Someone asked about a statement I attributed to philosopher Anthony Grayling: a statement about how all religions would be repressive if they had complete political power. I’ve found at least one Grayling quote to that effect, and I commend it to the attention of the citizens of Lebanon, Missouri. It’s from his essay “The secular and the sacred“. If those citizens find it too onerous to read it all, I’ve put the important part in bold.
The statement at issue is in the third paragraph.
. . . all the major religions in fact blaspheme one another, and ought by their principles to engage in crusade or jihad each against the others – a profoundly disturbing thought. They blaspheme each other in numerous ways. All non-Christians blaspheme Christianity by their refusal to accept the divinity of Christ, because in so doing they reject the Holy Ghost, doing which is described as the most serious of all blasphemies. The New Testament has Christ say “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me”. This places members of other faiths beyond redemption; they are damned if they know this claim but do not heed it. By an unlucky twist of theology, Protestants have to regard Catholics as blasphemers too, because the latter regard Mary as co-redemptorix with Christ, in violation of the utterance just quoted. All non-Muslims blaspheme Islam because they insult Mohammed by not accepting him as the true Prophet, and by ignoring the teachings of the Koran. Jews seem the least philosophically troubled by what people of other faiths think about their own – but Orthodox Jews regard themselves as religiously superior to others because others fail in the proper observances, for example by not respecting kosher constraints. All the religions blaspheme each other by regarding the others’ teachings, metaphysics and much of their ethics as false, and their own religion as the only true one.
It is a woolly and optimistic liberal hope that all religions can be viewed as worshipping the same god, only in different ways; but this is a nonsense, as shown by the most cursory comparison of teachings, interpretations, moral requirements, creation myths and eschatologies, in all of which the major religions differ and frequently contradict each other. History shows how clearly the religions themsevles grasped this; the motivation for Christianity’s hundreds of years of crusades against Islam, pogroms against Jews, and inquisitions against heretics, was the desire to expunge heterodoxy and ‘infidelity’ or at least to effect forcible compliance with prevailing orthodoxy. Islam’s various jihads had the same aim, and it spread half way around the world by conquest and the sword.
Where they can get away with it – as in present-day Afghanistan – devotees continue the same practices. The religious Right in America would doubtless do so too, but has to use TV, money, advertising, and political lobbying instead to impress its version of the truth on American society. It is only where religion is on the back foot, reduced to a minority practice, with an insecure tenure in society, that it presents itself as essentially peaceful and charitable.
This is the chief reason why allowing the major religions to jostle against one another in the public domain is extremely undesirable. The solution is to make the public domain wholly secular, leaving religion to the personal sphere, as a matter of private conviction and practice only. Society should be blind to religion both in the sense that it lets people believe and behave as they wish provided they do no harm to others, and in the sense that it acts as if religions do not exist, with public affairs being straightforwardly secular in character. The constitution of the USA provides exactly this, though the religious lobby is always trying to breach it, for example with prayers in schools. George W. Bush’s granting of public funds for ‘faith-based initiatives’ actually does so.
We’ve seen how peaceful and charitable Lebanon’s brand of Christianity is. Left on its own, it presents an amiable countenance. Once challenged, it turns into Godzilla.
You can find a nice free collection of Grayling’s essays here.