The more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild.– G.K. Chesterton
Ayaan Hersi Ali has converted to Christianity. Her road to the live and beating heart of Christianity has been a tortuous journey. Such is the usual progress of the pilgrim. She now joins other converts, among them G. K. Chesterton, whom she quotes in her most recent essay, “Why I am now a Christian.” In her essay, Hersi Ali is playing upon the title of Bertram Russell’s essay “Why I am not a Christian,” an influential atheist tract.
Chesterton, a prolific author, is eminently quotable, always the sign of a great writer. Malcolm Muggeridge, also a quotable writer, summarized Chesterton’s view of atheism this way: “When people cease to believe in God, they do not then believe in nothing, but in anything.” Our postmodern age, by rejecting God, is capable of believing in anything. Chesterton, of course, is not the first writer to stumble across this verity. When God has been bleached out of a Christian culture, Dostoevsky wrote, men become gods: “If there is no God, then anything is possible.”
Dostoyevsky’s writings were prophetic rumblings in opposition to a world shattering practical atheism.
A comic writer such as Lucian might have regarded such atheist strongmen as Stalin, Hitler and Mao – the 20th century’s secular atheist trinity – as laughable, but it is difficult to laugh through tears and mass murder.
Taken seriously, these nihilist strongmen are simply monstrous misshapen souls. Hitler fell from Christianity into a noxious pre-Christian paganism, and Stalin, before he became a petty thief and later a murderer on a grand scale – condemned even by such fellow communists as Nikita Khrushchev – was a seminarian booted out of two religious institutions after having been arrested for being in possession of proscribed literature, probably the world destroying socialist tracts of Marx and Lenin. Bitterly resentful even of other communists, Stalin eventually would enact a perverse revenge on believers. He shuttered churches, synagogues and mosques and ordered the killing and imprisonment of thousands of religious leaders in his failed effort to destroy the concept of God in the minds of the Russian people. His only operative commandment was: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”
Hersi Ali was born into an Islam that had not yet been hijacked by anti-Western reactionaries who hold that Islam can be a religion of peace only for those who submit to Islam. When they arrived at her doorstep, she fled an arranged marriage to the Netherlands, where she later was elected a member of the House of Representatives, the lower house of the States General of the Netherlands, representing the centre-right People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD). But the avenging angels of a militant Islam were everywhere, she soon discovered.
The terrorist – Stalin, we may recall, was the chief terrorist of a militant communism -- may be himself a practical atheist hiding behind a militaristic creed in which peace is only possible for those who bend their necks to the sword of some redeeming ideology.
In Islam, Hersi Ali notes, “a special hatred was reserved for one subset of unbeliever: the Jew. We cursed the Jew multiple times a day and expressed horror, disgust and anger at the litany of offences he had allegedly committed. The Jew had betrayed our Prophet. He had occupied the Holy Mosque in Jerusalem. He continued to spread corruption of the heart, mind and soul.”
Hersi Ali fled from Islam to atheism, little realizing that the atheist credo provided no space for the development of the spirit of true freedom she felt moving like the hand of God in her vitals.
“So, what changed? Why do I call myself a Christian now?” she asks herself in her most recent essay.
And her answer is worth quoting in full:
“Part of the answer is global. Western civilization 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 mobilize a vast population against the West; and the viral spread of woke ideology, which is eating into the moral fiber of the next generation.
“We endeavor to fend off these threats with modern, secular tools: military, economic, diplomatic and technological efforts to defeat, bribe, persuade, appease or survive. And yet, with every round of conflict, we find ourselves losing ground. We are either running out of money, with our national debt in the tens of trillions of dollars, or we are losing our lead in the technological race with China.
“But we can’t fight off these formidable forces unless we can answer the question: what is it that unites us? The response that “God is dead!” seems insufficient. So, too, does the attempt to find solace in ‘the rules-based liberal international order’. The only credible answer, I believe, lies in our desire to uphold the legacy of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
“That legacy consists of an elaborate set of ideas and institutions designed to safeguard human life, freedom and dignity — from the nation state and the rule of law to the institutions of science, health and learning. As Tom Holland has shown in his marvelous book Dominion, all sorts of apparently secular freedoms — of the market, of conscience and of the press — find their roots in Christianity.
“And so I have come to realize that Russell and my atheist friends failed to see the wood for the trees. The wood is the civilization built on the Judeo-Christian tradition; it is the story of the West, warts and all. Russell’s critique of those contradictions in Christian doctrine is serious, but it is also too narrow in scope.”
Both atheism and its more cowardly widely dispersed variant, practical atheism, Hersi Ali writes, “can't equip us for civilizational war.”