No-God is on Our Side
My previous post ended with an unanswered question: can this battle against the enemy within be fought without a religious regeneration in our own culture?
It is difficult to discuss religion under Secular Orthodoxy, since it discourages the idea of God. Observant Christians and Jews are relegated to the same essential status as theosophists — that is, they are people who have forsaken science for superstition. What is obscured by this false dichotomy is the fact that the secular worldview derives its belief system from the heritage of Christian Europe (and thus also the Jews). One may remove the theological philosophy behind it, but Western concepts of right and wrong, of the universe and man’s place in it, have not yet diverged significantly from what they were in a time when almost everyone believed in God.
The fact remains that we are in the midst of religious war, whether we want to be or not, or whether we even know it. Our enemies have decided that this is a war of faith, so it is a religious war that we must fight. If nothing else, the atheist fights to preserve his right to believe in No-God.
This may make a secular person uneasy — after all, bible-thumping Baptists and Islamist zealots are two sides of the same coin, are they not? Yet there is a difference: fervent Christians have accepted their coexistence with other faiths in America for over two centuries. Can anyone believe that Muslims would reciprocate if the Jihad were to realize its fondest dream?
After all, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Mormons, atheists, and even Wiccans can make common cause in this fight, since Islam does not distinguish one of them from another, and would exterminate all of them if they do not bend the knee to Allah. This unfortunate fact is what distinguishes Islam (at least in its most virulent strain) from the rest of the religions. One can point to the historic intolerance and brutality of Christianity, but that was 500 years ago. Islam, for whatever reasons, has remained trapped in a medieval mindset.
The ultimate question, which cannot yet be answered, is whether a devoutly secular society can muster the spiritual resources to fight a religious war. Secular culture is, after all, spiritually enervated, and our tolerant society has allowed a popular culture to emerge which is unprecedented (at least since the late Roman Empire) in its decadence, degradation, and materialism. When Osama bin Laden points his finger at this cesspool, he touches a responsive chord in those of us who are opposed to him and yet recognize that something is indeed wrong.
The Islamists propose a spiritual solution to a spiritual problem. Their religion is full of righteous zeal, and yet it will release unparallelled evil into the world if allowed to spread.
Once again, the question remains: Do we have adequate weaponry in our spiritual armory to fight this enemy?
The ultimate question, which cannot yet be answered, is whether a devoutly secular society can muster the spiritual resources to fight a religious war.
Well, David Hume thought he’d answered it:
“Opposing one species of superstition to another, set them a-quarreling; while we ourselves, during their fury and contention, happily make our escape in the calm, though obscure, regions of philosophy.”And here we are, some centuries past 1750 (or so), when he put forth this idea that religion of any sort was superstition and that the secularists needn’t take sides — they had merely to wait for the religionists to kill one another off. As if there were a way to live detached from the reality into which you are thrust.
Shows what he knew.
OTOH, if (a big IF) we have a “religious generation” here, it probably won’t look particularly ‘religious’. If you take Tillich’s idea of one’s Ultimate Concern as being a spiritual core of self, then it’s obvious that we haven’t come very far at all. Not only does the center not hold, there doesn’t appear to be any center at all.
The current deviant culture is an in-your-face experience. So much so that when things begin to get better, I’m not sure we’ll be able to see it. Nonetheless, as part of my faith I hold that things will get better–i.e., “all manner of things will be well.” However, there just might not be a center anymore. Think of it as nodal points linked to one another in an experiential knowledge system. Then not only will we not need a ‘center’ anymore, such an entity would get in the way.
Kinda makes me wish I were gonna be here. I take comfort in the fact that I have at least participated in the small beginnings of change.
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A good series of posts.
The objection could be raised that many ”religious” wars are in fact economic, ethnic, or political with only a happenstance that the two sides have different religions. Multiple examples could be made from European history.
It can be established that there is a back and forth between European and Middle Eastern lands can be traced back to at least the plains of Marathon. Why would this latest iteration have to be religious?
Whatever the value of that hypothesis regarding European conflicts, the question seems to me to be less relevant here.
I’m interested how you would answer the suggestion that this is nat a religious war as opposed to a coincidence that the two sides have different religions?
