Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The American settlement on religion...

The American settlement on religion has been on my mind lately. Since I visited Shawbak, I've been musing on religious war.

Our bien pensants deny it, our ignorant stay that way, and "moderate Moslems" stand up like "moderate Germans" in 1936. But we are in a religious war anyway. Why don't we see it and deal with it as one?

The modern European experience with wars of religion dates to the 16th and 17th centuries. The conflicts between the Catholic and Prostestant princes during that era were between competing rulers. Faith might have started as the tool, excuse, or marker for that power, and the power was the ultimate goal for those rulers. But the tool turned on them, and the populations eventually engaged in a genuine religious war. They fought to exterminate an idea, and thus the lives of all those who believed that idea. The wars of religion were even worse than civil wars- which of course they were, too.

But unlike civil wars between two princes and their adherents, religious wars have one terrible difference. Surrender is not possible. Catholics, unlike Confederates, could not accept defeat because surrender was damnation. The loser must die, or make an essential change to his very soul.

So the wars continued until one side won or lost, and by 1700 every country in Europe was, officially and overtly, Catholic or Protestant.

Eighty years later, the recently free American colonies founded their Republic. The English Civil War, a religious war, was only two long lifetimes in the past. The founders had been nurtured on tales of that heroic and frightening time. And many of them were true, serious religious believers.

Yet they lived in a place which was a patchwork of sects. There was no king, whose faith the new country could follow. More importantly, these men had just fought a civil war together for their shared belief in liberty. They really really believed in that, all of them.

So they came up with an historically new solution. There would be no state faith, no wars of religion here.

Granted, much of Europe was already heading toward tolerance. Few places actively punished religious dissent, cetainly England had slacked off substantially. But the United States made it the law.

And it worked pretty well. The Europeans adopted the idea, many of them officially and all unofficially. And those of us in the West have grown up with that. The aberrations, Germany 1933-40 and the continuing Irish wreck, have proved the rule to us.

Religious tolerance has eroded the power of religion as a source of real conflict. Almost everyone in the west looks on Eric Rudolf as an evil nut. Not even Farrakhan or Robertson advocate killing heretics. That's given us two serious problems.

First, we have gotten to the point that we cannot understand a war of religion in our hearts, like we cannot understand eating dogs and cats. We really and truly do not comprehend burning buildings and killing people over cartoons or books in a toilet. And because we can't understand it, we don't deal with it appropriately. We are like our ancestors trying to deal with cancer by exorcism.

This goes for both the lefties and the neocons, though the neocons at least make SOME sense. They seem to have figured out that peace requires that our enemies stop doing what they do. The left thinks we can negotiate the commands of Allah.

But to paraphrase Trotsky, religious war is interested in us. There are millions of people who truly believe that killing us is a command of God. Whether it makes sense to us or not is irrelevant. Because we have lived so long without war at home, we can't really imagine it.

I see a similar reaction from non typical victims of violent crime. They simply cannot process that they were robbed, beaten, or raped for NO REASON AT ALL BUT THE JOY OF THE CRIMINAL. The entire event was without reference to the victim as a person, they were just there. What a terrifying and depersonalising thought- to be just an object. No wonder victims blame themselves. Better to have had one's jaw broked "because I smarted off" than "because he could".

This is behind the weak nature of our justice systems- our legislators don't imagine that there are people who LIKE to do bad things to genuinely innocent people. Truly imagining predators among us is so frightening that they pretend that criminals are just misguided or confused. The very idea that a person who rapes can be "rehabilitated" is facially stupid. So stupid that only judges and legislators can accept it. But the rapists are out there, and they will be what they are.

The second, deeper problem our fortunate history gives us flows from our loss of passion about faith. We cannot seem to understand, on a really deep level to BELIEVE, that liberty IS a religion. Our faith in reason and tolerance does everything for us that Sharia does for Hamza. I t provides us with rules, a culture, values, protection, survival, a whole life. We live and thrive by and through free exchange of thought and goods. Without that liberty we might still exist, but we would not be us anymore. We'd be Cuba or Libya.

Our faith is complete. It is, to us, so self evidently right that we actually believe it's impossible to disagree. We seem to think that our enemies can somehow be persuaded, by force or example, to accept our ways. Since getting along has worked so well for us, we truly wonder: can't we all just get along?

But we aren't getting along, any more than the Moslems are.

We are in an aggressive religious war against Islam. We attack it every minute with our voting women and our ill mannered children and our drugs and our internet. The theocracies of the middle east, and their powerful religious heirarchies, cannot survive in the same world as western values any more than Castro or Kim, who wall themselves off .

Thirty years ago, we weren't in the same world, the Moslem places and the West had little interaction. Now we are bumping into each other everywhere. The barren sands of Yemen are polluted by reruns of Friends, and fathers in Dearborn try to force their daughters to stay home and marry their cousins.

We can't all just get along.

And in a religious war, surrender is impossible.

If you don't think we have a state religion that is also real, that we hold in our hearts, that we willingly kill and die for, click on the paragraph below and read the whole thing. I dare you.

  • "IThe World Trade Center is not America. Oh, in a way it is - a marvel of engineering, a hub of wealth creation, designed by a man of Japanese ancestry, constructed by hand by citizens whose people came from Europe, Asia, Africa. Men who prayed to one God, to many, to none. All colors and creeds constructed that building; like any skyscraper in any American city, the World Trade Center was the legend of Babel refuted in stone and glass.

    But it was merely a manifestation of America. If the terrorists had a finer grasp of American culture, they might have headed for the Empire State Building. It has a greater claim as a national symbol. It went up during the overture to the Depression, a statement of optimism in a world of compounded doom. Its lines are serious and austere, yet romantic and ennobling. A zeppelin docked at its summit; King Kong climbed its cliffs. Even the name contains the contradictions of America - we are an empire, yes but an empire whose provinces are knitted together by an idea. A concept. A bold proposition: citizenship is not based on blood, on clan, on tribe, but on a belief in an ideal. "

    Anonymous said...

    Quote from the article:
    “We will ask him if he has changed his mind about being a Christian,” Mawlazezadah (judge presiding over death trial) says. “If he has, we will forgive him, because Islam is a religion of tolerance.”

    staghounds said...

    Exactly. People go so crazy over religion that we have to make it a private matter.