© 2017 Robert Osburn
Regardless of what you think about President Trump’s travel ban (suspended by multiple judges, as of February 10, 2017), we should all admit that there is something very good about a president trying to protect his people.
The general rationale, of course, was not a ban on all Muslims from those seven nations (Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Iran, Somalia, and Sudan), but a suspension of travel for up to 120 days so that the US government could review or improve its procedures for keeping out radical Islamic terrorists. So far, so good, even if the whole ban was implemented in a shoddy manner.
My real concern is that almost everyone is overlooking the real elephant in the room: The vast majority of Islamic radicals in the USA are being radicalized after they come to the USA. Foreign Policy magazine has a short, but very useful article that summarizes the research on 112 radicalized individuals in the USA, and the evidence is very clear that almost none of them were allowed into the USA as Islamic radicals. Our vetting procedures worked, but something else radicalized them after they entered our society.
That points to an even bigger elephant that no one, not even Foreign Policy magazine, is talking about: Muslims (or their sympathizers) are radicalizing at least in part, because of the nihilism of American society, a nihilism that contrasts with the heroism buried within the Islamic narrative. I’ve written about this on several occasions in the past, and, to my way of thinking, I can’t sound the alarm loud enough.
Every American should start becoming aware of nihilism, the “gas (we Americans) breathe,” as Catholic novelist Flannery O’Connor so brilliantly described it over 50 years ago. To be clear, nihilism is an outlook or worldview, that strips meaning and purpose out of all human endeavors. Popularized by the famous German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, nihilism is, first of all, an honest worldview that exposes materialism (the belief that nothing exists outside of pure matter) for what it is. Secondly, it strips down public education so that, by making no claims about anything ultimate, nobody feels like their religious beliefs are offended and everybody focuses on preparing for the workforce. In the former case, if matter is all there is, then there is absolutely no way that life can have any meaning or purpose (or morality, for that matter). That’s bad stuff, and as far from the Gospel as you can go, except that it is brutally honest (whereas many Western materialist worldviews, like existentialism—the belief that our choices give life meaning, are very dishonest).
As for the latter use of nihilism in public life, that’s where everything gets insidious and where we have a big problem, folks. Since God began to be ejected from public schools, starting with John Dewey’s pragmatic philosophy of education that swept across the USA in the early 1900s and ending with the Supreme Court’s ejection of prayer and Bible reading from public schools in the early 60s, we have been skating on thin ice. When you throw Christianity out of education, then you also throw out Christian morality, or at least the parts that you don’t like, and retain those you do.
To put a fine point on this, the story we tell our children in American schools (except for religious private schools) is that their life has no fundamental meaning, morality is for them to decide, and that they must pursue their vocational interests while getting along in a diverse society. End of story!
German sociologist Max Weber called this nihilistic phenomenon “disenchantment:” No one is any longer enchanted by the mystery of God’s purposes, the magic of living in a world where everything happens with a degree of divine purpose, where morality is loaded with meaning (even judgment!), and where Christian symbolism richly calls forth the idea of a perfect Man who was cruelly crucified for undeserving folks. The world in which we live now, except for our churches and Christian institutions, is devoid of this enchantment, but the enduring, though vague memory of Christianity still carries some Americans along. Most native-born Americans, however, are choosing drugs and alcohol to mask the weariness of the nihilism taught in our schools and virtually every other culture-shaping institution. That problem and its connection to nihilism ought to be enough to shock us, but, when it comes to Islam, nihilism meets an ideology that can be mined for heroic violence. That’s the shocker that has our attention.
A tiny minority of young Muslim men, wired like all young men for something heroic into which they can sink their teeth, hear a message of violence in service to an Islam that will conquer the world someday, an Islam that relishes the stories of its founder Muhammad going out to battle victoriously over the forces of idolatry. When all you have in American (and almost all Western) schools is the message that nothing really matters except a good job, then the Islamic narrative has compelling power. Furthermore, young Muslims who embrace this radical ideology discover that their quest to be in the presence of God is guaranteed when they act in the defense of Islam. Otherwise, their only assurance of paradise is that if they work hard enough, maybe God will accept them.
This is called self-radicalization and it is an American (and Western disease) that owes as much to the nihilism of our education and our public life as it does to the violence embedded in the Islamic founding narrative (about which I have also written).
We need to be clear that a travel ban will not solve our problem by and large. Our problem is much bigger and more insidious, and unless the Gospel is embraced by young men and women in America, many will either descend into drugs (essentially fast forwarding their own deaths) or into Islamic radicalism (and fast forward the deaths of others, and themselves as martyrs).
Christ is, quite literally, the only hope of the West, not a travel ban per se. No president can fully protect us from what we breed within.
Excellent essay, Dr. Osborn. That same pervasive nihilism in the American culture should spur us on to get out and share the good news of a Savior who saves us from such a world… A call to action!
If I could distill what you’ve said as simply as possible without oversimplifying, are you saying that if Americans were not nihilistic, radical islamic terror would not gain a following in the USA?