group of teachers at the misnamed al-Azhar UNIVERSITY. Obviously, it’s no university by Western standards, merely another madrassa or Muslim mafia ordering hits.

    Here is an example of the simple yet brilliant reasoning for which he was killed. Common sense is like kryptonite to Islam so anyone who retains the power of logical reasoning must be exterminated.

    Farag Foda wrote: “”We face problems of great magnitude, so how can they be resolved by the application of Shari’ah Law, since these problems did not exist in the early centuries of Islam? How would Shari’ah, for example, deal with the problems of housing, indebtedness, famine, and unemployment?”

    “We seem to be excessively interested and preoccupied with matters of worship; does that relieve us from our responsibility to get involved in the great scientific and technological advancements of our times?”

    Another light in the Muslim world extinguished by Muslims who wish to live in darkness like poisonous mushrooms.

  2. We have many scientists to deal with this or that.

    But two topics are very much neglected, dealt with on an absolutely superficial quasi journalistic level:

    1) language
    2) religion

    There is a huge space in human mind reserved for “religion”. We should try to define what happens to the human mind, if seemingly nothing fills this huge space. In short term one could claim to be simply “rational”. But in long term it simply does not work. The non-believers believe in many items anyhow, whether they want it or not.

    They may be hesitant to articulate their beliefs. Probably they are aware how much confusion might arise from that. But they have them and have to live with them.

    Another common mistake is placing “religions” as if “they” were on the same level. A nice collection, pick this or that at pleasure. It does not work, it is simply indicating our lack of intellectual honesty and patience.

    Even the new term “Weltanschaung” does not bring much. It is hopelessly anthropocentric…and again creating the effect of a galary or collection. It dilutes the matter even further.

  3. Suppose “I believe (in) something.

    But in my soul or mind (many languages put “heart”) I may believe this or that on one level (esp. “conscious”) and something else hidden deeper. The social surroundings mess it further. one is under pressure to say this or that.

    In this sense we cannot say whether for ex. Solkhar really believes in his version of islam.

    He might be subconsciously around willing to share with us our views.

    A sort of heavy nostalgy for something more genuine. His social inner policeman tells him to write
    as he writes. To feel well in his own milieu.

    Arrange a change in his societal surroundings and the same person will start using a very different language. You get suddenly Solkhar2. So far we discuss Solkhar1 plus his seemingly steady societal milieu. It s like discussing with a mushroom plus its invisible roots – many square metres of a forest.

  4. @Czechmade

    “The non-believers believe in many items anyhow, whether they want it or not.”

    Do me a favor and name one item that i, as a non-believer, believe in!

  5. Erdebe, I have difficulties to speak for myself, how could I be your own spokesperson?

    At least you had to organize your non-belief billboard for the benefit of your friends and made yourself believe or feel it was well done.

    Rough doctrinal theses are easy to organize convincingly, what about the rest?

    Personally I avoid operating on the belief basis. But still my approach will be very different from yours.

  6. @Czechmade

    I havent got a clue what you are going on about, but maybe my question came across as a bit aggressive. In that case i offer you my sincere apologies!

    The point to my question wasnt malicious or an attempt to catch you out. But my problem with your comment was, that im not sure if i agree with you or not. That basically depends on your definition of “believe”. Therefore i asked you for an example so i could figure out what you meant with “belief”, in this context.

    Because if you define “belief” as a kind of opinion, i tend to agree with you. If you however, define “belief” as a something one is convinced of without any evidence or logic, i tend to disagree.

    So there you go….no harm intended, just trying to understand your comments.

  7. In Europe there appears to have been a cultural contraction with the onslaught of neo-liberalism and its weapon of choice – islam.

    As the Obama election has exiled Uncle Sam to Alaska this will force Europe to face its demons – they no longer have the luxury of using the United States as their scapegoat or guard dog while they indulge in over the rainbow politics.

    Hopefully in the near future European culture will again rapidly expand and the foundation of that expansion maybe a reacquaintance with Christianity – religion is a constant.

  8. ERDEBE and CZECHMADE: nice discussion. Perhaps this can help:

    On a tv travel series a while back, the protagonist, well out of his comfort zone, and trudging through endless Morroccan desert (you know – NOTHING after NOTHING after NOTHING) said “Suddenly, I understood how religion began.”

    Precisely. There’s a void, and we have to fill it, roughly on the grounds of “There’s gotta be something better than this”.

    But the problem is this: the same mind that poses the questions also supplies the answers. In other words, god didn’t invent us, we invented him.

    And the afterlife…and virgin birth…and 70 virgins on tap if you fly a plane into a building
    and …

    well, you get the picture – anything but dealing with what it ACTUALLY IS.

    Hope that helps 🙂

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