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Do We Need Religion?

Wolfgang Bruno

[COMMENT:  The breach in Islam may be happening on at least two fronts -- so many are converting to Christianity, and below we find many fed up with totalitarianism, and turning (at least) to Western Civ. 

The attempt to go it alone without God will not work, but they are at least being attracted by freedom, and, rightly defined, freedom is what Biblical religion is all about.  E. Fox]


Do We Need Religion? Part 1

Wolfgang Bruno

Ali Sina is the Iranian ex-Muslim behind the website www.faithfreedom.org. Along with other former Muslims such as Ibn Warraq, Sina is spearheading what may be the first organized movement of ex-Muslims in Islamic history, made possible during the past ten to fifteen years by Muslim immigration to the West and the growth of the Internet. Publishing rational criticism of Islam, reaching hundreds of thousands of people and potentially hundreds of millions of people across the world, has never been done before until a few years ago. This is also part of the inspiration for my own suggestion of creating an Online Infidel Library, with dozens of books critical of Islam being made available online. It is no exaggeration to say that if the likes of Ali Sina, Ibn Warraq and Wafa Sultan prevail in the face of the traditional death penalty for leaving Islam, then Islam will never again be the same. Ibn Warraq has estimated that 10- 15% of the Muslims in the UK are actually apostates. If that percentage reflects the Islamic world as a whole, we are talking about a number of people the equivalent of a country the size of Japan. Even half of this is a country the size of Britain. This is the soft underbelly of Islam.

I am fortunate enough to have read Ali Sina’s excellent, upcoming book, which, sadly enough, hasn’t found a publisher yet. I agree with Sina on most important points, especially the fact that Islam probably can’t be reformed and that we are very close to a new world war triggered by Islamic fanaticism. Sina writes a lot about reclaiming the West's morality and what's wrong with the West. This closely mirrors what I am doing in my own book, which so far has the working title: "Reformation Impossible: What’s Wrong With Islam and What’s Wrong With the West?” According to Ali Sina, the West is now a moral relativistic society, where the vacuum created by religion is sorely felt. But at the same time, Sina questions whether a return to religion is the way to go. In an email to me, Sina writes the following: “But is religion the answer? How can we go back to religions when we know they are based on lies? I think our challenge is to find a way to salvage morality and family values without the burden of religion. Maybe I am asking too much. But there must be a way. There must be more choices than either believing in lies or becoming immoral. There must be a middle ground. This point is fundamental to the survival of the western civilization. We must find an answer to it.”

This is where Sina and I part ways. As this is probably one of the most important issues of our age, it could make for an interesting discussion. Can you have morality without religion? I’m not so sure, which is why I will recommend a strengthening of the traditional Judeo-Christian religion of the West. When I first thought of writing my book, I imagined myself concluding it with some short recommendations for how Westerners should deal with Islam and Muslim immigration. The more I have looked into the matter, the more I have discovered that the really interesting issue is not what's wrong with Islam, but what's wrong with the West, which is why I will devote up to one third of the book to answering this question.

Europe has been threatened by Islam several times before, but has managed to withstand it. Why not now? If we want to mount a defense of Western civilization, then we first need to define exactly what Western civilization is. I have found that the West at the beginning of the 21st century is mired in an internal cultural battle, an ideological civil war over the purpose of the West that is sometimes so severe that combined with Muslim immigration it could even trigger physical civil wars in several Western nations in the near future. One of the contenders is what I will label the ideology of Egalitarianism, of which Multiculturalism is the most prominent component. If you analyze the ideology of Egalitarianism, is has Marxist roots in ideas about forced equality. Basically, it says that all cultures are more or less equal, and that there is nothing particular about Western civilization that makes it worth preserving. It may even be worse than all other cultures. To display attachment to your own culture is considered racism and frowned upon. As is to be expected with its Marxist roots, it has its stronghold of support in the political Left. However, what makes Egalitarianism and Multiculturalism particularly dangerous is that its support transcends that of the traditional Left and has penetrated deep into the traditional Right, too. As long as large parts of our elites adhere to the notion that all cultures are equal, it will be impossible to mount any defense of the West. Which means that Multiculturalism and Egalitarianism need to be discredited if Europe is to have any chance of surviving.

