Notes from Underground


A tale of two prophets
Don't mess with Mohammed



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The now-notorious Mohammed cartoons published in Denmark last year have in fact a historical, as well as geographical, precedent. In 1845, a satirical Danish journal named The Corsair ran a series of cartoons mocking the appearance of Copenhagen author and personality — and later renowned philosopher and Christian polemicist — Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855). The cartoons highlighted the writer's baggy, ill-fitting clothes, particularly focusing attention upon his chronically uneven pant legs.

The Corsair illustrations became so widely known that, afterward, Danish schoolboys were often rebuked for dressing sloppily with the maternal or schoolmarmish admonition, "Don't be a Kierkegaard."

The fact that he became more famous for his lack of fashion sense than for his writings was not lost on Kierkegaard, who detested the "mass man" phenomenon emerging in his age, under which an individual's obligation to the truth was fast becoming obscured by popular movements that encouraged craven conformism and obedience to the "herd," who tended to do whatever they were told by their betters (such as laughing on cue at the bidding of the Corsair), all the while believing that such behavior made them "free."

Kierkegaard pretended to court the mockery of the editors of this disreputable scandal sheet, but in fact his pride was deeply wounded by the ordeal of what afterward became known as "the Corsair affair." The writer, who maintained a jovial, outgoing public persona beneath which dwelt an inner core of melancholy, cynicism, and spiritual loneliness, soon found himself unable to go out into the streets of Copenhagen without being jeered at by passersby who recognized him from the widely circulated caricatures. Kierkegaard had his admirers, but few if any stood up for him during this period of high-profile ridicule and harassment. There are no records indicating that any of his contemporaries declared the Corsair out of bounds for its merciless and vicious campaign against the badly dressed Dane.

Today another man, namely Mohammed, the founder of Islam, has been disrespectfully depicted in another Danish rag. Unlike the case of Kierkegaard, the mockery of Mohammed is posthumous; he didn't have to deal with it during his earthly existence (and judging by history, one doubts that he would have dealt with it very well). But unlike Kierkegaard, Mohammed has supporters who are unwilling to take the insult — indeed, the blasphemy — lying down. They have made their consternation known to the world. Not all of their means have been, shall we say, subtle. Some (rioting, killing Christians, burning down embassies) have been downright rude and quite uncalled for. But one way or another, they have gotten their point across: Don't Mess with Mohammed.

To Muslims, Mohammed is a prophet par excellence; he is, indeed, "the" Prophet. Kierkegaard was also a prophet in his own right, relentlessly criticizing the Church of his time for what he viewed as its laxity, its compromise with worldliness, and its refusal to uphold the radical ideals of the Gospel. Kierkegaard's intellectual life culminated with his Attack on 'Christendom,' in which he declared that the practice of true Christianity is never a safe, comfortable thing but instead is always marked by suffering and persecution. A society in which people can behave in a blatantly worldly manner but can still maintain that they are Christian, because "everyone's a Christian," is a society that plays God for a fool, Kierkegaard warned. It would be better to renounce the faith than to embrace this sham-Christianity that was all good feelings and no demands.

Kierkegaard's intense campaign against the powers and principalities of his day proved to be his death sentence. In the midst of carrying out his one-man "attack" — which consisted of writing vituperative articles against high-ranking and respected members of the Danish Church, and of showy "street-theater" stunts such as prominently reading a newspaper in a conspicuous area during church hours on Sunday — the slight, frail man collapsed on the sidewalk and was taken to a hospital, where he died shortly thereafter at the young age of 42.

Today Denmark, like most of Europe, has followed Kierkegaard's lead in a sense, although surely not in a way that would have pleased him. Today, native-born Europeans have largely given up even the pretense of practicing Christianity, rushing headlong into an abandoned, unrestrained secularism. The main casualty of this cultural shift has been sexual morals: the Continent, like its North American counterpart, has seen a rapid increase in promiscuity, adultery, fornication, cohabitation, contraception, and, of course, abortion. With less belief in a transcendent vision of the world (such as that supplied by Christianity, or any other religion that posits the existence of a supernatural realm), fewer people than ever are interested in living for something beyond their own enjoyment, as they understand enjoyment; as a result, fewer than ever are having children. Native birth rates are down all over Europe, and Denmark is no exception. Put baldly, the white race is dying in its ancestral home, and a new set of "invaders" — namely, the nonwhite Muslims, who tend to have large families and who shun birth control and abortion as worldly abominations — are set to soon take over.

Right-wing Westerners have tended to view the brouhaha over the Danish Mohammed cartoons as evidence of Islam's lack of tolerance and eagerness to impose its beliefs on everyone else, through intimidation or outright violence. The Righties have a point, but they miss a deeper, more important one. I too find the capitulation of Western liberals on this score (exemplified by the editors of the New York Times, who like many other media outlets refused to print the offending illustrations in reference to the story) to be nauseating, because it is so obviously hypocritical. To liberals, an image of the Virgin Mary smeared with elephant dung or a crucifix submerged in urine is "art," and they instruct Christians who are offended to be more "tolerant," even when their own tax money is being used to fund such displays; yet caricatures of Mohammed are out of bounds, since Muslims are ... offended. There is, of course, a consistency to this blatant inconsistency of standards practiced by the Left; liberals are deferential to Islam because it is an "alien" faith, because its believers are more often "ethnically other"... and just maybe because Muslims are more likely to retaliate physically, while Christians are more likely to turn the other cheek.

In any case, Christianity is the founding religion of the West, and it is therefore regarded as suspect, and tagged with the predictable epithets of "racist," "sexist," "homophobic," and so forth. Since they are regarded as an aspect of "nativist" sentiment, the Church's teachings are targeted for "deconstruction" and other characteristic forms of pseudo-intellectual abuse and assault. Islam (along with Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism, American Indian paganism, African animism, and other "exotic" faiths), is never criticized by the cultural Marxists of the West, despite its strongly conservative attitudes toward women, the family, and homosexuality. The self-destructive nature of Western liberalism (discussed at length in the powerful Malcolm Muggeridge essay "The Great Liberal Death Wish" (1979) as well as in my previous column "White extinction: look on the bright side") is such that liberals would rather work to the long-term detriment of their own principles than ever appear to be "racist" or "xenophobic." Thus, they choose to ignore the patently illiberal, reactionary, and ethnocentric beliefs of most non-Westerners who are flooding Western countries and reproducing heavily while white Westerners (particularly white Western liberals) continue their rapid demographic decline.

Liberals, of course, are just being themselves when they practice their anti-white, anti-Christian double standards. But what excuse do conservatives, particularly Christian conservatives, have for their inaction in responding to this injustice? Why should we deplore the fact that Muslims are outraged by cartoons mocking their Prophet, and are making their outrage known loudly and clearly (through means that, if not always praiseworthy, at least show a depth of passion and commitment to their cause), when we do very little but engage in "bitch sessions" about the marginalization of Christianity in the West, but take no action other than listening to Rush or Hannity, watching Fox News, and voting Republican every four years? Do we really deserve better than what we've got? Does our complacency not attest to our underlying faithlessness toward the faith of our Fathers, and a clear preference for Mammon? For all of our national pride, are we really any better than the decadent Europeans, whose downfall the prophet Kierkegaard foresaw during his short but exceedingly active life a century and a half ago?

March 3, 2006

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