I had a debate a while back about whether or not atheism is a religion; my interlocutor took the side of Kent Hovind and Conservapedia in insisting that it is, and that therefore I’m religious. Invalidating someone’s choices and narrative for cheap rhetorical points is par for the course in such discussions, and unfortunately the R-worders are at it again. This time, they insist--in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo killings--that terrorism really has very little to do with religion.
Apparently to finally be acknowledged as non-religious I'd have to shoot up a building full of people in the name of religion. I'm not quite that desperate, but I now have the dubious honor of an irritating commonality with the terrorists: liberal religionists talk down to us. They know better than we do who we really are, and why we really do what we do.
There are a multitude of factors behind many terrorist acts--Western imperialist bullshit has long fertilized the ground in which the seeds of extremism grow. But imperialism doesn’t just mean dropping bombs, it also means thinking that we know other people better than they do, and refusing to listen to them. When white Christians in Ireland bombed each other for years, did well-meaning liberals take them by the hand, give a patronizing little smile, and explain why they were really fighting? When Scott Roeder murdered George Tiller over abortion, did we hear a chorus of voices echoing, “Now, now, we all know better than that”?
Are white Christian terrorists really so much more articulate than brown Muslim terrorists?
Admittedly, the account that they give of themselves names one of my personal favorite bugbears as the culprit, which doesn’t incline me to critical reflection. It’s axiomatic that beliefs have consequences, and that beliefs like jihad, martyrdom, and thoughtcrime will have bad consequences. The terrorists professed such beliefs and acted upon them, and while that’s not case closed exactly, it’s the necessary opening deposition.
I realize that it’s ultimately necessary to complicate this narrative, and we might even come to disagree, albeit with a great deal of effort. But instead of engagement we get dismissals, and the dismissals have been just that: dismissals. Incidental dependent clauses blithely asserting the contrary with all the intellectual heft of Dick Cheney’s “greeted as liberators”.
Of course not all religion advocates terrorism. Most of it, in fact, does not, and you’d be a fool to say otherwise. But this curious assertion that a system of morality inculcated by childhood indoctrination, forbidding criticism and justifying itself on the arrogated word of the divine, could never go this badly awry? Please. That is no less foolish. I know from the painful personal experience of having marched in pro-life rallies, stridently opposed civil rights, and attempted to vote for the Shrub (and failed due to a registration mistake) just what religion can accomplish. No thinking person should be surprised that a more virulent form--especially combined with disaffection or mental illness--could do far worse.