In defining what Western civilization means, we will sooner or later face the question of how closely it is tied to the religion of Christianity. I would define myself as a Christian Atheist, the way Oriana Fallaci does. I am not personally religious, but I have gradually grown more positive towards Christianity, especially after I started studying Islam. I now think that defining Western civilization without its Judeo-Christian religious component simply doesn't make sense from a historical or philosophical point of view. I thus disagree with people such as atheist Richard Dawkins, in viewing religion as all bad. We also have to ask what will replace the traditional religions if we remove them. I have been puzzled by the seemingly cozy relationship between European Socialists, who in theory should be anti-religious, and Muslims. I have found that this can be explained if you postulate that the difference between religious and political ideologies is not always clear-cut, but should be more accurately described as a gliding scale. The defining difference is not the belief in God, but the belief in the rights of the individual vs. the rights of the collective group. As Ibn Warraq puts it: The fight is not between Muslims and non-Muslims, but between those who value freedom and those who do not.

Socialists frequently mock Christians for basing their worldview in belief in something that cannot be proven and has never been seen. But since Marxism cannot be proven and no successful Marxist society has ever been seen, don't Socialists also base their worldview on belief in something that cannot be proven and has never been seen? And don't they follow their ideology with religious fervour and denounce their critics as evil? German sociologist Max Weber has stated that the modern, capitalist economy in Europe was based upon the Protestant work ethic. If capitalism is based upon Christianity, doesn't it become logical for anti-capitalists to undermine capitalism by attacking its religious base? Is Socialism a religion disguised as a political ideology, and is Islam a political ideology disguised as a religion?

Maybe we should abandon the common distinction between religious and non-religious ideologies. I will postulate that it is sometimes more useful to think of them as religions with God and religions without God, Marxism being a religion without God. Philosopher Eric Hoffer has written a book called “The True Believer, ” where he tracks mass movements throughout history. He includes some critical words about Christianity, but perhaps the most striking feature of his book is that he shows how religious and seemingly non-religious movement share many traits, and may sometimes be interchangeable: “Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without belief in a devil.” I have myself heard Leftist Multiculturalists describe themselves as “the forces of Light,” “the forces of Darkness” being all those evil racists who oppose Muslim immigration. This is in fact a deeply religious world view, which could have been shared by members of the Spanish Inquisition. “We are the forces of Good. Those who disagree with us are not just wrong, but Evil, and we have a perfect moral right, even duty, to suppress their views by any means necessary.” This line of thought seems to be shared by many Leftists, which is why they feel perfectly justified in stifling the freedom of speech of their opponents, even by violent means. A Marxist is a person who doesn’t believe in God, but still thinks he is God’s representative on earth. As Eric Hoffer says: “Passionate hatred can give meaning and purpose to an empty life. Thus people haunted by the purposelessness of their lives try to find a new content not only by dedicating themselves to a holy cause but also by nursing a fanatical grievance. A mass movement offers them unlimited opportunities for both.” Perhaps what we are seeing in Europe is a coalition between two religions, Socialism and Islam, united not in the belief in the same God but in hatred towards the same Devil: The capitalist and Judeo-Christian West. The attacks Western Leftists mount on Christianity have little to do with “tolerance” and a lot more to do with discrediting a troublesome rival creed that stubbornly keeps blocking the road to Utopia.

One of the reasons why so many intellectuals in the West accept the idea that Islam has been “misunderstood” is because this is the same excuse they use for their own favorite: Marxism. Famed historian Eric Hobsbawm has for instance argued that Marx was misunderstood, and that the Communism of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union wasn’t “real Marxism.” It certainly was real for the tens of millions of people whose lives it destroyed. If an ideology results in devastating failures everywhere it is tried out then there is not something wrong with the interpretation, there is something with the ideology itself. What good is a “guide” that leads people to shipwreck every single time?

