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Good Thing Seculars Aren’t Religiously Violent

Prof. William Cavanaugh: [1]

Given certain conditions, Christianity, Islam, and other faiths can and do contribute to violence.

But what is implied in the conventional wisdom that religion is prone to violence is that Christianity, Islam, and other faiths are more inclined toward violence than ideologies and institutions that are identified as “secular.” It is this story that I will challenge here. I will do so in two steps. First, I will show that the division of ideologies and institutions into the categories “religious” and “secular” is an arbitrary and incoherent division. When we examine academic arguments that religion causes violence, we find that what does or does not count as religion is based on subjective and indefensible assumptions. As a result certain kinds of violence are condemned, and others are ignored. Second, I ask, “If the idea that there is something called ‘religion’ that is more violent than so-called ‘secular’ phenomena is so incoherent, why is the idea so pervasive?” The answer, I think, is that we in the West find it comforting and ideologically useful. The myth of religious violence helps create a blind spot about the violence of the putatively secular nation-state. We like to believe that the liberal state arose to make peace between warring religious factions. Today, the Western liberal state is charged with the burden of creating peace in the face of the cruel religious fanaticism of the Muslim world. The myth of religious violence promotes a dichotomy between us in the secular West who are rational and peacemaking, and them, the hordes of violent religious fanatics in the Muslim world. Their violence is religious, and therefore irrational and divisive. Our violence, on the other hand, is rational, peacemaking, and necessary. Regrettably, we find ourselves forced to bomb them into the higher rationality.

Read the whole thing.  [1] It’s from a talk he gave in 2007 at Harvard Divinity School. I found the link at Jake Meador’s blog [2]. For some reason, it reminded me of the spittle-flecked fanaticism Jesse Bering demonstrates in this unhinged rant [3] against Chick-fil-A, which was actually published on Slate. Here’s why it brought Cavanaugh’s insights to mind. Excerpts:

If it’s not already perfectly clear, I’m firmly on the side of the latter. That is to say, on the side of good and the side of sanity. …

There is, of course, the little problem of God, so often the common denominator in human conflicts. Cathy’s thunderous sermon about the hazards of upsetting this irritable arbiter of our souls resonated with the religious right. So let us deconstruct Cathy’s words to see if we might better understand their seduction:

I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist
at Him and say ‘we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage’
and I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant
attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

Cathy does at least preface this by saying, “I think,” but otherwise this to me is the hoary language of a man who has little familiarity with texts that were not [ahem] dictated by the Almighty and who has therefore missed out on so many infinitely more talented and intelligent authors, those who were more godly than God. On opposing sides of that yawning moral crevasse dividing liberals and conservatives, a gap that has widened several new inches by this surprise Chick-fil-A quake, the rhetorical turns of phrase we find in Cathy’s Armageddon script tend to mean very different things. For instance, for liberals, “prideful” would be read in this context as “scientifically literate,” “arrogant attitude” is perhaps best translated as “open-minded,” and “audacity” means simply, “the courage to think for oneself.”

change_me

… Let Aug. 1, 2012, go down as a day of infamy and national disgrace. On that day, at-risk gay youth all over this country watched as an endless, self-righteous trail of Americans wrapped itself round and round Chick-fil-A franchises across the land.

The point of his essay was to say that religious people like Chick-fil-A executive Don Cathy are not just stupid, they’re dangerous and shameful to our country. Going to Chick-fil-A was analogous, in a culture war sense, to bombing Pearl Harbor (a day of infamy). You can see the mindset here laying the groundwork for measures to be taken against these irrational religious nuts, who must be brought back through foul-mouthed insult (read the whole thing) to a higher rationality.

Mind you, verbal violence is not the same as physical violence. Still, it’s interesting to observe the willingness of Bering to use scalding, highly emotional language to proclaim himself a rationalist, and to utterly demonize Christians who don’t share his view on same-sex marriage as crazy, God-drunk troglodytes. This is the kind of language that is no better than what you see from wild-eyed preachers on the other side. Bering, who doesn’t officially believe in demons, seems to have found them. In both cases, this kind of hysterical discourse, if repeated often enough, prepares people to do violence. As the reader who sent me a link to the Bering piece wrote, “This really is about the clash of absolute truths and I think shows the inherent flaws in liberalism.”

Meaning, I suppose, that liberalism has no way to mediate satisfactorily between two irreconcilable truth claims.

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47 Comments To "Good Thing Seculars Aren’t Religiously Violent"

#1 Comment By Joe the Plutocrat On August 7, 2012 @ 9:29 am

I suspect the analogy is at a very basic, almost personal level. the “violent” Christian or Muslim can defer to his/her diety in terms of the theo-moral justification to combine faith/salvation and violence. the Bible or the Quaran offer defacto “get out of jail free” cards to jihadists and crusaders; whereas a secular person has to “do the math” his/herself, and satisfy his/her own dogmatic needs. are homosapiens autonomous beings; capable of independent, rational thought/action; or are we merely social creatures; that defer to the herd, the pack, or the hive? remember; it is the weak, young, infirmed zebra that falls prey to the lion (thus protecting the herd), not the intelligent, strong, healthy one. perhaps we are a bit of both; and religion/ideology are merely the alpha males/queen bees we need to direct us? of course, this begs the question; where does this leave Steven Segal; the world’s most violent Buddhist?

#2 Comment By jaybird On August 7, 2012 @ 9:38 am

Yeah, so anyway, gay cereal put to the torch:

#3 Comment By Mr. Patrick On August 7, 2012 @ 9:42 am

“Meaning, I suppose, that liberalism has no way to mediate satisfactorily between two irreconcilable truth claims.”

