'Without religion there can be no culture that contributes to human flourishing'
I chatted to a convert friend after Mass yesterday. She had joined the Church as a member of the Ordinariate and we spoke of the sacrifices some converts had to make in their journey to Rome. I mentioned to her a book I was reading, From Islam to Christ, by Derya Little (Ignatius Press), and observed that Muslims who take the momentous step to become Christians can risk death in some countries.
Derya Little (a pseudonym to protect her identity) is a Turkish convert. In her book she explains that although Turkey is nominally a secular democracy and that “you were not supposed to be too Muslim…you were not supposed to be anything else either.” The culture is hostile to Christianity, such that when, having rejected the Muslim faith of her childhood and having spent several years as an atheist, she was drawn to Christianity after meeting an American Evangelical couple, she was terrified.
She admitted, “It did not help that the road to Christ was so little travelled in modern Turkey that I did not know any Turkish Christians. I was afraid of being alone in this journey. I was afraid of losing [her boyfriend]. I was afraid of the reaction of my friends. I was afraid of not being able to get a respectable job. I was afraid of how unpredictable the future might become. I was very afraid.”
Then, in a very moving passage, Little describes a fleeting “vision” she experienced soon afterwards, which contrasted the eternal beauty of the gift of faith with the trivial attractions of human security and comfort. In that moment “I decided to accept the magnificent gift…” There are further twists and turns on the road as the author, despite recognising the difference their faith made in the lives of her Christian friends, began to question the Evangelical insistence on “Scripture alone” and the lack of authority in interpreting the Bible. She read Mark Shea’s By What Authority? An Evangelical Discovers Catholic Tradition, and, having been awarded a scholarship to pursue postgraduate studies in the UK, she finally became a Catholic while at Durham University.
Her autobiography touches on many questions, not least the tensions inherent within Islam which she describes as a religion not of peace, as is often claimed, but of submission and fear. “The concept that Allah could be our father and friend is utterly blasphemous”. The unequal relationship between men and women in Islam and the problematic life of Islam’s founder raised further doubts.
Little is very honest about the moral chaos of her life before her conversion, in which alcohol, affairs and two abortions played a significant part. Her parents’ acrimonious divorce in her teens following her father’s desertion of the family also caused much suffering. When she finally knocked on the door of the only Catholic church in Ankara, to be welcomed by an elderly French Jesuit priest, the resolution both to her intellectual unease and emotional confusion is in sight.
Little, now living in the US and happily married to an American fellow convert whom she met on a Catholic dating site, concludes with a challenge; observing that “Westerners do not seem to appreciate that without religion there can be no culture that contributes to human flourishing”, she asks pointedy,“What does the West have to offer without Christ?”
It is a question raised by both John Paul II and Benedict XVI and which the EU refuses to examine.