There are many examples of wars that are not economic in motivation (though of course many are). Notable examples that come to mind are the Crusades — they were not only not economically motivated, they were economically devastating — and Hitler’s war. The first example was definitely religious, the second ideological. Socialism/fascism was the new millenarian religion of the 20th century, and the Nazis committed collective suicide on its altar. They had built a powerful and prosperous economic machine in the Reich, and destroyed it for the sake of a phantasm.
The thing about economics is that it can’t be ignored. Wars can start for other reasons, but economics constrains them, hastens their end, and often affects their outcome.
After all, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Mormons, atheists, and even Wiccans can make common cause in this fight, since Islam does not distinguish one of them from another, and would exterminate all of them if they do not bend the knee to Allah.this is not true. christians & jews are definitely in a different category from the rest.
razib: I believe that you are right — they are “people of the book” who have failed to see the one truth of Islam, as opposed to the true heathens. However, the Hindus experienced the same merciless sword as did the rest. All are infidels, and all are to be converted, exterminated, or forced to pay the jizyah and live in dhimmitude, surrendering almost all rights.
yes, you are correct. but please note that in practice compromises and accomodations are made. for example, mandaeans and zoroastrians are tolerated in a fashion similar to jews & christians because there is a reference on the korean to “sabaeans” as a people of the book. it seems implausible that even the muslims who supported this interpretation actually believed that zoroastrians & mandaeans were actually sabaeans.
similarly, though there was a fair amount of oppression of hindus, note that the muslim rulers did not convert the local populations wholesale, even though they are by any stretch of the imagination idolaters. some muslim theorists also made exceptions for hindus as “people of the book” (i have no idea how they rationalized it, but i don’t understand how religious people rationalize their beliefs in general).
in general, the traditions of shariat which have emphasized the most extreme anti-infidel beliefs have been associated with regions where there hardly any infidels. in contrast, the relatively tolerant strands tend to show up in regions where there are many non-muslims, and even, as in south asia, those who are not “people of the book.”
not that i disagree that “islam has bloody borders,” but i think we should be cautious of portraying it as a singular unitary module.
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Razib — Two points. First, you’re right about Islam treating infidels more brutally where there were fewer of them. It’s possible to view this as a strategic decision — attempts to suppress a large minority are more difficult and more likely to backfire than when the infidel group is small.
Secondly, “Islam has bloody borders”, but the borders are everywhere now. Thanks to modern methods of transportation (and the lax immigration stance of the kaffir nations), majority-Muslim districts have grown up in cities all over the West. Theo Van Gogh discovered the consequences of this process, to his detriment. Thanks to modern methods of communication, these non-contiguous Muslim enclaves can co-ordinate and collectively behave in a manner similar to a political unit in earlier times.
Having said that, I must stress that the violently intolerant are in the minority among Muslims. But they have an influence that exceeds their mere numbers; either the rest of the ummah has been cowed into silence, or there is a tacit agreement with the radicals among a large section of the populace. In any case, there is no mass revulsion among Muslims against the murderous zealots in their midst.
The bald facts are that, in the 21st century, virtually no Christians or Jews are murdering members of other religions simply for not being Christian or Jewish. No organized groups among them operate to perform such atrocities. It is a peculiarly Muslim phenomenon, and an open question whether Islam can undergo a change from within and transform itself into a “modern” religion.
I agree that much secular culture is spiritually enervated; but this does not meant that it is not possible to have deep understanding of spirituality and religion and to live in the moment in ways that will have a secularizing rather than religious effect, if we understand secularization to be a de-ritualization, or unveiling, process. The Judeo-Christian religion has been fighting itself since the beginning, and it is possible (indeed I think correct) to argue that our secular, free-market, world could only have come about as an outgrowth of Christianity, or some such. It is possible to argue that, in our secularism, with its emphasis of mutual reciprocity and equality, we are in fact more Christian than people when the medieval church ruled society, whatever the ugliness that is some people’s idea of freedom.
None of this is to suggest that we don’t have problems of cultural decadence to address, especially as we discipline ourselves for a no doubt lengthy war against terrorism. But in teaching ourselves to be more disciplined and productive in participating in, and defending, a globalizing free market, will the outcome be more “religious” or “secular”? I offer for your consideration a quote I picked up yesterday from Gil Bailie’s website:
“[W]e must face the fact that what we have come to call ‘modernity’ was born not in the East, or in Africa, or in Latin America, but in the Christian West, and to a large extent its problems are Christian problems, which only a deeper understanding of the Christian tradition may help us to unravel and understand.” – Stratford Caldecott
truepeers — I find myself in exact agreement with Stratford Caldecott.
