Religion, Militarism and Industry


by Rebecca Bynum (September 2014)

Since the publication of my last book, Allah is Dead: Why Islam is Not a Religion in 2011, I have been concentrating on the problem of what religion really is. Though religion contains theology, it is more than theology. It concerns ethics and morality, but is more than ethics and morality. It ponders cosmology and man’s place in the totality of creation, but it is more than cosmology. Religion often involves ritual and veneration for tradition, but it is more than ritual and tradition. All of these things contain and support religion, but they are not religion; they constitute the forms of religion. They are only the riverbed, religion is the river. Those who point to a set of beliefs and declare them to be the length and breadth of a religion could not be more mistaken.

In the development of religion, religious experience invariably comes first; the effort to explain the experience, to fit it into an earlier mold or to create a new religious form, comes second. Experience always precedes and shapes what may afterwards become doctrine or ritual. Religious experience extends back to the very beginning of humanity, when God touched man and made him more than an animal; then man touched God and experienced the urge to worship and the desire to hold on to the divine presence.  

Religion is the pursuit of total reality. It is not content with describing partial reality, that is to say, material reality or psychological reality, nor is it content with metaphysical speculation alone. Religion derives from an awareness which unites man’s inner and outer worlds in a blaze of superb discernment. With the religious experience, existence begins to make sense. One feels at home in the universe, at home in one’s own skin, and the attainment of that inner comfort and peace, which passes understanding, becomes possible. When witnessed in another person, the religious life is unmistakable. The superbly integrated personality is invariably a religious one, despite protests to the contrary by the militant atheist crowd.

Religion can never be completely codified or reduced to a doctrine or set of beliefs, though many men have tried. Religion is rooted in experience and the fact is, every person’s religious experience is different. It cannot be replicated in a laboratory. It cannot be so fully explained as to be transferred to another person. Religion is not experienced by the senses or in the mind alone. The religious experience is total, involving all levels of being at once. As the search for total reality, religion is an all or nothing affair.

The religious seeker differs from the scientist. He is not seeking the answer to a question; he is seeking the answer to all questioning, life’s ultimate fulfillment. The religious seeker perceives the current of reality runs in only two directions, toward the ultimate reality of God, or away from him and toward unreality, ultimately culminating in self-extinction.

Many people tire along the way and find a comfortable place to rest, accepting a doctrine or form of religion which offers stability and some degree of safety from confusion. The true religious pioneer, however, is not satisfied with that. He will go through any storm, any test and any trial to find the Truth. He will swim against the current of his time. He will fight the moral battle of the ages alone if need be. He will find what is needed for the journey and he will follow the divine beckoning wheresoever it may lead.

I am convinced that today we are witnessing the culmination of a centuries old struggle between industry and militarism. The advocates of industry hold that in our present time, industry does a better job providing mankind with those things which the martial fields once supplied. Industry fosters leadership and a degree of hierarchy based on merit, provides challenge and adventure through competition, even the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat in the great moral drama of life. Industry gives man a worthy outlet for his creative impulses. In this world, war is still a necessary evil, for self-defense is yet required. The Western world, however, no longer desires military expansion; instead, it wants the expansion of trade. It seeks to create wealth, it no longer desires to confiscate it.

The belief system of Islam is currently the final bastion sustaining war and conquest as a religious obligation. The Western world has abandoned anything approaching that kind of reasoning. That thinking lies buried in the terrible destruction of the great world wars of the twentieth century. Expansionist wars have long since lost their glamour. Instead, the Western world requires peace and stability in order to advance through industry, commerce and technology.

Territorial conquest is a thing of the past because it is no longer required in order to bring increased prosperity to the people of a nation. War that once promised glory in battle is now only indiscriminate mass bloodshed. As Robert E. Lee once said, “It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it.”

Our Western world is trying valiantly to transcend war, yet is being reluctantly dragged back into it by the religion of war, a religion which thrives on hatred and fear. This is undoubtedly a struggle not only between levels of civilization, but also between levels of spiritual and moral reality – religious reality.

Our brave new world of technology and industry desperately needs a new and greater religious vision in order to create and sustain that center of unity and integration, without which it is apt to fly apart from the great centrifugal force it has created within. Our world also needs to articulate the moral vision with which it must confront our implacable enemy and his vision of reality. I do not presume to know what that greater vision will be, but I do know that it is absolutely necessary and I also know that it must be rooted in individual religious experience. In my upcoming book, I will attempt to describe and explain the reality of religious experience as the search for total reality, for Truth, and the yearning for absolute Goodness, profound Beauty and the thrill of experiencing God’s Love.

We may not yet see the way forward, but through faith, we can know it is there.



Rebecca Bynum‘s latest book is Allah is Dead, Why Islam is Not a Religion. Her next book, The Real Nature of Religion, will be published this winter.


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