First Things: "Why I Became Muslim"

An interesting essay by Jacob Williams, an Englishman who turned from Anglicanism to Islam. Here, below the fold, is the introduction:

Growing up in twenty-first-century Britain, I was often struck by a feeling of anomie. Around the time I was born, John Major tried to evoke a vanished past by conjuring “long shadows on county grounds” and “old maids bicycling to Holy Communion through the morning mist.” As for my generation, it had only the faintest notion of our once-great national religion. The Anglican Church had become a shadow of itself, reduced to the picturesque, empty buildings that adorned our lanes and streets. It was a shadow we noticed when we shuffled into the parish church’s cold, echoing interior for the Harvest Festival and sang the cheery modern hymns that church bureaucrats imagined we would like.

Anomie was one thing; the ferocious renunciation of tradition I encountered at university was quite another. I had hoped that the spiritual emptiness of wider society was a result of ignorance, and that the ­academy—especially the ancient, venerable, Gothic academy of Oxford—had preserved what I vaguely imagined was my country’s noble heritage. Studying philosophy did provide some engagement with an intellectual inheritance, but for anyone moderately interested in public life, the campus movements for “social justice” were impossible to ignore. All of these—whether their goal was the liberation of women, of LGBT persons, or of ethnic minorities—seemed to have the same vision of man: a deracinated, protean aggregate of desires. These movements gained in strength every year. ­Formerly apolitical spaces were distorted by the need to appease one demand after another. The culture of the university, once imbued with the brash boyishness of the English public schools, now accommodated the sterile, strenuous inclusivity of progressive zealots.

After three years of this, I was frustrated and alienated. I needed a purpose. Philosophy classes had sharpened my inquiries, but they didn’t rectify the meaninglessness all around me. My utopian peers found their purpose in crusades against racism and homophobia, but their contempt for England revolted me. I chose a different course and embarked on a search for God.

Where could a lost soul go? Nowhere in college or country offered an answer. What the campus Conservative Party outlined was absurd: We can pick up the fragments of our culture by putting on three-piece suits, getting riotously drunk, and reviving the divine right of kings. I had plenty of opportunities to engage with orthodox Christians, and I sincerely wanted Christianity to be true. It was clear to me that what the authorities in my world celebrated—the collapse of family life, the slaughter of the unborn, the deterioration of high culture—were, in truth, social evils that followed from the decline of the Church. Christianity seemed the natural alternative to secularity.

But when I entered the chapels and listened to the ministers, the regeneration I sought didn’t happen. Christian voices sounded all too agreeable and compromising. I wanted something stronger, something that didn’t ­bargain with secularism. I found it in Islam.

That is about a third of the essay. In the rest, he explains what he found in Islam.


ymarsakar said...

Islam, like most other religions, suffers from human institutional defects.

The other religions might say that their tradition is superior. Well, so do Southerners say the same thing. And even though they do have a point, that does not mean their institutional defects are non existent.

MikeD said...

Islam offered him what the Church of England steadfastly refused to offer. Moral clarity. This is right, and that is wrong. I hold no special love or hate for Islam, I have known good pious Muslims who would no more hurt another person than they'd hurt themselves. We're all also aware of Muslims who want to see Western civilization ground beneath their heel. Without reflecting on which is more prevalent in the Muslim community, I'd say on the surface, Jacob Williams is completely correct. If he sought a faith that has no qualms about declaring morality to be absolutely black and white, as an anodyne against the politically correct world around him, I'd say he chose well.

Further, he chose a faith that immunizes him against the accusations of racism, sexism, and homophobia that any other Western religion he could turn to would bring. For the identity politics left has declared that no criticism of Islam is to be offered, or indeed tolerated (see Ilhan Omar for examples). So in a way, he has positioned himself to openly critique the moral failings of the left without facing the backlash he would otherwise.

This is NOT an endorsement of conversion to Islam, merely stating that given what he sought and what he felt was missing from his life, I daresay he found it.

Tom said...

All human institutions suffer from human institutional defects. That's tautologically true, just like water is wet, fire is hot, etc.

MikeD, I agree with your analysis.

Grim said...

The C. S. Lewis argument can be adapted just as he says; and Islam does have a lot to offer it, not just the points that Mike raises. I like the warrior faith aspects of it; being called to fight, in the world and in the name of God, appeals to me. The call to jihad, even, is delightful; I could easily respond to such a thing, if only I believed that indeed it was God who was calling.

But ultimately I think Muhammad was a liar, not a prophet; the prophecies he allegedly gave line up too neatly with his interests too often. (E.g., 'do not mess with the Prophet's wives when he is dead,' not long before he died.) Jesus' career led him to death and torture; Muhammad's to wealth and power and a fair number of pretty women. Maybe that's what God wanted for him, but it's a reason to doubt.

Likewise the trend from 'be at peace with your neighbors' to 'conquer your neighbors' as the faith went from a few weak folks needing help, to a war band capable of conquest. Maybe God's opinion evolved; maybe God shaped the circumstances to fit his evolving opinion. But Islamic metaphysics can't accept change in God, for God is eternal and simple (in the sense of being a pure unity, i.e., without parts or unrealized potentials). So it doesn't claim that; it claims that God's prophecies were perfected, such that the later prophecies were better than the prior ones. Somehow: it is supposedly the almost-direct word of God, with only an archangel in between.

