Saturday, October 22, 2016

A skewed perspective

There is a widespread myth about religion and war. The biggest sources of war throughout the  20th Century were the nationalist ideologies of Germany and Japan, and the completely atheistic ideology of the Soviet bloc. Mao, Stalin, and Pol Pot have more blood on their hands than a thousand Torquemadas.

If you think God isn't the answer, then  there is nothing stopping you from concluding that something else is the answer, and that answer (whatever it is) is something you DO want to kill or die for. If you think God IS the answer, then you may conclude, as many have, that force is a lousy way to promote that answer, because religious commitment by definition needs to be voluntary, and cannot be forced. But you can also become a Grand Inquisitor or a terrorist. If you are a secularist, you can believe that goals of humanity must be achieved by violent revolution, or you can trust democratic social institutions to achieve those goals peacefully.

The rise of Islamic terror has skewed our historical perspective quite a bit, as I see it.


Unknown said...

VR: "There is a widespread myth about religion and war."

Can you state that myth, and cite its proponents?

B. Prokop said...

I think the "myth" (although I object to the use of that word in this context) Victor is referring to is that religion is either a or the chief cause of war throughout history. This is similar to the Marxist view that says all wars are essentially economic in nature.

In my humble opinion, the subject is way too complex for simplistic explanations, or for "one size fits all" answers. Were the Viking raids "religious"? I doubt it. Were they "economic"? Well, if you count plunder and pillage as a form of economy, then I guess so.

Sometimes what we unthinkingly label a religious conflict is indeed an economic one. Prime example - the Troubles in Northern Ireland. But since both religion and economy have their roots in the deepest recesses of human nature, perhaps the two cannot be readily separated. Was the 30 Years War a religious war? You'd be a fool to deny it. Were the 100 Years Wars economic? Absolutely!

Which brings us to "Radical Islamic Terrorism". I'm hard pressed to find an economic motivation for it. It's much easier to point to nationalistic and tribalistic foundations to the conflict. If it's a religious war at all, it seems to be primarily between different interpretations of Islam, with the West as basically innocent bystanders. I regard the present conflict as fundamentally a quarrel amonstst Muslims as to how they should govern themselves. We (the West) are targets because the world is no longer divided neatly into separate realms. We're all mixed up together nowadays. If this intra-Islamic quarrel had broken out in the 1600s instead of today, Europe could sit back and watch the Islamic world tear itself apart while staying aloof on the sidelines. Unfortunately, can't be done in the 21st Century.

jdhuey said...

I agree with B.Prokop, the situation is indeed "way too complex for simplistic explanations". In addition to Religion and Economics, there is also the intertwining of political order and power to consider. It would require a small book to adequately relate all the factors that were behind just the Troubles. The situation is even more complex wrt the Marxist revolutions.

"Which brings us to "Radical Islamic Terrorism". I'm hard pressed to find an economic motivation for it."

One word: oil.

B. Prokop said...

"One word: oil."

That is a very Western-oriented explanation. Oil may explain why we are interested in these intra-Islamic conflicts, but it does not shed any light on why the conflicts have arisen in the first placee. After all, oil has little direct relevance to Yemen, Somalia, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, or Afghanistan - all of which have none of it to speak of.