title Opening Shots

January 21, 2002 Issue Full Text

The absurdity of blaming all religion for September 11

P.T. Barnum was right: there really is a sucker born every minute.* Otherwise, how can you account for all the so-called intellectuals who have fallen for the relativistic mumbo-jumbo claiming that religion in general, and not just fundamental Islam, is the agent most responsible for the September 11 violence? The deep thinkers argue that the "blind faith" supposedly fostered by religion produces a disconnection with reality and a loss of common sense. That, in turn, leads to fanaticism and war. But such an analysis flies in the face not only of the "reason" the intellectuals claim to employ, but also of the facts.

The "all religions are to blame" argument was advanced repeatedly and in many forms following the World Trade Center horror. For example, Peter Desbarats, a retired Ontario journalism professor, wrote that Islamic zealots reminded him of himself when he was a Catholic altar boy, and that scared him. But his argument, that the roots of terror can be found in all religious zeal, reveals his inability to examine the many differences between Christianity and Islam, not the least of which is the fruits the two religions bear.

Nowhere was the anti-religious sentiment more explicitly stated than in a letter written last month by Richard Bramwell of Milton, Ont. In the missive, Mr. Bramwell declared, "In every century of history, violence has arisen among those who abandon reason to accept the contradiction that is the 'afterlife.'" He concluded, "We must ignore the fraud of religion and discover the philosophy of reality, reason, individuals and capitalism."

John Lennon could not have sung it so naively. Most people long for peace, of course, but there is nothing to suggest that, as Lennon wrote most famously in "Imagine," eliminating the idea of a heavenly afterlife will create an earthly Utopia. Look at it this way: if the Bramwells and the Lennons of the world are correct, then a regime, government or state that is atheistic would undoubtedly be more peaceful than one whose roots are in religion. But any high-school history student should be able to see that this is simply not the case.

One hundred million victims tell the tale

Consider Communism. Here is a doctrine that rigorously embraced the "reason" of Marxism, while renouncing "the fraud of religion." Granted, it did not adhere to individualism and capitalism, but Communism was clearly anti-religious and, as such, should have been, if not the perfect belief system to foster peace, then one approaching it.

In reality, however, Communism gave rise to some of the most murderous regimes in the history of the world. As documented in The Black Book of Communism, an important work first published in France in 1997, Marxist regimes led to the death of at least 100 million victims.

"Communism has committed a multitude of crimes not only against individual human beings but also against world civilization and national cultures," writes Stephane Courtoris, one of six co-authors, all of whom describe themselves as former Communists or "fellow travellers" with Communism.

He explains, "The crimes tend to fit a recognizable pattern...the pattern includes execution by...firing squads, hanging, drowning, battering, and, in certain cases, gassing, poisoning, or 'car accidents'; destruction of the population by starvation, through man-made famine, the withholding of food, or both; deportation, through which death can occur in transit (either through physical exhaustion or through confinement in an enclosed space)...or through forced labour (exhaustion, illness, hunger, cold)."

Slander through the ages

Of course, to the John Ralston Sauls of the world, Communism and its totalitarian cousin, Nazism, are manifestations of the Christian civilization. Mr. Saul, the husband of Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, advances this specious reasoning in his new and resolutely relativistic book, On Equilibrium. Mr. Saul is apparently not constrained by the concrete fact that Communism and Nazism were explicitly anti-Christian. Furthermore, he is blind to the inescapable conclusion that, if (as he argues) Christianity is to blame for these two evil ideologies, then Christianity, in the form of the western democracies, is also responsible for defeating them.

Often advanced in unison with such slanders against Christianity is a recitation of its alleged "sins." Predictably, this includes the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition. The short response to these canards is that both events involved palpable injustices, violence and the taking of innocent life, but that anti-Christian propaganda has made them out to be far worse than they really were.

For example, any level-headed reading of history shows that the Crusades were, essentially, a defensive action mounted against aggressive Muslim armies. It was not until the king of Poland repelled the Islamic army at the gates of Vienna on September 11 (yes, that is the correct day), 1683, that the tide was finally turned.

As for the Inquisition, Father Marvin R. O'Connell, professor emeritus of history at the University of Notre Dame, has written that in the decade-and-a-half when the Spanish Inquisition was at its height, "perhaps as many as 2,000 persons were burnt as heretics." Most of the victims were Jews who had converted to Catholicism. The killing of even one innocent person is a tragedy, of course, but these unfortunate deaths--in numbers so small that they would hardly merit a footnote in any history of the 20th century--should hardly be considered grounds for the eternal condemnation of an entire religion.

*Although Barnum is widely credited for the remark, a banker named David Hannum actually said it first. (back up to top)

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