How was it that at the end of the second decade of the twenty-first century an all-party parliamentary group of British MPs was more exercised by Islamophobia than by the treatment of Christians? Whilst legislators and the media preoccupied themselves with “blasphemy” directed towards Islam as “hate crime”, the police proceeded to arrest a devout Catholic for the offence of “praying outside an anti-abortion clinic”. Meanwhile in Scotland, the Scottish National Party leadership candidate Kate Forbes found her candidacy “damaged” by her deeply held Christian beliefs. By contrast, her rival, Humza Yousaf, who subsequently became the new leader of the SNP, had no such problem with his candidacy for the leadership of the party on the grounds of his Muslim faith.
Capturing this transvaluation of Christianity, a former chair of the Conservative Party declared that she was “truly ashamed” of her party, not for abandoning the Christian faith, but for its lack of empathy with Islam. When the Union of England and Scotland first emerged from the chrysalis of medieval Christendom in the seventeenth century, no one would have imagined that by 2023 more than half the population would say they have no religion and amongst those that do, only 15 per cent considered themselves Anglican. At the turn of the twentieth century it was almost one in three. And during the seventeenth century itself? Nearly 100 per cent.
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Yet, this falling away from Christianity really began during the seventeenth century when the practice of individual freedom, tolerance and scientific inquiry freed from religious supervision assumed a modern guise. The Enlightenment energised the quest. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus (1816) captured both the heady freedom of science and the anxiety concerning the growing irrelevance of God. Enlightened atheists saw God and, by extension, religion as a delusion. “How low has Christianity sunk, how powerless and miserable it has become. It is reason that has conquered,” Soren Kierkegaard confided to his Journals in 1849. Matthew Arnold heard the sea of faith’s withdrawing roar on Dover Beach. By the end of the century, Marx, Nietzsche, Dostoevsky and Thomas Hardy all wrestled with what the death of God meant. Hardy wondered, “And who or what shall fill His place?” And so should we.
It was the Promethean West that killed God in its quest for universal truth. The Enlightenment replaced a Christian faith in a transcendent spirit with an earthly condition of perfected humanity. It assumed an ecumenical universalism leading to secular progress premised on tolerance and freedom of speech, including the freedom to speak sacrilegiously of sacred things.
What this created, however, was a religious deformation. How different the Western experience was from Hindu or Buddhist belief, where the notion of killing God made no sense. Meanwhile the idea of killing Allah, or even caricaturing His prophet, invokes a fatwa for blasphemy like those received by Salman Rushdie in 1988, Theo van Gogh in 2004 and Charlie Hebdo in 2011. More mundanely, in March 2023, four Yorkshire children were suspended from school for accidentally scuffing a copy of the Koran and police recorded the offence as “a non-crime hate incident”. Elsewhere in Yorkshire, a local schoolteacher remains in hiding two years after displaying a cartoon of Mohammed to a grammar school class.
Yet, paradoxically, and in a spirit of multicultural acceptance, post-Cold War progressives across the Anglosphere came to tolerate those acting in the name of Islam persecuting anyone its imamate considered guilty of blasphemy. Ironically, whilst blasphemy against Christianity is still on the statute book, but never prosecuted, Islamophobia is in the process of becoming an offence. In April 2019, the Home Office even rejected an Iranian asylum-seeker and Christian convert on the grounds that his claim that Christianity was a peaceful religion was inconsistent with biblical violence. Yet when the Bishop of Truro conducted a review of Christian persecution for the Foreign Office in 2019 he found it to be “at near genocide levels in some parts of the world”.
Islamophobia is intolerable, but so too, it seems, is Christianity. Indeed, in its perverse desire to tolerate the intolerant the West has succumbed, it seems, not to Islamophobia, but Christophobia. How did this happen?
Providence, progress and the philosophy of history
Only the West killed God, and they did it twice for good measure, once on the cross, and more recently via the Enlightenment project to transform the world through progress, secularism and science, rendering religion either irrational or irrelevant. This evolution has a long history. The author of Order and History, Eric Voegelin, traced its origins to medieval Gnostic heresies.
