Blessed are the Peacemakers
by Rebecca Bynum (Jan. 2007)
Historically, war has been of two kinds. One kind of war has been a simple contest over land and power: who will control what? But the last two great wars of mankind, the Second World War and the Cold War, were something else: a contest between two differing views of reality or possibly two levels of reality comprehension involving two differing levels of morality. War as a contest of military strength was part of, but only part of, what was an ideological struggle. And sometimes two parties on the same side, allies, may have fought together, against a common enemy, for different reasons. The Soviet state was totalitarian, and the Russians who fought the Germans did not do so as defenders of liberal democracy, but as defenders of the Russian land, and in so doing, inflicted terrible damage on the Germans. The Americans and British and those few in the Resistance movements were fighting the Nazis because the Nazi world view was wrong. Similarly, we fought the Communists during the Cold War, resisting, and attempting to weaken, them, in every way, because the communist worldview, with its simplistic conception of the nature of man, was wrong. And being wrong, these worldviews led to injustice. Both ideologies held a view of man and his place in the universe that was narrow, material and ultimately immoral. It was not just the Nazi or the Soviet war machines that had to be defeated; it was the Nazi and the communist ideas and their implication for human existence that threatened Western civilization.
We fought both World War II and the Cold War in large part to bring the enemy to his senses. To make him admit the error of his thinking and to stamp out the cruel injustice these worldviews inflicted upon humanity. This was war within the western tradition, but it was war to answer the vital core questions, what is man and what is his purpose on earth? Man’s relation to the state was actually a secondary consideration.
Now we find ourselves fighting a war in order to answer the question, what is God and what is man’s relation to Him? We might also state the question this way: what is reality and what is man’s relation to it?
Recently, many people in positions of influence have made the decision that the answer to this question is unimportant; that life as such is more valuable than the spiritual, emotional and mental life in which human life is lived. To preserve life is all. And therefore to fight for truth or justice, if it means the destruction of life, is immoral. The credo, “Give me liberty or give me death” must be incomprehensible to such timid souls who would preserve their lives and avoid war as all costs.
Political liberty is one thing, but spiritual liberty, because it is intangible, is difficult to define and even harder to fight for. Many statesmen, clergymen, and academics are advising us to abandon the fight before it is joined by purposefully minimizing the stakes involved. There is no question the belief system of Islam creates a very different culture which in turn creates a very different society and in turn creates a very different political system than the Christian belief system creates. This is so because human culture is not a product of the forces of nature, but is a creation of the human mind. Minds believing in differing non-tangible realities will naturally create different cultures, societies and political systems.
The struggle between the two different answers to the questions “what is God (or reality) and what is man’s relation to him (or it)?” that Islam and Christianity represent will likely determine the future course of human existence. It certainly is a contest that has not stopped for 1300 years, and there is no natural end to it, given the belief-system of Islam that is unlikely to change. Muslims come pre-equipped to the battle because they are taught Christianity is wrong, and that Christian doctrine perverts the truth. Christians, on the other hand, are disarmed at the start and are in fact taught not to criticize another’s religion. Islam, according to most Christians these days, simply cannot be wrong. Its teachings are often polar opposites from Christian doctrine, even so, modern Christians maintain Islam must somehow be right too and that there must be common ground to be found and compromises to be made that will avert the reality of the war we find ourselves in. “Must be,” in this context, is a form of pretence masquerading as belief.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair often speaks about a “war of ideas” but grants only that on our side there should be a demonstration of our “faith in tolerance” with the vague idea that Muslims have “faith in tolerance” also and so common ground can be found there. Blair also demonstrates confusion between virtue and value. Here in Foreign Affairs, Blair speaks about his faith that values are something to be demonstrated rather than defined:
We knew that you cannot defeat a fanatical ideology just by imprisoning or killing its leaders; you have to defeat its ideas.
We will not win the battle against global extremism unless we win it at the level of values as much as that of force. We can win only by showing that our values are stronger, better, and more just than the alternative.
This is ultimately a battle about modernity.
This is a battle of values and for progress, and therefore it is one that must be won. If we want to secure our way of life, there is no alternative but to fight for it. That means standing up for our values, not just in our own countries but the world over. We need to construct a global alliance for these global values and act through it.
In my nine years as prime minister, I have not become less idealistic or more cynical. I have simply become more persuaded that the distinction between a foreign policy driven by values and one driven by interests is wrong. Globalization begets interdependence, and interdependence begets the necessity of a common value system to make it work. Idealism thus becomes realpolitik.
That is why I say this struggle is one about values. Our values are our guide. They represent humanity's progress throughout the ages. At each point we have had to fight for them and defend them. As a new age beckons, it is time to fight for them again.
By leaving the word “value” vague and undefined an attitude is revealed that could only described as being based on the fear of discovering anything that might contradict his premise. If Blair allowed that his premise, common ground in common values, could be false, then he would have to admit to himself and before history that he has foolishly based his entire foreign policy on the shallowest form of analysis and one that has been nurtured and sustained by wishful and insipid thinking.
With the breakdown of religion in the modern world, there is consequently great confusion over what faith really is and a consequent retreat into childish reasoning based on what seems to be confusion between believing and pretending.
