IN ALL the analysis and commentary about the rise of the “far Right” in Europe, and indeed around the world, Hannah Strømmen and Ulrich Schmiedel sense an important aspect insufficiently examined: many of the exponents and actors of the far Right make the claim that they are engaged in a battle for and on behalf of the Christian culture of the West against the forces that threaten it.
The far Right sees the main force threatening “our Christian culture” as Islam, a religion that it sees as opposed to Christianity, as out for the conversion of the West and the destruction of the Christian roots of its culture. Thus, the far Right makes a “claim to Christianity”, “culture Christianity”, and it is this claim that, the authors consider, needs to be taken far more seriously, analysed, and countered. In particular, they refer to the prominence of two themes in the far Right’s claims: Islamophobia and the battle over immigration, the shift in the European context from struggles around race to issues around culture and religion.
The book is thus a call to the mainstream Churches of those countries that have seen the rise of the far Right to end their complacency and make a far clearer statement of Christianity against the versions presented by the far Right. The writers root their analysis in three case studies, in two countries in which they have deep roots, Norway and Germany, and in the UK, where they both currently work, titling them with different names for the far Right: in Norway the “terrorist” Right, in Germany the “populist” Right, and in the UK the “hard” Right. The three case studies are followed by their theological reflection and challenge to the Churches to make an adequate theological response.
The authors present a remarkable range of source material in all three countries, including some that makes for very uncomfortable reading. That is particularly true of the Norwegian experience, which relies heavily on the manifesto of Anders Behring Breivik, where there is a question whether the views of a mass murderer should even be quoted. Less questionable, even if uncomfortable, are the citations from a German party of the far Right, Alternative für Deutschland, and, to a British reader much more familiar, from the Brexit debate.
There are two areas where the book perhaps requires more reflection: granted the frequent focus of the far Right on Islam, it is remarkable that the disturbing rise of anti-Semitism receives so little mention. It is a serious matter in its own right, and, if there has been a shift of focus to Islam, then that, too, raises questions whether this is only a tactical shift.
The larger question, of which the authors are certainly aware, is what kind of theology would be equal to the task of resistance, and, in particular, whether the reliance on the Good Samaritan as the icon of our view of alien cultures meets the need of this time. The whole apocalyptic tradition needs to be part of a vital critique, and perhaps, nearer to our time, the German Churches’ response to National Socialism would provide both inspiration and a warning of the cost of resistance.
The Rt Revd Dr Peter Selby is an Honorary Visiting Professor at King’s College, London, and a former Bishop of Worcester.
The Claim to Christianity: Responding to the far Right
Hannah Strømmen and Ulrich Schmiedel
SCM Press £19.99
Church Times Bookshop special price £15.99