It’s not supposed to. Hence the catch-all “mind your own business”. The problem is when government threatens not to do this, or allow people to do this.

#4 Comment By David J. White On August 7, 2012 @ 9:46 am

Christianity, Islam, and other faiths are more inclined toward violence than ideologies and institutions that are identified as “secular.”

After a century that saw Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot, it’s hard to believe that anyone can still assert this with a straight face.

#5 Comment By Turmarion On August 7, 2012 @ 10:01 am

I’ve been waiting for an excuse to post [4].

The essay is actually interesting, but I don’t think Cavanaugh is saying quite the same thing as you are. He’s saying that we use the concept of religious violence as a way of covering up or diverting attention to the violence inherent in our own system. In other words, they’re mindless religious fanatics who kill innocents, including children, unlike us, who send drones to kill the bad guys, along with innocent civilians, including children–whoops! He does not seem to be saying that gay-marriage supportin’ libruls are going to force Christians once more into the catacombs.

Look, we can agree that liberals, secularists, and leftists can be mean and nasty too and that human nature can wreak unpleasantness in the name of any purportedly good cause, be it religious or not; and I don’t doubt that there will be some turbulence in sorting out the SSM issue. However, I think it will be relatively minor and that we’ll get past it and things will settle down. I don’t think it will result in horrible oppression of religion or some kind of neo-Diocletian. The rather hysterical tone and the implication that teh gayz are gonnna ruin it for everyone doesn’t help your side.

[L]iberalism has no way to mediate satisfactorily between two irreconcilable truth claims.

As opposed to? How do you suggest it be decided?

#6 Comment By Bgderpolis On August 7, 2012 @ 10:24 am

Rod is correct to recognize that “verbal violence” is not the same as physical (i.e., real) violence. And yet in the context of sexuality, this blog returns again and again to examples of the former, and resolutely ignores the latter.

Again and again, Rod explains how gays saying mean things about Christians is just so darned scary and totes equivalent to persecution. The very real physical violence directed at gays, however, is never mentioned. Rod condemns gays for fighting a culture war with sharp words, but will never condemn rightists for fighting gays with real bullets, knives, and bats. Rod, you live in fear of gay violence against Christians, or gay legal persecution of Christians. The reality of life on this planet is directly the opposite.

#7 Comment By WhollyRoamin On August 7, 2012 @ 10:29 am

Prof. Cavanaugh’s scariest sentence in the last paragraph: “His book is enthusiastically endorsed by such academic superstars as Alan Dershowitz, Richard Dawkins, and Peter Singer.”

Egad!

#8 Comment By Beyng On August 7, 2012 @ 10:39 am

Liberalism was specifically theorized to avoid mediating between irreconcilable truth claims. The idea was that questions of religious dogma, etc., would be excluded from the parliamentarian realm of the political altogether and sublimated under the aegis of private opinion.

This is the vision of liberalism maintained by its early proponents (like Hobbes, who claims that citizens can believe whatever they wish so long as they maintain external conformity to the sovereign’s dictates), its adamant critics (like Schmitt, who castigates liberalism as an apolitical perpetual “discussion” that is both unwilling and unable to make real political and moral distinctions), and its contemporary theorists (like Rawls, who insists that “comprehensive doctrines” must be bracketed when contemplating political conceptions of justice, fairness, and equity).

Ironically, however, it seems that liberalism can only function meaningfully in a cultural context that contains few or no “irreconcilable truth claims.” This is the dangerous truth that has been lurking behind many contemporary debates surrounding liberalism: the need for a society that is largely homogeneous when it comes to questions of religion, morality, truth, justice, etc. Either that, or a milquetoast society that isn’t prepared to bleed for anything at all. I’ll leave it to others to decide which of these alternatives is more desirable, and which may be more closely approximated in the American polity.

#9 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On August 7, 2012 @ 10:49 am

I would certainly agree that religious violence and secular violence can be equally destructive. We have, for example, the example of Christian protest against American military ventures that wreaked havoc and destruction upon populations in Latin America, Haiti, Asia and Africa, directly or by funding and arming proxy wars.

However, it is ludicrous to pronounce that the distinction between the secular and the religious is a convenient artificiality.

Religion concerns the intentions and requirements of divine forces or beings that are by definition metaphysical, outside the sphere of human study, experiment, definition, and control. Secular matters are matters human beings can originate, define, experiment with, study, prove to some extent, and mostly, matters of direct human choice and origin.

Nobody who sincerely and seriously believes in a transcendent, omnipotent, creator deity could so facilely conflate the two.

Violence in the name of religion is a specific problem, because those who commit it believe, and/or claim, to be acting upon the Will of God, which absolves them of all restraint, compromise or culpability.

Any religion is capable of generating such violence or lending plausibility to it. Violence is not inherent in any of the Abrahamic faiths, but spectacular violence has been committed in the name of all three.

Secular violence has its own myths to sustain it, but they are not religious in nature. Why do academics with a half-way decent notion have to wrap it in several layers of absurdity trying to be erudite?

#10 Comment By Roberto On August 7, 2012 @ 11:23 am

I’m glad to see that Rod has discovered the work of William Cavanaugh. Be forewarned that essays like the one you linked to are a kind of gateway drug. Pretty soon you will be reading “The Myth of Religious Violence” and saving “Killing for the Telephone Company: why the Nation-state is not the keeper of the common good” to your dropbox account for easy access.

