Feb 5, 2014

Christians' Natural Political Allies

Once a Natural Ally
Via First Things -- Princeton's super-prominent professor, Robert George, speaking as a Roman Catholic rather than as a proponent of pure public reason, offers this interesting essay, Muslims, Our Natural Allies

George's idea is that American Muslims and Christians in the U.S. have a common political interest in promoting social conservatism. Is there any practical evidence of a tendency to cooperate? He notes: "A majority of American Muslims voted for George W. Bush in the 2000 election." On the other hand, Roman Catholics gave Bush a minority of their votes in the same election. By George's test, maybe we should be asking whether Roman Catholics are our natural allies? Just to make the picture murkier, American Roman Catholics and American Muslims both gave Barack Obama a majority of their respective votes in 2008 and 2012. Perhaps there is a natural alliance between them, but it is not for social conservatism.

In any case, George is obviously wrong about Muslims' being social conservatives' natural political allies in the U.S. Muslims are natural allies of the muscular secularists in America for much the same reason that Christian minorities are natural allies of secular governments in the Middle East. In the U.S. context, Muslims are natural allies of the U.S. Left because the Left opposes Christian civil society, which naturally rankles Muslims, and privileges ethnic minorities over the majority, which naturally benefits Muslim immigrants. Majorities of American Roman Catholics continue to vote for leftist governments in the U.S., despite their social conservatism, for similar ethnic reasons. If George wants to prove that American Muslims will ever give a majority of their votes to social conservatives over their Leftist benefactors, why doesn't he try winning over a majority of his co-religionists first?

Now, none of this is true in the international context. As Tony Blair announced here, global leaders have decided that their secularist governments should band together to use state power to "combat" bad religions that undermine the Harvard-Divinity-School-approved values of "humanity common to all faiths." Orthodox Muslims and Christians, anyone with traditional moral positions, have much, much more to fear from the secularists' agenda than from each other. Christians and Muslims are much more likely to find practical common interest with Muslims and Christians outside their own countries than inside them.

So, what does George get right? Muslims are not the Enemy.

How We Used to Identify Our Enemy
George writes: "Let us be mindful that it is not our Muslim fellow citizens who have undermined public morality, assaulted our religious liberty, and attempted to force us to comply with their ideology on pain of being reduced to the status of second-class citizens."

Yes, exactly. But who has done this thing? Before we can determine who are real natural allies are, we might want to be better informed about who our real enemy is. If, for example, this is correct about who our enemies are and what we need to fight them, then George's comments are wrong about our natural allies.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Reminds of a conversation we had with R. George over lunch in 2002 when he spoke at Regent Law School and asserted that Muslims and Christians worship the same god because, ontologically speaking, there is only one god. He failed to comprehend that idolatry does not equal polytheism. Humans can worship one false god as easily as many false gods.

    Christian and Muslim citizens can of course cooperate on any number of political issues. Yet to suggest that they are "natural" allies is either to misunderstand the nature of natural or to broaden the definition of natural so as to make it analytically useless.

  3. In the essay, in addition to such philosophical reasoning, George seems to argue that Roman Catholics are under some dogmatic pressure to accept that Muslims worship God, as he quotes a papal encyclical at some length. Wiith respect to the theological issue, It seems to me that the ontological uniqueness of God might just as well operate in the opposite direction from George's view. Because of God's perfect unity, it is easier to be led astray from truly finding Him because a mistake about one divine property is a mistake about all. Narrow gate and all of that. I agree with the rest of your comments fully.

  4. Goerge seems to be recycling the arguments of Peter Kreeft's "Ecumenical Jihad: Ecumenism and the Culture War." Which reminds me of an odd conversation I had while riding the subway in Chicago. After some initial conversational gambits, my Sunni Muslim seatmate noted that we had much more in common with each other than with the "functional atheists" sitting around us. I recall enjoying the intense silence of my seatmates around me (this was before 9/11 or I might not have enjoyed the silence so much).

    It seems to me that, barring further developments in political theology by Muslims, political collaboration with Muslims depends primarily on context. In India, many Christians work with Muslims to check the state-directed oppression of Hindus. But where Muslims have solid majorities, to what do Christians appeal? The status of dhimmitude seems pretty thin given the experiences of Coptic Christians.

  5. Your point about context is a better way of saying what I was trying to say. The alliance between Christian and Muslims is not natural in the sense of immanently essential; it is accidental and external.