If the old adage that "you can’t beat something with nothing" is true, then Europe is headed for trouble in its current conflict with Islamic fundamentalism.
Increasingly, Western Europe is becoming the focal point of Islamic extremists who are rioting over cartoon caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad published first in the Danish press and, later, in other European media. Islam apparently forbids artistic depiction of the prophet. Violators are subject to the penalty of death. Rather than engage Islam on the merits of its assertions, European media have fallen back on the defense of "freedom of the press".
Freedom of the press is a cherished right and one worthy of vigorous protection. But there is a larger issue at stake in what is rapidly escalating into a clash of civilizations—are the truth claims asserted by Islam correct, and if so, what are the moral, social and cultural implications that flow out of that religion? These are questions, however, that Europe is poorly equipped to engage.
"Truth" is a commodity that is in short supply on the Continent. "What is truth?’, European skeptics ask, echoing the query famously attributed to Pontius Pilate. Answering their own question, the literati maintain that truth is limited to that which can be objectified, quantified and verified. Matters that fall outside the pale of empirical verification, (i.e., matters of religion, morality or ethics), cannot masquerade as "truth." At best, they are matters of "opinion," with any one viewpoint being deemed as good (or bad) as another. As a result, relativism and radical subjectivism reign in European capitals, creating a veritable values vacuum.
It is into that vacuum that Islamic absolutism now seeks to move. Relativism, however, is no match for absolutism. Just as relativism cannot assert that any one moral or religious viewpoint is correct, neither can it assert that it is wrong or false. Relativism almost always gives rise to passivity. Zeal rarely accompanies a point of view that remains uncertain as to what is right or wrong. Inevitably, the passive relativist must yield to an absolutist who is willing to advance his viewpoint through force. This is no doubt why the late theologian, Francis Schaffer, once wrote, "When truth retreats, tyranny moves to fill the vacuum".
Relativism affords no basis for testing or resisting the truth claims of any religious, ethical, or moral construct. Its denial of the possibility of any "absolute" system of truth prevents it from asserting any moral imperative. In a world characterized by "ethical nihilism", the empirical "is" is incapable of producing an ethical "ought."
By contrast, Christianity offers truth claims that sharply contradict those asserted by Islam. In asserting truth, Christianity affirms the virtues of love, forgiveness and tolerance. Perhaps that is why Christianity has often been called the "seedbed of democracy." If current events are any indication, it will be a long time before Islam is accorded that recognition. It may also be why, in the face of the looming threat posed by Islamic fundamentalism, America would do well to cling to its Christian heritage. Having jettisoned its Christian roots, Europe may soon find itself recast in the mold of Muhammad.