Friday, 30 December 2016

What Does Terrorism Tell Us About Religion?

YouGov | What the world thinks.

One man's terrorist is another man's freedom-fighter, martyr, liberator or defender. It's just a matter of perspective; of the perception of right and wrong.

This was illustrated by the results of the above YouGov poll published recently. The question asked of the 4812 respondents, weighted to make them representative of the GB population, was, "Do you think terrorist acts that are carried out by Muslims do or do not tell us anything about the nature of Islam?"


The result by political view was (terrorist acts carried out by Muslims):

%TotalLab1Con2LD3SNP4UKIP5
Do tell us something significant about Islam332740272362
Do not tell us anything significant about Islam505647606025
Don't know171713131713

The significant thing here is that the more 'liberal' the person's views, the more likely they are to attribute Islamic terrorism to something other than Islam itself. On the right of the political spectrum, UKIP supporters are twice as likely as the 'average' to to blame Islam itself. It is extremely unlikely that the right-wing view is due to deeper knowledge and understanding of Islam or that it is due to a disproportionate number of Muslims in the UK ranks, where they are probably as rare as hen's teeth.

The generally more tolerant, more liberally-minded left tend to believe that social causes such as alienation are the underlying causes with Islam providing the focus, just as revolutionary socialism provided the focus and excuse for malcontented youth in the 1960s and 1970s. The real challenge is to the establishment and Islam represents an alternative to that establishment.

By contrast, the responses to the question, "Do you think terrorist acts that are carried out by Catholics or Protestants do or do not tell us anything about the nature of Christianity?" were:

%TotalLab1Con2LD3SNP4UKIP5
Do tell us something significant about Christianity201721182036
Do not tell us anything significant about Christianity606364686645
Don't know202015141419

Here we see a much more tolerant attitude towards Christian terrorism across the political spectrum with all groups being more likely to blame something other than Christianity itself for terrorists acts carried out by Christians. On the extreme right, 45% of UKIP supporters, with their simplistic 'English good - foreign bad' reasoning, believe Christian terrorism tells us nothing about Christianity while only 36% believe it tells us something.

Filtered through the cultural presumption that Christianity is somehow a force for good, and on top of the general willingness to believe something else in society must be behind acts of terrorism, there is a tendency to believe that Christianity itself can't be the real cause - because Christians are good, kind people, aren't they?

Speaking personally, and recognising that my limited experience is probably not representative, I know both Christians and Muslims very well, I come from a Christian family but I have Muslim relatives, my partner's sister having married a Muslim. I have a nephew and a niece raised as Muslims (although my niece at least is now an Atheist). Additionally, one of my closest friends since our teens is from a Muslim family. I can't tell the difference between my Christian friends and family and my Muslim ones! To whatever extent their religion motivates them in their relationships with others, they are all generally good, kind generous people. If anything the Muslim friends are more generous than most, although that could be because they can afford to be.

Religion is undoubtedly behind both Christian and Islamic acts of terrorism and both Muslims and Christians can point to passages in their respective books to justify their anti-social activities. At their fundamental level both religions are violently exclusive and intolerant and both believe their respective holy books are the word of their god and as such should be obeyed. The problem is that they believe this on faith and the moderates in both religions, although they may themselves eschew violence and intolerance, never-the-less subscribe to the notion that faith is a valid way to know the truth and that their respective gods inspired the respective holy books.

But why take the lives of innocent children?... if we believe, as I do, that God’s grace is extended to those who die in infancy or as small children, the death of these children was actually their salvation. We are so wedded to an earthly, naturalistic perspective that we forget that those who die are happy to quit this earth for heaven’s incomparable joy. Therefore, God does these children no wrong in taking their lives.

So whom does God wrong in commanding the destruction of the Canaanites? Not the Canaanite adults, for they were corrupt and deserving of judgement. Not the children, for they inherit eternal life. So who is wronged? Ironically, I think the most difficult part of this whole debate is the apparent wrong done to the Israeli soldiers themselves. Can you imagine what it would be like to have to break into some house and kill a terrified woman and her children? The brutalizing effect on these Israeli soldiers is disturbing.

To the extent that the 'moderates' of the faiths permit extremism by their endorsement of 'faith', the notion of divine authorship of holy books, and their unquestioning endorsement of the idea that death is not the end but the beginning of something potentially better, they are culpable for the crimes of their less discriminating co-religionists. Once you tell people that death liberates us from the cage of life, anything becomes possible.

Read the grotesque appologies of Christian genocide and infanticide apologist William Lane Craig to see that when you tell believers that God or Allah requires them to commit these crimes, the most depraved inhumanity becomes not only possible but defensible and even heroic. The jihadists of Paris and Berlin thought they were doing Allah's bidding, just as the butchers of Srebrenica and Dachau believed God was on their side and they were making the world a better place.

Moderate are not those who can see the metaphors or whatever excuse there may be to ignore the calls to violence and the demonisation, even dehumanisation of others as agents of evil and enemies of God. Moderates are those who can ignore these instructions and pretend they somehow don't apply any more, or don't apply to them, or don't apply to their associates. Moderates are, in fact, those who have ignored all the undesirable parts of their religion and have replaced them with the basic Humanism that religions had either plagiarised or replaced.

So, although acts of terrorism don't tell us much about the vast majority of both Christians and Muslims, they do tell us a great deal about both religions in that they can both be used as an excuse for antisocial behaviour by disaffected, disenfranchised, alienated and disillusioned youth. The liberals are also right in that there is much wrong with societies which can produce those who have no stake in it, on whom the extremists feed and to whom religions sell their false hope of something better later.

1. Labour Party (Centrist social democrat)
2. Conservative (Centre-right)
3. Liberal Democrat (Centre-left)
4. Scottish Nationalist Party (Generally centre-left/Socialist, pro-Scottish Independence)
5. United Kingdom Independence Party (Extreme right, racist, xenophobic, anti-European Union, English nationalist)

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