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British Culture

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On January 26, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, delivered an address in the Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool on “Europe, Faith and Culture.” It delivers a diagnosis of contemporary European culture not far from that in Benedict XVI’s famous Regensburg lecture. In both, the disappearance of faith leads to a cultural decline. Williams posits a parallel between a post-Christian Europe marked both by a flat post-modernism and a primitivist reduction of Islam into fundamentalism—these are parallel reifications.

And to turn to the other great alternative to the Christianity-haunted West, one of the tragedies of our time is that an Islamic world which has historically produced a vastly sophisticated material and poetic culture is threatened from within by those who acknowledge only the bare word of the sacred text, divorced from learning and interpretation; the paradox about Islamic primitivism is that it seems to arise not from the strength of faith but from its weakness, by dismissing out of hand the capacity of faith to engage transformingly with the social and imaginative world. A confused or weak faith produces a cultural loss of nerve, and that cultural loss of nerve impacts in turn on faith itself, generating the frantic anxiety that clothes itself in violence.

The full text is here.

Whatever the intra-Islamic dynamic may be, the tension between traditional religiosity and violent jihadism, there is a parallel mentality problem in the left-liberal facing that violence. This has become—for reasons to be explored—especially in Britain. A snapshot of this cultural malaise is presented in Nick Cohen’s report of an interview with Martin Amis:

When Amis’ grown sons were young, he worried about global nuclear war. Now he thinks about the small, half-forgotten conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006 and what it may foretell for his daughters’ future.

“Part of the crisis in the world is a crisis of weaponry and that strange neurotic war showed it,” he says. “The Israelis are very impressed by the rockets that are coming in from Lebanon because they know that in 10 or 12 years time there will be much better rockets and some of them will have dirty warheads supplied by Iran. Israel for that reason is going to cease to be habitable.”

Maybe not only Israel, I mutter to myself, and was as sure as I could be that at some level Amis’s many critics have been struck the same thought. The hubbub he and writers like are provoking strikes me as a symptom of a buried fear. “If only we don’t incite them,” the cowardly voice at the back of the head whispers. “If only liberals of all religions and none don’t raise their hands and say we are morally superior to men who would subjugate the women, kill the homosexuals, kill the unbelievers, kill the Jews, kill the apostates . . . kill everyone who doesn’t agree with them. Then the psychopaths will leave us alone and we will be safe.”

The full interview with Amis is here.

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