“We may find it hard to believe that religious beliefs could motivate murders and insist that extreme violence is always due to mental instability or political fanaticism. But the logic (and the history) of religions tells against this view.” –Gary Gutting, having an epiphany
The Stone, the New York Times‘s philosophy column, is remarkably undistinguished, and one reason is Gary Gutting, the Notre Dame philosopher whose Stone columns are not only baby-soft on faith, but full of unenlightening bromides (see here).
His latest piece at the Times, “How religion can lead to violence“, shows a man who, though he’s a philosopher and concerned with religion, seems completely oblivious to what atheists and secularists have been saying for years: religion, like other ideologies, can prompt violence. The quote that heads this post is from his piece, and all I’d say to that is, “Well, Dr. Gutting, over at WEIT we don’t find it so hard to understand that religious beliefs could motivate violence. After all, other ideologies like Communism or Nazism, are well known for promoting violence.”
Wed that to religion’s claim of absolute truth and its promulgation of a moral code, and you have an automatic recipe for “othering”. And if your scripture calls explicitly for violence against nonbelievers, as does the Qur’an, then why is Gutting so surprised?
I’ll tell you why: he can barely bring himself to think that religion can produce anything bad. That’s what Dan Dennett calls “belief in belief.” When Gutting figures out the obvious, he writes a column about it.
It’s not surprising that what brought Gutting to the realization that all of us have had (save weaselly apologists like Reza Aslan and Glenn Greenwald) is the murder of the French priest, Jacques Hamel, by two people acting in the name of ISIS. (Notre Dame is a Catholic school, and Gutting is a liberal Catholic.) Read the paragraphs below and see if you find anything in them that we haven’t hashed over during the past five years:
“These heinous crimes violate the tolerant teachings of Islam.” Similar responses followed recent attacks in Orlando and Nice. We are told that the fanatical fringe groups who do these terrible things are at odds with the essential Muslim commitment to peace and love. I understand the reasons for such responses, but they oversimplify the relation of religion to intolerance and the violence it can lead to.
Both Islam and Christianity claim to be revealed religions, holding that their teachings are truths that God himself has conveyed to us and wants everyone to accept. They were, from the start, missionary religions. A religion charged with bringing God’s truth to the world faces the question of how to deal with people who refuse to accept it. To what extent should it tolerate religious error? At certain points in their histories, both Christianity and Islam have been intolerant of other religions, often of each other, even to the point of violence.
This was not inevitable, but neither was it an accident. The potential for intolerance lies in the logic of religions like Christianity and Islam that say their teaching derive from a divine revelation. For them, the truth that God has revealed is the most important truth there is; therefore, denying or doubting this truth is extremely dangerous, both for nonbelievers, who lack this essential truth, and for believers, who may well be misled by the denials and doubts of nonbelievers. Given these assumptions, it’s easy to conclude that even extreme steps are warranted to eliminate nonbelief.
There follows a tedious disquisition on the history of religious intolerance, just to show that Christianity and Judaism were once intolerant, too. But then Gutting gets to his point:
Today, almost all Christians are reconciled to this revision, and many would even claim that it better reflects the true meaning of their religion.
The same is not true of Muslims. A minority of Muslim nations have a high level of religious toleration; for example Albania, Kosovo, Senegal and Sierra Leone. But a majority — including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq and Malaysia — maintain strong restrictions on non-Muslim (and in some cases certain “heretical” Muslim) beliefs and practices. Although many Muslims think God’s will requires tolerance of false religious views, many do not.
A Pew Research Center poll in 2013 found that in Iraq, Malaysia, Pakistan and other nations in which Islam is officially favored, a large majority of Muslims think some form of Islamic law should be the law of the land. The poll also found that 76 percent of such Muslims in South Asia and 56 percent in the Middle East and North Africa favored executing Muslims who gave up their religion, and that in 10 Muslim counties at least 40 percent favored applying Islamic law to non-Muslims. This shows that, for many Muslims, the revealed truths of Islam are not only a matter of personal conviction but must also have a central place in the public sphere of a well-ordered society.
The Pew poll is 3 years old, and we’ve discussed it here at length. Why did Gutting just discover it?
Apparently he’s also discovered that the taming of religious extremism by the Enlightenment is one reason why we don’t have so many terrorists citing the Old or New Testaments, or crying “Jesus is great!” as they sever someone’s head.
There is no central religious authority or overwhelming consensus that excludes such Muslims from Islam. Intolerance need not lead to violence against nonbelievers; but, as we have seen, the logic of revelation readily moves in that direction unless interpretations of sacred texts are subject to nonreligious constraints.
. . . Does this mean that Islam is evil? No, but it does mean that it has not yet tamed, to the extent that Christianity has, the danger implicit in any religion that claims to be God’s own truth. To put it bluntly, Islam as a whole has not made the concessions to secular values that Christianity has.
h/t: Greg Mayer