Making the rounds on social media from the European centrist outlet Unherd was an article by their columnist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former Muslim turned Atheist who now professes to be a Christian. In her column entitled “Why I am now a Christian,” Ali attempts to explain why she is a professing Christian but ultimately demonstrates several deficiencies within her profession of true faith.
The article begins with her story of leaving Islam, which was largely provoked by 9/11 and the Global War on Terrorism. Then she delves into Islam’s history against the Jews along with the “do’s and don’ts” aspect of Islam that eventually turned her into an atheist. She cross references an essay by Bertrand Russell entitled “Why I am Not a Christian” which she plays off to write her column. The last half of the article is where she begins her justification of why she chose Christianity over atheism and Islam.
So, what changed? Why do I call myself a Christian now?
Part of the answer is global. Western civilisation is under threat from three different but related forces: the resurgence of great-power authoritarianism and expansionism in the forms of the Chinese Communist Party and Vladimir Putin’s Russia; the rise of global Islamism, which threatens to mobilise a vast population against the West; and the viral spread of woke ideology, which is eating into the moral fibre of the next generation.
We endeavour to fend off these threats with modern, secular tools: military, economic, diplomatic and technological efforts to defeat, bribe, persuade, appease or surveil. And yet, with every round of conflict, we find ourselves losing ground. We are either running out of money, with our national debt in the tens of trillions of dollars, or we are losing our lead in the technological race with China.
Essentially, she laid out three problems that are destroying Western Civilization. The rise of Putin is not a real threat to Western Civilization; if anything, Putin is a force against the “viral spread of woke ideology” that is propagated by the West. The threat of China was largely created by unfettered “free markets” and globalism derived from a materialistic worldview. The global rise of Islamism is largely the result of Middle Eastern foreign policy and mass migration, while the woke ideology uses this migration to advance its cause of degenerating civilization—or Replacement Theory.
But we can’t fight off these formidable forces unless we can answer the question: what is it that unites us? The response that “God is dead!” seems insufficient. So, too, does the attempt to find solace in “the rules-based liberal international order”. The only credible answer, I believe, lies in our desire to uphold the legacy of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Ali is correct in acknowledging that without a competing worldview, these threats have been allowed to metastasize, but she is speaking to the question of identity. Atheism cannot fight Islam, wokeness, and China’s materialist expansion. One of those threats will win out. However, she tips her hand that her version of Christianity is cultural, not spiritual. And the use of Judeo-Christian tradition employs a post-war term that is historically inaccurate to the tradition she seeks to defend as “Judeo” thought was not foundational to the West.
That legacy consists of an elaborate set of ideas and institutions designed to safeguard human life, freedom and dignity — from the nation state and the rule of law to the institutions of science, health and learning…of the market, of conscience and of the press—find their roots in Christianity.
And so I have come to realise that Russell and my atheist friends failed to see the wood for the trees. The wood is the civilisation built on the Judeo-Christian tradition; it is the story of the West, warts and all.
Ali is correct that the rise of Western Civilization is the fruit of a Christian foundation, but even she is confusing the “wood for the trees” as she disregards the underlying truth of Scripture that fosters a culture that permitted these developments to transpire and perhaps is ignoring the providential role that would allow a morally upright people to prosper.
Ali would proceed to describe “freedom of conscience” to be the greatest contribution of the “Judeo-Christian” tradition.
To me, this freedom of conscience and speech is perhaps the greatest benefit of Western civilisation. It does not come naturally to man. It is the product of centuries of debate within Jewish and Christian communities. It was these debates that advanced science and reason, diminished cruelty, suppressed superstitions, and built institutions to order and protect life, while guaranteeing freedom to as many people as possible. Unlike Islam, Christianity outgrew its dogmatic stage. It became increasingly clear that Christ’s teaching implied not only a circumscribed role for religion as something separate from politics. It also implied compassion for the sinner and humility for the believer.
The so-called “Freedom of Conscience” is neither the fruit of Western Civilization nor Christianity, but actually the undoing of Christendom unto liberalism. While there appears an innate appeal to a “free conscience,” an unbounded conscience is a lawless conscience. Man’s conscience is bound by laws, both earthly and religious in nature, so when a society lacks a bound conscience, there is antinomianism. Under Christendom, consciences were bound by law to comport themselves with Christian morality, even unbelievers, which curbed wickedness. This would apply even to First Table laws. In a post-modern world, loosened restrictions on sexual immorality, divorce, and abortion were enacted in the name of freedom at the expense of the culture. For example, decriminalizing theft in California has unbounded the consciences from fearing retribution for wrongdoing. When people do what is right in their own eyes, there is chaos. Even more so when there is nothing binding the conscience to even basic morality. The heart of man can and will believe whatever it pleases, but laws exist to regulate the conscience.