Millenarian attempts, like those of the sixteenth-century Anabaptists of Munster, to “immanentise the eschaton”, in other words, to bring the “beyond’ into the here and now, assumed a secular and philosophic clothing at the Enlightenment. Kant, Hegel, Marx and later liberal progressive thinkers such as John Rawls, explored its implications. This perspective warped the Christian idea of salvation and accounts for many forms of contemporary ideological distortion. The impulse is inherently Manichean, and sometimes violent. Moreover, the end community the ideologically informed soteriologist aspires to has natural enemies, notably those who accept the world as it is, in all its messy pluralism. Dressed in modern garb, it assumes the past unenlightened, the present confused and corrupt, and universal salvation achievable through abstract rational and ethical progress.
A variation on this sensibility informed the secular third-way version of the millenarian impulse at the end of history. The war in Iraq and the financial crisis of 2008 undermined it and accounts for the West’s current progressive identity crisis. A secular liberal society accustomed to understanding itself in terms of a universal purpose cannot lose faith in that purpose without becoming bewildered. Yet the desire for a socially just epiphany remains.
We have a problem. The progressive mind assumes that all values are ultimately compatible. However, its projects of inclusivity at home and interventionism abroad confronts an uncomfortable fact. The tolerant endorsement of human diversity becomes very confused if one realises that many past and alien visions have been exclusive, intolerant and ethnocentric. If the liberal West, in a spirit of tolerance, endorses the fundamentalist “other”, it thereby also endorses intolerance at second hand. This is the West’s multicultural dilemma. It requires all citizens to tolerate non-Western minorities in the name of diversity, but the minority need not adapt to the secular values of their country of adoption.
Yet such tolerance, when acted upon, leads only to chaos. To believe, as the progressive mind does, that our sole protection against war between societies and within society is reason, and that according to reason those societies and individuals who find it congenial to their system of values to oppress and subjugate others are as right as those who love peace and justice, means to appeal to reason in the very act of destroying reason. This is the confusion that currently drives the Black Lives Matter movement, Extinction Rebellion and the zombie Left more generally.
Islamophobia and woke world soteriology
Since the 1990s, leading Western university departments have promulgated normative, critical and constructivist theories of world politics that supported non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and social movements that questioned the politics of fear that, they maintained, Islamophobic Western governments and their security agencies practised. An anti-anti-Islamism informed this style of thinking. Like the liberal progressivism it feeds off to take the end of history to its final emancipatory stage, this world salvationist project prefers rule through supranational structures and global forums advancing world government by judicialising conflict. Its devotion to legalistic instruments expands treaty commitments to human rights and the scope of international criminal law.
Emerging at the end of the Cold War as a radical rejection of the liberal democratic market state order, this increasingly Olympian transnationalism advocated cosmopolitan rule through “post-national constellations” like the United Nations and the EU. After the 2003 Iraq War, its salvific perspective identified a Manichean and world historical struggle between redemptive social movements and a dark, US-inspired, global capitalism. This dialectic informs the world purificatory movement against the Western security order and its state-based, democratically accountable institutions. In this melodrama, the United States and its allies function as the concrete enemy, whilst Israel plays a special role as its demonic accomplice.
In the early twenty-first century, world purificatory activism moved from the political fringes to shape international debate. At the end of the Cold War, liberal Western elites had assumed that the liberal international order would reshape the globe through its soft cultural and commercial power. After the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan a progressive end of history appeared unlikely. Government bailouts of banks too big to fail further revealed the limitations of globalisation and the rational market.
The financial crisis instead legitimated anarchist-inspired movements like those that occupied Wall Street after September 2011. This alter globalisation movement, consisting of transnational networks, sympathetic academics, indigenous peoples and environmental activists, seeks to overthrow a Western capitalist imperium. Those committed to it lead militant groups and NGOs, conduct seminars and hold marches at international conferences, receive support from governments and eleemosynary institutions, enjoy various despots as their cheerleaders, and are woven into the fabric of the UN, the EU and the mainstream media. The movement pursues an environmentally clean, culturally harmonious, socially just and sustainable world, liberated from both capitalism and carbon. It assumes that international rules will replace national laws. As the nation-state order weakens, a transnational cadre of NGOs will serve as the globe’s humanitarian enforcers.
