Christianity vs. Islam: Who's More Modern?
Islam is incompatible with modernity. It runs contrary to the secular and humanist values that lie at the heart of the modern west. Or so it is said. A common argument put forward by Islamophobic conservatives and Christians goes like this: Christianity was born as a peaceful Jewish sect persecuted by Roman authoritarianism, while Islam, forged by the sword, began life as an expansionist political and religious project. Subsequently, it was Christian thinkers and leaders who sowed the seeds of what we today call democracy, science and human rights, whereas Muslim societies have shown themselves to be violent, restrictive of criticism and oppressive to women.
So the argument goes. Too bad it doesn't hold up. A casual look at early, middle and late Christian expansion--in other words, all of it--is enough to debunk the myth of an essentially "peaceful" religion. With the conversion of the emperor Constantine, early Christianity gained superior financial and organizational resources, to say nothing of vital official legitimacy from the state, as well as the backing of state violence and oppression. Centuries later, Christianity grew to become the largest religion on earth at the hands of often ruthless colonists and imperialists originating from Europe.
In the medieval period, while Christendom was mired in political tyranny, backwardness and superstition, the Islamic world led in science and economic progress. The fact is simply that both religions, as religions, have exhibited and continue to exhibit progress-resistant tendencies, unfriendly to secular modernism. At the same time, both have also supported some solid achievements supportive of secular modernism. Sounds like there's little difference. And yet many continue to argue that there is a meaningful difference between the two.
Some have even argued that the Shiite-Sunni split speaks to some violent tendency inherent in Islam, apparently oblivious to the Thirty Years' War, Northern Ireland and what seems like the entire history of England.
Ultimately, it would appear that Christianity has acted largely as a hinderance to the economic, cultural and political progress of the west, taken as a whole. To be sure, there have been many brilliant and important contributions from Christians during western history, from Augustine to Galileo to the Founding Fathers of the US. But the same could be said of Islam, with such notables as Averroes (interestingly, considered an early philosopher of secularism) and Al-Ghazali. Some positives but mostly negatives for both faiths. From the historical perspective, we see that Islam is no more incompatible with modernity than Christianity.
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