Monday, November 24, 2008

Book 5: God's Continent

Title:  God's Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe's Religious Crisis by Phillip Jenkins

Pages: 340.  (50 being endnotes and an index)

How it was obtained:  Christmas present from my parents in 2008.

Time spent on the "to read" shelf:  1 day.

Days spent reading it:  11 months.  I started it right after I received it.  Stopped reading it after I was about half-way in March or so.  I then completed the last half on November 22 in just one day.

Why I read it:  My ordination mentor had me reading a number of books on the recent surge of Islam into western societies, namely Europe.  After reading a number of books on the topic that are all doom and gloom, I heard that Phillip Jenkins was writing a book on the topic.  I also heard it was going to offer a balance to the debate that was not present in other authors.

"Brief" Review:  

Forgive the length of this review, a book like this requires a little background information.

God's Continent is primarily about the integration of Islam into the western world.  A number of books and articles have been written about how Europe is being over-run by Islamic fanatics, and that America needs to be careful or we will be next.  The arguments center around a few points.  My personal favorite on this topic was Mark Steyn's America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It.  The following is a brief outline of two of the major arguments addressed.

First, Islamic nations are out-breeding Western nations almost 2:1.  Numerically they will overcome their minority status in Western societies in 50-100 years according to the prophets of doom.

Second, Islamic immigrants are not integrating into societies.  There have been enormous obstacles to assimilation.  Islamic followers seem to be creating their own subcultures that are shielded from the values of the nation they are immigrating into.  So most Islamic immigrants see themselves as Muslims first, the country they immigrated from second, and sometimes consider themselves a part of the country they immigrated into.

There are other arguments, but they will take up too much space to recount.

Jenkins book promotes a number of ideas that bring these concepts are not quite accurate.  For example, Jenkins points out that although it is true that Islamic nations have a birth rate almost twice as much as most western cultures, he also notes that African nations that are primarily Christian also have high birth rates, and they too are immigrating into European nations.  He actual contends that birth rates from Christian immigrants might balance out the Islamic population.

Jenkins also makes great points about how laws in European countries that are made to limit the impact of Islam on the secular state can also be aimed at limiting any religion in the country.  Jenkins also contends that this may be the primary goal.  Many European nations pride themselves on their secular governments.  France was his primary example of this kind of secular government.  The question is not just about Islam, then, but about all forms of religion and how they will be incorporated into Western culture.

Jenkins' book does serve as a needed balance to our journalistic guides who think that Europe is a lost cause and that Islam will overtake European nations in a matter of a generation or two.  There are other forces at work, both within Europe and within Islam, that need to be considered before considering Europe an Islamic center.  Sharia is not going to be the dominating law any time soon.  However, there are trends that should alarm us and should awaken the sleeping European nations whose values and beliefs are being challenged by an intimidating foe.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the problems facing Western culture from an increasingly aggressive Islamic culture.  Jenkins presents fair warnings and a detailed analysis of current trends in the current clash of these civilizations.  However, this book is not for the casual reader.  It has a significant amount of research and analysis of current trends.  The first half was particularly difficult to read through.  However, the information that is given makes this book an important contribution to the discussion of the integration of Islam and the West.

Favorite Quote:
Europeans of most political shades would now admit that they face a Muslim Problem, in the sense of deciding how to deal with social, cultural, and political views that seem barely compatible with those of the liberal mainstream.  yet perhaps the issue is not so much a Muslim problem as a religious problem, a systematic failure by European elites to understand religious thought and motivation.  In much of the recent discussion about Islam, commentators are understandably anxious to avert the dangers of extremism and terrorism, to persuade Muslims to absorb virtues of tolerance and pluralism.  Yet often the underlying assumption is that religion itself is a problem, at least in anything like its historic forms.  

Stars: 4 out of 5.

Final Word:  Sobering.

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