Christianity is collateral damage in this latest ebullition of the revolutionary pursuit of utopia. Rendering God an impotent thought, Protestant and Catholic theology, as Kierkegaard anticipated, has reduced faith to “mere humanism”. The contemporary Anglican Church embraces the new soteriology that contrasts a corrupt present with a redemptive future. Consequently, progressive theologians follow in the wake of the alt-globalisation clerisy, and this in part explains Anglican and liberal indifference to the plight of those who still practise their Christian faith in the Middle East and Africa.
Transnational salvationism is post-democratic. It considers mainstream political parties and representative democratic institutions oppressive. It favours instead direct action where grass-roots activists raise consciousness and expose the toxicity of capitalism. The new utopianism thus posits a world on the cusp of a socially just order achieved through the effort of like-minded idealists.
Liberation and resistance
In its melodramatic interpretation of international politics, the global evil that a US-led capitalist system perpetuates justifies global resistance. Although this loosely structured global network embraces pacifism, it nevertheless empathises with the grievances that motivate the resistance of the Islamic State leaderless variety. Demonising the West, whether actively engaged in Afghanistan or Iraq or passively indifferent to sectarian conflicts in Syria and North Africa, the movement relates all “subaltern” violence to colonial grievance.
Thus, at the same time as the world purificationists denounce Western colonial hypocrisy, they minimise the crimes that occur in regimes they consider somehow victimised by the West. Exposing failings in open democracies entails excusing the crimes of despots. Humanitarian terms become weapons to attack democratic flaws. These contortions of the purificatory mind stem from its discovery of victims everywhere.
After the Cold War, this new ethical imperialism rejected any Western nation charting a unilateral course that contravened internationally agreed rules. Yet its judgments are far from impartial. It finds Brexit, or Trump’s independent approach to international agreements, deplorable, whilst Russia’s or China’s breaches of international law are overlooked. In a similar vein, opprobrium greets any Israeli action in the Gaza Strip, whilst the savagery of Islamist terrorists or military despots towards Christian communities evokes only mild disapproval. What accounts for such relativism?
One plausible answer is that, like all ideological grand narratives, the new Olympian Left assumes that world history follows an inexorable trajectory towards utopian purity. In its post-Cold War, idealist manifestation, it anticipates a teleological progression from barbarism to the triumph of global justice culminating in a state of universal emancipation. Before the Second World War such idealism traded at a political discount. This changed in the West after 1945 and particularly after 1990. Western progressives maintained that peace and progress required a paradigm shift, dismantling the states in which they lived for the rule of an international or post-national order responding to pure reason and the union of nations, as Immanuel Kant anticipated in Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch (1795).
Ignored for two centuries, a reinvigorated critical Kantianism now pervades the world-purifying Left. History, from this perspective, proceeds through stages: from tribal barbarism, through the intermediary stage of the nation-state, to the ultimate realisation of Kant’s “eschatological hope”—a world state. During the nation-state stage, more advanced states would “renounce their savage and lawless freedom, adapt themselves to public coercive laws and thus form an international state, which would continue to grow until it embraced all the people of the earth”. Those who advance this hope form an enlightened vanguard.
The problem this version of the end of history encounters in practice, however, is that nations and cultures move along the path from barbarism to the rule of universal reason at different speeds. Whilst Western European and North American progressives are well advanced on the path to moral and political maturity, less developed peoples in the Middle East, Asia and Africa remain stuck in political prepubescence.
Consequently, the moral standards applied to the advanced West cannot apply to Turkey, Syria, Iran or ISIL, whose murderous behaviour suggests a state of infantile savagery from which virtually nothing morally may be expected. Cosmopolitan idealists assume these moral adolescents will eventually grow up, but the process may be long and require great tolerance.
