Religion’s New Violence, Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Apr 25 2012 @ 3:21pm

A reader dissents:

I have the same view of Slavoj Zizek that you do, roughly: he's much overrated, and generally full of himself (he's the media's idea of a philosopher, but decidedly not the genuine article). He's Marxist to the core and he's an atheist. The only remotely positive thing I can say about him is that when he writes about Marxists and the Communist world of 1919-92, he seems generally to know what he's talking about, even while he is sometimes appallingly uncritical.

But I disagree with your suggestion that the rise in religiously-motivated violence is limited to Islam.

That is the example we see most dramatically portrayed in the media, but it is tied to a troubling modern phenomenon generally. There is a great deal of violence related to religious fundamentalism of other faiths. In Zizek's native Yugoslavia, Serbian nationalists used Orthodox Christianity as a mask to justify atrocities; in India, Hindu nationalists turn recurrently to violence; in Sri Lanka there has been a great deal of Hindu-on-Buddhist violence; and haven't you been documenting some of the vile things done by Orthodox Jewish settlers in the West Bank?

And let's not forget America's Christianists, their frightening relationship with the military and with American military power – and their tendency to see America's contemporary wars as anti-Muslim crusades. No doubt that radical Islamist groups are Exhibit A, but as for others, Christianists, Hindus… the problem is certainly wider, and Zizek's point has more validity than you want to give it. Is there not indeed a problem of religious fundamentalism generally?

Well, since The Conservative Soul begins with a worry about the rise of fundamentalist certainty in every faith – and focuses primarily on the corruption of Christianity – I take my reader's point. Hence my Islamist-Christianist terminology. But there are peaceful democratic Islamists and almost all Christianists are personally non-violent and democratic. Yes, there is a nexus between Christianism and violence – especially the justification of wars against Islam, and evangelical support for torture and near-deification of the gun, of all symbols. But we shouldn't miss the fact that Islam right now (but not always in the past) is easily the most violent of religions. This is not to say that all Islam is violent; it is to say that mass murderers are still doing what they do in the name of Allah.