True faith is demonstrated by those who fight on the side of Truth against that which is untrue. Faith is belief in the reality of Truth. Faith is trust in Truth. Faith is betrayed when one pretends something is true when it is not.
In the western world religious belief is demonstrated by trusting in moral forces that are unseen, but nevertheless conceived of as real. These forces are thought to be outside the self and as such are not subject to individual control. The robust faith of a full grown adult seeks to adjust the self to reality, not reality to the self. God, in other words, is not mocked.
When we pretend, on the other hand, we project imaginary control out onto the world. An adjunct to this is the thought that to ignore the reality of evil is to deny it power. This kind of thinking is prevalent in everything from Christian Science to the New Age movement and all manner of mental therapy books in between. The thinking is that acknowledging evil somehow causes it to bloom into reality as though human beings have the creative power of little, magical gods and is indicative of the reasoning of children. Children often think if they believe in something hard enough, it will come true.
Unbelievably, this kind of childish reasoning holds sway at the highest levels, not only of government, but of academia as well. Diana Eck, professor of comparative religion at
[On interfaith dialogue] The point is not to agree, not even to find common ground, but rather to learn to listen through their differences. Most important, they build lasting friendships…
Interfaith dialogue is not happy hand-holding premised on agreement. It is the kind of encounter we need to understand our deepest differences and build a society that bridges them.
What Professor Eck seems to be saying is that society can be made to cohere in the basis of individual friendships alone and that these friendships needn’t be based on any common understanding about the nature of man, or the nature of reality. Even though Muslims believe on the deepest level in a fundamental inequality between Muslims and non-Muslims, Eck maintains this can somehow be bridged if we “listen through the differences” which must mean ignoring those differences.
So here we have a professor of comparative religion, at
Eck insists, “the first step in learning about Islam should be meeting our Muslim neighbors.” Really? Would it do for a professor teaching a class on Christianity to advocate grabbing a random Christian off the street and asking him about it? What about the historical texts? Islam is an entirely text-based religion. It doesn’t matter what Muslims think it is or say it is: it simply is. Islamic doctrine consists of a collection of texts: the Qur’an, the Hadiths and the Sira, and Islam is a religious, social and political system based upon those texts. Islam is not the Muslim people. Just as Christianity is not the Christian people.
In the Western tradition going back to ancient Greece we recognize three absolute values, Truth, Beauty and Goodness. In practical life, these absolutes act somewhat like yardsticks by which we may intuitively measure those qualities in objective reality. Other values are derivative or are the product of the association of the basic three. Virtue, on the other hand, may be thought of as the “fruit of the spirit,” the natural, personal result that occurs when a man places his faith in the reality of these values. Virtues are personal qualities such as patience, temperance, meekness, humility, forbearance and yes, tolerance. Tolerance may be valued, but it is not a value in itself.
The tolerance spoken of within the context of Islam is, like many things, wholly communal. Muslims as a group tolerate the existence of non-Muslims as a group so long as each of those non-Muslims adheres to certain Islamic laws while living under Islamic domination (which is the God-given, natural order of mankind), such as payment of the poll tax to the Muslim polity, among other economic,social, and legal disabilities endured by those non-Muslims.
The word tolerance, then, has two very different meanings in the context of the two cultures. When PM Blair speaks of “respect for tolerance” as common ground between the Jewish, Christian and Muslims religions, he knowingly, or perhaps unknowingly, buys into Muslim propaganda; propaganda that pushes forth words and concepts that mean one thing to Western man, but quite another to Muslim man. Some other examples are the words: “justice,” “peace,” “faith,” “prayer,” “worship,” “prophet” and “Abrahamic.” Though the words are the same, they convey entirely different meanings to Jews and Christians on the one hand, and to Muslims on the other. Most Muslims, I believe, are aware of this difference. Most Jews and Christians, however, are not.
Nor are most
Real peacemaking is the result of the stout and unyielding defense of the values our civilization was founded upon. We can start be defending the truth concerning the differences between Islam and Western civilization. We can attempt to bring the enemy to his senses (non-violently) by pointing out the errors in his understanding of reality, because the truth is, Islam is deeply and profoundly wrong. Pretending it is right only worsens our situation by delaying actions that must be taken if our own civilization, however imperfect and unseemly it may be, is to be preserved.
True and lasting peace will not come through the betrayal of the truth or through the deliberate ignoring of reality. Peace in Islam, for Believers, is seen as the Peace that will reign when the last obstacle to the spread of Islam is removed. But obstacles to the spread of Islam to our own peoples is exactly what Infidels must insist upon. This was not a war, a contest of belief-systems, that any of us really understood. Now some of us do, but is that “some” enough to make a difference? A race is on, between those who insist upon, and preach to others, as Blair and Bush do, comforting illusion, and those who stonily insist on seeing things as they are. For the latter, much of what is happening is disquieting but as a famous Englishman once wrote, the mind can only repose on the stability of truth. In all the confusion, those who see things aright remain grimly unconfused.
To comment on this article, click here.
To comment on this article, click here.
If you have enjoyed this article, and would like to read other articles by Rebecca Bynum, click here.
Rebecca Bynum contributes regularly to The Iconoclast, our Community Blog. Click here to see all her contributions, on which comments are welcome.