At the same time, they evince an uncomprehending antipathy for those they deem to have apostasised from their Olympian faith, or, in the case of Christianity, are irrelevant to the realisation of the purified global vision. Thus world purificationism excuses a Daesh–style management of savagery in Raqqa, whilst condemning Israeli conduct against Hamas or Hezbollah. Rebooted Kantianism subjects Israel to a higher moral standard than more primitive Arabs and Palestinians, because Israel is really European. This perspective explains the woke Left’s anti-Semitism and the otherwise bizarre comparison of Israel with Nazi Germany.
The Israel case demonstrates the capacity for progressive tolerance to turn to intolerance, or, in the case of Middle Eastern Christian communities, indifference, to those who dissent from its purificatory mission. Intolerance and the proscription of Islamophobia are a direct consequence of the aspiration to attain a new universal soteriology. Hence, the new Left idealist zealotry reserves its contempt for any movement with a nominal European heritage that severs its connection to this transformational emancipatory project.
There is a curious affinity between the new transnational social movements, the anti-political paths they follow, and the politically religious certitudes they embrace. The different components of this axis share a Gnostic belief in a corrupt past, a decadent present, and the necessity for resistance and, if necessary, clarifying acts of violence to bring about a harmonious and purified new order.
Such movements have no moral or historical justification to imagine the end of history. However, that is the only justification for the sacrifices they demand of humanity in its name. It has no other basis than a fallacy which introduces into history a value foreign to history. Since that value is, at the same time, foreign to ethics, it is not, properly speaking, a value upon which to base human conduct at all. It is a dogma without foundation that can be adopted only as the desperate effort to escape, of a mind stifled by solitude or by nihilism. It is in fact, a value imposed by those whom, despite their claims to an ethical purpose, the dogma profits. The end of history, which informs the new idealism, is not an exemplary value. It is an arbitrary and ultimately terroristic principle. It would seem that the Promethean quest to kill God and end history has left the Anglosphere not on the road to utopia, but on a darkling plain, where ignorant armies clash by night.
David Martin Jones is a visiting professor in the War Studies Department, King’s College London. He is the author of History’s Fools: The Pursuit of Idealism and the Revenge of History (2020).
 “Catholic anti-abortion activist arrested for praying during protest outside an anti-abortion clinic’ Yhe Daily Telegraph (UK) 8 March 20223 https://digitaleditions.telegraph.co.uk/data/1267/reader/reader.html?#!preferred/0/package/1267/pub/1267/page/71/article/NaN
Madeleine Grant “Secular Britain now has its own blasphemy laws’ Daily Telegraph 8 March 2023 https://digitaleditions.telegraph.co.uk/data/1267/reader/reader.html?#!preferred/0/package/1267/pub/1267/page/71/article/NaN
The Times https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/kate-forbes-religion-free-church-scotland-snp-same-sex-marriage-dbd555c28
 Baroness Warsi “truly ashamed’ of Conservative Party Islamophobia Business Insider 30 September 2019
 The figures are from the 2017 British Social Attitudes Survey.
 Madeleine Grant Secular Britain now has its own blasphemy laws Daily Telegraph 8 March 2023 https://digitaleditions.telegraph.co.uk/data/1267/reader/reader.html?#!preferred/0/package/1267/pub/1267/page/71/article/NaN
 “Faith Under Fire’ The Times 24 December 2019.
 K.R. Minogue, “Christophobia’ New Criterion 2003; Pascal Bruckner, The Tyranny of Guilt (Princeton, Princeton University press) 2011).
 Bernard Henri-Levy’s term. See Left in Dark Times A Stand against the new Barbarism. (New York, Random House, 2008).
 Jurgen Habermas’s term. See The Post National Constellation Political Essays (Boston, MIT Press, 2001).
 Immanuel Kant, Political Writings ed. Hans Reiss (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1970) p.91.
 Kant Ibid p.95.
 Albert Camus, The Rebel (London, Penguin, 1967) p.191.