Then, you will wake up and find yourself in a lonely place where the lies that keep the creaky edifice of the modern society, which Cavanaugh says is itself a creation of the centralized nation-state, are so apparent that you want to pull an Edvard Munch-like scream.

#11 Comment By Rod Dreher On August 7, 2012 @ 11:28 am

T: The essay is actually interesting, but I don’t think Cavanaugh is saying quite the same thing as you are. He’s saying that we use the concept of religious violence as a way of covering up or diverting attention to the violence inherent in our own system. In other words, they’re mindless religious fanatics who kill innocents, including children, unlike us, who send drones to kill the bad guys, along with innocent civilians, including children–whoops! He does not seem to be saying that gay-marriage supportin’ libruls are going to force Christians once more into the catacombs.

Oh, I agree. My point in citing him and comparing him to Jesse Bering’s rant is to highlight how the apostles of rationality can become unhinged and inhuman in their defense of “rationality” against religious people. It seems to me that Bering, who brags in his piece that he’s on the side of the Rational and the Good, is a great illustration of how one’s own commitments can blind oneself to one’s own capacity for destructive hatred — something that is theorized as being the province of the religious person, and not the Rational.

#12 Comment By Joanna On August 7, 2012 @ 11:40 am

Yeah, cuz that last war between Harvard and Cal Tech was such a dozy

[5] (NSFW)

#13 Comment By Dave Dutcher On August 7, 2012 @ 11:42 am

Nah, secular violence is unique because it depersonalizes on a mass scale. Even to the point where people no longer recognize it as violence, like airstrikes in serbia or drone attacks. They should be so religiously violent, because I’m not sure the cool, technocratic, “violence as solution to a puzzle” mode is an improvement.

What’s scary too is that all of this is happening during what essentially is a spent age. A non-ideological one in the sense of a Great Ideology. Eventually the seculars are going to discover a modern ideology similar to communism in impact. Then everyone is going to be screwed.

#14 Comment By Nathaniel W On August 7, 2012 @ 11:52 am

@Turmarion: I think Cavanaugh’s real position is somewhere between the original post and your response. I think he’s arguing for something more than just the outward-facing violence of our own system (sending out drones and such). One of the consistent themes of Cavanaugh’s work is that the State itself is founded on violence that’s just as much inward as outward: it’s violent in that it claims a monopoly on allegiance and actively destroys all intermediary associations that stand between individual and State. State power is the power to dominate individual bodies by isolating them from larger corporate bodies. The myth of religious violence was used as a convenient fiction for the State to justify its monopoly on violence and its centralization of sovereignty.

Cavanaugh’s work speaks quite a bit to recent controversy’s like the contraception mandate, and some of Rod’s worries about gay marriage and religious freedom, etc.

#15 Comment By Franklin Evans On August 7, 2012 @ 12:03 pm

On the other side of that coin is an axiom (or so I view it) I first encountered in an essay by Robert A. Heinlein (paraphrasing): Nations always go to war for practical reasons. Soldiers (RAH wrote “young men”) require high ideals to put their lives at risk and, in those rare cases, sacrifice them.

“High ideals” is the superset. Subsets have religion at the top of the list for psychological reasons I shouldn’t have to mention. In some cases all it takes is a charismatic leader, fill in the blank for ideology. David’s rogues list is a case in that point.

The “messianic” concept is rife. Take a downtrodden, conquered or oppressed people and give them a savior — of any stripe that appeals to that particular group — and you have violence caused by “ideology”. I suggest that this is proof of human nature, not an indictment of any given ideology.

#16 Comment By Franklin Evans On August 7, 2012 @ 12:12 pm

Nah, secular violence is unique because it depersonalizes on a mass scale.</i.

I'm having an Inigo Montoya moment here, Dave.

The Christian Crusaders depersonalized the Muslims. The Christian Russians depersonalized the shtetl Jews. Roman propaganda literally demonized early Christians. The Hindu achuta or untouchables are born non-persons. I’m willing to put good money on the bet that every religion has at some time been subject to depersonalization by another religion (or government).

#17 Comment By Phil On August 7, 2012 @ 12:22 pm

Cavanaugh is indispensable to the contemporary conservative. He really blows through all the BS of both Liberalism and Libertarianism.

#18 Comment By Joe the Plutocrat On August 7, 2012 @ 12:32 pm

@Franklin Evans, good point. are you familiar with The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 by Alstair Horne? it provides insight into the “high ideals” concept on the front end of war; to be replaced by a more agnostic motivation (for lack of a better term).

#19 Comment By Turmarion On August 7, 2012 @ 1:08 pm

Rod: My point in citing him and comparing him to Jesse Bering’s rant is to highlight how the apostles of rationality can become unhinged and inhuman in their defense of “rationality” against religious people.

True, but you don’t have to go as far as Jesse Bering–all one has to do is read New Atheist screeds. It always amuses–and amazes–me how anyone, religious or secular, could look at human history and human behavior and think that “reason” and “rationality” will save us all, or that secularists and non-believers are any more “rational” than anyone else. [6] is an article, by an atheist, that to his credit calls out a lot of his confreres on their very lack of reason and other egregious behavior.

Nathaniel, that’s a good point. All state are built on violence. There’s always violence inherent in the system (it’s not just a Monty Python canard). We delude ourselves if we think that we, the shining City on a Hill, are any different. David Graeber’s fascinating book, [7] actually gets into some of this, too, showing how debt-driven economic systems were violently instituted by states for their benefit and as a way of achieving and maintaining control over the populace.

