Is Religion the Enemy?

Terrorists as Fascists

Who said this, and when?

We are here faced by fascists. Not just their calculated brutality, but their belief that they are superior to every single one of us in this chamber tonight, and all of the people that we represent.  They hold us in contempt.  They hold our values in contempt.  They hold our belief in tolerance and decency in contempt.  They hold our democracy, the means by which we will make our decision tonight, in contempt.  And what we know about fascists is that they need to be defeated.

The reference to “fascists” might suggest World-war II-era democracies, commenting on Nazism or Italy’s Fascism under Mussolini.  But no, this was spoken recently, in Britain’s House of Commons, by Hilary Benn, of the liberal Labour party, about modern Muslim jihadist terrorists.  (As reported by L. Gordon Grovitz, A Liberal’s Truth-Telling on Terror, Wall Street Journal, December 7, 2015).

Benn is unquestionably right.  ISIS and other extremists advance a political ideology.  Certainly it is advanced under cover of ostensible religious observance, but we should regard the reality of their beliefs, not just the labels.  In predominantly Muslim countries the notion of religious tolerance is weak, and the fascists we may be tempted to denote “religious extremists” are fascists first, and only nominally “religious.” 

Religion and other ideology

The ISIS sympathizers give religion a bad name.  Not, perhaps, among those with discernment about what “religion” really is, but certainly among those who have the unfortunate tendency to lump all ideologies citing religion together, making no distinction between peaceable Amish farmers and ISIS-allied suicide bombers.  For a certain kind of secularist mentality, it all counts as “religion,” against which the only safe zone is materialist secularism.

It matters what we believe.  Among Christians and nominal Christians, it matters whether we subscribe to prosperity theology or feel-good pop psychology, or selective pragmatism, rather than the genuine gospel.  Among Jews it matters whether one’s Jewishness is a matter of ethnicity and tradition, as opposed to a genuine seeking after the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Among Muslims, it matters whether “jihad” is the internal scourging intended to bring forth moral fruit, or the external warfare intended to impose by force a decidedly unreligious submission. 

And:  it matters whether one eschews any point of view encompassed by the wide spectrum of the world’s religions, adopting instead the vacuous and pointless non-religion that defaults to materialism.  The belief that there is no God or gods of any kind is no less a dangerous ideology tending to intolerance, than is any explicitly “religious” point of view. 

Not in God’s Name

In an otherwise excellent book, Not in God’s Name/Confronting Religious Violence, by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, we see an example of the tendency to miss this important point.  In it, Rabbi Sacks performs a valuable service, especially in providing probing and revealing analysis of texts in Genesis to isolate the source of conflict among the world’s monotheisms, demonstrating that we miss the deeper teaching of conciliation among the brothers from whom the monotheistic religions sprang.  His point is that:

Sibling rivalry as a contest for divine love is a bad idea and wrongly diminishes Abraham’s God. The truth that shines through the Genesis texts is that we are each blessed by God, each precious in his sight, each with our role in his story, each with our own song in the music of humankind.

Point taken, though followers of more peaceable stripes of the monotheisms might well say “Tell it to the Muslim extremists.”  This kind of analysis reinforces to the peaceable why they should remain peaceable, by pointing out our similarities rather than our differences, and pointing out that we should not covet what our brother has.  It is unhelpful, however, in speaking to those outside of the Abrahamic religions.  Muslim extremists, such as ISIS supporters who would impose sharia law on the entire world, if they could, have left the Abrahamic fold.  It is understandable that “moderate” Muslims would describe the terrorists as “not true Muslims.”  They’re right.  And the defining quality of the terrorists and terrorist supporters is intolerance. 

Intolerance as Ideology

This kind of admonition of peace to the faithful of the monotheist religions is also unhelpful to how we approach those who reject God altogether.  For those who reject religion altogether, the replacement was at first toleration, but we see that this form of toleration quickly degenerated to its opposite:  intolerance for any point of view at odds with materialism; which is to say, intolerance for all religions.  Which, in turn, means the tendency to lump all religions together, in opposition to materialism. 

The entire country is on edge, now, about “Muslim” terrorists.  But we should understand what it is that we are to be on guard against.  It’s not “religion,” as such.  It’s ideology that has intolerance as its lynchpin.  The ideology of the terrorists is more akin to Nazism and the various Communisms of the last century, than it is to religion.  It rests on hate, and on anti-religious, Nietzchean will-to-power. 

Don’t fall prey to the idea that “religion” is somehow the enemy.

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