Is there room for “parallel societies” in Western Europe?

Austrian Parliament building. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Austria_Parlament_Front.jpg
Austrian Parliament building. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Austria_Parlament_Front.jpg

Last week seven mosques were shut down by the Austrian authorities, who cited as the reason that, “Parallel societies, political Islam and tendencies toward radicalization have no place in our country.” In the wake of this, Grace Dalton asks whether Western Europe now has any place for “parallel societies” of all kinds.

You can find the details of this event on The Washington Post here (requires subscription), and on the BBC website here.

Online, I’ve seen innumerable comments that indiscriminately lump together all “religions”. Jihadi terrorism is, to some, evidence against Christianity, because they generalise all who believe in God as a homogeneous subspecies of delusionals. Many far right figures espouse credentials as defenders of Christianity; but what when those keen to crush Christianity take advantage of the intolerance that far right governments are instituting?

“Parallel societies, political Islam and tendencies toward radicalization have no place in our country.”

Sebastian Kurz, Austrian Chancellor, 8 June 2018

By normalising encroachment onto religious freedoms, the Austrian government is paving the way for public acceptance of Church closures when, inevitably, atheist politicians take positions of power.

Whilst plenty of Westerners are concerned about Islam, it’s also widely believed that equal treatment is obligatory in civilised society. As public opposition to state control of worship places is neutralised by moves such as this action by the Austrian government, keen secularists will more easily be able to suppress Christianity.

Even without this threat, the move to close mosques is concerning. We take for granted that we can participate in gatherings of our choosing; it seems illogical that one group of human beings could ban another group of human beings from congregating and practising what they believe is communication with the creator of all human beings.

“By normalising encroachment onto religious freedoms, the Austrian government is paving the way for public acceptance of Church closures when, inevitably, atheist politicians take positions of power.”

Meanwhile, various European governments have legislated to restrict Muslim head coverings. It can certainly be argued that head coverings pose a security risk — but evidence of this is lacking.

Whilst I am generally wary of presuming slippery slopes, and am frustrated by the ubiquity of the trope of calling others Nazis; it is surely legitimate to be wary of figures of power specifically disallowing “parallel societies”. It’s entirely appropriate that governments act to address the evident threat of Islamic terrorism — but the Austrian government intends to wholly dismantle institutions of worship, and to deport faith leaders even in the absence of proof of dangerous teachings by the individuals. Does this not suggest a sinister scheme to modify the minds of the masses? Should we be wary of moves towards recurrence of what can be observed in the Communist far East?

Our culture’s aversion to state interference is evidenced by “Nanny state” being frequently employed to denounce government policies designed to curb injurious habits. A nanny plays a vital role in protecting the children assigned to their care, and knows far better than the children do what’s best for them; similarly, government impositions against vices such as alcohol, cigarettes and junk food will benefit the public. Yet much of media and public decry such interference, instinctively defiant of restrictions. Would these complainants protest were places of worship to be closed by our government as in Austria?

There are remonstrations too when “free speech” is seen to be encroached upon — but freedom to speak to God in purpose-built premises could well be obstructed with indifference from our atheist society.

Prohibition of “parallel societies” is conspicuous throughout the West, evidenced by the sudden proliferation in legal obstructions to Christian social standards. Business owners are being sued for holding to Biblical guidelines on sexuality — merely refraining from participating in gay weddings is landing Christian service providers in crippling legal battles. Recently, the Christian owner of Masterpiece bakery in the US won one such case; but that his not making a wedding cake would be taken to the Supreme court is disturbing. Much worse though, is that such conflicts are one of the most apparent Christianity-related matters in the media; to more and more of the public, Christianity is becoming synonymous with conflict over sexual ethics.

“Freedom to determine and practise personal beliefs about fundamental realities — whether there is a God; what guidelines for life we should seek to follow; if and how we can engage with a supernatural being — seems now expendable to the Western mentality.”

Ultimately, we believe that there are objective truths about ultimate questions; and that each person should seek to discern what is true. We want people to consciously examine different worldviews — and obviously hope that their hearts are open to Christ. But relativism is rife today — why (many might ask) should our society care about restrictions on belief if there’s no ultimate truth to believe in anyway? And why should society care about worshipping God when surrounded by so many other objects of worship? Most Westerners place far more value on spending, sports, and sex than on “religion”. Freedom to determine and practise personal beliefs about fundamental realities — whether there is a God; what guidelines for life we should seek to follow; if and how we can engage with a supernatural being — seems now expendable to the Western mentality.

Yet we know, as Christians, that God will have the final word. Islam recounts Muhammed winning territory and taking dominion of other tribes. Now, in Austria and other European countries, Islam is instead being suppressed. But the New Testament foresees oppression of Christianity — and assures us that God will have victory. It’s wrong for governments to ban parallel societies; but it cannot steal our hearts away from Christ — Christ who entered and intersected societies; Christ who was crushed for serving God; and Christ who won and overcame His adversaries.

“The New Testament foresees oppression of Christianity — and assures us that God will have victory. It’s wrong for governments to ban parallel societies; but it cannot steal our hearts away from Christ.”

St. Paul makes clear that we must not separate ourselves from society: “To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:20-22)

State interference in religion is a needed reminder to strive onwards in the Great Commission; let’s show society that Christianity is not something to shut down.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?”
Romans 8:35[1]

“Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen travelled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews.”
Acts 11:19[2]

“Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.”
Luke 6:23[3]

P.S. – You may like to sign this current petition regarding Religious Freedoms — petitions are a small, but sometimes excitingly efficacious way that we can impact political powers — http://ourreligiousfreedom.org/

“Religious freedoms in the UK have taken centuries to build, but intolerance, complacency and uniformity are slowly eroding them away. It’s easy to sit back and ignore the damage because, like erosion, it’s not always immediately visible on the surface. But look a little closer and you can begin to see the cracks. When nurses are being sacked for wearing crosses or praying, and students are being kicked off their course for their beliefs, you have to ask yourself how safe these freedoms are. At what point do you act? We are not looking for a quick fix. Erosion needs prevention and that prevention is a new law: a new law, once and for all, to safeguard, all aspects of freedom of religion or belief before we lose them, along with freedom of speech.”[4]

 

 

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Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 


[1] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+8%3A35&version=ESVUK

[2] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts+11%3A19&version=ESVUK

[3] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+6%3A23&version=ESVUK

[4] Statement from the ‘Our Religious Freedom’ petition, http://ourreligiousfreedom.org/

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