As to inward-facing violence, there’s plenty of that, too, but I’d have to read more of Cavanaugh to see how that might relate to social issues and freedom of religion. There is the big elephant in the room that in a multi-cultural, multi-religious, secular state, it is not possible for each side to get its way, since as Rod points out, it sometimes comes down to irreconcilable beliefs and zero-sum games. You can’t legalize SSM and ban it; one side logically has to lose; and I guess the losing side, whichever it is, might perceive that there is a violent imposition against it. But, in a pluralistic society, what can you do?

#20 Comment By Rod Dreher On August 7, 2012 @ 1:21 pm

@ Franklin, the political philosopher John Gray’s book “Black Mass” traces how utopianism, including utopianism achievable through violence, has been a constant thread in the West from the Christian era until now. He is especially hard on Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment pretensions to have banished that impulse from society by having marginalized religion. It goes very, very deep, Gray says.

#21 Comment By Joe the Plutocrat On August 7, 2012 @ 2:11 pm

RD, not familiar with Black Mass, but by “utopianism achievable through violence” is Gray (are you) referring to the US wars in Bosnia; and more recently Libya? Or, attempts to colonize Africa, Central South America, and North America, via missionaries? While I understand the etemology of the word utopia; I suspect one could easily replace utopia with “heaven” (or the proverbial 73 virgins). the distinction between secularism and religion seems to be the “reverse engineering” or “buffet-style” explanations offered by the religion side. if it is true that society has marginalized religion, I’d offer that religions; or any pre-reformation/enlightenment Europen state as a de facto theocracy; “marginalized” everybody.

#22 Comment By Sands On August 7, 2012 @ 2:24 pm

Phil: “ Cavanaugh is indispensable to the contemporary conservative. He really blows through all the BS of both Liberalism and Libertarianism.”

I’m not familiar with Cavanaugh, but I did read the transcript of the lecture Rod linked to. In his lecture he rebukes Western intervention in the Middle East for many of the same reasons that classical liberals and American libertarians do. It was contemporary conservatism (the neo-kind) that inspired the Bush Doctrine.

#23 Comment By Sands On August 7, 2012 @ 2:34 pm

If Bering is going to lecture people about rationality, he probably shouldn’t make the irrational argument that Dan Cathy and his customers represent some kind of influential cultural force that is going to push gays back into the closet. Makes you wonder if he owns a television.

#24 Comment By Ken Wilson On August 7, 2012 @ 2:34 pm

it’s interesting to observe the willingness of Bering to use scalding, highly emotional language to proclaim himself a rationalist, and to utterly demonize Christians who don’t share his view on same-sex marriage as crazy, God-drunk troglodytes. This is the kind of language that is no better than what you see from wild-eyed preachers on the other side.

Or wild-eyed CEOs like Cathy, who can’t just condemn the sin, but have to impute pride and rage and arrogance to the sinners.

#25 Comment By Franklin Evans On August 7, 2012 @ 2:37 pm

Joe and Rod: I will look up both authors. Thanks.

My family history is instructive, IMO. My father’s family goes back to the founding of Montenegro in the 14th century, and includes some (a bit horrific, I’m afraid) stories concerning the Muslim Ottoman Turks, who were the ongoing nemesis of the Christian Slavic cultures in the region. Religion was by far the strongest point of hostility between them, especially when you find so much of Arabian culture in Serbia, Macedonia and Bulgaria.

Montenegro was from its start a militaristic culture. One can find clear markers for both practicality and high ideals.

#26 Comment By J the second On August 7, 2012 @ 4:04 pm

Going to Chick-fil-A was analogous, in a culture war sense, to bombing Pearl Harbor (a day of infamy). You can see the mindset here laying the groundwork for measures to be taken against these irrational religious nuts, who must be brought back through foul-mouthed insult (read the whole thing) to a higher rationality.

Some events of August 1, providing a little bit of context to Bering’s satire and hyperbole published August 6:

[8]

“Criticizing President Barack Obama’s health care reform law on Wednesday, Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) likened the requirement that private insurance plans provide contraception coverage to two of the most devastating attacks on American soil.

“”I know in your mind, you can think of the times America was attacked,” he said at a press conference on Capitol Hill. “One is Dec. 7, that’s Pearl Harbor Day. The other is Sept. 11, and that’s the day the terrorists attacked. I want you to remember Aug. 1, 2012, the attack on our religious freedom. That is a day that will live in infamy, along with those other dates.””

That and similar idiocy may not have gotten a lot of right wing airplay but it did so copiously on the left. Everyone knows ‘religious freedom is a façade concept; Kelly pretending it to be some sort of concrete reality in which all Americans are included and invested and employing alarmist rhetoric only second to invoking the Holocaust was taken as an insult.

Meaning, I suppose, that liberalism has no way to mediate satisfactorily between two irreconcilable truth claims.

Sigh. No, the whole point of liberalism is that it doesn’t seek to adjudicate irreconcilable truth claims in some final way. As a practical matter liberals try to provide some more bearable tentative adjudication when in power. In a liberal system truth claims decide when the adherents of one side die out, be that physically or metaphorically.

Your ‘point’ is that at times people absolutize their truth claims and insist on its once-and-for-all permanent adjudication here and now. Since truth is by definition enduring and ought to survive its opposite, this is an act of distrust that their truth claim is in fact sufficiently truthful. This requirement for immediate final adjudication means rejecting liberalism as frame.

For Dan Carty let’s remember the definition of a religious fanatic: someone who acts as God would act and says what God would say if only He had all the facts.

