Religion of Peace

A local parish is sponsoring a debate on whether Islam a religion of peace. At least it was supposed to be a debate, but Robert Spencer could not find anyone to run against him and so it seems that the nays will run unopposed.

The resolution is baffling. How do you debate a slogan? We might as well argue argue about whether Fords are build Ford tough or whether for everything else there’s MasterCard. “Religion of peace” was never meant as a description, still less as a theology, it was just a Bush43 catch phrase meant to… what exactly? To ward off any judgment we might reasonably form in the face of killing a lot of Muslims? I.e. “sure, all the bodies in that crater were Muslims, and so are all those crying widows and orphans, but we didn’t target them because they were Muslims – That is a sheer coincidence! Don’t you know that true Muslims are peaceful? In fact, no true Muslims oppose our heroic defensive efforts in the War on Terror, since Islam is a Religion of Peace()!”

Leaving aside the obvious political convenience of the phrase, how could we understand it? Is it the claim that Islam is pacifist, the Quakers or (some) early Christians? Okay, not that. So this leaves us saying that Islam sees war as an acceptable instrument to achieve certain goals or avoid certain evils, a description that makes it more or less indistinguishable from 99.99% of all states or religions. And so taken in the first way the claim is silly-false, in the second way it’s vacuous.

I suppose we could also point out that (some versions of) Islam would see worldwide peace in a universal caliphate arising from widespread conversion by harassment and the sword, others would see it in the free experimentation with ascetic practice, meditation, and mystical experience. Both ISIS and Sufis are seeking worldwide peace, to be sure, but describing them both by the same term hides way more than it reveals.




  1. dpmonahan said,

    November 7, 2016 at 1:33 pm

    “I very much doubt that any modern account of persons on a religious pilgrimage could describe such execrable characters.”
    Use your imagination. How about a bunch of Scientologists attempting to recreate L. Ron Hubbard’s Sea Org? It would be Walker Percyesque.

  2. Dylan said,

    November 7, 2016 at 2:46 pm

    RE: putting a positive spin on the death of God idea, I just reread this from Vladimir Solovyov today that sort of gets at a potential benefit at the end (even though Solovyov might not welcome it):

    “Institutions which ought to serve the good in humanity may more or less deviate from their purpose or even be wholly false to it. In that case the duty of man true to the good consists neither in entirely rejecting the institutions in question on the ground of the abuses connected with them—which would be unjust—nor in blindly submitting to them both in good and in evil, which would be impious and unworthy. His duty would be to try to actively reform the institutions, insisting on what their function ought to be. If we know why and for what sake we ought to submit to a certain institution, we also know the form and the measure of such submission. It will never become unlimited, blind, and slavish. We shall never be passive and senseless instruments of external forces; we shall never put the Church in the place of God, or the state in the place of humanity.”

    On the one hand, the death of God phenomenon, as you described it, ought to help us avoid the error of “put[ting] the Church in the place of God.” On the other hand, I’m not sure it helps—and in fact it probably hurts—our ability to avoid putting “the state in the place of humanity.” At least historically (I’m looking at you, 20th century), this has been a serious and tragic problem. Still, the opportunity for a healthier perspective on the place and limits of ecclesial institutions—without for that denigrating them—should be positive. The existence of God is not justified by the Church. The existence of the Church is justified by God. The Church, rather, can only be a witness (martyr) for the God who justifies it. And it may serve him rightly or wrongly, in varying degrees, aspects, and contexts.

    One positive aspect of this, to me, is religious liberty. I get the complaint that market thinking when it comes to religion can be self-serving and corrupting. That can be and sometimes is true. But the positive side is that if a church claims to preach that the Gospel is “the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16), then it better well be. If people detect a counterfeit “product” (rightly or wrongly), they will go to another vender, so-to-speak.

    Many mourn the fact that religious affiliation is now largely voluntary in the wake of the decline of churches’ social power too, but the upshot is that churches must deliver on the product they claim to offer. Thus those who attend are more likely (though by no means certain!) to be there because they actually want to be, instead of just feeling like they need to be due to social pressure. Indeed, there seems to be an inverse relationship between social acceptability and influence with religiosity (e.g. Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, even Scientologists compared to Evangelicals, Roman Catholics, even many Jews). Similarly, the fact that our culture no longer strongly reinforces belief in God has the positive side of meaning more people (though by no means all) who claim that faith actually mean it. By contrast, there is a story of a man in Bulgaria who asked his taxi driver if he was Christian. The driver said, “Of course, I’m Bulgarian.” When asked if he believed in God, however, the taxi driver replied, “No.” Thus the unbelief is hidden by the social power/influence of an ecclesial institution (in this case my own: the Orthodox Church). The loss of that power presents an evangelistic opportunity, using the term “evangelistic” broadly (not just meaning missionary efforts but the making of disciples).

    Okay, I’m done rambling. All that is to say it’s an intriguing question.

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