Although weekly magazine “The Economist” can be plain awful when dealing with issues related to Islam or Muslim immigration, they can still be sensible on other subjects. In an article called “Marx after communism,” they demonstrate how Leftism is in fact a new religion:

It is striking that today's militant critics of globalisation proceed in much the same way (as Marx himself). They present no worked-out alternative to the present economic order. Instead, they invoke a Utopia free of (…) social injustice, harking back to a pre-industrial golden age that did not actually exist. Never is this alternative future given clear shape or offered up for examination. And anti-globalists have inherited more from Marx besides this. Note the self-righteous anger, the violent rhetoric, the willing resort to actual violence (in response to the “violence” of the other side), the demonisation of big business, the division of the world into exploiters and victims, the contempt for piecemeal reform, the zeal for activism, the impatience with democracy, the disdain for liberal “rights” and “freedoms”, the suspicion of compromise. (…) Anti-globalism has been aptly described as a secular religion. So is Marxism: a creed complete with prophet, sacred texts and the promise of a heaven shrouded in mystery. Marx was not a scientist, as he claimed. He founded a faith. The economic and political systems he inspired are dead or dying. But his religion is a broad church, and lives on.

Claire Berlinski, author of the book "Menace in Europe: Why the Continent’s Crisis Is America’s, Too" also notes how many Europeans, when asked, will declare themselves more alarmed by American imperialism than by Islamic radicalism. According to her, Europeans have in recent memory suffered two great losses, that of their religious faith and that of its replacements—ideologies involving the idea of human perfectibility, leaving Europeans paralyzed by shame and self-doubt. They have retreated into a kind of cocoon of technological and physical comfort. Americans are much more hopeful for the future than Europeans, partly because they are more religious in a conventional sense. But Americans also have an idea of what it is to be American. “America’s sense of itself doesn’t include the memories of the Somme and Passchendaele; it doesn’t include the memories of Auschwitz and Dachau. It is still possible for Americans to revere their own nation without irony, to revisit its past without despair.” Berlinski connects the death of Christianity in Europe with Europe’s anti-Americanism, which can reach such passionate heights that it strays from anything that can be remotely described as rational and approaches the status of quasi-religion:

What I’ve noticed is a quasi-religious and messianic character to this anti-Americanism, particularly in the way it seems inevitably to be linked to anti-modernism and anti-Semitism. It is this mystical element of the anti-American movement that is both most interesting and alarming. Anti-Americanism, particularly as it is expressed in Europe, seems to me more than an expression of simple inanity, nostalgic yearning for greatness past, or an external projection of failed social programs. The critical question, I think, is what kind of spiritual void, what kind of existential emptiness, does anti-Americanism serve to fill?

Ali Sina is not a stupid man. He sees this, too. In order to subdue people and impose on them your Marxist ethos, Sina says, you have to rob them from their own identity, their own culture, heritage, mores, government and religion. Once you rob them from their identity and selfhood, you can shape them in any way you like. “The society can live without religion but it can't live without morality. We must not throw the baby with the bathwater. Judeo-Christianity has done a lot of harm, but it has done also a lot of good. It has given birth to the greatest civilization that mankind has ever known. Let us not be biased. This democracy that has brought to the world this much progress in the last couple of centuries, could not have been born in any other culture.” Later, however, Ali Sina says that: “I admit that Judeo-Christianity has outlived its utility.” Then he goes on to criticize ALL ideologies, not just religious ones: “Ideology is evil. It robs one from rational thinking and once one loses that ability, he become like an animal. To the degree that you subscribe to an ideology, any ideology, you become dehumanized. Man is noble because he is capable of independent thought. You lose that through beliefs and ideologies.”

Sina’s motto is “Don’t be a follower, be your own Prophet.” But is this feasible? I would argue that most human beings are neither willing nor able to come up with their own set of moral values, and even if this was possible, I’m not sure whether it would always be desirable. Don’t we then wander into the territory of moral relativism, Multiculturalism and “to every man his own truth,” precisely what Ali Sina himself warns against?

As somebody once put it: “When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing, they believe in anything.” The retreat of the traditional, Judeo-Christian religion in Europe during the 20th century left the door open to a new set of “religions without God” that in many ways proved at least as harmful as the “intolerance” they were supposed to replace. Marxism killed more than 100 million people during a few generations. The negative argument against removing the Judeo-Christian religious base of the West could thus be that whatever flaws might exist in the old system, what will replace it could well turn out to be worse. There are also more positive arguments in support of it, which I will discuss in the second part of this essay.




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