The latest validation of James Burnham’s insight that “liberalism is the ideology of Western suicide” comes from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. As the Daily Mail reported recently, Dr. Williams wrote an irenic letter to Moslem leaders in which he wrote that the doctrine of the Trinity “is difficult, sometimes offensive” to Moslems and in which he also apologized for the fact that “Christiainity has been promoted at the point of the sword and legally supported by extreme sanctions.” Needless to say, Dr. Williams did not brand any Moslem doctrines “offensive,” nor did he point out that Islam, unlike Christianity, has been spread virtually exclusively at the point of the sword. As such, Dr. Williams’ letter is in keeping with the current practice of Western leaders of apologizing for what their predecessors did, a practice that springs from the self-destructive liberalism that has, alas, found its way into most Christian denominations, including portions of my own.
Needless to say, Englishmen did not always behave this way. Richard the Lion-Hearted believed in chivarly, and his respect for Saladin became legendary, but Richard never thought of apologizing for Christain doctrine or doubted the righteousness of defending Christendom. The only reason Europe did not become Moslem was because of the valor of such men as Richard, Charles Martel, Don John of Austria, and Jan Sobieski, each of whom would have been dumbfounded by Dr. Williams’ apology. Even the gentle Francis of Assisi followed the crusaders to Damietta and preached to the Moslems about the truth of Christianity.
I can certainly understand the ecumenical impulse and the desire to minimize, rather than inflame, tensions between religions. But Dr. Williams’ words have a surreal quality, in an age when Europeans have proven themselves endlessly accommodating to the Moslems in their midst, while Moslems have martyred and brutalized Christians in such diverse locations as Sudan, Nigeria, Iraq, Pakistan, and Egypt, and even Moslems in Europe have savagely beaten Christian clergymen and Orthodox Jews whose only crime was wearing religious garb in areas where Moslems live. It is not a coincidence that most of the world’s hot spots are in areas where a Moslem population abuts a non-Moslem population. And it is hard to see why Moslems would resent the church Dr. Williams leads, the Church of England. Although the British Empire did give Christian missionaries freedom to preach the Gospel, and Christians freedom to worship, it did not force Moslems to become Christians or impose legal penalties on Moslems.
But the liberalism evident in Dr. Williams’ letter goes beyond the issue of relations with Moslems. Dr. Williams writes that “religious identity has often been confused with cultural or national integrity,” and suggests that this is somehow a bad thing. Christianity spread through Europe in part because political leaders accepted it and saw that their people followed them, and the decisions of such figures as Clovis, Stephen, Mieszko, Olaf, and Vladimir to accept baptism helped to create France, Hungary, Poland, Norway, and Russia, in addition to creating a vibrant Christianity that penetrated every aspect of daily life in those lands for generations to come. It is true that a religious identity based in the first instance on nationality or culture can be shallow, but so can a religious identity based on lessons imparted to children by their parents. And each type of religious identity—whether based on “cultural or national integrity” or family integrity—can also deepen. The job of Christian leaders is to ensure that people who are Christians grow in their faith, not to demean the reasons they may have come to think of themselves as Christians or the way their ancestors came to Christianity.
Liberalism could not have created Christendom or have defended it from its enemies, nor can it help sustain what is left of Christendom. Rather than assume that the men who helped create and defend Christendom were wrong, Dr. Williams may want to consider the possibility that they were right.