Modern sides, such as gay rights activists, know that to rather persuasive appearances time works in their favor. It may be that they are wrong ultimately but they choose to leave that decision to a fully Modern society rather than a pre-Modern one.

#27 Comment By Glaivester On August 7, 2012 @ 4:24 pm

However, it is ludicrous to pronounce that the distinction between the secular and the religious is a convenient artificiality.

Religion concerns the intentions and requirements of divine forces or beings that are by definition metaphysical, outside the sphere of human study, experiment, definition, and control. Secular matters are matters human beings can originate, define, experiment with, study, prove to some extent, and mostly, matters of direct human choice and origin.

When you are talking about things of an epistemological nature, you can argue this. When talking about ethics, not so much, as ethics are abstract and the axioms of your ethical system are not subject to experimental confirmation.

Nobody who sincerely and seriously believes in a transcendent, omnipotent, creator deity could so facilely conflate the two.

Sure we could, because we believe that mankind has a need for God, and that when man does not have the true God, he tries to fill that need with something else. In other words, that a particular secular ideology does not compare with God does not mean that a true believer in an ideology does not revere his ideals in the same way that I revere God.

Violence in the name of religion is a specific problem, because those who commit it believe, and/or claim, to be acting upon the Will of God, which absolves them of all restraint, compromise or culpability.

Replace “Will of God” with “Social Justice,” “Human Liberation,” “Equality for All,” etc., and your statement would be just as valid.

Any religion is capable of generating such violence or lending plausibility to it.

Anything that people believe in strongly is capable of generating such violence.

Secular violence has its own myths to sustain it, but they are not religious in nature.

If by “religious,” you mean “dealing with the supernatural,” then no. But if by “religious,” you mean “dealing with matters of ultimate ends, of the base level of reality, and of the purpose of history,” then sure they are. In the first case, the fact that their myths are not religious is irrelevant, because one can kill for a worldly end as much as for a divine one. In the second case, the only issue is what they see as our ultimate purpose.

#28 Comment By Sean Nelson On August 7, 2012 @ 4:28 pm

To me, the problem is ideology, period. Broadly speaking, it’s “believing that you/your group KNOWS the answer and needs to convert others to what you believe to be the truth.” This can be religious or secular; the point is that you’ve made up your mind, and now you see the world through that prism and you think everyone else should, too. Of course this can take a non-religious form.

This was what Marx was talking about with his “opiate of the masses” line. It wasn’t an attack on religion per se, Marx went on to add that the masses need an opiate, which in Marx’s system is the state. Personally, I don’t see how that’s much of an improvement, but looking at European history up to that point I can understand why he came to that conclusion.

Liberalism does indeed have an answer to this: you don’t tell me how to live my life, and I won’t tell you how to live yours. You got a sex change? Well, I don’t understand that and it may even creep me out personally, but I’m not you, and your lifestyle change doesn’t affect me in the slightest, so who am I to judge your motivations or your perspective?

Having enough respect your fellow man to let him live his life in peace, and enough humility to not think you/your group knows all the answers, seems to me the best way to limit the impulse to do violence in the name of an idea. Whether that idea has a deity attached to it or not is almost immaterial.

#29 Comment By Franklin Evans On August 7, 2012 @ 4:32 pm

[9]

I was going to excerpt my linked comment here, but realized it is just as relevant (if needing a little word or phrasing adjustment) here.

For those who would rather see at least part of it here:

I come back to the Great American Experiment, and describe it as the balance between stability and pluralism. It demotes the homogeneous culture’s definition of stability, and replaces it with written laws of decency. It eschews prevention for permission, and waits for the transgression to become an action (crime) before reacting to it.

[…]

Pluralism states (my take on it): You, individually and collectively, do not have the right to suppress thought or speech. You have the collective right to define crimes — actions only — and impose a criminal justice system that punishes crimes after they happen.

#30 Comment By Dave Dutcher On August 7, 2012 @ 4:34 pm

>The Christian Crusaders depersonalized the Muslims. The Christian Russians depersonalized the shtetl Jews. Roman propaganda literally demonized early Christians. The Hindu achuta or untouchables are born non-persons. I’m willing to put good money on the bet that every religion has at some time been subject to depersonalization by another religion (or government).

But the secularist kills like he assembles widgets, and his dehumanization is so complete because he depersonalizes humans to the point of things that need to be processed. He industrializes killing, and makes the enemy remote, like shelling people on the moon.

That’s the difference, and that’s what chilling about it. The past had barbaric infanticide-we have hygenic abortion. The industrialization of killing of all kinds is going to make for a great tragedy once the secularists find another version of communism that ensnares them. There’s something scary about the fact we are using robots to try and kill people that I don’t think religious warfare can ever replicate.

#31 Comment By Franklin Evans On August 7, 2012 @ 4:54 pm

Dave, I share your sentiments here. Maybe I’m missing your intentions, but to me it looks more like a diatribe against technological advances than an argument for the differences you are promoting.

I’m a dabbler in military history. Weapons of mass destruction existed well before the modern nuclear and chemical weapons that are our contemporary concern. The “industrialization of killing” is nothing new to my reading of history. Ballistas, the English longbow, gunpowder and more represented horrific advances in the ability to kill large numbers with less effort. None of them, to my knowledge anyway, had any connection to the ideological divide we are discussing here. Shrug.

