Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:00

A 'Happy' New Year?

Written by Rev. C.A. Schouls
Note from the Editor: In this issue you will find that the editorial as well as several contributions mention Islam. This was not by our design, but by providence. The authors of these articles all see 9/11 (September 11/01) as a wake-up call from the Lord to examine our Christianity as well as our witness to our Muslim and other non-Christian neighbours, whether far away in Afghanistan or closer to home. We trust that the focus of this editorial and the other relevant articles will challenge us to reach out with the Gospel of grace, which alone can turn enemies of God into His friends and ours.
Jeremiah had complained to the Lord about the wicked. It seemed God didnÕt do anything to stop them. The LordÕs answer sounds rather sardonic: ÒIf you canÕt keep up with men on foot, how will you do when you have to race against horses?Ó It is an answer full of divine wisdom and, even, encouragement.

We wish each other ÒA Happy New Year.Ó We should rather say, ÒBlessed New YearÓ for to be blessed is to be happy (Ps.146: 5). What the world wishes itself at this time is not true happiness at all. But, there is an edge to the well wishing this year. September 11 has changed our world so drastically that many are confused, uncertain and fearful. Blissfully throwing ÒHappy New YearÓ wishes around in such a context is rather shallow. Many fearfully ask, ÒWhat happened? Why did our peaceful existence come to such an abrupt end?Ó There is a sense of lost innocence. It was going so well--everything seemed so peaceful. America was the strong leader. Vietnam was an accident from which America learned some valuable lessons. The ÒGulf WarÓ put the last nail into that coffin. Everything was just great! What went wrong?

To get a grasp on what is happening, we have to consider various, apparently separate, developments and see how they mesh with each other: the end of the Colonial Period; Immigration; the Post Modernist movement; the Rise of Islam.

The End of Colonialism
Broadly speaking, the Colonial Period lasted from 1492, with the voyage of Columbus to America (in search of China, it must be remembered) to 1962 when France granted independence to Algeria. The colonial powers were the nations of Western Europe: Great Britain, France, Spain and the Netherlands. SpainÕs empire was the oldest, the most poorly run and the first to die. Although the Dutch kept their colonies until after World War II, these were limited to the ÒEast Indies,Ó one colony in South America and a few islands. Their foothold in North America lasted for less than a generation, when it was casually surrendered to the British who, in turn, lost the greater part of their holdings due to the bungling King George III. Nevertheless, the British colonial empire lasted the longest and was the furthest flung; at one time the sun never did set on it. France also gained a hold in many places but was never as powerful as its island arch-rival.

The rivalry for colonies that could be milked of their abundant natural resources by the various ÒFatherlandsÓ spilled over into several wars during the 18th and 19th centuries, which, in turn, led to the world-wide conflicts of the 20th century. With a 20-year break, Europe (and much of Asia) was engulfed in the most heinous warfare man had ever waged. The Second World War brought all the colonial empires to a crashing end. Britain was forced to divest itself of India in 1947; the Dutch lost their East Indies in 1949; French possessions were frittered away piece-meal and the years from 1954 (when they were defeated at Bien Dien Phu in that other Vietnam war) to 1962 (when they were forced to give up Algeria), were not glorious years for them. What myopic Western leaders saw as wars of Communist aggression were, in the main, wars for national independence and liberation. It took years for this view to take hold in the U.S. after the debacle of their Vietnam war, but it is safe to say that this is now being recognized and confirmed by trade agreements. The dollar is usually the final victor!

