Christians Assimilated (but compromised?)

A terrific book review, now a little long in the tooth, of two books on Europe and its immigrant populations is worth pondering for a variety of reasons but it got me thinking specifically about the assimilation of Christians in a secular republic like the United States. Here is a striking passage:

PEOPLE WHO ASK whether better government policies could have made Muslim immigration to Europe less of a debacle tend to look at Britain and France as two ends of a spectrum of approaches. Britain has let immigrants go their own way. It has been multiculturalist, laissez-faire, tolerant of partial allegiances and unintegrated identities. If you are a Sikh policeman, you can wear your turban on duty. In immigration as in other matters, the United Kingdom is unusually disorderly and willing to run the risk that “parallel societies” will form; but it does offer immigrants more self-respect and freedom of religion. France, by contrast, favors the assimilatory pressures of the melting pot. It wants immigrants to embrace a single model of republican citizenship. France’s model may sound condescending and hypocritical, but at its best it can convince a newcomer that the country’s thousand-year-old history belongs to him as much as anyone. It is a fool’s errand to call either the French or the British approach “better.” Each is built out of thousand-year-old habits of political culture. But immigration experts tend to laud whichever of the two has led to riots less recently.

What was I thinking:

1) it is hard to assimilate people of diverse cultural backgrounds and religious heritages into a peaceful, moderately ordered, and free society. Americans often bemoan the size of the government, the disregard for morality, or the inconsistency of cultural expectations (myself included). But keeping very different groups relatively calm and peaceful is no mean feat (especially if you believe what Reformed Protestants do about human nature).

2) Where does the U.S. fall in this model? In some ways it looks more like its cultural grandparent, Britain. But we also have conformist expectations that resemble the French (which likely owes to our adopting a republican form of government under the influence of Enlightenment political thought).

3) If Christians who complain about the decadence of the U.S. only kvetch and do not riot, is their desire to follow God weaker than Muslims?

4) If Christians want non-Christians to fit in with American norms that stem from Christian convictions, are they doing the same thing as the French even though for religious as opposed to enlightened reasons?

14 thoughts on “Christians Assimilated (but compromised?)

  1. Britain (and Canada) have an advantage in that most immigrants are from the Commonwealth of Nations (led by Hong Kong and India) and they already live the “western standards” of:

    1) get an education, a real one and then put great efforts into a professional career;

    2) esteem intelligence and live like you have a brain in your skull; and

    3) obey the law.

    They live these standards to an extent that puts North Americans to shame.


  2. Living in a college town my entire life I have found the best way to promote assimilation is on the basketball court. In the last decade I have played regularly with guys from Iran, Turkey, Honduras, China, Brazil, and Puerto Rico as well as playing with many African Americans. Religions have included evangelicals, Catholics, Muslims, and non-religious. Vocations vary from college professors to undergraduates and people working at Burger King or on welfare. Since the league started amongst evangelicals a Christian prayer is said before each day’s play. The only objection has ever come from me — the Reformed guy. But I’ve since knuckled under and probably offer up the prayer every other week or so. Assimilation is not hard if we spend time doing things together that we enjoy in common, rather than focusing on the things that we differ on.


  3. Interesting piece.

    In the US, the upper classes approach the issue more like the British. After all, they have never believed in mass culture, and have always invested themselves in cultivating semi-closed societies consisting only of those who can appreciate fine drink, fine threads, and fine culture. In such societies, the purpose is to cultivate distinctiveness, so as to become more inaccessible, not less. Hence, Wal Mart does not sell seersucker.

    In some sense, Old Lifers remind me a bit of that upper class culture. The purpose is to retain (if not exaggerate) older Reformed distinctives. If the Wal Mart crowd (revivalists) doesn’t like it, they can pound sand. You are who you are…like a gentleman in pink seersucker sipping his finest Kentucky rye.

    That being said, the middle classes are more like the French. They expect assimilation.


  4. It is interesting to read how the USA is handling immigration, especially of those who are Muslim, and how Europe is handling this matter. Geographically Europe is obviously closer to Muslim lands and hence the easy and recently large scale migration into Europe of people from Pakistan, Iraq, India and many other nations who have cultural and historical links with Europe. Britain is a good example as many of its Muslims come from nations once part of the British Empire.
    The British model of a relatively liberal approach to immigration has arguably led to the present and certainly the future demographics of the country being changed to the point of parallel communities living near each other without the multicultural utopia of liberals being achieved. I wonder if the sometimes uneasy tolerance of each other of these communities in Britain has any similarity to that found in Germany in the 1930’s between Jews and non Jews. This largely ignored failure to set up a diverse and truly flourishing mix of cultures is highlighted in the description of Robert Leiken and his excellent in depth take on the second generation Muslim lads from Leeds who hated our British guts so much they blew themselves up on the London Underground train system in 2005. So I would contend that the British approach of mass immigration, started by Tony Blair’s Labour (socialist) government in the last decade, has bred a host of problems too many to bore folks with. But the British electorate on May 2nd may have signalled a desire for change in immigration policy by voting in local elections for the UKIP party who focus in restricting immigration far more and they noted the easy going approach to immigration and concerns about sharia law being quietly introduced in Muslim areas as being just a couple of issues on peoples minds.
    If Christians want these Muslim immigrants to conform (to what?) for religious reasons, it isn’t happening and shows no signs of doing so. The challenge, if there is one, is for Christians to stop making a simple equation between Muslims and terrorists. But in Britain as a whole perhaps the chief problem for society is that the relaxed ‘anything goes’ spirit of today will have to wrestle more and more with principled Muslim influence which over the next few decades will arguably grow significantly. America may have a similar situation, but less so as it has a smaller Muslim population. The French model of conformity will not stop the gradual rise of Muslim influence, and overall I wish Christians wedded to a Christian culture model would stop bleating about the rise of Islam wherever it is found and simply witness to our Muslim friends (and enemies) through church and being light and salt unto the Gospel in demonstrating Christ likeness.


  5. Bobby, nevermind retain, we’re intolerant. Our problem is evangelicalism thinks in the church we should be tolerant and in the common culture intolerant. We rather think the opposite.


  6. Erik, I have since the early 1980s. Its book review and arts section may be the best out there. The magazine was never better than when Andrew Sullivan was editor. (Here comes Doug, better go.)


  7. D.G. – That subscription, plus my subscription to the New York Review of Books give me street cred with liberals. My Wall Street Journal Subscription? Not so much.

    Stanley Kauffmann has been reviewing movies for them since Thomas Edison.


  8. DGH:

    If it makes you feel better, I’ve never seen anyone much under the age of 70 in pink seersucker. I only own blue and gray. I do have a pair of pink seersucker shorts, though.


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