In their recent book, Faith, Nationalism, and the Future of Liberal Democracy, four scholars—an American Jew, an American Christian, and two German Lutherans—seek to address, from a religious perspective, what is ailing liberal democracies in Europe an America. Their common mission, writes Daniel Johnson in his review, is “to save their faiths from being co-opted by illiberal nationalists who are hell-bent on undermining liberal democracy. But, Johnson points out, they err in ignoring the close relationship between liberalism and nationalism in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and their assessment of the present is equally flawed:
The present authors . . . see nationalism as a kind of opioid epidemic of the masses and faith, as interpreted by liberal theologians, as a possible remedy. Liberal democracy, they believe, is being threatened as never before, not by external forces such as Chinese Communism or Islamist terrorism, but by a nationalist assault from within. Western civilization is not a phrase that would occur to any of these authors to use, but insofar as they do assume that the West still shares Judeo-Christian values, they see the supreme test of those values in our response to the migration crisis in Europe and America. It is by rejecting any politics that treats refugees and other migrants as “the Other” that biblical faith proves its authenticity.
In Central Europe, where borders had been moved many times over the years, refugees were a familiar sight; Muslim refugees, however, were not. They were unwelcome to many people, not merely on grounds of prejudice, but also of prudence: having observed the multicultural experiments conducted by their neighbors in Western Europe and North America, these culturally homogeneous nations were in no hurry to emulate them.
By refusing to engage directly with the arguments of their foes, are [the authors] not guilty of “othering” the ordinary people who may be susceptible to those arguments? What we have here, then, is a classic case of what Jean-Paul Sartre called mauvaise foi: “bad faith.” Professors Elcott, Anderson, Cremer, and Haarmann profess to have combined to write a manifesto for a liberal fight-back to reclaim the Judeo-Christian legacy from the clutches of religious reactionaries. But they are deceiving themselves. They have not done the intellectual heavy lifting required to refute their opponents. Nor do they take Muslims seriously enough to consider whether they too might have some responsibility for their fate.
So this volume . . . is an example of the very failing that it was written to address: “demonizing opponents by ‘othering’ them.” Faith leaders will gain no traction with the faithful by ignoring their fears and belittling their feelings.