Global Context: Europe, Islam, and Christianity

April 12, 2009 by Bruce Ashford

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God’s Continent: Christianity, Islam and Europe’s Religious Crisis

Reviewed By: Bruce Riley Ashford

Entire forests have been chopped down in order to promulgate the literature that has been written on the religious crisis in Europe, including especially the secularization of Europeans and influx of Islamic immigrants. Bat Y’eor, in Eurabia (2005), argued that Europe is being subverted by Islamic hostility toward the very virtues, values, and vision of Europe herself. Bruce Bawer, in While Europe Slept (2007) argues that radical Islam is destroying the continent from within. Mary Habeck, George Weigel, Richard John Neuhaus, and others have also written of the threat that Islam poses to Europe.

God’s Continent is Philip Jenkins’ contribution to the debate. He thinks that many of the doom and gloom prophecies about Islam and Europe are “wildly unlikely.” Even though there are millions of Muslim immigrants in Europe, and even though their birth rate is significantly higher than the Europeans’, Jenkins begs to differ. He argues that (1) European nations can assimilate minorities, just as the United States has done; (2) Muslims will likely secularize; (3) when they do secularize, they will stop having so many children; (4) most of the Muslims in Europe are moderates; and (5) what threat Islam does pose will likely invigorate Christianity anyway.

If Philip Jenkins writes a book, it is probably worth the read, and this book is no exception. He is probably correct that many immigrants to Europe (whether Muslim or not) will secularize, have less babies, and assimilate to some extent. However, the book has weaknesses of which the most significant is this: Jenkins seems not to grasp the threat that Islam poses to Europe. With Islam comes a radically different view of the relationship of religion and the state, of religious liberty, of family, etc. Further, he seems not to grasp the threat that contemporary jihadism poses. He too quickly dismisses the arguments made in books such as Bernard Lewis’ The Crisis of Islam (2003) Mary Habeck’s Knowing the Enemy (2007).

It is for this reason that his his analogy with the United States is hardly helpful. He suggests that Europe will be able to assimilate Muslim immigrants in much the same way that the U. S. has been able to assimilate its Mexican immigrants. But Mexican immigrants to the United States (many of whom are Catholic) are a rather different case than the millions of African, Middle Eastern, and Asian Muslim immigrants to Europe. Americans have to adjust to Mexican Catholics who sometimes glue St. Christopher to the dash for traveling safety, while Europeans must adjust to Muslim immigrants whose religion demands nothing less than the religious, social, and political submission of their nations to the Allah of Islam. Hardly a helpful analogy.

God’s Continent is worth the read, even if it is not up to the level of The Next Christendom and The New Faces of Christianity, the first two books of his trilogy. Perhaps the best thing that Jenkins’ book can do is to turn the church’s attention toward Europe, the home of 821 million people, many of whom (whether European or immigrant) are without Christ and without hope in the world.

Book: God’s Continent (2007)

Author: Philip Jenkins

Region: Europe

Genre: Current Affairs

Length: 340 pp.

Difficulty: Intermediate

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4 Responses to “Global Context: Europe, Islam, and Christianity”

  1. One of the strengths of God’s Continent is his documentation of the surge of formal religious activity among Christians in Europe, surges that are happening in some of the most secular regions of Europe. Another important contribution is Jenkins’ reliance on the argument put forth by Gracie Davie and others which suggests that falling levels of observance and church attendance can not simply be equate with pure secularism – thus people are believing without belonging.

    I appreciate Jenkins’ optimistic take because he seems to offer an analysis that lacks the extreme alarmism that is found on both the left and right.

    Personally, I’m more sympathetic to the views of Baylor University professor Peter Berger who has argued that Islam like Christianity will adapt to Eurosecularity. A modernized Islam is something that European society could look forward to.

  2. Big Daddy Weave, yours are good points. I hope that Berger is correct…. Thanks for reading the blog and taking time to comment. I hope your doctoral studies are going well.

  3. Hi – I don’t comment on many blogs but had to on yours. It’s really nice! I really like how you write – very to the point, unlike a lot of other sites. Thanks for having this site. I’ll bookmark it and visit regularly. Keep up the outstanding work!

  4. Hi – great blog. I love reading sites about religion – they are so educational. Thank you for having this blog. The internet can be a real blessing, even though some people don’t realize that. Have a fun weekend!

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