In 1942, Benedetto Croce, a leading Italian philosopher of the last century, published a brief essay, entitled, “Perché non possiamo non dirci ‘cristiani,’ or “Why We Cannot Not Call Ourselves ‘Christians.’” Yes, you read that right. The title is odd in Italian as well – but for a reason. The essay is a classic, and should be essential reading for all who speak of the West, yet never define it.
Croce was very clear, which is why he cast his title in such a convoluted way – in order to emphasize where Western allegiance and loyalty should properly lie. For him, Christianity was the only and absolute religion, because it does not micromanage and allows room for other forms of authority. Thus, Christianity has no interest in telling you what to eat, or how to dress.
This is because the emphasis is on the individual, who is created in the image of God, and who therefore possesses an innate moral code, an implant of Godliness. In other words, only Christianity provides human beings with a conscience.
This also makes Christianity the only real religion; all other belief systems are either legal codes (Judaism and Islam), or defense mechanisms to counter the hostile powers of nature (paganism). The conscience in each of these faiths is unnecessary.
This also means that, in Christianity, civilization has nothing to do with materialism (as Marx rather clumsily describes). Rather, it is the projection of God’s imprint inside each of us on to physical reality. And this projection is generative, for it fashions and creates goodness and harmony, the hallmarks of a proper civilization.
This very brief excursion into history and philosophy is really the necessary context for a more difficult question. Why do Western political and cultural elites favor Islam?
There are four ways to answer this question. First, there is this false notion (begun in the nineteenth-century by men like James G. Frazer) that belief in God belongs in the past when humanity was in its youth and people did not have the benefit of science which has allowed us to mature into the adulthood of rationality. In effect, rationality is for grown-ups – religion is for children.
This is a very powerful justification still frequently repeated. It is false because science is incapable of answering the question, Why? It can provide explanations of material reality only (the what and the how). Nothing more. There is a reason why a grieving mother, for example, is not given the Isosceles triangle to ponder so she can overcome her grief.
So, why Islam? Very simply because Islam is nothing more than a legal system (the Shariah) which can be implemented without fear in a secular society. Here Hegel kicks in, which means that Islam can offer what it can to the building of civilization and then dutifully it will disappear, like Christianity. We are all grown up and will never need religion, ever again, and thus no religion can ever pose a threat. And because religion has no reality, it is fated to disappear the moment rationality sets in.
The problem is obvious. None can say that Islam actually is interested in disappearing, as Christianity has so willingly done, from public space – nor that it will continue to cooperate with the liberal elite.
Second, given the fact that pluralism is the West’s current orthodoxy, Islam is perceived as a viable alternative to Christianity. Again, the rational human being has no use for religion, but if people want to believe in something, then why not Islam? It is no better or worse than Christianity. Besides, it is strongly political and interested in wielding power in the here and now — which resonates far more deeply than the Christian call to live against the world. Islam is worldly and thus akin to the demands of materialism.
Third, modernism (postmodernism is a fake term, which is best avoided – but that is another topic for another day) is profoundly anthropocentric – it places man at the center of everything; so much so that science would have us belief that we now live in an anthropocene age, where human activity leaves a deep impact on nature (this drives notions of climate change, formerly known as, “global warming”).
Christianity never placed man at the center. Rather the spheres of reality consisted of God first, nature second and man last. And the purpose of nature was to offer moral lessons, in that nature mirrored God’s perfection. Modernism got rid of God and made man “the master and possessor of nature” (in Descartes’ words).
Islam likewise places man at the center of everything, where nature exists to support man’s wishes. Desire and its fulfillment is something modernism keenly understands, and thus finds nothing objectionable in Islam.
Lastly, Islam fits perfectly into the liberal agenda – follow the rules created by the wise collective, and everything will be fine. This is the important concept of niyyah, in Islam, which is the intention of doing something in order to obey the law (Shariah). The symmetry of Islam, in the matter of submitting to rules, with the Leftist worldview is profound. After all, Islam means submission to the Shariah.
What comes next? This is the real question that no one wants to answer. The reality of the West is clear. It believes itself to be too mature and wise to put up with any sort of “supernaturalism.” This simply means, therefore, that it is perfectly happy to believe anything and everything.
In the words of St. Augustine: “…men can become citizens of another state whose king is truth, whose law is love, whose measure is eternity.”
That state neither modernity not Islam can offer. Perhaps the time has come for the West to choose its future and its fate wisely — which is why we cannot not call ourselves Christians.
Nirmal Dass is a former university professor specializing in the Early and High Middle Ages. His areas of research are philosophy, history and ancient languages. He has written several books and is actively engaged in literary translation.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.