Books: Ian Buruma compares religion and politics in Europe & US

Lisa Webster of Religious Dispatches interviews Ian Buruma about his book, Taming the Gods: Religion and Democracy on Three Continents.

Their conversation focused on a comparison of the US and Europe. A taste: LW: And secular and liberal go together in that sense…

IB: Yes, in the sense that a liberal does not promote any particular belief. Which is not to say that a liberal doesn’t believe in anything. Liberals do believe in something, whether it’s the 19th century variety or the American left-of-center variety. But it doesn’t seek to impose a particular belief on society at large. And that’s in some ways held against it by those who want society to be overtly Christian, or kick the Muslims out.

LW: Can you say something about the new culture wars, or kulturkampf, in Europe now — about multiculturalism versus the defenders of “enlightenment values”?

IB: The difference is that the Right here, certainly the Tea Party kind of right, or Dick Armey, people like that, seek to impose religious values. Whereas on the right in Europe, there are those people who talk nowadays about Judeo-Christianity (whereas half a century ago they just talked about Christianity). But many of them, even the more zealous populists who have an overtly anti-Islam agenda, don’t talk about Christianity — they talk about the Enlightenment.

And the Enlightenment used to be associated with the left, with liberals. But now, suddenly, defenders of the Enlightenment argue that the West stands for Enlightenment values and Muslims — religious Muslims — are challenging it, attacking it, undermining. But my view is that they’re using the Enlightenment as a kind of badge of what they see as Western civilization that has to be defended — whereas exactly the same sort of people half a century ago talked about Christendom.

Because of secularization in Europe, and because the authority of the Church no longer holds much sway, the Enlightenment suddenly has been latched onto as a convenient badge of the West….

Read it here.

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