I was distressed to read that a Pakistani high court upheld the death sentence of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who was accused of blasphemy. Typical of Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws, the charges were flimsy, the punishment is wildly disproportionate, and the case has begotten further violence, in this case the murders of two politicians who came to her defense, Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and Minority Affairs Ministry, Shahbaz Bhatti. Pakistan’s blasphemy laws arose during the 1980s in the wake of an Islamic resurgence. Bibi remains in solitary confinement as she awaits appeal.
John Gray, book reviewer for The New Statesman, reviews Karen Armstrong’s book, Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence, in The New Republic. Though I have not read Armstrong’s book, I find much to recommend in Gray’s analysis of religion and world politics. Echoing Armstrong, he takes on a view of many contemporary secularists that, as I have often noticed, proves a contradiction.
The idea that religion is fading away has been replaced in conventional wisdom by the notion that religion lies behind most of the world’s conflicts. Many among the present crop of atheists hold both ideas at the same time. They will fulminate against religion, declaring that it is responsible for much of the violence of the present time, then a moment later tell you with equally dogmatic fervor that religion is in rapid decline. Of course it’s a mistake to expect logic from rationalists. More than anything else, the evangelical atheism of recent years is a symptom of moral panic. Worldwide secularization, which was believed to be an integral part of the process of becoming modern, shows no signs of happening. Quite the contrary: in much of the world, religion is in the ascendant. For many people the result is a condition of acute cognitive dissonance.
Gray goes on to challenge standard blanket views of religion as “violent” or “peaceful.” He points out that warring on religion was endemic to some of the most brutal regimes of the 20th century.