The spiritual enervation I’m talking about won’t be solved by Christianity or Judaism or any single existing religion. It will have to be secular, or maybe involve some kind of new religion that we can’t yet imagine.
But something will eventually have to give. What passes for “spirituality” these days is often a form of narcissism — it’s all about Me gaining enlightenment, Me realizing My full potential, Me discovering my true Self, etc., etc. It’s like drinking salt water; we will eventually have to find something that will truly slake our thirst.
The science that Christian civilization spawned has been its undoing, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t another Awakening out there for us. We could really use one…
You are missing the obvious. When I was younger my parents took me to Greek Orthodox Church on Sundays against my will. I cannot remember when exactly, but I disliked going to Church from the onset and eventually turned to atheism years later. This means that I rejected Christianity, like all other atheists from a Christian background. But this does not mean I rejected Islam and this is the crux of the issue you are talking about. To the uninitiated ex-Christian atheist, Islam is just like any other religion including the Christianity they left, which is an ignorance that is a huge advantage to Islam. Even alleged ex-Islamic people now atheist like Razib posting here who is despite his proclaimed atheism a defender of the Islamic faith and his comments prove this.
Contrary to his objecting that Islam does not have bloody borders:
… “Samuel Huntington observes in “The Clash of Civilizations, “Wherever one looks along the perimeter of Islam, Muslims have problems living peacefully with their neighbors… Muslims make up one-fifth of the world’s population but in the 1990s they have been far more involved in intergroup violence than people of any other civilization.” Hunington goes on to show that more than half of the “ethnopolitical” conflicts of the world involved Muslims and there were “three times as many intercvilizational conflicts involving Muslims as tehre were conflicts between all non-Muslim civilizations. The conflicts within Islam also were more numerous than those in any other civilization.. Conflicts involving Muslims also tended to be heavy in casualities… Three different compilations of data… yield the same conclusion: in the early 1990s Muslims were engaged in more intergroup violence than were non-Muslims, and two-thirds to three-quarters of intercivilization wars were between Muslims and non-Muslims. Islam’s borders are bloody, and so are its innards.”” 
Spencer, Robert. “Onward Muslim Soldiers: How Jihad Still Threatens America and the West”, (Regency Publishing: Washington, D.C; 2003) 183.
Samuel P. Hunington, “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order”, (New York: Touchstone, 1997), 256-8.
You do not need Hunington or Robert Spencer to realize this, just turn on the news, the Islamic world is always in conflicts with itself and its neighbors. Unlike in the 1800s when a massacre happened inside the house of Islamic there would be reports of “Mussulman fanaticsm” or “Mohammedian hatred” or similar verbiage in the press, the modern penchant for massacre in the Islamic world is not properly analyzed in the world press in its theological context.
Unlike most atheist ex-Christians, I have rejected Islam more than Christianity, I do not use moral equivalence to make all religions seem the same, as a result of the books I have read which have changed my former tendency to make similar all religions. I have no problem living around Christians but in a muslim country, I would quickly end up like the former Greeks of Istanbul, an artifact reduced to history.
The question is not “Do we have adequate weaponry in our spiritual armory to fight this enemy?” as Bodissey says, but when will a secular world that has rejected much of Christianity realize that Islam is a thousand times worse than the Christianity they left.
Nikephoros_Phokas: What am I missing that is “obvious”?
The battle which has been joined with radical Islam is a spiritual one because it is spiritual from the point of view of the enemy. Our capacity to fight and win depends on our will to win, which of necessity includes a spiritual element.
I am not asserting that this requires that everybody on our side be a Christian or even a religious believer. It is possible that atheists may find within themselves the spiritual resources to fight, even without recourse to any dialogue with God.
But I don’t think it’s possible that Secular Orthodoxy will find the spiritual wherewithal to fight this battle; its premises preclude the possibility of winning the war.
That said, I’m not ruling out the possibility of some more robust, self-confident Atheistic Faith.
You completely did not understand. Every person atheist raised in a Christian background has rejected Christianity, but not Islam. This is the problem modern American atheists hate Christianity but not Islam. The problem has nothing to with “spiritual wherewithal”.
