- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 5, 2009

The fatwa

”It was like in the school playground, when a big kid beats up a little one. Bystanders try to justify their own passivity by picking fault with the victim. The same happened to [Salman] Rushdie, with some people saying that the demonstrations in India, Pakistan and Britain, which had preceded the fatwa were a deliberate campaign to put the novel in the spotlight. Many people were envious of Rushdie: he was good, he was non-white, he had received an unprecedented advance for ‘The Satanic Verses.’ So the question arose as to whether he should pay for his own security.

”The cultural pages of Europe’s newspapers continue to avoid the subject even now. But the confrontation with Islam and Islamism - one of today’s central political issues - is essentially a cultural matter. The fatwa functions as an act of censorship and has left a deep imprint on the West. Communism also used to manipulate public opinion this side of the Iron Curtain, with the aid of its secret services and corruption.

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“But Islamism, although a far more informal system, exerts a much more effective influence over the minds of Western cultural and media leaders. The fear is [rationalized] with the word ‘respect.’ Playing with the symbols, discourse and constraints of Christianity has long been taken for granted in Western culture. But playing with the symbols of Islam has been out of bounds since the fatwa, ostensibly out of ‘respect.’ ”

- Thierry Chervel, writing on “Submission in advance” on Feb. 16 at Sign and Sight

The debate

”As this provocation suggests, the debate over Darwinism and Christian faith, properly understood, has less to do with the question of whether we should think of God as a designer who fine-tunes flagella, and more to do with how the theory of evolution fits into the deep and interesting tension that’s always been at the heart of Christian accounts of creation.

”On the one hand, we inhabit a universe whose combination of order and majesty - the laws of nature and the astonishing beauty of the world they undergird - is to be taken as evidence of God’s existence and His goodness. On the other hand, we inhabit a world that’s been corrupted by sin, and that ‘groaneth and travaileth in pain together’ as it awaits renewal and rebirth. And from Paul to Thomas Aquinas to C.S. Lewis, Christian thinkers have labored over the balance between these two premises, returning again and again to the question of just how fallen the world really is.

“If Darwinism poses a challenge to Christianity, then, it’s on grounds that have less to do with God’s existence than with His nature, and the nature of the world. The realization that evolution by natural selection has produced humankind effectively heightens the role of physical evil in creation: A material world shot through with suffering and death isn’t just a necessary backdrop to the human drama, it’s the mechanism that’s made human existence possible in the first place.”

- Ross Douthat, writing on “Darwin and Christ,” on March 3 at his eponymous Atlantic blog

Remembering King

”For many people, this hope takes a religious form, and probably could only take a religious form. Consider a crucial episode in the life of Martin Luther King Jr.

”During the Montgomery bus boycott, a series of death threats, some of them directed at his family, had left him demoralized. ‘I was ready to give up,’ he recalled. Sitting in the kitchen, unable to sleep after a threatening phone call, he began to think of how he could pass the leadership of the desegregation movement on to someone else. He began to pray out loud and, as King recalled, ‘it seemed to me at that moment that I could hear an inner voice saying to me, “Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And lo I will be with you, even until the end of the world.” ‘

”King’s new courage resulted from direct, felt connection with Christ - ‘I heard the voice of Jesus saying still to fight on. He promised never to leave me’ - and he persisted in his civil rights advocacy. It made him into the closest thing to a secular saint that twentieth-century America produced. It also got him killed.”

- Andrew Koppelman, writing on “Naked Strong Evaluation” in the Winter issue of Dissent

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