Culture Wars/Current Controversies

“Christianity Is False But Useful”

Ayaan Hirsi Ali makes a classic neoconservative case – and calls it conversion.

(Michel Baret/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

When I first heard about and read Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s essay on converting to Christianity, I have to admit I bristled a bit. It read, at first blush, like a political conversion rather than a spiritual one, the kind of argument a neoconservative might make. “False but convenient” is the Straussian take on Christianity, and it strongly suggests that faith is simply an organizing tool for society. It keeps the masses in line, tamps down their earthly expectations, and inculcates socially useful virtues. “Atheists for Christianity” is, in fact, a pretty good synopsis of neoconservatism. And Ayaan has, after all, long been a neoconservative.

Her defense of the Christian faith therefore makes almost no mention of Jesus of Nazareth, nor of the Creed — the core of Christian belief. There are no saints or pilgrims or miracles in her account. We don’t know which denomination Ayaan has joined. We have no discussion of the Incarnation, or the Resurrection, let alone the Trinity. We don’t even have a first-person testimony of the process of conversion, how it happened, and when. There is not a trace of the supernatural or the eternal. We do not know the key religious texts that moved her; or the prayers that might sustain her; or about the voice she may or may not have heard.

What we do have, in Ayaan’s case, is the civilizational challenge of defending the West against the latest axis of evil: Russia/China, Islamism, and critical theory, the latter via the madrassas of the Ivy League. And Christianity, Ayaan argues, is the primary unifying force that can stiffen our sinews against all these threats to the West, dispatching Xi, Putin, Hamas and Kendi into their respective historical dustbins. And wouldn’t that be lovely?

The book that seems to have had the deepest impact on Ayaan is not the Bible but Tom Holland’s Dominion, on the civilizational gifts Christianity bestowed on the West: concepts of universal love, individual dignity, freedom of expression, reason, and toleration. Ayaan notes that this was not always the case — centuries of sometimes brutal sectarian conflict somewhat complicate things — but that Christianity has long since left its “dogmatic” phase toward an emphasis on logos, of reason, as inextricable from the divine.


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