Cold Chisel’s classic Australian anthem ‘Standing on the Outside’ always made me think about how outsiders – or those seen as the other – perceive Australia’s good life.
The anti-West polemic which is attracting countless people right around the world, is so simple, it virtually writes itself. Look at it from ‘outside’. We may comfort ourselves with the remains of high culture but for most people, ordinary people, or asylum seekers, or the products of bad schools and broken homes, the West is about fast food, pop culture and glittering shopping malls. The jihadists think it is corrupting, and they are right. This must seem to be the defining character of the west. We over-consume. We are warlike and when we do war, we do it with almost no restraint. We disembowel the earth with no care whatsoever, together with felling forests, polluting the air and waterways. We also appear to demand an absolute adherence by developing nation states to a consumerist western culture based on cheapness and objectification. Not to mention the supremacy of the state and governing by fear.
Some people with find it strange that Western conditions such as: education, prosperity, the social safety net, have not eroded the appeal of radical Islam for many.
Let us keep in mind that jihadists are right about some things. They are perfectly correct to think that Western countries and corporations see it as a matter of financial and geopolitical interest that developing economies can be gouged to serve Western economies. This is but a continuation of the colonial enterprise, or neo-colonialism. They also correctly see that Western cultures are happy to watch the native cultures of developing countries be eclipsed by Western consumerism. They are also perfectly correct to think that the moral and cultural content of this consumerism is corrupt and corrupting, and has no positive value. They are perfectly correct to see the necessity of placing religion, one’s eternal destiny, at the centre of life. And, they are perfectly correct in thinking that conforming and shaping society to a moral and spiritual code is a proper long-term goal.
The key question to ask is what Christianity looks like from the outside looking in; whether they are the radical descendants of Islam, or others. These are people who have been rejected by western economies; now, they in turn are rejecting the values of the liberal West. They may like the consumer products but they have decided not to conform, culturally, to the mindless hedonism. They associate it, often, with a former colonial power, and with American hegemony. They want to adopt something which will give their lives some real meaning, in contrast to the shallowness of imitating Western culture. They want a religion which is not secularised, which is strong, which is demanding, which can form the basis of group identity. They want a religion that challenges the values of the dominant paradigm, and Western political influence. But isn’t that what the Christian Gospel is all about? Why don’t they want the kind of thing which you find in the Christian church?
With this sort of thinking, what do they see when they look at the Christian Church? They see an institution which is bound up with western and colonial history and culture, and which does little, or nothing, to confront the evils of that history and culture. For them, there is no visible, distinctive, Christian critique of Western decadence. Social justice, the provision of social services, a Christian approach to music and art; they exist, but they are minority interests in the Church, and are simply absent from the whirlwind of ideas in the consumerist marketplace. For those looking at the conflicting ideas at the heart of their local culture (whether it be Baghdad or Gnowangerup), between the influence of a corrupt West, and various forces opposing that influence, the Christian Church is, for practical purposes, on the side of the dominant paradigm. We are part of the enemy.
The problems of the world are not going to be solved overnight, but we can do something to stop making things worse. We can assert a Christian critique of the decadence of Western economics and culture. It may be the one thing that makes some who are being drawn towards militant Islam stop and think that, perhaps, the Christian Church may not be part of the problem.
Unfortunately, some popular churches contribute to fostering a hedonistic consumerist lifestyle in the way they conduct themselves. Making worship entertaining and the lack of biblical teaching that challenges mainstream Western values, results in Christians with a warped view of entitlement. Christianity as a result is declining into doctrinal confusion, while Islam surges ahead in the hearts and minds of many. The reaction of the church appears to be one of indifference. This is a tragic mistake. It is also a heresy.
previously published 18/8/14