What’s Wrong with the World

The men signed of the cross of Christ go gaily in the dark.


What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

Derbyshire on Spencer

Robert Spencer has just published an interesting new book entitled Religion of Peace? Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn't, and John Derbyshire has just published an interesting review of it over at Pajamas Media.

Unfortunately, Derbyshire puts the wrong foot forward: all one really gathers from the first half of the review is that he just doesn't know or care enough about theological differences to say anything useful about them.

But then things start to pick up. Herewith my favorite bits:

"If Islamia has sunk into the grip of a poisonous ideology—the ideology of jihadism—the Christian West...has been seized by an even more destructive ideology: globalization.

"The second ideology has in fact been the great enabler of the first. And, very uncomfortably for a Christian apologist...a great enabler of globalization has been the Christian tradition. If all men are brothers, heathens only a little less enlightened than Christians, then why should not a Pakistani, or a Somali, or for that matter a Mexican, come to live in the U.S.A.? Why should not ten million of each do so? Would it not in fact be un-Christian to refuse entry to those tens of millions? It beggars belief that anyone should hold such a civilizationally-suicidal view, but many Christians do—the current President of the United States, for example...

"For if there is a sickness in the soul of Islam, there is a corresponding sickness in the soul of the West. As the darkness, cruelty, and obscurantism of jihadist Islam...descend on our lands, our souls rise joyfully to greet them."

...At which point Derbyshire invokes a couple of the many available news stories about incipient European "dhimmitude": Scotsmen giving up working lunches during Ramadan, Dutch Bishops calling on us all to refer to God as "Allah" - the usual lunacy. He then goes on to suggest why he thinks Christianity is to blame for such stuff:

"Perhaps the humane forbearance of the Prince of Peace, and the moral universalism that His teachings imply, bear the seeds of self-destruction. Those seeds were slow to germinate in the long centuries when great mass migrations of people into well-settled lands could only be military affairs. However, the globalization movement of the past fifty years has allowed millions of souls to move and settle peaceably into the old Christian lands; and our old ideals...have urged us to welcome the settlers, and have called fierce obloquy on anyone who complains...

"It is not so much secularism that is the problem as Christianity and its legacy."

(I can't help noticing, however, that this conclusion seems to be at odds with what is by far the best and funniest line in the piece: "We no longer care much about our sovereignty, so long as our bellies are full and we have gadgets and clowns to amuse us; and our bishops, not to mention our Christian President and the globalist elites who surround him, tell us that doubts about the wisdom of mass Third World immigration are unkind, if not actually 'hateful' (not to mention damaging to their stock portfolios)."

I mean, surely the full bellies and the gadgets and the clowns that keep us amused have more to do with secularism than with Christianity and its legacy!)

Anyway, I think there's much to be said for Derbyshire's view, here. 'Cause Christianity today is not what it once was.

Centuries ago, Christianity, in practice, was a fascinating amalgam of fundamentally contradictory elements: on the one hand, the other-worldly, pacifistic doctrine of the gospels; on the other hand, the warrior ethos of the Germanic tribes that conquered and (sort of) converted to the new faith. But today? The last remnants of that warrior ethos are draining away. Soon, all that may be left of institutional Christianity are a few traces of the other-worldly and the pacifistic.

Good-bye, Charles Martel. Hello, Tiny Muskens.

Comments (17)

Yeah, but this is the same Derbyshire who has made it very clear before that he is *so bored* by Robert Spencer and all his ilk and can scarcely bring himself to read books warning of the Islamist threat because they are so gauche and pointless. I find it hard to heed many warnings of any kind from someone who takes that attitude.

As you know, though, I've never been convinced that the Gospels are fundamentally pacifistic or that there is anything internally contradictory about Christian chivalry.

Lydia - I'm very, very far from being a competent theologian. But I *have* read the canonical gospels, etc. And it *does* seem to me that there's an awful lot of ammunition there for a purely otherworldly, pacifistic interpretation. And, moreover, that seems to be *precisely* the interpretation to which many, if not most, of the prelates of the actually existing Roman Catholic and Anglican and other churches are inclined.

Much as I prefer the muscular Christianity of Charles Martel (and what a magnificent figure he was!) to the submissiveness of Tiny Muskens, I can't help worrying that the latter is truer to the spirit of the gospels than is the former.

