Sunday, July 20, 2008
Can an Atheistic Society Survive a Religious War?
Religion is far from any certain immunity in war. Indeed in technological armed conflict, the sort of destructive fanaticism displayed by Muslims tends to be self-destructive. But while America, Europe and Israel can easily defeat the enemy on the battlefield, in the clash of civilizations themselves they continue to recede backward while the Islamic enemy advances.
They key missing element is righteousness. Not merely morality for morality can exist apart from religion. But a sense of righteousness is what enables a nation to maintain itself in the face of enemies who fervently believe in their own rightness.
The problem is not that the West consists of atheistic societies. If that were the case, we would be far better off than we are today, for naked atheism is itself a fundamentalist ideology. Instead what we have are watered down, liberalized and secularized fragments of religion, tamed and harnessed to be good neighbors. Such faint beliefs make for faint hearts and faint spirits when it comes to telling Ahmed that he had better stop killing his daughters and that if his mosque doesn't stop playing footsie with terrorism, there will be beheadings and they won't be the heads of infidels.
The problem with that missing sense of righteousness is that as religion has become watered down, people have lost that essential clear belief in right and wrong in a black and white sense. We have grown too used in the West to thinking in gray areas, in finding the non-aggressive middle ground of compromise. Little wonder then that when elections come around and we choose the candidate that best seizes the middle ground, that we accordingly lack the leaders to fight a real war. Compromises make for poor warriors. The sort of man who sees both sides of every issue is not the sort of man to say No and make it stick.
Much of the achievements of modern civilization are indeed due to the art of compromise, but in compromising our belief systems we have also compromised our sense of right and our ability to decisively reject and resist that which is wrong.
Belief serves as an immune system warding us from that fatal doubt which causes us to hesitate when the knife is plunged toward our throats. For decades now we have stood hesitating, as nations and societies, while the curved blade sweeps ever close. It is close enough now that we can read the arabesque writing on its flat. We can make out words such as "Sharia", "Jihad" and "Dhimmi" and yet still we stand there seeing both sides of every issue, when in truth all we are seeing are the sharp and flat sides of the knife.
Like every virtue tolerance must be governed by a higher belief. In abandoning ourselves to the logic of compromise, we have also betrayed our own sense of self-worth, turned our backs on the mentality that proclaims, "I would rather be right than be President." We have become societies that sincerely believe in very little and this leaves us vulnerable in the face of enemies that believe a great deal. Though our competence may exceed theirs, their confidence exceeds ours. To regain the edge, we must also regain the absolute vision of belief and righteousness, the sword and armor with which any religious war is tested and with which such war must be ultimately decided.