But even the sentence, “Christianity outgrew its dogmatic stage” describes an enlightenment worldview, that everything that came before was the “dogmatic” stage of Christianity. The “circumscribed role of religion” is an enlightenment idea as it rejects the reality that religion and politics are inextricably intertwined, which is why the neutrality she laments as an ideal was the void that was filled by wokeness, Islam, and Russo-Chinese expansion. This enlightenment era liberalism she describes led to more war, death, and destruction in the 20th century than Christendom did in over a millennium by a wide margin. Much of the technological developments were paired with atrocities of equal scale. Human nature does not change regardless of the technology, nor did morality progress because of technology.
Yet I would not be truthful if I attributed my embrace of Christianity solely to the realisation that atheism is too weak and divisive a doctrine to fortify us against our menacing foes. I have also turned to Christianity because I ultimately found life without any spiritual solace unendurable — indeed very nearly self-destructive. Atheism failed to answer a simple question: what is the meaning and purpose of life?
Amidst societal decay, there is a growing sentiment of “liking the fruit” of Western Civilization but “hating the tree” whereby one wants to embrace the tradition but reject the undergirding truth, which is often due to personal pride or preferred sins. This can be seen with James Lindsay, who portends to fight wokeness while defending abortion and homosexuality. The “LGB without the T” is logically untenable, but societally popular. Jordan Peterson’s rise can also be attributed to this sentiment, as he teaches on the bible, but through a psychological lens that reduces Holy Scripture to allegory. Christian Post published a recent piece stating that Peterson’s “naturalized explanations present a ‘Christ’ who offers an ‘unshakable moral proposition’ and the resurrection as a ‘metaphor’ where ‘parts of us must die because they are in error and then we move forward and are constantly re-born as a consequent of going forward.’” Coincidentally, Jordan Peterson and Ayaan Hirsi Ali spoke on the same panel at the Alliance for Responsible Citizenship Conference in London on October 30, 2023.
Russell and other activist atheists believed that with the rejection of God we would enter an age of reason and intelligent humanism. But the “God hole” — the void left by the retreat of the church — has merely been filled by a jumble of irrational quasi-religious dogma. The result is a world where modern cults prey on the dislocated masses, offering them spurious reasons for being and action — mostly by engaging in virtue-signalling theatre on behalf of a victimised minority or our supposedly doomed planet. The line often attributed to G.K. Chesterton has turned into a prophecy: “When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing, they then become capable of believing in anything.”
The “God-hole” explains why modern liberals act religiously within their movements. BLM uses martyrs to make a religion out of grievance. The aptly named Rainbow Jihad is cultic in its demand for compliance. Climate Change is apocalyptic eschatology that must be averted. Religion did not die; the idols merely changed names. Paganism was rebranded for modernity. But the “retreat of the church” coincides with the “circumscribed role for religion” she would tout as ideal.
In this nihilistic vacuum, the challenge before us becomes civilisational. We can’t withstand China, Russia and Iran if we can’t explain to our populations why it matters that we do. We can’t fight woke ideology if we can’t defend the civilisation that it is determined to destroy. And we can’t counter Islamism with purely secular tools. To win the hearts and minds of Muslims here in the West, we have to offer them something more than videos on TikTok.
What is the alternative that will compel people to fight against China, Russia, or Iran? Rolling back the clock to another generation’s liberalism is not a strategy to fight wokeness. Already, she utilizes the liberal authoritarian-democratic lens to assess the threat of Vladimir Putin, who has ruled Russia as a secular traditionalist with national interests. She would hint at the need for a rival religion, Christianity, as being the tool to fight for Western Civilization, but would Ali embrace the tenets of Christianity being implemented in the political sphere?
The lesson I learned from my years with the Muslim Brotherhood was the power of a unifying story, embedded in the foundational texts of Islam, to attract, engage and mobilise the Muslim masses. Unless we offer something as meaningful, I fear the erosion of our civilisation will continue. And fortunately, there is no need to look for some new-age concoction of medication and mindfulness. Christianity has it all.
That is why I no longer consider myself a Muslim apostate, but a lapsed atheist. Of course, I still have a great deal to learn about Christianity. I discover a little more at church each Sunday. But I have recognised, in my own long journey through a wilderness of fear and self-doubt, that there is a better way to manage the challenges of existence than either Islam or unbelief had to offer.
The humility of Ali is laudable, but she does not appear to embrace Christ as her Lord and Savior, only Christianity as the foundation of Western Civilization. Christianity offers the superior answers to atheism and Islam because it is the ultimate truth. It is not better because of the philosophical framework, but because it is the true religion. There are plenty of people who claim to love the fruit yet hate the tree, and this compromise will not save the West nor the soul. She needs to comprehend that Christ is more than a tradition, but the truth. Pray Ayaan Hirsi Ali grows genuine faith that bears good fruit.