I agree, of course, that Derbyshire's sheer lack of interest in some of the main questions that Spencer tackles is a big problem with his review.

Succinctly stated, this is an abiding tension within the Christian settlement, and it has existed from the earliest centuries. Eric Voegelin devotes some attention to this problematic in his History of Political Ideas.

The tension, if apprehended rightly, reduces to one between history and the eschaton, between the features of this mortal existence which, viewed from the gaze of eternity, are contingent, and the Kingdom of God, present but not yet fully manifest, visible in and through the Church. I should note that the Orthodox have more or less definitively resolved this problematic in their ecclesiology, and exhibit few of the mock-kenotic tendencies of much of Western Christianity. In fact, when we understand that globalization is the principal manifestation of that Western self-negation, we begin to understand the hostility of Western elites towards the Orthodox world. We've got the relationship between universality and particularity nailed down to our satisfaction, and don't really care for what the foreign-policy establishment is selling.

I just read Derbyshire's whole review. It's very strange how he manages to make all his compliments back-handed. Spencer has researched his subject well and knows whereof he speaks. This, Derbyshire manages to insinuate, makes Spencer a dull slogger. And so it goes. Spencer recognizes the Islamist threat. Derbyshire, instead of admitting that this means he himself has been downplaying something he shouldn't downplay, manages to turn this into an insult against Christians who, he implies, are the real problem. This is ignoring the fact that *by far* the secularists are more often the ones forcing political correctness and the whitewashing of Islamists on the rest of us and the Christians are often the Cassandras and victims of gag orders. Derbyshire himself has hardly been giving the warning loud and clear! And is it possible that the scholarly and urbane Derbyshire has the immaculate conception and the virgin birth mixed up? I guess we'll never prove it, but it rather looks like it, taking context into account.

Derbyshire needs to watch that everlasting sneer. As the old-fashioned moms used to say, "One of these days, your face is going to get stuck like that, and _then_ won't you be sorry?"

Haha! Great comment, Lydia.

Derbyshire has no darts for a vague altruism based on a pseudo humanism, with the self reduced to a vessel of pleasure? Skepticism as a mode of thought has been placed on high, the mind taught to be left open primarily to the infusions of crowd culture and the easy blandishments of government action.

It wasn't Christianity that brought this about, rather it is the effect of a decades long struggle initiated by people who had much more faith in themselves then in anything outside themselves.

One of the things that Christianity teaches is humility, the loss of that has been going on for centuries and is long gone in the hearts of our indefatigable reformers and experimenters, for whom skepticism is a tool, an open door to the minds and beliefs of others.
And so we find ourselves where we are.

Spencer on Derbyshire:


I vote Spencer, hands down.

I especially liked his response to "whom would you put your bet on in a wastelot rumble," which in essence amounted to, "Where's Richard the Lion-Hearted in this list?" I would have mentioned Charles Martel, too, complete with horse and hammer, and Robert Spencer himself, for that matter.

Hold on a second, isn't this the same Derbyshire who says that beliefs are epiphenomenal? Isn't that his excuse for why he doesn't think he has to know anything about the content of Islam, and for dismissing Spencer as a bore? That the contents of religions don't really drive people's behavior, and thus it doesn't matter what Islam says? But now, when he can blame Christian beliefs for something bad in the world, suddenly they become relevant.

Meh, it's amazing how predictable the trajectory of Western secularism is when somebody embraces it. Everything somehow becomes Christianity's fault.

Also, he says that Christian globalism is actually a bigger threat than Islamic jihad, which doesn't make sense, since the whole reason he gives for it being a threat is that it makes us vulnerable to ideologies like Islamic jihad. I can understand saying that it's a threat, but I can't understand how someone could use this reasoning to claim it was the bigger threat (unless, again, they were intent on finding ways of blaming society's ills on Christianity).

Also, that admission would seem to validate Spencer's point that Islamic ideology is a threat and therefore needs to be understood, contradicting Derb's other position that it is all boring and unimportant. Shouldn't he choose one of these positions and stick to it?

Finally, while there is a bit of truth to Derb's argument that there are Christian globalists and pacifists that are unwittingly fueling the danger of Islam, isn't it rather self-evident that secularists are by far the main proponents of multiculturalism?

