Don’t Declare Secularism Victorious, Yet

Responding to Rod Dreher’s recent book The Benedict Option, which discusses the argument that conservative Christians—having lost the culture war and become a minority—should retreat into insular communities, Peter Berger writes:

What Dreher is saying is . . . this: don’t exaggerate. Are Christians being persecuted in America? Not really. Yes, there are regrettable power plays—as when the Obama administration wanted to force Catholic hospitals to cover contraception in the health plans offered their employees, or to threaten the livelihood of Evangelical photographers or caterers unless they are willing to serve same-sex weddings. . . . But a comparison with real persecution of Christians—massacres, enslavement, forced conversion, or prosecutions for “blasphemy” by Islamist forces in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, or West Africa—shows that there is really no comparison at all.

It is much too early to give up on the strong religious forces in American society—a still-intact and influential Evangelical community, also an intact and vital presence of the Catholic Church (now invigorated by the growing influence of Latinos), also the less-visible but nevertheless powerful presence of religious [traditions] from South and East Asia. It is, I think, too early to assess the significance of the Islamic presence.

It is also easy to exaggerate the importance of secularism in America. This is not Europe, though a sector of the American intelligentsia has been “Europeanized.” The values of sexual life have certainly been secularized, once one moves outside the relatively closed worlds of conservative religion (including its Jewish sector). The trend of sexual mores has clearly been in the direction of ever-increasing liberality. Especially young people strongly resent any “authoritarian” claims to put limits, any limits, on the ethics of autonomous “consenting adults.” . . . Any threat (real or imagined) to this [sense of] entitlement will be fiercely resented. [So] don’t figure on a neo-Puritan sexual revolution.

Read more at American Interest

More about: American Religion, Christianity, Middle East Christianity, Religion & Holidays, Secularism, Sexual revolution

 

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood