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October 11, 2006

Europe and Religion

A few points inspired by a New York Times article on growing frustration with Muslim immigrants in Europe:

** In Europe it is the right that is least tolerant of this new religious orthodoxy, at least this new Islamic religious orthodoxy, as became clear during the dispute over the Danish cartoons depicting Muhammad, as has become clear with the recent comment of the pope. (This is all rather perplexing to American secularists who have much less difficulty locating the enemy on the political spectrum.)

** The great paradox here, of course, is that it is precisely the secular values of pluralism and tolerance in Europe that are allowing for the growth of intolerant, even violently intolerant, religious orthodoxies. This is a problem that seems, for the moment, not to have a comfortable solution. Some, like Salman Rushdie, argue against tolerating intolerance. Lurking here is the potentially uncomfortable solution of actually taking on these religions and their potentially murderous absurdities (a task perhaps better executed by a Rushdie than by someone named Benedict XVI).

** In the midst of a dispiriting article it is cheering to read the Times characterizing Europe as "a continent that has largely abandoned" religion.

Posted by Mitchell Stephens at October 11, 2006 10:39 PM


The question is, as always, "Who becomes the arbiter of acceptability?" How many of our now cherished ideas would have been or actually were curtailed as extreme at some point in history? Atheism itself would once have been considered extreme in many societies. It still is by some segments of our own. These segments would undoubtedly attack atheism if allowed to become the judges of what is acceptable thought.

Also, the secular values of pluralism and tolerance have actually not taken hold in Europe as strongly as they have here. We do not permit laws that criminalize certain symbols or offensive opinions such as holocaust denial. The Europeans do. Is that to be considered a model to be followed? I would hope not. I find many of the banned symbols/theories repugnant, but I feel it would be my duty to defend a person's freedom of speech/conscience regardless of how morally repugnant and intellectually bankrupt I find their ideas.

Posted by: Melinda Barton at October 12, 2006 9:44 AM

Secularism necessarily means the rise of intolerance. To negate this state security must become a religion, and unquestionable belief - unreason - its backbone.

Pluralism is no equilibrium, more a happy historical accident that sows the seeds of its own demise.

Posted by: M at October 15, 2006 10:03 PM

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