Religion and the Failure of Liberal Thought
Criticizing an ideology is often difficult, prone to hyperbole and notorious for, at least in the mind’s eye of the believer, being unable to differentiate ideas from the adherents themselves. When this ideology is a religion, all of these difficulties become like Bruce Banner when he gets angry. Whatever the difficulty, what a person says about their belief has a causal or correlative connection with their behavior. To dismiss this is to ignore the very nature of humanity’s relationship with it’s existence. With the fate of future generations hanging in the balance, acknowledging and reflectively understanding what people say will determine the course of our unfolding history.
Unfortunately, this dismissal is at the heart of liberal obfuscation where it concerns religion, most recently that of Islam and its currently most vehement adherent, ISIS (or ISIL). President Obama recently stated that:
“ISIL is not ‘Islamic.’ No religion condones the killing of innocents, and the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim. And ISIL is certainly not a state; it was formerly al Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq and has taken advantage of sectarian strife and Syria’s civil war to gain territory on both sides of the Iraq-Syrian border. It is recognized by no government nor by the people it subjugates.”
There have been quite well articulated criticisms of Obama’s remarks, notably by Sam Harris and Jerry A. Coyne. Their remarks should be read in their entirety. Attempting to make similar statements would be presumptuous as well as audacious. Rather, the attempt here will be to show from within Obama’s comments the deep failure that a blind allegiance to liberal ideology brings, particularly when applied to religion.
On the face of it, stating that ISIL “is not Islamic” is both patently silly and leads to a great bout of head-scratching. The organization has as its goal the establishment of an Islamic world, the head of which sits a caliph, invoking the return of the original ruling elite following the death of Muhammad. If this isn’t Islamic then the Catholic Church isn’t Catholic. Such statements by ISIL are well known and globally spread, leading to the conclusion that Obama must either be completely ignorant of them or he has a different means of ascertaining religious adherence. We find this means in the latter part of the paragraph, where Obama states ISIL is not recognized “by the people it subjugates.” While this can point to a political existence, since ISIL is a religious organization by their own word, then the claim seems that the legitimacy of such lies at the feet of a populace.
As Coyne pointed out, all religions are man-made, so the demarcation between true or not in relation to its connection to an imaginary deity is impossible and foolish to attempt. The legitimation of a religion is and can only be made at the behest of those who adhere to it. With that in mind, then ISIL is certainly Islamic, as protested vehemently by its many adherents. That some of these may be doing so at the point of a gun is undoubtedly what Obama is pointing to, but if belief is to be gainsaid by emotional and physical coercion then there are any number of parental child-rearing tactics that Obama should have equal difficulty with and yet it would appear no bombs are being dropped on America’s heartland.
Further, the causes of a person’s allegiance to a religious ideology must be differentiated from the reasons for a particular ideology being labeled religious. The first is a psychological/biological/cultural analysis, the latter is ideological identification. One may speak of a deviation, but to dismiss a stated identification by so many adherents and not a few with the scholarship to back up their claims, is to no longer be interested in real dialogue.
That last, the lack of a desire for dialogue, may be in fact what the whole point of liberal escapism concerning religion amounts to. As Obama later states:
“ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple, and it has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way.”
Connect this statement with the latter of: “no religion condones the killing of innocents” and the result is a tidy, if uninformed and dismissive, rationalization for both not connecting a group with its stated religious beliefs and wallowing in the very ‘us vs. them’ mentality that those groups rather happily enjoy living out of. Terrorism is the bugaboo of the modern politician. It is both a killer of debate and a justification for any action, no matter how ill-conceived, that indicates being against.
Declaring that ISIL “has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way” begs the question of just what it is they are attempting to achieve that others would be considered as being “in its way.” For that we go back to ISIL’s stated desire for establishing a caliphate and the inevitable connection with Islam emerges. Avoiding this at all costs is the Obama and liberal agenda.
If what a group says is in no way related to what they do, then words are meaningless, dialogue fails and all that is left is the rule of the gun. Given that the speech given was concerned with justifying a bombing campaign, dehumanizing an enemy and paving the way for irrational violent action seems exactly the point.
Perhaps most telling is an article written by Volsky and Jenkins in ThinkProgress where they state: “Ultimately, the decision of whether or not one is or isn’t religious is left up to God.” Leaving aside that this insipid comment destroys any legitimacy to their article, the result is a commitment to a brotherhood of a-rationalism.
For ISIL, the legitimation for their actions reside in a realm untouched by human rationality, humanistic moral criticism or scientific inquiry. By providing the same epistemic justification, removed as it is from any real analysis or criticism, these proponents of liberalism have bankrupted their ideology. That the conservative side has a similar identification on particular issues in no way removes the problem. Indeed, that both fall into the same trap says a great deal about humanity in general and indicates why criticism is so difficult to pursue. In going after ISIL, they’d have to question their own commitments to a deity.
Manifesting new behavior, new responses to old ideas and habits, requires a commitment to challenging even, or perhaps especially, that which is held to be holy or sacrosanct. By shielding certain ideas from criticism, by refusing to acknowledge the connection between belief and action, the only future ahead of us is a meandering road to our own destruction. We can, we must, be willing to call into question every facet of our existence, else the bright spots of our future will no longer be signals of enlightenment and progress but that of gunpowder.
© David Teachout