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I am a western chauvinist for many of the same reasons Ayaan Hirsi Ali recently declared herself a Christian. She writes:
Western civilisation is under threat from three different but related forces: the resurgence of great-power authoritarianism and expansionism in the forms of the Chinese Communist Party and Vladimir Putin’s Russia; the rise of global Islamism, which threatens to mobilise a vast population against the West; and the viral spread of woke ideology, which is eating into the moral fibre of the next generation.
I would simplify her three forces somewhat. I would say the West is threatened internally and externally by both the totalitarian Left, of which China, Russia, and the Woke are all members, and by Islamists.
I’ve explained before that my religious and political conversions happened concurrently for about ten years (and ongoing). The jihadist attacks of 9/11 certainly played a role. But, I developed an awareness that our Western civilization based on Judeo-Christian values can only be preserved by a people participating in religion — specifically the Judaism and Christianity that are its foundation and unifying worldview. Thus my admonition to “fake it ’til you make it” (thanks to Alcoholics Anonymous) and “get your butts back in the pews.” Yes, consider it a loyalty test.
There were two major media influences in my early journey. The first was a PBS series on Pope John Paul II: A Man for or Against the Millennium, in which Germaine Greer, noted feminist atheist, shared her emotional experience listening to the choir practicing at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and sensing that “God-hole” Hirsi Ali says “has merely been filled by a jumble of irrational quasi-religious dogma.” I related to Greer. I’ve always been moved by beauty and could no longer deny it spoke to something beyond mere evolutionary adaptation (Catholic apologist Joe Heschmeyer has a great podcast on beauty).
And the second was the “Frontline” series on economics, The Commanding Heights, in which von Hayek ate Keynes (no free) lunch, which even lefties like Jeffrey Sachs seemed to concede. This was a turning point for me politically. The question, “what good does it do?” became preeminent not just religiously (answer: a lot! both individually and societally) but politically. It wasn’t enough to feel good about my positions. I was ready to see results.
Although raised Catholic, I started attending a United Methodist church where my youngest was going to preschool. They seemed like genuinely good people and I don’t doubt they are. But, the services weren’t satisfying a deep need, and the intellectual and ancient tradition of Bill Buckley’s (for example) Catholic Church was calling to me. I was blessed to start back in a parish with a pastor who was known for bringing lots of people into the Church. He had a high-caliber mind and was open to discussion and challenges. He suggested I join a Bible study called Small Catholic Community and I credit those women — some of admirably simple faith and others of high intellect — for bringing me along into the faith.
I’ve mentioned before that I might have adopted the pseudonym Catholic Chauvinist, but I didn’t want to start another religious war. . . I am convinced the Catholic Church is the fullness of the faith founded by Christ and that no Christian denomination would exist without it. I am further convinced that the West is in civilizational freefall because it has overthrown the Church’s moral (and religious) authority in favor of radical individualism described in the Jewish scriptures as “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). The moral division and societal chaos in the West is the fruit of this spirit of revolution of which Americans, in particular, are all too proud. A society cannot be sustained without some significant degree of agreement on what is true and good and beautiful, and it cannot unify around its principles without submission to an authority beyond the subjectivism of the individual.
My non-Catholic Christian brethren often say the Bible provides such authority. But authority belongs to persons, not texts. The Bible is authoritative and inerrant, but it requires interpretation, and our understanding of God’s revelation deepens over time. The question remains — on whose authority? The Catholic Church claims Magisterial authority through the successors of the apostles and protection from teaching error by the Holy Spirit. I am convinced.
You could write a treatise on each of the following teachings, which Catholics hold to be true and which, when followed, lead to human flourishing:
- Human life is worth protecting from conception to natural death, which Canada, for example, has rejected in its “enlightenment” and now volunteers people for free “assistance” to unnaturally end their lives.
- Contraception is forbidden because it defies God’s will and damages men, women, and children by pitting women, in particular, against their bodies, by encouraging sexual incontinence, and especially as its end result in the abortion mentality so prevalent in the West.
- Marriage is a sacrament between one man and one woman until death do they part (Speaker Mike Johnson and his wife believe it). The widespread acceptance of divorce has been devastating to the family, which is the bulwark against the totalitarian state (another Christian convert, Andrew Klavan, says when you divorce, you blow up your kids’ planet. Just so.). We could say the dissolution of the family started with no-fault divorce and ended in SSM denying the uniqueness and complementarity of the sexes in family formation, which then contributed to the trans-madness all around us.
- Suffering can be redemptive both for the individual and, when united to Christ’s, for the whole world. I’ve conveyed to my suffering children, there is no meaning to it without Christ on the Cross, but when you endure it in grace and faith, you not only undergo the sanctifying fire, you encourage others to persevere. This is why the Church emphasizes the lives of the saints. Leftism and Satan (but, I repeat) offer the false promise of relief from suffering, almost always literally at someone else’s (taxpaying) expense. It’s never a question of whether you will suffer or not. The question is always, what will you do with it?
Hirsi Ali learned “the power of unifying story” at the feet of the Muslim Brotherhood. People who share values tend to act on them. And in communion, people find meaning for their lives and sufferings and will not only defend their way of life, but find the courage to die for it if need be. We’re watching Israelis act on their unified values right now. Will the rest of the West do the same? Looking at what Mark Hemingway calls the dystopian hellscape of our cities, it’s hard to imagine.
Hirsi Ali’s conversion is imperfect (isn’t that the case for us all?) and it’s also an indictment of secular humanism and a warning to the West. John Daniel Davidson writes about it in The Conversion of Ayaan Hirsi Ali to Christianity Is A Dire Warning To The West:
. . .Christianity itself had served its purpose in the West, bestowed all its gifts, and could safely be discarded. We could live forever, drawing on its capital, which we assumed would never run out.
We’re seeing how that’s working out.
In a similar warning, Fr. Sirico, founder of the Acton Institute, tells the story of moving into his rectory in Michigan where he called in an arborist to treat the damaged tree in his front yard (I’m relaying it from imperfect memory). The tree only had leaves and blooms on one side and when the arborist arrived, he told Fr. Sirico, “that tree is dead.” Father disputed the diagnosis, pointing to the leaves and blooms, to which the arborist responded, “It’s living on last year’s sap. It will be dead within the year.”
Let’s hope the West can be sustained longer than that, but it does appear to be living on last year’s sap — on its Judeo-Christian heritage rather than the moral and religious convictions of Jews and Christians. Sustaining the West will take more than the conversion of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I encourage you to do your part, not only by adopting the Judeo-Christian values that made the West the best for humanity, but by putting them into religious practice.Published in