Holy War: when what is commonly referred to as “renewed bloodshed” occurs in the Middle East, the typical atheist response is that the region just demonstrates why everyone should be an atheist. The statement can be related to the injunction “never talk about religion or politics”—at least not in strange company. Really, religion and politics are synonymous and cannot be extricated from each other—the counterpart to the atheist who thinks they can being the milky religious person who says “if everyone was really religious, there would be no bloodshed—this has nothing to do with real Christianity.” All religions, so far as I know, hold that the world is fallen in some way—each religion claims that if you adhere to its tenets the situation can be ameliorated. This is why it matters how the adherents of a religion behave, because their behaviour is the main way we have to evaluate the claims made by their religion. Atheism is no different in this regard, atheism is also a visionary belief based on something that has never existed in this world or been demonstrated empirically. The atheist “Fall” story runs as follows: “The world is fallen because man is religious—and religion is a lie. Religions retard science and cause wars between people—as well as promoting foolish traditions. Reason is our salvation—one day, the world will be made reasonable (i.e. there will be no religion); and when that happens science and technology will advance so rapidly the world will be as a paradise.” That is a story of a fallen world, a means by which it is to be redeemed (“reason”), and also a vision of its final “repaired” state—a paradise. The final vision is, of course, earthly—and yet it is still a vision that has never existed anywhere at any time, there has never been “a world without religion”; so the atheist’s ideal state, to use the terms with which he would critique the Christian heaven, has no empirically verified aspect to it. Atheists even have hymns—notably, John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’, “Imagine no religions—it’s easy if you try” (actually, as I’ve just shown, it’s hard to imagine a world without religion). So the atheist “vision”, an idea in the mind, is as “unreal” as the Christian heaven in that respect—and not even more plausible. There are rational objections to the idea—for example, a Darwinian could argue religion has survival value and so the atheist’s vision is unlikely to come to pass since people who abandoned all religion, in the sense meant by the atheist, would cease to reproduce. Hence to tut, tut at Israel-Palestine as “evidence” of the madness of the Holy Land will not do—for how will “reason” attain paradise? Well, it will surely encounter resistance from “unreasonable” people—it will want to coerce them to reach the paradise, as the Muslims seek to coerce the Jews in the most recent outbreak of violence, and that will involve bloodshed. Of course, we know empirically that states like the Soviet Union, atheist states, can be very bloody and irrational. In fairness to atheists, almost all religions, that I know, claim that there would be an end to sustained bloodshed *if only* everyone embraced that faith. The counterpart to the atheist is the religious person, in the subjective sense, who says “if only everyone would practice real religion, none of this would happen”—they suggest, in effect, we should recuse ourselves from world events and then none of this violence would happen. This is disputable, because, for a start, some religious leaders, notably Mohammad, have been military leaders as well—hence their religion is not disassociated from violence. Jesus used violence himself, though admittedly not lethal (but try explaining to the police that the whip you used to chastise the “sinners” in Westminster Abbey was not a “lethal weapon”).
The Jewish religion does not prohibit violence or warfare, even if the Jews aren’t a martial people. And the Buddhists have founded Zen warrior communities and have their “holy warriors”, notably the 8888 movement in Burma (the idea being that if you fight in a non-egoic way the violence is permissible). Even the ultra-Orthodox Jews, a recused religious community, have to have contact with the world—have to make money to live. To make money to live implies property relations—and that implies a state to defend property from people, internal or external, who would take it by force (as would be expected in a fallen world). Not all people will retreat to religious contemplation, those that do actually depend on those that don’t. Even in a fallen world, it would be irresponsible not to attempt to make it a better reflection of a higher reality—and that implies involvement with politics, it implies the use of coercion, it implies the pursuit of justice. While, in theory, the violence would cease if everyone recused themselves into religious contemplation, it is just reality that they are not going to do that (aside from the fact that some religions, such as Islam, endorse war as a religious practice). Hence it is still a requirement to “get your hands dirty” and to work for a state that reflects a higher reality to the greatest extent possible in a world that moves in the contrary direction. This implies the use of coercion and brings us to “holy war”—so that to say if people were “really religious” wars in the Middle East would cease is not sufficient. Indeed, the wars themselves could be seen as instruments whereby divine forces allow their favour to be shown to particular sides. To recuse yourself from reality on religious grounds easily becomes hypocrisy—as with the Quaker pacifists. The only consistent pacifists are the Jains—they aim to starve themselves to death as their highest spiritual state, being true pacifists who aspire not to hurt even a blade of grass. Few pacifists, especially in the West, demonstrate such integrity.