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November 21, 2003

The Golden Mean

In my reading and observation of the "state of the world" I often come back to the same aphorism over & over:

The modern West aims for the Golden Mean between the hyper-moralism of the Dar-al-Islam and the hyper-amoralism of The Middle Kingdom.

Note there are about 1-1.3 billion Muslims and 1.3 billion Chinese. My friend Andrew Reeves predicts that Islam will defeat the West by century's end, but I fear far more the peril of a Scientific Celestial Empire, the pessimistic utilitarianism of Hsun Tzu[1] untempered by the good-heartedness of Mencius.

fn1. The third of the "trinity" of Confucian greats, after Mencius and Confucius himself, not Sun Tzu of the Art of War.

Update, Andrew weighs in on the message board (I will comment later):

Hi. I don't think I've ever spelled out exactly why I believe that the future of the West belongs to Islam, so this is as good a place as any to do so. When unbelievers go up against believers, the believers have several advantages. The first is demographic. Unbelievers have 0-2 children, whereas believers can usually be counted on to breed prodigiously. The second is surety. People crave surety, and the clergy of Western Christendom has drunken too deeply of the Enlightenment to offer any kind of assurance to those seeking such from them (even vangelicals are slipping in this regard). Now then, the proponents of a certain religion are offering surety, but that religion is not Christianity.

A fine example of such trends in action can be seen by looking in prisons. Occasionally, one sees prison ministries that come from liberal denominations of Christianity. When the prisoners find out that they are not going to be offered a narrative of sin, guilt, repentance and redemption, they will usually go to the Muslim chaplain, who will provide such a narrative.

In addition, very few people in the nations formerly known as Christendom believe in the particulars of the Christian faith. It is slightly more believable to have the angel Gabriel choke-slam a camel merchant in a cave and demand he recite than to believe that an executed street preacher also happened to have created the universe.

At this point, the discerning reader might ask, "But surely Andrew, you are speaking of the competition of two forms of faith? What of secularism?" To which I must, sadly, reply that until we can rework our brains, most people aren't going to be happy with secularism. America is, after all, only 8% atheist, though less than half believe in the creedal particulars of Xianity. It's also at least anecdotally establishable that when people are looking for things "spiritual," they are usually fairly susceptible to suggestion. Per G.K. Chesterton, when people have abandoned the ancient faith, the do not believe in nothing, rather they believe in anything. So your generic godless westerner, feeling a moment of immortal longing, searches for faith. He has grown up knowing that Christianity is false, so that is right out. When an imam states surely and categorically that there is a God, and that the secret to happiness is submitting to Him, Joe Unbeliever is more likely than not to accept this. The principle involved is the simple one that if you forcefully enough assert a thing to be true, most people who have not already made up their minds will wind up being convinced. I'm sure there's a sociobiological reason for this that our biologists at GNXP could put into clearer light.

A final point I have to make is that we have far to much confidence in "Whig historiography" (March of Progress) and the idea that as you move right on the timeline, things naturally get better. Among the implicit assumptions in such a view is that as one moves along, religion fades into irrelevance. The last thirty years in the House of Peace, though, should be more than enough to demonstrate that such is not the case. Indeed, even when one sees Muslims in the Islamic world behaving more "secularly," there is a profound qualitative difference between such secularity and Western Secularity. One is the secularity of one who believes but is lazy in carrying out his beliefs, while the other is the secularity of one who does not believe. The latter, in Europe, resulted from the epistemic break that occured in the Enlightenment, and thus, the European is debauched because he does not believe that there is a God telling him not to be. A debauched Muslim, though, deep down knows that his behaviour is wrong, but he is acting in a moment of weakness. One leads to further and further secularization, while the other has within it the seeds of religious revival.

People, in general, are not made for living under a rigorously controlled system, which is why virtually every totalitarian state has slacked off within a few generations. The religious too follow a pattern of slackness, revival, reform, and back to slackness on down through the centuries. Different parts of Islam are either sliding into the "slack" phase or in the "revival" phase. A debauched Muslim is even better for the gradual triumph of the religious worldview because his initial guilt makes him all the more likely to eventually find the need to expiate it in a fit of religiosity.

The confluence of all of the above factors seems to indicate to me that, if in a century we are still human, we (or more properly, our descendants) will be Muslim. Which is a shame, because I really like bacon and beer and look terrible in facial hair.

Posted by razib at 04:00 PM