The real culture war
Well, in a year where Sundance festival celbrated both child rape and bestiality, it's hard to disagree. Many average American parents also consider the culture toxic...I mean, when a million people home school (and many others send kids to church schools, or wish they could do so), it should cause one to question what is going on.
The culture war is not about culture, you know. The entire "tipping point" of the culture war is sex: It's about the sexual revolution. Is sex recreational, and is our playing with sexual freedom leading to freedom or the destruction of the family? And if families implode, what happens to our future? Especially what happens to vulnerable women, and children, and the elderly?
The London Times has an interview with Hirsi Ali, one of my heroes, who has revolted against the strict ethics and laws of her native Somalian Islam. She is right to bring up these things in Europe, who often naively ignores the village puritan aspect of Islam.
Yet, if Hirsi still lived in Somalia, where the only way for women to support themself is to marry and fit into the strict family system, such a revolt would be lethal. You see, for poor women who have less education and itelligence than Hirsi, her alternative is not available. They can escape their family only by work, and too often the work means prostitution, or a lonely poorly paying job at a factory or as a housemaid where their employers often prey on them for sexual favors. And, of course, for women outside the protection of a family, a pregnancy or an illness or old age means destitution and loneliness, or worse.
This is why many in Africa and Asia resent NGO's whose condom/safe sex message as part of their Family planning and HIV prevention is resented: knowing that the implied message of these campaigns, that sex outside of marriage is okay, leads to the destruction of not only their religion and culture but of the wellbeing of their families.
Sexual freedom in Alabama might just mean you would be happier in San Francisco; but in Uganda or the Philippines or Indonesia the result is not freedom but freedom of the powerful to exploit poor youth. Indeed, much of the opposition to homosexuals by Anglican African bishops has more to do with forced pedophilia by the powerful (see the history of the Ugandan Martyrs) than with quiet gays who are faithful to their partners asking to be married. Yet I have yet to see an article that is aware of this.
This is what is rarely discussed in the discussion of Islam vs the West: a sensitivity that what is good in Islam and why it is good. We need to build on what is common in Islam and in traditional Christianity and other religions without destroying the real differences between them: the importance of family and community, the need for sacrificing one's own desires to promote the common good, a strict sense of right and wrong, honesty in our daily lives, a work ethic that is compatible with these things, and a sexual fidelity that leads to strong family ties.
Even Muslim requests that seem to irritate the right wing, --insisting that their daughters wear traditional clothing in public, have days off for religious holidays, receive special diets in school cafeterias, prayer rooms in public spaces, and more modest hospital gowns-- are things that smaller Christian groups and Catholics have fought for in the US for years. Cafeterias serving fish on Friday, allowing nuns teaching in public school to wear habits, letting Jewish pupils take off for the day of Atonement and exempting Jehovah Witnesses from the pledge for alligence are just a few examples of how Americans tolerate religion. If such religious groups joined together on what they have in common, as Peter Kreeft suggests, the result would be not the loss of Western civilization but a strengthening of it as a tolerant society that allows families some control over their own lives.
All this is complicated by globalization and urbanization. As people move to urban areas, there is a vacuum of religion, in that the religion of the villages no longer works. In the Philippines and South America, the result is a huge increase in Evangelical Christianity. But what will be the future of modern, urban Islam? Historically, it has been a tolerant Islam that, like one still sees in India,Malaysia, or Indonesia.
But the bad news is that the alternative might not be the hoped for "reformation" of Islam, but a revival of Sharia law to govern lives. When things are chaotic, people prefer some rules to try to control the chaos to a freedom that allows evildoers to reign free. This puritanical revival is being pushed by Saudi oil money that funds of radical Mosques in many countries. The result is an Islam that promtes the fear of God (or Allah) into people, making innocent pleasures evil, stressing hatred of the infidel, and forcing women into a cultural straitjacket that even Mohamed did not require of his wives, who ran businesses and fought with him in his wars.
At the same time, there is an increasing intolerance of Catholicism and more conservative Protestantism in the UK, the European Union, and among American elites...who seem to think mega churches (many of which are smaller than the average Catholic parish in Chicago) are the norm for evangelical Christians...and doesn't seem to know the difference between Pentecostals, Evangelicals, and Baptist, and that ignores or deliberately misstates the subtle utterances of conservative Christian intellectuals such as John Paul II or Benedict or even D'Souza.
Ironically, the acid tongued Spengler agrees. He points out (echoing Benedict XVI), artists who fill the world with ugliness because their vocation is to "shock" merely leads to cultures that celebrate ugliness in all spheres of life. And a culture that mirrors "The Lord of the Flies" (in having art galleries touting dead animals as "art") is indeed in danger of losing their capacity to recognize beauty.
As Pope Benedict pointed out, a Western culture that ignores beauty, is intolerant to God, rejects logic in the name of feelings, and denies the existence of truth is truly in danger of losing it's own self. The problem may not be so much a loss of courage by western civilization but a loss of what is really important in life by many of the western elite, and a strange apathy to be willing to try to save it.
That, not the confrontation with radical forms of Islam, is the real culture war that we are in danger of losing in the West.