#32 Comment By Joe the Plutocrat On August 7, 2012 @ 4:59 pm

@Dave Dutcher; “the industrialization of killing” has been around long before the advent of the drone. in fact, this is more a “don’t shoot the messenger” (the drone, B-29, gattling gun, long bow, slingshot, big rock).

#33 Comment By Sean Nelson On August 7, 2012 @ 5:09 pm

Dave Dutcher,

But the secularist kills like he assembles widgets, and his dehumanization is so complete because he depersonalizes humans to the point of things that need to be processed. He industrializes killing, and makes the enemy remote, like shelling people on the moon.

I think you’re confusing the correlation of technological change and the modern, (more) secular world with secularism as the cause of depersonalized killing. What reason do you have to to believe that if flying death robots had been available to Ferdinand and Isabella, they wouldn’t have used them on Jews, Muslims and Mayans?

#34 Comment By Church Lady On August 7, 2012 @ 5:48 pm

“Meaning, I suppose, that liberalism has no way to mediate satisfactorily between two irreconcilable truth claims.”

Actually, it does. It uses empiricism, the scientific method to mediate between these claims. Truth claims that can’t be supported empirically are not given much credence. They are tolerated, but they lose the existential imperative that evidence in support of them would give.

As for violence, my sense is that this occurs when people make absolutist truth claims which broker no compromise and cannot be moderated by evidence or reason. Such as, “My religion (or politics) is the only true way, and this is self-evident to all lovers of truth, and anyone who disagree is therefor an obvious enemy of truth.”

Even secularists can do down that road, but not very far, since they have to come up with evidence to support their claims, and then they are in trouble. Because there’s no evidence for absolutes.

#35 Comment By Church Lady On August 7, 2012 @ 5:57 pm

These arguments about drones and industrialized warfare would make more sense if our military really were a secularist culture. The truth is, it’s not. It’s very much dominated by very aggressive Christian evangelicals and fundamentalists. Let’s also recall that Bush made his decision to invade Iraq after having a long talk with God in the matter, who told him it was what he recommended. Bush was probably the most religious President we’ve had in a very long time, and his conduct of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with all their remote control bombing and killing, was completely in line with his religious crusade mentality. So let’s bury this ideal that modern warfare is some kind of secular agenda, and that if only we had honest religious folk running the show, that we’d be fighting with honorable swords and axes down there on the field of battle, getting all personal about it.

#36 Comment By Church Lady On August 7, 2012 @ 6:06 pm

As a second thought, even in defense of Dave’s point, we certainly can say that science is responsible for creating a dehumanized culture and forms of war, and that science is the secularist’s creation, or at least its highest value and model for society. So it would be a bit facile to say that this is utterly neutral territory.

I would only say, first, that science can also adhere to humanistic values, and advance a humanistic agenda, and even that most scientists are humanists. And second, that religious folks are more than happy to use technology to their advantage, including in warfare, even if it’s the product of scientific thinking, which they would otherwise deride for being atheistic.

#37 Comment By Dave Dutcher On August 7, 2012 @ 7:25 pm

What reason do you have to to believe that if flying death robots had been available to Ferdinand and Isabella, they wouldn’t have used them on Jews, Muslims and Mayans

Mostly because even in the most violent religions, the religion itself mutes the drive to a pure technocratism. Muslims debate what constitutes jihad, Christians create codes of chivalry and ban the crossbow against other Christians, and there’s at least SOMETHING that pushes back because religion is more than just killing others.

But secularists and secularism doesn’t have this. Yeah, they don’t make war in the name of religion, but they also can’t stop the war once its started, or really resist as a culture the idea of secular progress, efficiency, and problem-solving in killing. The twentieth century was a series of little more than technological atrocities being so efficient and so visible that each forced the secular world to disavow them. Only to start back up again with worse shortly after.

It’s not just technological advance, but that we have no real greater value to prevent this, and the secular values that arise are too weak or too one sided to prevent this. We see this with everything, not just war-porn for example on the net has escalated the same way.

#38 Comment By Sean Nelson On August 7, 2012 @ 7:47 pm

Mostly because even in the most violent religions, the religion itself mutes the drive to a pure technocratism. Muslims debate what constitutes jihad, Christians create codes of chivalry and ban the crossbow against other Christians, and there’s at least SOMETHING that pushes back because religion is more than just killing others.

Where is the dividing line regarding “pure technocratism” between remote-controlled precision(ish) weaponry and exploding cannon shells? At least in the modern age, we can tell who we’re killing–the cannonballs that leveled “pagan” temples in the New World were far less discriminate. I think you’re seeing something that simply isn’t there.

And seriously, in what way is secularism different from religion when it comes to being “more than just killing others”? Actually, I’d say it’s a lot less, given the historical examples we have to draw from.

As for secularism having no way to stop the war once it’s started, please explain the existence of the UN, the Geneva Conventions and international observers in every major conflict since the end of WWII. Heck, there hasn’t BEEN a major conflict in Europe since the UN’s founding, and it was founded specifically to avoid more major conflicts like WWII. The wars we’ve had since then have had some sort of humanitarian element to them, and atrocities are now condemned by, almost literally, everyone. If you don’t see the connection between “secularism” (more precisely, humanism), then I don’t know what to tell you. The “greater value to prevent this” has actually been preventing/minimizing it for decades. By no means perfectly, but leagues better than when the Vatican was waging war.

#39 Comment By Joanna On August 7, 2012 @ 9:29 pm

@ Dave Dutcher,

So religious killing is superior because the fundies put some prayerful thought into how the apostates should be killed? As all recall the ” Foxes’ Book of Matyrs” suggests that it makes for a very creative death.

