Monday, March 13, 2006

"Between the Cell Phone and the Koran" - The Strange Case of a Europe Infatuated with Islam

Europe remains case study #1 of the maxim: "When you don't believe in something, you will fall for anything." While church attendance in the continent hovers in the single digits, the public presence of Islam continues to grow.

Last week during my visit to the Fasnacht festival (a combination of Mardi Gras and Carnival with an Alpen flavor) in Basel, it was interesting to note the advertisement for the latest exhibit at the Museum der Kulturen ("Museum of Culture"). "Urban Islam: Zwischen Handy und Koran" promoted a cultural display dealing with the presence of Islam in urban European settings. The subtitle, "Between the Cell Phone and the Koran" speaks the breezy vernacular of German slang where cell phones are known simply as "handys."

Many scholars have posited that capitalistic expansion and prosperity would not have been possible without the emergence of Reformation Christianity, particularly Calvinism (cf. Max Weber's well known thesis about the Protestant work-ethic). If that is so, contemporary Europe is coasting on the fumes of Christianity long after abandoning the fuel of genuine Christian conviction. Germany still virtually closes down on Sundays even though the unique theological reasons for the observance have long since ceased to hold vitality in the culture.

On the other hand, Islam grows by leaps and bounds in Europe, bringing a faith characterized by zeal into an environment where Christian faith has been largely dismissed as anemic and irrelevant if not actually impotent. Demographers have added the chilling statistical reality that European birth rates have been dropping to well below replacement levels while Islamic families living there are reproducing in prodigious numbers.

Some in Europe are aware of the threat and have begun to sound alarm bells. Add to that the distressingly prevalent rascism expressed toward Arabs and you have a more complicated portrait. However, while Europeans have not run to Islam as they have left Christianity behind, their is a sense in which the human heart was made for worship. Augustine was correct about the God-shaped vacuum. If we do not honor him in truth, our hearts will search for a substitute.

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