I watched this movie “America, America” by Elia Kazan, which dealt with Greeks under Ottoman rule. The lead Greek character in the movie had awful things happen to him, a Turk freeloaded off him and slowly robbed him of all his family’s possesions, while the Greek for the longest time did nothing. The reason why it took so long for the Greek to do something was never explained in the movie, but to people with historical knowledge, they will know that non-muslims do not make testimony in sharia courts. This movie is old black and white and not available in DVD, the book is probably an easier find.
After this movie I got into an argument with my atheist brother over Islam. He said that I was generalizing about muslims and that Christianity was bad too. He proceeded to use google to search for Bible Slavery and uncritically cited some quote from the web about the book of Leviticus condoning slavery. So I look up Leviticus in the print Bible I have, “Good News Bible” and it says in its Introduction: “Leviticus contains the regulations for worship and religious ceremonies in ancient Israel”. Quite a difference from the Koran where everything is literally the word of God. Even when I pointed to him what the Introduction said he persisted in moral equivalence since he does not have the background to understand the chasm between the two faiths. I do not know if you had have read “the Rage and the Pride” by Orianna Fallaci who is an atheist, thinks Islam is a huge threat, but her atheism is not a visceral hatred and rejection of Christianity, she still admires Italy’s Cathedrals. Compare an ex-Christian like my brother to Razib who must think we are living in Tora Bora if he thinks he pass off Islam as not bloody, that it would be generalizing to say such. Few proclaimed ex-Muslims are like Ibn Warraq or the guy running the site Faith-Freedom(these two are alerting the whole world to the danger that Islam poses to the world), most are quite the defenders of the faith, so much so I do not consider them atheist at all.
Nikephoros_Phokas — “You completely did not understand. Every person atheist raised in a Christian background has rejected Christianity, but not Islam.”
I think that I understand you, but I do not completely agree. Oriana Fallaci is not the only atheist (I’m assuming she’s from a Christian background) who has rejected Islam. I have encountered a number of others in the blogosphere, including Glenn Reynolds and one of the posters at Wizbang (can’t remember which).
But you are right in this sense: the vast majority of Orthodox Secularists reject the Christian (and Jewish) God, but go easy on Allah and Islam. When President Bush mentions Christ, he’s seen as imposing “theocracy”, whereas Osama bin Laden is simply “expressing a different cultural context” or something similar. And besides, it’s all America’s fault anyway.
As for Christians under Turkish rule, don’t forget the Armenian genocide in 1915.
Baron, everyone has religion. They just may not call it that. There is a whole body of work on the ‘biology of belief’ in cognitive neuroscience. Interestingly, belief need not be logical at all. Can you not see that a belief system would have evolutionary advantage in the EEA (Environment of Evolutionary Advantage)?
Even my beloved friend razib, the triumphal aetheist, has a religion– it is called Science. 😉
Jinnji — I agree with you exactly. I will be posting more on this in due course…
The problem with the secular
humanist, or as Baron so aptly puts
it the Orthodox Secularist, is not
only philosophical, which can
in some ways be mitigated, it is demographic…which is not so
Europe is currently showing us what
the Orthodox Secular can do: with
birth rates well under 2.1 babies
per woman, they are committing
cultural suicide. The same pattern
is readily visible in the United
States, in such quasi-European
locations as Massachusetts.
In the aggregate, the Orthodox
Secular tend to have at most
two children, with one or none
being quite typical; Italy currently
is at 1.29 if my aging memory
serves, other parts of Western
Europe and even some of the former
Warsaw Pact countries have similar
birth rates. The news that all
of Europe is below replacement,
or Zero Population Growth (ZPG)
is worrisome enough, but bear in
mind these numbers are means, and
are not uniformly distributed across
Why does that matter? Consider for example, that the most common name
for a boy newborn in Amsterdam is “Mohammed”, that tells us that the
native Amsterdam Dutch (and the
Rotterdam Dutch, and the other
Dutch) are having even fewer
children than the national mean indicates. Which tells us that
the demographic trend in
Orthodox Secular Europe is even
worse than many suspect.
Those in my acquaintance who are
actively religious, in a socially
and often theologically conservative
church or synagouge, tend to have
at least one child, and often two
or more children. Some have families
with 4 or more children. They will
have some influence into the future
in many ways greater than the
Orthodox Secular. Consider a family
in the 1950’s that had 5 children,
and each of those children had at
least 4 children, each of which
has 3 to 5 children. If even only
75% of them remain in the culture
of the original family, the
influence that is possible is clear.
