The problem was not religion

On the Foreign Policy blog today, Christian Caryl posted a piece, “Religion is Not the Enemy,” where he takes issue with one way of interpreting the Charlie Hebdo violence — that religion is the problem.  He begins by engaging Salman Rushdie:

It was entirely appropriate that one of the first people to weigh in after the Charlie Hebdo massacre was Salman Rushdie, the man who spent years of his life defying a state-sponsored death threat prompted by a presumed act of blasphemy. Though Rushdie isn’t one of my favorite novelists, I’ve always admired his firm stand in defense of the freedom of speech — and I’m glad that the British government had the guts to defend his rights.

By the same token, I don’t in any way dispute his right to make the statement that he issued yesterday — even though I find myself in rather strong disagreement with it. Here’s what he said:

Religion, a mediaeval form of unreason, when combined with modern weaponry becomes a real threat to our freedoms. This religious totalitarianism has caused a deadly mutation in the heart of Islam and we see the tragic consequences in Paris today. I stand with Charlie Hebdo, as we all must, to defend the art of satire, which has always been a force for liberty and against tyranny, dishonesty and stupidity. “Respect for religion” has become a code phrase meaning “fear of religion.” Religions, like all other ideas, deserve criticism, satire, and, yes, our fearless disrespect.

Caryl takes issue.  Further down, he writes,

The problem with such arguments is that the ranks of the religious inconveniently include people who have done great good for humankind. Martin Luther King’s nonviolent campaign for justice is unimaginable without his background as a Baptist preacher. The Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed by the Nazis because he denounced the Holocaust and bemoaned the criminality of Hitler’s regime. Fervent Buddhists like Aung San Suu Kyi and the Dalai Lama have devoted their lives to the defense of human rights. The Augustinian monk Gregor Mendel believed himself to be doing God’s work as he laid the foundations of modern genetics.

The whole piece is well worth reading!

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Daniel Philpott

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