Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Derbyshire vs. Spencer

Robert Spencer, of Jihad Watch, has recently released his latest book, Religion of Peace? Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn't. This is the latest in a series of titles, the most popular being the Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades). Spencer has become something of a lightning rod to those on the other side of the argument, eager to make the accusation of "Islamophobia." And admittedly, these titles are, in the tradition of Oriana Fallaci, not exactly subtle works. But it is hard to fault his arguments, or his research. Truth can be an inconvenient thing.

John Derbyshire penned a critical review of the book, which set off a chain of responses between the two writers. Steve Burton comments on the discussion, here. Rod Dreher picks up on it, here, and manages to link to writings of Spengler (always good) and T. S. Eliot (ditto). The exchange is a good window into the ongoing civilizational debate.

Derbyshire's original review can be found, here. I must admit, Derbyshire completely lost me with the following:

Spencer’s more general assumption that our civilization is a child of Christianity can likewise be fairly doubted. Does religion in fact explain anything about history? It is of course impossible to know how different the world would have been if Jesus of Nazareth, or Mohammed, had died in the cradle; but the suspicion lurks that it might not have been very different. Would the Arabs have come surging out of their desert oases in the seventh century without the Prophet and his faith to inspire them? Would Frankish knights have taken ship to recover the Holy Land, if they had not considered it Holy, only a lost province of the Roman Empire? Would white Europeans have developed science and consensual democracy if they had been only white Europeans, not also Christians?

One does not have to be a believer to recognize the civilizational impact of both Christianity and Islam. Not only does religion explain anything in history, it explains most everything in history. I find it almost absurd to argue otherwise.

Spencer responds, here--convincingly, in my book.

Derbyshire's gentlemanly reply can be found, here. He gets off a good line about his own loss of faith:

The rest of what Spencer says seems to be a call to resurrect the Church Militant. I wouldn’t mind that happening myself. The Charlton Heston, Sophia Loren movie of El Cid was a favorite of my teen years; and one of the (lesser) factors that drove me out of Christianity was that wretched and embarrassing “peace” hug—in my case, a squirm. Give me the Cid and Richard the First any time (though not, please, Richard’s hug).

Spencer concludes the exchange, here, which includes the following:

The fact that Mr. Derbyshire considers Christianity preposterous is noted; it may, however, have blinded him to the ways in which he benefits from the civilizational advances it fostered, as well as to the ways in which the propagandistic “equivalence” arguments that are so prevalent nowadays sap the will of Westerners to defend what we are told every day is a rotten, worthless thing.

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