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If We Accept Gay Marriage, Do the Terrorists Win?

October 26, 2009

In today’s columnVATICAN POPE, Ross Douthat offers an unusual take on Pope Benedict’s recent decision to allow Anglican bishops who oppose gay marriage to enter the Catholic Church. Many commentators have understood the decision as an attempt on Benedict’s part to shore up the conservative wing of the Catholic Church. Douthat, however, suspects that Benedict’s outreach to Anglican bishops may be part of a larger effort on his part to strengthen Christendom for the coming showdown with a “resurgent Islam.” Unlike the conciliatory Church of England, Benedict is willing to play ball with Christianity’s rival, as his controversial 2006 speech in Regensburg, Germany attests.

There is, of course, one small problem with Douthat’s thesis: we are not living in the year 1095 and Benedict is Pope, not Urban II. For these reasons, the Islamic presence in Europe presents a set of concerns entirely different from those identified by Douthat. The real question for Europeans is “how does a secularized society accommodate immigrants whose Islamic values occasionally conflict with liberal tolerance,” and not “how do we preserve Christendom from the infidel?” The latter is the kind of question medieval Christians would ask themselves and was sensible enough for a society that made no firm distinction between church and state. Today, however, Europe does not answer to the Pope — Christendom is a relic of the past. While a united Christian front may benefit the Church, it cannot provide a political solution to the “Islamic challenge” Douthat identifies. To characterize Islam as “Christianity’s most enduring and impressive foe,” as Douthat does, is to confuse politics with religion and the 11th with the 21st century.

Douthat’s assumptions are characteristically neoconservative. For neocons, 9/11 ushered in a new era in which Islam and the West (read: Christendom) would be locked in perennial conflict. The very vagueness of the words War on Terror allowed for a spillover from the military to the cultural sphere. On the one hand, the militant strain of Islam threatened the West by hijacking planes and planting roadside bombs; on the other, Europe’s liberal tolerance allowed Islamic immigrants to transform the laws and social norms of Europe from the inside.

So perhaps there is a link between gay marriage and an Islamic takeover after all. Douthat and the neocons seem to concur that if we support gay marriage, the terrorists win.

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