Clashing Values

While Christians face conflicts with Muslims, they also encounter severe tensions with secular societies, tensions that are only gradually becoming apparent. As European states have tried to come to terms with their Muslim populations, they have attempted where possible to adopt policies that accommodated Muslim needs and concerns. Yet policy makers have paid little attention to the effects on other religious groups, whose views might be quite similar to those of Muslims. If religions are to coexist successfully, governments and official agencies must avoid any impression of favoring one over the other, of granting one special privileges. If, then, any one religion receives particular protection, or suffers special disabilities, all other faiths should in theory receive equal treatment.27

Such an approach produces worrying consequences for conservative Christians, who at many points share religious or moral beliefs with Muslims. These issues have surfaced in the context of the tests devised by some European nations and regions to winnow out those potential immigrants or citizens whose religious and cultural values run flat contrary to mainstream Western assumptions. As we have seen, Europeans differ from Americans in that they cannot rely on a broadly accepted definition of values and rights intimately linked to national identity, and states have had to make some rough-and-ready decisions about the supposed "European ideology" to which migrants must subscribe. These decisions often make bold assumptions about the nature of the social consensus. The Dutch government produced a video in which potential immigrants were shown the realities of the contemporary Netherlands, including men kissing in public and topless women on beaches. Foreigners are warned, "You have to start all over again. You have to realize what this means before you decide to come here." Other European governments have formulated various kinds of "Muslim Test," which range from the perceptive to the downright silly. Among the worst are those that demand knowledge of minutiae of national history and culture that would daunt most native-born citizens. Would-be Austrian citizens are expected to know "In which Upper Austrian town are there two famous winged altars?" For Americans, these trivial pursuit examinations recall the literacy tests by which the segregationist South arbitrarily excluded minority voters.28 Other tests, though, delve more deeply into ideology. The German Land (state) of Baden-Württemberg has created a thirty-item citizenship test that asked, among other things, how respondents felt about theories blaming the Jews for the attacks of September 11. Were these attacks—or those in Madrid—the work of terrorists or freedom fighters? What did respondents think about criticisms of a religion or its institutions? What should be an appropriate response? What about laws mandating gender equality? (No less than seventeen of the questions concerned women's rights). What would they think if a married man left Germany for his home country and returned with a second wife? How would a man feel if his wife or adult daughter wanted to dress like regular Germans? Would he try to stop them? If so, how? Should children be allowed to participate in school sports? In its own lengthy citizenship examination, the state of Hesse asks candidates how they feel about the statement that "A woman should not be allowed to move freely in public or travel unless escorted by a close male relative."29

Such questions would certainly bring out radical Islamist tendencies, and all but the hardest-core libertarians would favor excluding potential immigrants who declared sympathy for the mass murder of civilians. But other questions would be a real obstacle for groups far removed from the radicals, for political moderates who are conservative on moral and gender issues, who do not support wide-ranging ideas of gay rights, or who have serious qualms about public nudity. This would certainly be true among Muslims but also those Christians or Jews for whom acceptance of full homosexual equality would constitute an acid test. Now, most European Christians have little difficulty accepting gay rights, especially among those cultural Christians who are not closely affiliated with institutional religion of any kind. Some believers, though, have much less sympathy. Contentious questions include, "Suppose that your adult son came to you and told you he was homosexual and wanted to live with another man. How would you react?" In the context of the citizenship test, the only answer that is correct and acceptable is that the parent should totally accede to his son's decision and not oppose the idea of gay marriage, which is anathema to a large proportion of Christians and Jews.30

Many old-stock Europeans would have difficulty in giving their honest opinion about openly homosexual politicians, if a hostile answer disbarred them from residency or citizenship. In practice, of course, old-stock residents are not required to undergo such an inquisitorial process. If they did, Christians would suffer disproportionately from such a winnowing, and immigrant Christians from the global south worst of all. These new Christian churches include some of the most passionate voices protesting homosexual rights and gay marriage.31

It would be fascinating to see a sample of American Christians respond to the survey, especially to the questions about gay marriage, which remains fiercely contentious. And apart from a couple of conspicuous exceptions, the United States has very few openly gay politicians at the national level. By the Baden-Württemberg standard, the United States is already a nation of Islamist fanatics.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment