The dangers of religion and other world-views

Just two days after the terrorist attacks in which Muslim suicide bombers killed 35 people in Brussels and severely injured hundreds more, and two days before Z0 people – most of them women and children, and most of them Christians – were killed in Pakistan by a bomb blast for which the Taliban claim the authorship, the German weekly “Der Spiegel” has published a title page with the headline “The Misused Faith –  Dangerous Return of Religion”. The image on the title page is a strange potpourri: one sees the black flags of IS somewhere in the background, but all the remaining religious symbols are Christian: a fist holding a crucifix, Vladimir Putin conversing with a Russian bishop, a woman holding a poster with the image of Christ, and Donald Trump (seriously!) holding a book that apparently is the Bible. One Islamic symbol and four Christian ones to illustrate the thesis that religions are spurring political fanaticism and therefore must be qualified as “dangerous”.

And as it appears from the choice of illustrations, Christianity must be four times more “dangerous” than Islam.

In addition to this Title page, the online version of “Der Spiegel” uses the image of hands with a rosary to illustrate the point. The score is thus raised to 5:1, and perhaps Catholics (the only Christians to pray the rosary) are singled out as the most dangerous of all religious breeds.Götter der Macht

This raises some questions. For example, whatever one may think of Putin and his style of governance, do we really believe that Russia was a better place during the 73 years in which it was ruled by an openly secularist regime? And what exactly do we know about Donald Trump’s religious views? Are we really sure that the Christian faith plays any major role in his thoughts and actions? How is the woman brandishing an image of Christ comparable to IS? Did not Mother Teresa of Calcutta, a fervent Catholic, pray the rosary practically without interruption – and was her faith the driving force behind all her actions?

This is once again a perfect example of how some secular groups use Islamic terrorism to wage a not-so-subtle propaganda war against all religions, and against Christianity in particular.

The defamatory dialectic that is at work here is simplistic but efficient:it builds on the assumption (never proven but always taken for granted) that all religions are equal.

If all religions are (somehow) equal, and if there is one religion that turns its followers into terrorists, then this must be assumed to be true for the whole bunch of them. And of course the fact that secular atheism in its various forms (such as Communism or Nazism) has been, and continues to be (e.g. in North Korea), associated with the most bloodthirsty political regimes in the history of human civilization is generously passed over in silence. Unthinkable that “Der Spiegel” would ever dedicate any negative headlines to atheism and its dangerous implications…

The terror attacks in Paris and Brussels should provide us with an opportunity for a more mature reflection on the role of religion in society.

Obviously, religion plays an important role in the bundle of motivations that have driven the perpetrators to destroy the lives of their victims as well as their own. But it remains that in practically all cases of religiously motivated terrorism in recent decades the terrorists were Muslims.

It is an absurdity that some politicians and mass media, in order to appease, claim that those attacks “have nothing to do with Islam”, or that “they are the result of a perverted interpretation of Islam”. How are they, who themselves are neither Muslims nor even familiar with Christianity, the Religion that lies at the basis of the Western civilization, able to know whether something is, or is not, compatible with Islam? Or, indeed, with any other Religion? If they were committed Christians, then they would be entitled to say that any “Christian terrorism” (if and where it existed) is at odds with the correct interpretation of Christian doctrine. But somebody who is glaringly unfamiliar with Christian doctrine will not be able to make such an assessment – and somebody who is clueless about Islam should kindly leave it to the Muslims to decide which interpretation of Islam is authentic and which isn’t.

Thus, there is an urgent need for Western society to wake up from its daydreams and to give up some of its dearly held principles and beliefs.
The first belief that Europeans should give up is that religion is somehow “irrelevant” in a modern society. The truth is that religion is not, and never was irrelevant. It is one of the strongest, if it is not the strongest, force in human life. What somebody believes determines his outlook on life, his thoughts, and his actions. As Chesterton once wrote, “the most practical and important thing about a man is his view of the universe. For a landlady considering a lodger, it is important to know his income, but still more important to know his philosophy. For a general about to fight an enemy, it is important to know the enemy’s numbers, but still more important to know the enemy’s philosophy. The question is not whether the theory of the cosmos affects matters, but whether in the long run, anything else affects them.”

The second dogma that urgently needs to be thrown out of the window is that atheism, or “secularism”, or agnosticism, are not religions. They are as fundamental beliefs as any religion, and – given that they deal with matters such as the existence or inexistence of God, or of a life after death, which are inaccessible to empiric science – they are certainly not more “scientific”, or better founded, than any other system of religious beliefs.

The third dogma we need to get rid of is that all religions or beliefs are equal, or that they are equally worthy of respect. To any man in his right senses it must be a self-evidence not only that different religions contain different teachings, but also that these teachings determine the believer’s actions in a different way. For example, someone who does not believe in God will find it attractive to believe that everybody enjoys a high autonomy to follow (only) the moral principle he is adopting for himself; he will find it difficult to accept the existence of a universal moral law, or to believe in rewards for those who respect that law and in punishment for those who don’t. If somebody beliefs in Islam, he will have a different attitude to women, or to followers of other faiths, than if he were a Christian or a Buddhist.

Last but not least, if religions are not equal, then there is no good reason to treat them equally, or to provide them with the same rights and freedoms, or to tolerate them all. If a religion, or any “secular” world-view, is found to undermine the common good, it may be legitimate to fight against it.
The seemingly endless series of terrorist attacks with Islamic background raise some serious questions in this regard. Of course, Islam is not the one and only culprit. But what turns young people into suicide killers? It is absurd to dismiss their acts as “cowardly”. Committing an act that, however atrocious, will destroy one’s own life may be mad or evil, but it hardly can be qualified as cowardice.

Those pointing to social exclusion and lack of perspective as reasons for the radicalization of young Muslims living in Europe are not wrong. It is a known fact that it is not the first generation of immigrants, but the second and third, who are most susceptible to be recruited as terrorists: while their parents generally had the feeling that their life was improving as a result of their migration to non-Muslim countries, the children and grandchildren are discovering that the best jobs and incomes, and the most respected places in society, remain closed to them due not only to lack of skills, but also due to their being alien. This lack of perspective is compounded by a high degree of narcissism (i.e. the willingness to do whatever it takes to be famous) and the longing to identify as part of an in-group that, for some reason or other, is superior to everyone else.

The resentment and narcissism may be independent of Islam. However, Islam provides the ideological basis for acts of terrorism by justifying the killing of the greatest possible number of non-believers, by styling such (self)destructive acts as a form of “martyrdom”, and by promising heavenly rewards to whoever commits such acts. It is significant that the leading figures of Islamic terrorists never commit such acts themselves, but they use Islam as a means to manipulate the consciences of others in order to make them commit such acts. It is even more significant that the terrorists acquire the status of local heroes in local communities such as Molenbeek or the Parisian banlieue, and that their communities show little or no eagerness to help the Police in finding and arresting them. As one hears, the terror suspect Salah Abdelslam could move arount completely freely in Brussels while the police were searching for him: he was seen at the hairdresser’s or in the supermarket, but nobody found it worthwhile to inform the public authorities.

Ultimately the problem of Islam is precisely the one that was pointed out by Pope Benedict XVI. in his famous Regensburg Lecture. While Christianity simply asks its followers to act according to Natural Law, i.e. in conformity with reason, Islam lacks such reasonability. The Islamic concept of God is that of a purely transcendent god. As a supreme lawgiver that god is not bound by any reasonability; it is his arbitrary will alone, and not reason, that determines what is “good” and “evil”. If he orders to kill, one must kill, if he orders to keep peace, one must keep peace. There is no inherent morality in his actions; there is just a command that one must obey.

In other words, the Islamic god does not command his followers to do what is good, he commands them to do his will. Islam means “submission”.

One can easily imagine the consequences for public life that this type of religion will entail, just as one can easily discern the corrosive effects that secular atheism has on modern societies.

Among the major systems of thoughts that we know today, it is only Christianity, and Christianity alone, that not only commands its followers to do what is good (according to the conclusive judgments of ethical reason), but also provides them with a motivation for doing it. This is an important difference that sets off Christianity from all other world-views, and it is for this reason that Christianity alone can claim a right to be propagated and practised, while for other religions the question only is to what extent they should be tolerated.

If there is one thing that is dangerous for Christians today, it is the unjustified belief of many of its followers that it is one religion among many others.