The term ÒliberationÓ is in place when speaking of these wars. An objective study from this vantage point in time tells us that often the yoke of the colonial masters was cruel and heavy and that the legacy of the ÒChristianÓ colonizers is one of great bitterness. Many honest soldiers, thinking to serve crown and country, fought in vain for a truly Òlost cause.Ó It is stunning to think that the U.S., which brought such pressure to bear on the Netherlands to grant independence to Indonesia, would not see the similarity with its own situation in Vietnam a mere twenty years later when it was embroiled in a war Òled by the incompetent, fought by the unwilling, on behalf of the unthankful.Ó

The United States never did become a colonial power in the classic sense. They held some Òoff shoreÓ possessions for a while during the last century as a result of a brawl with Spain in the early 1900Õs. Americans were too busy realizing their ÒManifest Destiny,Ó pushing ever westward through their own hinterland, to be much concerned with acquiring other colonies. However, the U.S. has become an imperialistic nation in another sense. Although its undisputed emergence as the worldÕs only super power was delayed by forty years of Cold War, achieving this status was inevitable. But its power, greater than that of any of the earlier empires, is measured in stock markets indices; its colonial masters are the directors of the great multinational corporations. And in controlling their ÒcoloniesÓ they have been little more benevolent than some of the others--consider the dirt recently come to light in connection with Guatemala and Chile.

Both European and American imperial experiments have left a legacy of rancour. These feelings of bitterness were not always justified: colonists did much in providing education, medical care and social developments. More than that, there was much missionary work done. However, despite the illustrious and selfless efforts of many in the sincere service of the Lord, one should ask if these colonial powers, current and past, were always as benign as ÒChristianÓ nations ought to be.

Although from the sixteenth century on settlers had been moving to British North America, the great flow of migrants from Europe took place from the mid nineteenth to the mid twentieth century. In the U.S.A. they were assimilated into the Òmelting potÓ and proud to be ÒAmericans.Ó The early twentieth century saw a great movement of Europeans to those former British colonies which had been most Òanglicized.Ó This process was possible because the native people of these lands were relatively few in numbers and quickly dispossessed. Canada, Australia and New Zealand were Òvast, empty spaces.Ó The treatment of aboriginals in each of these countries is not a pretty story. These colonies, peopled by the British or folks just like them in many respects (especially skin colour), never had the same kind of colonial status as did places like Kenya or India. Although ÒdifferentÓ from, they really were extensions of the homeland.

The post WW II flood from Europe was the last of the stream of migrants escaping the limited possibilities of a continent repeatedly ravaged by war. Then immigration patterns began to shift: economics was the force driving North African and Eastern European labourers into Western Europe. At the same time, Asians, Africans and South Americans are finding new homes in North America, drawn by the promise of wealth, freedom and opportunity. Such is the drawing power of this new ÒPromised LandÓ that some migrants have walked thousands of miles to reach it. The later arrivals have been much more successful in maintaining their ethnic and cultural identities than did the earlier immigrants. In some cases this is because it is far easier to travel ÒhomeÓ than it was before; usually many of them cluster together, creating Òghettos;Ó generally, their religion is such that they cannot assimilate into existing religious communities in their new homeland. All are part of the Òvisible minorities,Ó a given which has social and cultural implications that may strengthen the drive to preserve identity. As they become established, they are speaking up in the societies in which their communities exist as identifiable entities.

Following the collapse of Nazism and under the threat of Communism, a keener sense of the need to protect individual freedoms developed. In the U.S.A. Òcivil libertiesÓ movements, spearheaded by the ACLU arose. Canada adopted its ÒCharter of RightsÓ in 1982. This legislation set the tone for ÒMulticulturalism," which aims to protect and promote the multiplicity of cultures that make up the Canadian mosaic. In this sense, it is the very opposite of the "un-legislated" but spontaneous Òmelting-potÓ experience of the U.S. But, as is becoming more and more obvious, Multiculturalism has become the Trojan horse for the protection and promotion of many things contrary to general Christian values, which at one time formed the underpinnings of the English-speaking world. The immigration policies of the last thirty years have radically changed the climate of Canadian culture and society.

Post Modernism
Previously in this column, Rev. Pronk has written on this phenomenon. As he explained, Post Modernism follows the ÒModern PeriodÓ. Scholars are not agreed fully as to when this period had its day; estimates range from the 1820Õs when English speaking nations emerged as the dominant world force to as late as the 1920Õs when its recognition was fixed by the acceptance of post-impressionist art at its first exhibition in London, 1910 It is a period marked by the erasing of philosophical and theological foundations, reflected in every aspect of society from agriculture to zoo construction. (This is not to say that all innovations in agriculture and zoo construction are ethically bad!)