Did you read that out aloud before you hit post?

#40 Comment By Church Lady On August 7, 2012 @ 9:29 pm

“But secularists and secularism doesn’t have this. Yeah, they don’t make war in the name of religion, but they also can’t stop the war once its started, or really resist as a culture the idea of secular progress, efficiency, and problem-solving in killing.”

But of course secularists have ways of tempering the use of destructive technology! Have you never heard of the UN, of arms control, of humanistic peace initiative, of diplomacy, of bans on the use of land mines, of strategic arms reduction treaties?

Drones themselves are a technological solution to the problem of mass bombings. It’s making the act of war less destructive, not more so. Secularism is very much about reducing violence. In fact, as secularism has risen in recent decades, wars have become less common, and less destructive, even as populations have risen. In fact, if there’s ever going to be an end to war, it’s going to through secularism, not religion.

#41 Comment By J the second On August 7, 2012 @ 9:46 pm

Mostly because even in the most violent religions, the religion itself mutes the drive to a pure technocratism. Muslims debate what constitutes jihad, Christians create codes of chivalry and ban the crossbow against other Christians, and there’s at least SOMETHING that pushes back because religion is more than just killing others.

Helmut Schmidt, the former Chancellor of West Germany, has abandoned religion precisely because he didn’t see this in the aftermath of WW1 or in WW2 on any side.

#42 Comment By Dave Dutcher On August 7, 2012 @ 9:51 pm

Sean, what has the UN done to stop anything? Hell, the League of Nations bad judgment set the tone for WW2, and The UN Peacekeepers have been infamous for ineffectiveness. The geneva conventions were defeated with the onset of guerrilla warfare starting in vietnam, and have been ineffectual ever since because they were designed for the old style of warfare between recognized armies. Let alone how they weren’t even followed that well in the pacific theater of WW2. For all the humanitarian aspects of war it sure hasn’t worked to even create democratic governments or even mitigate harm in the many police actions that existed, and those actions are lasting decades now.

Humanism didn’t do crap to stop the rise of Communism nor the modern dictator state, and the only thing that really have been the instabilities in the secular value systems that have hastened those systems downfalls. We’re even worse off in a way since then because rather than a detente with the Soviet Union, we’re all here hoping N. Korea or China doesn’t decide to call the USA’s bluff and actually do something like invade Taiwan or South Korea. Or some small actor gets a hold of nuclear weapons.

That’s all I have to say except that man, we better keep praying no one gets any ideas to test how fragile it really is.

Church, it is actually a secularist culture. The best way for secularism to be dominant is by taking a weakened strain of religion and propagating it like a vaccine. You’re mistaking the vaccine for the faith.

#43 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On August 7, 2012 @ 10:46 pm

Glaivester, I had always inferred that you believe in God, more likely than not are some sort of a Christian, but your last remarks lead me to wonder about that.

Just because powerful pundits and glib culture vultures have turned “religion” into a word with negative connotations among The Right Set of People, are you really prepared to stretch the definition of the word “religion,” with almost infinite elasticity, so that it means “dealing with matters of ultimate ends, of the base level of reality, and of the purpose of history”??? Are you sure it has nothing to do with God, or immortal gods? It is not about dealing with “the supernatural”?

Your logic is remarkably similar to the demand for same-sex marriage, which proffers that marriage is not about a unique human connection between male and female, the sexes into which the entire human species is divided (as is any species more complex than a sponge or a hydra), but rather is… well, they haven’t bothered to offer a definition, but their rhetoric amounts to “marriage is a binding contract revocable at will for an open ended period of time for two people who want to live together and indulge in mutual stimulation of some sort.”

Are you prepared to indulge in the same semantical acrobatics merely to smear your opponent with the same negativity they have infused into your most cherished beliefs?

When you have chased the devil through the entire dictionary and battered down every meaningful definition in order to pursue him, and the devil turns on you with words that are plausible and irrefutable in the absence of any meaning, where will you turn for meaning and purpose?

There are pragmatic ethics, such as ‘I want to be able to walk down the street without violence, therefore I agree not to commit violence against others walking down the street.’ Those have a rational, empirical basis that can be measured and weighed. This is the basis of much civic law. The most enduring of God’s commands can be evaluated for their proven track record of making life better on the whole, and in the long run, from the instructions to build a latrine in Deuteronomy, right up to ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The least enduring are the rituals that have no measurable or discernible purpose, perhaps, as the late Rabbi Kahane hypothesized, simply commanded because people need discipline, and ‘do not eat crab, lobster, or shrimp’ provided some.

#44 Comment By Sean Nelson On August 8, 2012 @ 1:43 am

Dave Dutcher,

What has the UN done? Intervened in dozens of failed states, either preventing or limiting war. Saved millions of lives through hunger, drought and disease prevention. Served as a neutral meeting ground to shorten wars, and make them less deadly. (would there be more or fewer mines implanted around the world if not for international treaties?)

I’m not saying the UN has been completely effective, but it hasn’t been anything close to a total failure, either.

As for the Geneva Conventions, you’re in one of my areas of expertise now. Prior to Geneva, there were no real rules to war, and it was standard procedure to do to prisoners what Torquemada did to heretics, in the name of God. After Geneva, people can be, and have been, convicted and sentenced for doing far, far less evil. The very fact of an international court to adjudicate this is a result of humanism. Back when our ONLY guides were religion, we as a species never managed even that.

I get that nuclear war is another thing altogether. But it has been humanistic values that have made the use of such weapons far less imaginable. Was it religion that spared us from nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis? No, it was Diplomacy.

