I Am a Conservative Western Christian
In my political views, I consider myself to be a conservative American. In my religious beliefs, I consider myself to be a conservative Christian. I am a conservative Western Christian. Sometimes, however, my two conservative bents seem to be in conflict with one another.
I was particularly conflicted when George W. Bush invaded Iraq. Because of my conservative political bent, I was inclined to support the Republican president’s decision. However, because of my Christian faith, I was against the war. The evidence indicated that Iraq was perhaps the most religiously open Arab country, allowing Christian churches to meet and worship without threat of attack. Indeed, the Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq was Tariq Aziz, a member of the Chaldean Catholic Church. The American attack on Iraq, however, had serious consequences for the churches in that country. America’s war on Iraq quickly evolved into Iraq’s war on Christianity, in a very predictable manner.
Once again, I am very conflicted, as I consider the Charlie Hebdo murders in Paris, the Western response, and now the Muslim reactions. Some Muslim protestors have chosen to express their frustration by attacking Christians in Muslim countries. CNN has reported that the violence to date has been most severe in Niger, where churches and Christian homes have been destroyed. Thus far, at least 10 have been killed. Yet, I wonder, is their frustration with the realities of Christianity, or with the realities of Western secularism?
I understand that much of the world sees the West as Christian, yet it can be argued that Christianity is on the decline in the West, while it is expanding in Africa and China. It is a stereotype to think that the West portrays the essence of Christianity. In fact, the West provides for a rather free expression of faith. Granted, Christianity has been the dominant faith in the West, but I am not willing, as a Christian, to take the blame for Charlie Hebdo’s depiction of Muhammad. Charlie Hebdo is a reflection of the secular West, not particularly a reflection of Christianity. I am not Charlie Hebdo.
Salman Rushdie wrote, in his novel “Midnight’s Children,” “It’s a dangerous business to try and impose one’s view of things on others.” I value the freedom to practice my Christian faith. I also value the freedom of others to practice their various faith traditions. I value the freedom of others to practice no faith tradition. I personally disagree with other religious traditions, but I do not make fun of them or ridicule them. I do not seek to impose my view of things on others.
Christianity and Islam have not always been civil to one another; we all know the history of the Crusades. Nevertheless, I contend that the current disagreement is not a disagreement between Christianity and Islam. Charlie Hebdo was not reflecting the dominant Christian view of freedom and respect. Charlie Hebdo, rather, was reflecting the secular view against Islam (and, to some extent, against Christianity).
Because the West is often seen as the bastion of Christianity, the church is now under attack in Muslim countries. This disappoints and saddens me at many levels. Most relevant to this editorial, Charlie Hebdo does not reflect my Christian views; I am disappointed that Muslims are attacking Christians and their churches. We are not Charlie Hebdo.
Western and Muslim countries have not always been civil to one another. I am not always in agreement with the decisions that my politicians have made. Nevertheless, I freely admit that the issues are complex and difficult.
Physical and verbal assaults do not facilitate a path forward. We need a civil exchange of ideas. This civil exchange is a conversation worth having.
Dr. Gary L. Welton is assistant dean for institutional assessment, professor of psychology at Grove City College, and a contributor to The Center for Vision & Values. He is a recipient of a major research grant from the Templeton Foundation to investigate positive youth development.