Excellent comment, Deuce. You've pretty much nailed 'im.

Please. Christian pacifism is such cliched rubbish. Derbyshire has become incredibly lazy of late. He is like an adolescent. While most people lose their faith to science and Darwinism in their late teens and then come back to High Wisdom later in life, Derbyshire has lost it all now, right at the end of his life. He has discovered genes and neurons and E.O Wilson and blahblahblah and now considers the world a meaningless place standing on the brink of savagery, religion as a delusion, all religions equally deluded. This, combined with the traditional anti-Catholicism of the English elites, which in itself makes them suspicious of an enormous chunk of western civilization, leads to a weary nihilism. He is guilty of the sin of despair, especially at the end where he resigns himself, pathetically, to slavery.

Christian pacifism? Pah. What about one of the most beautiful sections in Dante's Paradiso, in the sphere of Mars where he gazes upon an astonishing engemmed cross where the souls of Christian warriors, Robert Guiscard and Duke Godfrey among them, gorgeously flame across and around it? Or St Bernard? A contemplative, otherworldy man, yet a man who supported the second crusade? I spent two weeks in France this summer, and visited many churches. Every single one of them contained a prominent statue of Joan of Arc.

The monastic and the military are closer than you think. Both have the most acute awareness of death, both are ascetic and both are primarily motivated by something greater than themselves, they have subordinated themselves to a higher cause. Is it really so unusual that the time of the greatest flowering of western monasticism was also the time of the crusading knight?

Responding here to Steve's comments on pacifism, slavery, and the New Testament from the other thread: Steve, the Apostle Paul doesn't say the same things about masters that he says about rulers. He tells slaves to obey their masters (while telling masters to treat their slaves well), but he never says that masters are the agents of God, are engaging in the apparently indispensible work of punishing evil-doers and praising them that do well, or that they "bear not the whip in vain" or some other parallel to "bear not the sword in vain" in his pretty evident endorsement of capital punishment. In other words, he goes a lot farther than just telling subjects to obey rulers in the Romans 13 passage.

I am a Protestant, so I'm less likely to refer to developments of doctrine than Zippy is, but I would have to qualify and define carefully "sola scriptura" before I'd endorse it. Certainly neither I nor even many more "low" Protestants than I believe that the Bible is supposed to give us a blueprint for government, which is just as well, since it obviously doesn't do anything of the kind.

The judgement that the New Testament or even the sayings of Jesus in the New Testament state or imply that a Christian can never be a ruler seems exceedingly strange to me. I cannot see that any such conclusion is supported by the texts, and I think you have to do something akin to penumbra-divining to think so.

As to slavery, one can at least make a very weak textual argument that Paul endorsed slavery or at least didn't oppose it in principle from the text to which you allude. But as that argument is itself so weak, I think it's easily overcome by the a priori ethical considerations (which dovetail well with the view that all men are made in the image of God) against humans' owning each other.

But there isn't even that much of a textual argument that pacifism is required by primitive Christianity.

As to slavery, one can at least make a very weak textual argument that Paul endorsed slavery or at least didn't oppose it in principle from the text to which you allude

My amateur understanding of Paul is not that he was justifying slavery as a necessary practice, but rather he was accepting the fact that slavery existed and instead of advocating the complete destruction of the social order, in some kind of classless Marxist sense, he attempted to change human behavior. He did not attempt to obliterate class distinctions, but rather attempted to change how people of difference classes treat one another, which is to say that a slave should love his master and a master should love his slave.

I also do not think Paul understood slavery in the same way we understand slavery today. We understand slavery to be kidnapping someone at gunpoint and using him as a mere mean to some end. This would certainly be opposed to the a priori ethical considerations you speak of, wouldn’t it?

Hi, Kurt,

I certainly agree with you that Paul wasn't advocating slavery. What I meant was that one could *make a weak argument* that he is. But I think it would be unconvincing--it would amount to something akin to an argument from silence. I think you're quite right that neither Jesus Christ nor Paul was attempting anything like a political re-ordering but rather that both were addressing people where they were. Another example would be John the Baptist's telling soldiers to be content with their wages! That's rather striking, if one is trying to get pacifism out of the gospels.

The fact of the matter is that the New Testament writers never conceived of democracy, not even of the representative sort. What point would there be for their audience, who had no say in their own governance, to be telling them what government ought to do, what should be illegal, whether war is just, and so forth?