This erosion of Judeo-Christian values coincided approximately with the dramatic increase in wealth among the people of the West. The ready availability of cash fed right into the prevailing mindset of Òme first,Ó with the result that the West is now marked by an excess of hedonism not seen since the latter stages of the Roman Empire. Fed by the inventions of the age (beginning with photography and now reaching into the Internet), western society is producing a torrent of filth, which threatens to erode even further whatever norms are left. Ominously, much of the wealth producing machinery is fuelled, literally, by oil from the Middle East.

The Resurgence of Islam
When in the 1960Õs, Cassius Clay, the former boxer, changed his name to ÒMuhammed Ali,Ó many thought it was just part of the Òin thingÓ among some Afro-American sports figures. This was the time of ÒMalcolm X,Ó the Black Panthers and the clenched fist salute. It was a time of unrest in American society as had not been seen for generations. It was the time of the Vietnam War. But what many did not realize was that Islam, the religion born of the teachings of Mohammed, was making huge inroads among the most disadvantaged people of the nation: Afro-Americans.

Islam has always been a militant religion. Perhaps many Muslims genuinely wish to abandon this militant aspect and consider that the admonitions in the Koran to destroy the infidels must not be taken literally. Recent events have shown enough to prove that many also take these words very literally. This has also been the history of Islam in its earlier stages.

Within a hundred years of MohammedÕs death in 632, the armies of Islam swept through North Africa, conquered Spain and crossed the Pyrenees Mountains into France. Charles Martel (Òthe HammerÓ), leading a Òmulti-national Christian coalition,Ó defeated the Islamic forces at the battle of Tours, France in 732. They retreated to Spain, but were not expelled from there until 1492. In the east, they took Persia, penetrated into India and occupied the Roman provinces of Egypt, Palestine and Syria. The later attempts by the West, directed by the Church of Rome as ÒCrusadesÓ to free Palestine from Islamic control, at best provided only temporary access for the pilgrims to the Òholy places.Ó At worst, they were exercises in military bungling and brutality which left a legacy of bitter hatred for anything ÒwesternÓ with people who have a much more keenly developed sense of history than do most of us. Islam also made permanent inroads into Eastern Europe and regions further east. It is still a force in Kosovo, Chechnya and the various ÒstanÓ nations surrounding Afghanistan. As late as 1683, Turkish Muslim armies laid siege to Vienna. The Islamic corridor across south-eastern Europe and the Middle East prevented mission activity into Asia. For several centuries, the Islamic Empire of the Ottoman Turks controlled the Middle East and parts of Eastern Europe.

With the ascendancy of Western powers in the 1700Õs came also the decline of the great Turkish and Islamic empire. In 1798 Napoleon invaded and briefly conquered Egypt. ÒThe Napoleonic invasion of Egypt had profound repercussions for the Arab and Muslim world which continue to influence the region's political and social developmentÉ It has been said that contemporary Muslim fundamentalism traces its psychological origins to this initial shattering defeat.Ó Turkey was to become known as Òthe sick man of EuropeÓ and its disastrous decision to declare against the Western Allies in WW I resulted in the loss of all its possessions. Palestine, Jordan and oil-rich Mesopotamia (Iraq) went to Britain. France gained Lebanon and Syria. In addition, it had control over Algeria in North Africa. The German possessions in Africa were also divided among the victors. All this was done under a League of Nations ÒmandateÓ that simply transferred control of these lands to new colonial masters. It seemed that Islam was not a force that would threaten anyone.

The discovery of oil and the WestÕs increasing dependence on it changed all this. Unimaginable wealth flowed into the hands of a few in the Middle East. Although most of these few had the foresight to spread the wealth around their impoverished nations, they retained enough for personal use so that they now have power reaching into every corner of the world. Along with this wealth came a resurgence of their religion--Islam. Western control, not only as it impacted the oil market, but particularly as it reached out through the spread of its corrupt moral standards marketed through Òthe arts,Ó became increasingly an irritant. But it was especially U.S. support for Israel, which became an ever-increasing aggravation. Western Christianity, meanwhile, with its apparent choice of either American style fundamentalism favouring Israel or European style liberalism promoting a lowest common denominator religion, had little to offer in the face of a religion which was home grown, radical and demanding high moral standards. Fuelled by hatred for Israel and the U.S., empowered by oil money, Islamic fundamentalism is ready to take off.