I see this pattern clearly in
certain Protestant groups and some
Orthodox or Conservative Jewish
groups. Roman Catholics seem less
prone to this than in my youth,
and many of the younger RC’s turn
either to the Orthodox Secular
culture, adopting the birth rates
thereof, or to various Protestant
To return to the significance of
We can know what the electorate of
France or Nederlands or the “Red”
States of America will approximately
look like in 18 years by carefully
examining the present. It appears
that “European” votes will decline,
and “Red” State votes will increase.
Also Islam “votes” will increase
in Europe, and likely in the
United States as well, although
from a tiny base.
Orthodox Secular votes will
decrease, because the O.S. do not
care enough about the future to
place children into it. They
thus “vote” for no role in the
future at all, in the aggregate.
This is not to say that some,
perhaps even many, of the
Orthodox Secular are not willing
to oppose the Jihad. It is to
point out the painfully obvious:
peoples that don’t have children
give way to peoples that do.
It should go without saying that
one cannot win a conflict if one
refuses to participate. Raising
children to adulthood is one clear
way to participate in the future.
Orthodox Secular Europe is showing
us, at least so far, that they
cannot resist the Jihad for very
long. The spirit of resistence
recently seen in Nederlands is
commendable, but I fear it may
be short lived. To oppose the
Jihad is time and energy consuming,
and the Orthodox Secular in
Europe do not show a lot of stomache
for such things.
Indeed, some of them choose
to embrace it via dhimmitude. I
need to obtain that book entitled
“Eurabia” by the very bright young
woman Bat Y’eor. Perhaps we all
should read it with care?
Graf — the demographic issue is a very significant one, especially in Europe. I wrote about this extensively in Demographic Jihad in Europe and Demography in America. The problem in America is not as severe, partially because of the less secular nature of the “red states” (as you mention), and partially because of the influx of Spanish-speaking people, who have a higher birthrate (and are also Christians).
One caveat — the frequency of the name “Mohammed” is, by itself, not an indicator of demographics, since it is overwhelmingly preferred as a name by Muslims, much the same way that “Jesus” is popular in Mexico. To do the comparison, one would have to count all the instances of Mohammed, Abdul, Ibrahim, Osama, etc., and compare them with Jan, Pieter, Dietrich, Henrik, and so on.
Thanks to the Baron for pointing to other articles with demographic issues. This web log is the only one I have found where open discussion of such things is not accompanied by tirades of various kinds, it is good.
I do not know what the distribution of the name Jesus is in Mexico, but it is correct to point out how dominant Mohammed is among the Moslems. Still, it is an indicator when it is so common among newborns.
The demographic shift towards ZPG and below is not unique to industrialized countries from Europe to Japan to Korea to America, it is a world-wide process. Mexico soon will be at ZPG, if it is not already. This will not materially affect emigration from that country, however, as Mexico remains an oligarchy in which 20 to 40 families , depending on how one counts, control a significant percentage of the wealth and power of the country.
Indeed, parts of Southern Mexico still resemble colonial Spain in the way a handful of ‘haciendados’ rule the land. So Americans can expect an ongoing supply of marginally literate – to – illiterate immigrants. It is interesting that many Spanish-language Protestant sects are having success with Mexican immigrants. That may be troubling to the oligarchs of Mexico, as such sects historically have been less accepting of ‘pyramid’ power structures, either of church or state. If the Americans were to send large numbers of illegal Mexican immigrants who had learned to read and write, and become evangelical Protestants, back to Mexico the political landscape of that country might change in unexpected ways.
“and would exterminate all of them if they do not bend the knee to Allah. This unfortunate fact is what distinguishes Islam (at least in its most virulent strain) from the rest of the religions.”
You’re missing an important point. That “virulant Islam” is just as jihadic in its approach to other Islamic sects as anyone else…
And to answer your question… No, we atheists don’t need a god or religion to defend ourselves… In fact some of us would posit we are more effective since we do not arbitrarily establish a “value” for human life…
Put another way, I respect their right to life only conditionally and to the extent they respect it themselves – and to the extent they reciprocate.
Those who respect their own safety so little as to put it in front of my gunsights with malign intent… I’m happy to kill them…