I would go so far as to say that even slavery in Paul's own day involved the definite ownership of one person by another, and that this is wrong, even if the slave was inherited by his master rather than being newly kidnaped or enslaved. But, again, Paul just isn't getting into that. He's dealing with the social order with which he is presented. It was left to later Christians in a political atmosphere where they had actual political influence to be reformers. Paul's reformism consists of telling masters (and husbands, for that matter) to be kind. He even goes so far as to tell husbands to think of their wives as their own flesh, which is fairly radical in its own way for its implications regarding wife beating! But this has nothing to do with an issue like, say, women's owning property.

In short, I think it is a mistake to treat the New Testament teachers and writers as positively endorsing every aspect of the status quo that they do not condemn. But it is an even worse mistake, sheerly from an evidential point of view, to treat them as closet revolutionaries seeking to make everyone into pacifists, trying to make everyone politically equal, or having anything to say relevant to American immigration policy (e.g., that it's "mean" to keep out Muslim immigrants)!

In short, I think it is a mistake to treat the New Testament teachers and writers as positively endorsing every aspect of the status quo that they do not condemn.

I have heard this line of attack before. Some attack Jesus because he never specifically said "slavery is wrong", but as you noted, this apparent silence is very different than saying "slavery is right". Jesus also never specifically said "cannibalism is wrong", but I have never heard anyone use that as an argument that Jesus supported cannibalism.

But it is an even worse mistake, sheerly from an evidential point of view, to treat them as closet revolutionaries seeking to make everyone into pacifists, trying to make everyone politically equal, or having anything to say relevant to American immigration policy (e.g., that it's "mean" to keep out Muslim immigrants)!

This is a very different line of attack then I usually see. Most of the time I hear how Christianity is just as violent and murderous as Islam, but here the line of attack is apparently that Christianity is not violent enough. It is as if Jesus was a pacifist and a violent religious extremist who came "not to bring peace, but a sword" at the same time.


Spencer's reply to Derbyshire is quite good, and he certainly wins on points.

I thought this was a particularly telling line:

"Obviously the problem with allowing tens of millions of Muslims into the West has to do with 'the letter of Islamic theology,' which Derbyshire dismissed as irrelevant just before complaining about the admission of so many adherents of what he sees as a wacky but unthreatening creed."


But I do have a nit to pick. Spencer contrasts "Catholic Europe, at the apex of its self-conscious religiosity," which "didn’t throw open its doors to the jihadist invaders instead of resisting them," to "the desiccated and vacuous Christianity that prevails in so many places today," which seems to be all too eager to do just that. And he seems to offer Richard Coeur de Lion, Charlemagne & St. Louis IX as exemplars of what Christianity ought to be.

But was "Catholic Europe, at the apex of its self-conscious religiosity" - i.e., during the so-called "age of faith," and of the crusades, really all that faithful?

Rodney Stark, in his deservedly famous essay Secularization, R.I.P, argues otherwise. (Click through to page 4: "The Myth of Past Piety"). I'd quote a few bits, but it's too hard to choose the best ones. Maybe I should do a post on this, and quote them all...

And should Richard Coeur de Lion, with his incessant interfamilial betrayals, and Charlemagne, with his appalling massacres, and St. Louis IX, with his vicious persecution of the jews, really be celebrated by anybody who wants to argue that Christianity is the true "Religion of Peace?"

Alfred the Great? No pacifist, and a great defender of Christendom against heathen invaders, but I never heard anybody accuse him of massacres or nasty interfamilial behavior, etc.

I note that the redoubtable Ross Douthat (how's that for homophony?) has brought this up over at his Atlantic Monthly blog.

The comments, featuring Gene Expression's razib, no less, are more than usually interesting.

Post a comment

Bold Italic Underline Quote

Note: In order to limit duplicate comments, please submit a comment only once. A comment may take a few minutes to appear beneath the article.

Although this site does not actively hold comments for moderation, some comments are automatically held by the blog system. For best results, limit the number of links (including links in your signature line to your own website) to under 3 per comment as all comments with a large number of links will be automatically held. If your comment is held for any reason, please be patient and an author or administrator will approve it. Do not resubmit the same comment as subsequent submissions of the same comment will be held as well.