The Streams Converge
It is not difficult to see how all these streams come together. The end of colonialism has left bitter anti-western sentiments in all the former colonies. In none of them did Christianity ever become accepted as the true religion. On the contrary, it was (and is) seen as the religion of Western imperialism. The failure of Western ÒChristiansÓ to live the gospel as they should is a great factor in this. Few will respond to the invitation ÒCome to Me you who labourÓ if that is given by the mouth of those who cause them to labour beyond the limits of human endurance and without a fair share in the proceeds. In their attempt to export Christianity to their colonies, the Western nations have fared little better than their Crusader forefathers in their attempts to Christianize the Middle East. This is a failure that should be lamented by all Christians.

Add to this reality, the failed colonialism of the 20th century immigration of people from the former colonies into the lands of their erstwhile Òmasters.Ó They maintain their cultural and religious identity. Where there are more and larger pockets of people of one ethno-religious group placed among people of another, there must be either conflict or acceptance. Acceptance, which has been the norm in the West, has led to pluralism, the thought pattern expressed in Òmulticulturalism.Ó The notion that all men are equal before the law has been stretched to mean all men are equal--period. The only way to live with this is to ÒÉsettle for the kind of friendliness within which all absolutes perish either for lack of interest or because of the demands of the social etiquette.Ó

These new ethnic pockets have limited contact with the surrounding society. This society is corrupt and has all the earmarks of being the last convulsions of a dying culture. From within this corrupt society, there is no a favourable basis for home missions or evangelism. In addition, the growing urbanization of the West (it is estimated that by now 93% of people in the industrialized West, including the U.S.A., are living in cities ) is creating an environment for the accelerated decay of traditional values. These, in turn, may create an ever greater openness for both the acceptance of pluralism and its antipode, authoritarian religion. The market is wide open for the export of Muslim fundamentalism.

A "Happy New Year"?
These, then, are some of the issues and their causes facing us today. It has been said that Ò9/11Ó has changed our lives forever. This may well be true. The sovereign Lord alone knows how this will develop. Will He again allow Islam to be the scourge on a church that has become apostate? Are we at the end of the ÒChristian eraÓ? It would seem to be so. If Western society is to be described as ÒChristian,Ó it is evident that it has lost its foundations. ÒIf the foundation be destroyed, what can the righteous do?Ó (Ps.11: 3) Whether it is by Islam or some other force, it seems certain there are hard times ahead for the Church of our Lord. Too many sincere believers have been proven wrong in the past to make anyone careless in saying that these are the final days of the end times. It is all Òthe last dayÓ from the time of the LordÕs ascension until His return. But, to say that we are facing times of trial is not making an extreme or irresponsible statement.

The ÒfootmenÓ of daily life may have wearied us. The struggle of faith as it takes place in the "here and now" can leave you exhausted. And the ÒhorsesÓ are coming. Maybe right now they are being freshly shoed and trained. Maybe they are merely exercising. But they are coming!

So, can we wish each other a ÒHappy New YearÓ? Yes, we can--provided we understand our happiness is not to be found in material wealth and health, or any good that this earth can give. May we have enough of such that we can serve the Lord as we ought. But, if the pressure mounts, may we experience with Paul, Òwhen I am weak, then am I strongÓ (2 Cor.12: 10). We can wish each other a ÒHappy New YearÓ because we know that the exalted Lord Jesus Christ is on the throne. Neither George W. Bush nor Osama bin Laden can move without His will. We can be happy, for all things work together for good for His people, His Church. And so,

ÒA blessed New Year to all!Ó

1. David F. Wells, No Place for Truth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993) footnote 1, p.53.
2. Taken from
3. Wells, p.75.
4. Wells, p.73.

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