I suppose it's considered hate speech to say that I deem Muhammad a liar and not a prophet. I don't mean it to be. I don't hate Muslims, or even Muhammad himself. I can see the beauty of the thing, and much to recommend it.

I just don't believe it. I'm free not to believe it, and it happens that I do not. So whatever the good reasons there may be to convert, I won't be converting to a faith I consider false.

Tom said...

I also believe Islam is false, though I'm open to the idea that Mohammed had mental problems instead of just making stuff up. Also, the historical claims of Islam about Christianity don't hold up well, from what I hear.

I know a number of Muslims I like and respect, and I respect their faith. I respect a number of aspects of the faith and the culture surrounding it. I just don't think it's true, just as they don't think my Christian faith is true.

Tom said...

More interesting to me, however, is how Christianity can answer Williams' dilemma. Note that the article was published at First Things, a Catholic publication. This implicitly, at least to me, calls for an explanation of how Christianity can meet the needs of men and women like Williams.

That, I think, is the more important discussion. Can, or should, Christianity meet Williams' need for moral clarity and direction?

That's what I'm thinking about.

E Hines said...

I think Christianity already answers the needs of the Williamses of the world.

If there's anything needed--and likely there is--it's not from Christianity, per se, it's in better answering the distortions of the NLMSM and of the Left, the latter which especially in our education system where Western and American history, along with ethics, morals, and American values are no longer taught.

Eric Hines

MikeD said...

Mr. Williams' problem with finding the answer in Christianity was that he was raised in the Church of England. And the Church of England, as he points out, has gleefully embraced the hippy-dippy moral relativism and multiculturalism-as-sovereign-consideration of the modern left. That is not just idle speculation. The Archbishop of Canterbury during Jacob Williams' search for faith and direction (Dr. Rowan Williams) was calling for Sharia law to be implemented to govern Islamic citizens of the United Kingdom. And this from a man who would not ask that biblical law be implemented for the Christian ones. Now, while it may be fine for a politician to embrace such beliefs, or argue against his own chosen faith, we're speaking of the actual head of the Church saying these things.

And for the record, while I have no problems with accepting a multi-cultural and multi-faith nation (because it is no business of mine what anyone else finds faith in, or their national/cultural origins), I am not the leader of a religion. And this was THE Church Jacob Williams grew up in and was most exposed to. Catholicism exists in the UK, certainly. But there is a cultural bias against it and against converting to it in the UK (it was not so long ago that a King had to abdicate his throne to marry a Catholic), so that prejudice is still intact as well. So I can forgive Jacob Williams' impression that Christianity was in fact properly represented by the sect of Christianity he was most familiar with. It doesn't mean he was correct, and perhaps had he been able to explore other Christian traditions (Lutheran, Baptist, Pentacostal, or any of the other various flavors we take for granted here in the States, to include Catholicism) he could have found a home there. But he didn't.

And let's be honest, even fairly rock ribbed Protestant faiths like Southern Baptists who can be harsh on sin still admonish believers to hate the sin but love the sinner. Islam has no such qualms about hating the sinner as well.

So while you and I accept that there were other options available to Jacob Williams, it's important to remember that his exposure to other faiths is not the same as ours. You describe the distortions of Western and American history, ethics, morals, and such by the "NLMSM and the Left", but neglect the fact that in the UK, they've completely gone in the tank for those distortions. The Brexit blip gave me a modicum of hope that perhaps they'd seen the hole they'd dug for themselves, but the more that goes on with the games their elected government plays with actively avoiding it (against the will of the people) without protest the more I question my initial impression.

David Foster said...

Williams seemed motivated more by aesthetic considerations and by the relative self-confidence of the believers in each religion than by any estimate of the truth value of each. I expect there are quite a few people like that…I knew a woman who has become a follower of Hinduism, motivated largely it seems by her perception that it is much more beautiful than her parents’ Protestant faith.

Don't know whether it's true or not, but I've read that one of the Russian Czars, a long long time ago, chose Orthodoxy as a religion for his people because the services were so aesthetically impressive.

Grim said...

St Vladimir I. That’s a true story or, at least, it is related in our best historical sources. He rejected Judaism because they’d lost their homeland, and who needs a god like that? Islam he rejected over the alcohol prohibition, Russians being Russians even then.

Eric Blair said...

The guy is basically a cultural apostate.

Grim said...

He is, but so is the Church of England.

Grim said...

I don't quite know what to say. The Catholic Church could do it, but not under Francis, and not without conducting the kind of purge they haven't conducted since the Albigensian Heresy. I mean a lot of people need to die, including a lot of priests. They need a purge, of all those child abusing priests and all who enabled them, and they need Crusaders to do it.

They could start tomorrow, but they won't. The question is if they will ever start.

Lacking the Church holding up the center pole of Western Civilization, we have to wonder about it. I think the most likely thing is that it may fall back into paganism; and that is better, even, than it remaining bound to a faith that it no longer believes in and that no longer deserves to be believed. God may have another opinion; but if so, well, we think he took a hand once. He can do so again. Indeed, it is strictly orthodoxy that he will.

But now we're immanetizing the eschaton, which we were warned not to do. Not by a prophet, though; just W. B. Buckley.