The International Herald Tribune for June 1 carries a fascinating opinion piece by Aijaz Zaka Syed, titled “The West’s Contempt for Religion.” Link (And no, I’m not creating a link to something printed tomorrow, it’s already tomorrow in Parish where the Herald-Trib is published.)
Syed contends that the West has developed a general contempt for religion due to the excesses of Western Christianity:
The church’s excessive control over its flock during the oppressive centuries leading up to the European Renaissance (remember the Spanish Inquisition? Or how the church persecuted Galileo Galilei for his scientific beliefs?) and its unreasonable opposition to all scientific inquiry and quest for knowledge generated a popular backlash. As a result, much of Western society banished the church forever from its life and day-to-day existence. More important, this hopeless conflict left a deep distrust and contempt for all religions in the Western mind that remains far from shaken.
Because of that contempt, Syed says that religion in the West has become something that is restricted to the individual, or at most to within the four walls of a church.
I’d like to think that I can understand religion as a matter of personal experience and conviction (in fact, that’s part of my religious system), yet it can still be something I take very seriously, and not treat with contempt. Yet Syed has a good point — Westerners do have a tendency to either condemn religion, or slide into fundamentalism. It would be nice to find a middle ground of respect.
In the mean time, Syed ends by saying:
Whatever Washington’s explanation [for the Koran desecration incident], this is certainly no way to win the battle for Muslim hearts and minds. If this is what President George W. Bush had in mind when he promised ‘human liberty and democracy’ to the people in Muslim lands, the Islamic world would be better off without America’s gifts. Thanks but no thanks.
Nor will Americans win any global friends by taking the condescending attitude that all religions are bosh, and worthy only of contempt. Sorry, my anti-religious friends, but an American superiority complex can take many forms.