Humanism ABSOLUTELY HAS done much to prevent the rise of dictators, as well as softening their iron fists. It was humanistic values that sent young idealists from all over the world to fight against fascists in Spain. Why are blacks able to vote in America? Humanism. Why is there almost no slave trade left in the world? Humanism. (When did the slave trade flourish? Pre-humanism.)

Come on man, you can’t possibly look at the bloody, grossly inhumane world that the church presided over for more than a millennium and say, “THAT is when we had real barriers to violence.” Ever heard of the Hundred Years War? Egad.

I don’t think you understand humanism very well. I don’t know what you think it is, but you can’t possibly be talking about the same thing the rest of us are.

#45 Comment By Church Lady On August 8, 2012 @ 4:38 am

“Humanism didn’t do crap to stop the rise of Communism nor the modern dictator state, and the only thing that really have been the instabilities in the secular value systems that have hastened those systems downfalls.”

Sure it did. Secular humanism provided a workable, more attractive alternative to the fascist and totalitarian states, and it backed that up with muscle to fight them. It of course made some big mistakes along the way, but many of those were due to the “religious fervor” of some of its adherents. The less religious even secular humanism has become, the less dangerous has been its actions.

You can’t expect secular humanism to instantly cure all the world’s ills. Especially when it is not terribly strong in the very countries you cite, the ones ruled by dictators and despots. Wherever secular humanism has become dominant, it’s produced a less violent culture. And over time, its values tend to spread and be adopted even in countries that have no such tradition.

A country like Germany is a perfect example. For centuries it was a disparate collection of principalities under the “Holy Roman Empire”, and quite a mess. Then it was a Monarchy, which ended in disaster. During this time, it slowly developed a secular humanistic tradition, but not a powerful one. After WWI, this secular humanist tradition tried to gain the forefront, but it wasn’t strong enough, and the Nazis, full of their own brand of religious ferver, seized power. After the war, however, the secular humanists finally gained the upper hand, and then as part of NATO, defeated the eastern bloc with mostly peaceful methods of deterrence, finally uniting the country peacefully under a secular humanist banner that has now made it the strongest country in Europe. The same pattern has held true in Japan, and many other countries once mired in endless war and conflict. Secular humanism does work. It just takes time.

#46 Comment By Dave Dutcher On August 8, 2012 @ 11:46 am

What has the UN done? Intervened in dozens of failed states, either preventing or limiting war. Saved millions of lives through hunger, drought and disease prevention. Served as a neutral meeting ground to shorten wars, and make them less deadly. (would there be more or fewer mines implanted around the world if not for international treaties?)

Yeah, they did such a great job in Somalia, Iraq, Bosnia, Rwanda…you use abstractions because they really haven’t done much except make a universal bureaucracy that thinks condemning Israel and trying to get control of the internet so China and Russia can use their power to influence its evolution.

The very fact of an international court to adjudicate this is a result of humanism. Back when our ONLY guides were religion, we as a species never managed even that.

The international court has done little to nothing to stop the proliferation of weapons or violence. No one is going to invest the UN with that level of sovreignity for it to even be a deterrent, and again, a lot of the stuff is mostly due to asymmetric warfare where the big nations don’t NEED to mine ports or stuff because of the small size of the actors and how the battles are fought on their soil, not ours.


Humanism ABSOLUTELY HAS done much to prevent the rise of dictators, as well as softening their iron fists. It was humanistic values that sent young idealists from all over the world to fight against fascists in Spain. Why are blacks able to vote in America? Humanism. Why is there almost no slave trade left in the world? Humanism. (When did the slave trade flourish? Pre-humanism.)

Those young fascists were used by the communists in a proxy war and left to die when it became apparent they wouldn’t win. Why do you think Orwell became so disillusioned with them? Abolitionism had far more of a Christian component than a humanistic one, otherwise it wouldn’t have taken among the populace.

And even then, we still see dictators. Humanism does nothing, it’s usually just when the dictators die and no one is there when they replace them change happens. Look at Cuba-the UN has done NOTHING there and they’ve been under dictatorship since communism with no signs of changing.

Come on man, you can’t possibly look at the bloody, grossly inhumane world that the church presided over for more than a millennium and say, “THAT is when we had real barriers to violence.” Ever heard of the Hundred Years War? Egad.

Look at our world now!

We’ve lived under a past century of war, and it still goes on. Humanism is what secular people desperately try to believe in to hope that things will change, but it doesn’t-each war breaks the idea that it has power and reinforces that tribalism is the dominant factor of life in a secular world.

Eventually the accident of places like America and Europe being conflict free will cease, and we will have our secular big war. When the big tribes go to war, sadly then we’ll see how little humanism matters. It wasn’t humanism that made Japan pacifist, it was being the only nation under the atom bomb. Remember this.

#47 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On August 8, 2012 @ 3:02 pm

As I recall, “humanism” began within the Roman Catholic Church. It was something that Cardinal Wolsey and Thomas More held in common, although it was capable of producing markedly different attitudes in each. The permanent peace between England, France, and perhaps other European powers didn’t last very long either.

It is not surprising that non-Catholics might also embrace humanism, nor is is odd that it should generate many different practical manifestations.

I’m not sure what “secular humanism” is, or how its results might be measured and weighed, since it is such a nebulous concept. Not only does it have no magesterium or central committee, it doesn’t even have a periodic general conference.

That might explain why the last few posts boil down to a lot of broad expressions of passionate opinion, sound and fury signifying very little.