Religious Intolerance and “Islamophobia”

Frank Beckwith had a great post responding to Time Magazine’s latest cover, which reads “Is America Islamophobic?” To answer Time’s question, there are certainly some people who have irrational fears about Islam. No question. But those folks are clearly in the minority, as Islamic-related polls tend to show pretty clearly. More troubling is the tendency for some on the Left to label any opposition, even legitimate opposition, as simply a “phobia,” suggesting that the holders of this view are psychologically disturbed, not simply reasonable people who hold other views. By this standard, there’s only one reasonable option, which just happens to be the one Time believes. So the question is provocative, and as Beckwith points out, “an argument stopper,” “meant to undermine and not advance rational discourse on a matter of public controversy.”

But then he makes a much more interesting and important point:

But it should go without saying that offering critical comments about a religion or its beliefs and practices is not automatically the result of inaccurate observations and/or bigotry. For if that were the case, then the worst bigots in the world would be the New Atheists who maintain that all religious beliefs and practices are not only false but harmful. Because the New Atheists seem to be the darlings of the Time magazine set, one can only conclude that the difference between a bigot and a respected intellectual is that the former rejects one less belief than the latter. This results in the amusing judgment that it is intolerant and bigoted to believe one religious belief is true and all others false, but the pinnacle of tolerance to believe that none are true and all are false. This is, of course, perfectly stupid, though considered the height of sophistication by the most cerebral custodians of our public culture. This is why they prefer power over reason; they can only win with the former but not the latter.

This is a brilliant point, and illustrated well by reading virtually any atheistic comments on religious articles. Take, for example, this one. It’s an article in which the Iraqi bishops decry the way America has stabilized the country, and argued that it’s lead to a sharp increase in violence against Iraqi Christians. There’s much that can be said about this argument, but instead, we get this silly atheistic drivel instead, from the comments:

If you ask me, get rid of religion and there’s very little to fight about. No religion, no wars, no ethnic cleansing. Peace.

Replace “religion” with “Islam,” and you’ve got what’s being decried as “Islamophobia” by Time. And frankly, replacing “religion” with “Islam” makes sense here: after all, if the commenter is trying to relate his comment to the article at all (instead of just venting irrelevant hate towards God in any combox he can find), then he presumably is bemoaning the increased religious violence against Christians… violence all done in one direction, and all done in the name of one religion. Nobody’s claiming that the Iraqi Christians are persecuting their Muslim neighbors. So really, this comment is making the same claim that the “Islamophobes” are making: that this violence is done in the name of Islam, and therefore, Islam must be eliminated.

I suppose it’s also worth mentioning that this comment isn’t just hateful: it’s ignorant, stupid, and dangerous:

  • It’s ignorant, in that the person speaking clearly has no knowledge of history. In 1969, for example, atheist Communist China and the atheist Soviet Union nearly started a nuclear war over a border dispute (fortunately, the largely-religious US diffused the situation). In fact, even a casual understanding of the history of warfare shows that religion is one of the least likely causes, on the whole – when compared to economic, political, ethnic, and nationalistic factors. Try to explain the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, or the Vietnam War by resorting to religion as the motivating factor, and you’ll quickly see that these histories don’t make any sense. Certainly, religious issues were involved, but they were effects, not causes (for example, the Baptists went into schism between Union and Confederate Baptists). As I’ve said before, atheists make up a tiny fraction of the global population, but a majority of genocidaires (Hitler, Stalin and other Soviet leaders, Pol Pot, Mao, etc.). So religion isn’t a major cause of wars, and the irreligious are more likely to cause massive bloodshed.

  • The comment’s stupid, because it’s facially invalid. It brings up “ethnic cleansing,” which by definition is motivated by the desire to eliminate an ethnicity, not a religious system. A racist white Presbyterian, for example, hates black Presbyterians and not white Methodists — that’s a clue his hatred isn’t motivated by religion, or solved by eliminating religion.
  • The comment’s dangerous because it says we should “get rid of religion.” The Soviet Union attempted to do just that in the course of its bloody, atheistic history. Communist China is attempting to do the same today. In both cases, this has caused, not prevented, massive bloodshed. Whether the commenter meant to encourage eliminating religion violently is a fair question, but that’s the way his views have been implemented in real life.

It’s ironic that he should end his hateful comment by saying “peace,” and it reminded me of nothing so much as Jeremiah 6:14, “They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ But there is no peace. Likewise, he’s opted for a superficial solution to a problem he doesn’t begin to understand (or seem to have put much effort into trying to understand), and advocates hate and under the veil of “peace.”

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