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Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a Christian now. Good luck figuring out why.
She contrarian-ed so hard, she made it all the way back to the other side
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Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the ex-Muslim who wrote bestselling books like Infidel, Nomad, and Heretic documenting her journey out of Islam and criticizing an extreme version of the faith, has announced her conversion to Christianity.
If this comes as a surprise to you, it’s probably because she’s been off your radar for the past several years. But after years of parroting Christian Right propaganda, this feels like a logical next step for her.
Hirsi Ali explained her change of faith in an essay for the right-wing website UnHerd. She didn’t write about how she “found God.” She didn’t have a sudden late night epiphany. She wasn’t convinced of her wrongness in the middle of some theological debate. In fact, you won’t find any actual defense of Christianity anywhere in the piece.
Instead, she rationalizes her Christianity by citing, among other things, “Islamism” and “woke ideology.” Which is to say she now feels she has more in common with the politics of conservative Christians than secular Humanists because the former group despises Muslims and progressives as much as she does. It’s Christianity by way of pragmatism.
… Why do I call myself a Christian now?
Part of the answer is global. Western civilisation is under threat from three different but related forces: the resurgence of great-power authoritarianism and expansionism in the forms of the Chinese Communist Party and Vladimir Putin’s Russia; the rise of global Islamism, which threatens to mobilise a vast population against the West; and the viral spread of woke ideology, which is eating into the moral fibre of the next generation.
But we can’t fight off these formidable forces unless we can answer the question: what is it that unites us? The response that “God is dead!” seems insufficient. So, too, does the attempt to find solace in “the rules-based liberal international order”. The only credible answer, I believe, lies in our desire to uphold the legacy of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
… I have come to realise that [Bertrand] Russell and my atheist friends failed to see the wood for the trees. The wood is the civilisation built on the Judeo-Christian tradition; it is the story of the West, warts and all. Russell’s critique of those contradictions in Christian doctrine is serious, but it is also too narrow in scope.
The only real mention of Jesus comes in a sentence about how “Christ’s teaching implied not only a circumscribed role for religion as something separate from politics. It also implied compassion for the sinner and humility for the believer.” That may well be true, but it’s hardly unique in the annals of religion or secular humanism.
She also attributes her Christianity to the fact that atheism failed to give her an answer to a “simple question: what is the meaning and purpose of life?” As if atheism was ever meant to provide people with a simplistic response to that unanswerable question. (What’s the answer now that she’s a Christian? Who knows. She doesn’t get into it.) It makes you wonder how “atheist” she really was when she fails to grasp the basic concept of it. Was it about a lack of evidence of God’s existence or because some prominent atheists she befriended were extremely critical of Islam after 9/11?
Ultimately, after a rambling squishy rant against wokeness and the lack of direction provided by atheism, she magically concludes, “Christianity has it all.”
In that way, she’s just like so many Christian apologists, using a lot of words to say very little, all while insisting she said everything that mattered.
She also claims that people who don’t believe in God are “capable of believing in anything.” As if those of us who live in reality are somehow more susceptible to conspiracy theories than those who believe in the supernatural.
There are many problems with Hirsi Ali’s essay, but the biggest one for me is that it treats Christianity as if the religion is somehow enlightened (“Unlike Islam, Christianity outgrew its dogmatic stage,” she laughably writes) without acknowledging how conservative Christians in the United States have hijacked the faith in a way that’s eerily similar to radical Muslims in other parts of the world.
They’re not suicide bombers who embrace martyrdom, no, but their actions have undoubtedly led to more suffering. That’s true when embracing anti-abortion measures that force child rape victims to give birth against their will. That’s true when defending judges and politicians who care more about assault weapons than the people murdered by them. That’s true when rejecting the science of COVID, allowing the disease to spread unabated and harm or kill countless people around the world.
We are not better off because of the kind of Christianity practiced by zealots with immense power.
But just as it would be unfair to ascribe the beliefs of Islamic extremists to the world’s 1.9 billion Muslims, we need to distinguish between Christians who take the moral teachings of Jesus seriously (there are many) and the ones who merely use the idea of Jesus for political gain (there are many more). Hirsi Ali has long been criticized for painting Islam with a broad brush, but now she’s doing the same thing—albeit in the other direction—for Christianity.
She even did this in her most recent book, Prey. One prominent review claimed “She finds stories of individual Muslim immigrants who commit heinous crimes, and by suggesting those stories are broadly representative, uses them to justify curtailing the opportunities afforded to the whole group.”
The callous way she writes about people with whom she disagrees is a hallmark of her public image, and now she expects all of us to just nod our heads in agreement as she explains her new religion.
Why should we? Has she earned the benefit of the doubt at this point? We’ve seen the kind of conservatives she aligns with while working for the American Enterprise Institute and the Hoover Institution. We’ve also seen how she cozies up to right-wing activists, like when she made a video for PragerU equating Radical Islam and wokeness:
The two ideologies have distinctive rituals: Islamists shout “Allahu Akbar” and “Death to America”; the Woke shout “Black lives matter” and “I can’t breathe.”
Islamists pray to Mecca; the Woke take the knee.
Both like burning the American flag.
Both take offense at every opportunity and demand not just apologies but concessions.
Islamism inveighs against “blasphemy”; Wokeism wants to outlaw “hate speech.”
Islamists use the word “Islamophobia” to silence critics; the Woke do the same with “racism.”
The grievances of Islamists and the Woke aren’t merely economic and they won’t be satisfied with jobs or entitlements, or any other blandishments politicians are willing to offer.
Their motivations are ideological, and they will be satisfied only with power. And then they’ll demand more power.
The problem, you see, is all those pesky civil rights activists… not PragerU!
It’s disappointing, really. Hirsi Ali is someone who has fought valiantly against female genital mutilation. If you disregard the irresponsible generalizations, she courageously criticized religion despite numerous threats to her own life.
But she’s no longer a voice of courage. She’s just another member of the red-pilled right-wing outrage machine, acting like the people fighting against oppression are no different from the extremists who perpetuate it. Using her platforms to insist trans women aren’t women. Insisting (to Tucker Carlson, no less) that because some women in certain parts of the world are truly oppressed, Black, gay, and trans people in the United States should shut the hell up and celebrate how good they have it. She’s finally a card-carrying member of the one group of people who despise Muslims as much as she does.
She didn’t convert for Christ. She converted for the culture wars. As one tweet described it, the whole charade boils down to "I am unable to justify my right wing positions without also affirming a religion and this one is far nicer than my old one.”
Hirsi Ali became an atheist because it was a counter-balance to religious extremism, but it apparently didn’t go far enough, so now she’s working her way back to a different kind of religious extremism… because of wokeness. (Incidentally, she made many of these pro-Christian points two weeks ago during a panel discussion that included Jordan Peterson.)
With a mentality that fucked up, Christians can have her.
She contrarian-ed so damn hard, she made it all the way back to the other side.
It’s probably for the best, though. Given that her well of personal anecdotes has likely dried up by now, I’m sure this conversion will help her sell more copies of the next book.