Religion, The State, and Violence

Here is more on the theme of religion, the state, and violence.

“Whatever the truth about how often particular Christians, Jews, Muslims, and so on, commend and practice violence, we ought to remember that the quantity of violence traceable to such commendations is vanishingly small compared with the quantity sponsored by other forms of life and produced in other ways.”

“Neither ought we to forget that – first, the modern settlement of religion’s place within the state is unstable and probably cannot long endure, and, second, that the hobbyist-cheerleader is a role that, if adopted, means the end of those forms of religion (particularly Islam and Christianity) that have more comprehensive ambitions for their significance for their adherents than such a pinched, impotent role permits.”

This entry was posted in Nation Sate, Religion, Violence. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Religion, The State, and Violence

  1. Burk Braun says:

    “… is unstable and probably cannot long endure.”

    And that is a problem in some way? I don't see the difficulty.

    Is it the theocracy-way or the high-way? Are those the choices? I think America made that choice long ago. If you want to mix your politics and religion, there are other countries you might prefer.


  2. Darrell says:

    They are already mixed. The “secular” is a metaphysical narrative, a story, a myth.

    Maybe you need a bumper sticker that says, “To People of Faith: America, love it or leave it.”

    That would capture the mentality well.


  3. Burk Braun says:

    Hi, Darrell-

    It is probably time to be a little serious. Your comments to Bernard exemplify again a tendency to play “I'm rubber, you're glue” that fails to deal with reality.

    Here, the secular “myth” is an example of false equivalence. You really should try to come up with examples for your case- examples of how the secular world view is equally untethered from evidence and reality as so many aspects of the religious world view are.

    The secular-type mindset deals with whatever is well-attested, like history from reputable historians, geology and paleontology from reputable people and using reputable methods, etc. These findings and methods are rational, their rationality increases with time as we find out more about the world, and for the most part, you have no problem with all this corpus.

    So what is left? You swoon over questions of what it all means, or whether there is a god, and so forth. There, the secular mind-set is comfortable enough in agnosticism. The evidence for complex theologies has declined over the years, not increased. Now you may take refuge in fine-tuning, but perhaps after Hawking is done, even that won't be available. Who knows? The quality of apologetic evidence is truly wretched, and calling secularists names out of spite isn't going to fix that condition.

    The fact is that we don't know much about these ultimate questions, (other than the void we see before us), and anyone who takes a humble approach to epistemology, let alone ontology, just lets the larger mysteries be until something reliable can be said about them.

    And of course, with respect to politics, the issue you present is whether Christians should copy Islam's fundamentalist fringes, tear down the wall of church and state, and return us to a medieval unity. That couldn't be more fundamentally at cross-purposes to every founding impulse of the US, not to mention our current aims domestically and abroad (with apologies to Glen Beck). I don't dispute your right to agitate for it, but suggest that unity of church and state is manifested elsewhere, and it isn't a pretty sight. So I would urge you to think about it more deeply.


  4. Darrell says:


    All very well, except, yours is not a serious response or anthing that comes close to deep thinking.

    Did you even read the article? Why don't you interact with the substance of the article rather than go on and on with mere assertion. Your recounting of the “secular mind-set” is simply a re-telling of the secular narrative and nothing more. You beg the question when you simply restate the position in dispute.

    As to Bernard, at least he admits his naturalism is also an “art” so to speak and a narrative of meaning, and you might take a page from his book.


  5. Burk Braun says:

    Here is the telling quote…

    “Do those religions whose status has been reduced to that of neutered lapdogs have any future? Is the only way for them to “have some balls” to lash out against the state?”

    And his answer is, as you note, that Christianity can not long endure without such balls, which is to say, without vigorously combatting its lapdog/hobbyist status, and presumably re-contesting control of the state, taking us back to pre-Westphalia days.

    He does not have the “balls” to follow this conclusion explicitly, but it is eminently clear that that is what he means, and that is clearly also why you find this argument so congenial- the prospect of taking up the cross to fight this neutering seems very attractive.

    That is what I make of it, and I think I am following the thread accurately. What do you make of it?


  6. Darrell says:


    Yours is a good example of how not to read something as you have missed his point and the context of the article, clearly.

    How did you miss these points?

    “This violence used to go under the name “the wars of religion,” but it would be better called the birth-pangs of the nation – not those of any particular nation, but those of the very idea of the nation.”

    “Christianity, in my judgment, ought rarely to prompt or require violent action, but not because the state does not like it or makes such violence illegal. Rather because there are claims and practices internal to Christianity that should predispose Christians toward a deep evangelical mildness on such matters.”

    “Whatever the truth about how often particular Christians, Jews, Muslims, and so on, commend and practice violence, we ought to remember that the quantity of violence traceable to such commendations is vanishingly small compared with the quantity sponsored by other forms of life and produced in other ways.”

    The bigger question here is why you aren’t concerned about the “quantity” of violence sponsored by “other forms” of life like the nation state. What we begin to see is that violence isn’t really the issue. The secularist is fine with violence and as long as those being killed are his rivals—those of other faiths.

    Nice faith.


  7. Burk Braun says:

    Hi, Darrell-

    This is classic speaking out of two sides of one's mouth. So how does one resolve the dilemma of being a lapdog of the state? Where is the program? A string of platitudes about how terrible the other side is (secularism, state) leaves one in complete impotence. Is that where you or the author wish to stay? If so, what was the point of the article in the first place?

    Is mildness the program, or is balls?


  8. Darrell says:


    I can't speak for the author, maybe you should contact him for clarification, but I thought the point of the article rather clear and I don't see any double speak here at all. I think his point is that “religion” was created by nation-states as something to be compartmentalized and private/internal so as to assert their own universal objective power over other such forms of community and that when it comes to violence, it is the nation-state we need to worry about.

    His point in a short essay in such a forum wasn't to lay out a “program” or plan, so what is the problem? What does that have to do with what he wrote?

    I would think most educated people, whether secular or otherwise, whether they agree or disagree, could read his essay and at least get the context and main point.

    So, what happened? Maybe this will help: Tell us, “I disagree, and here is why?”

    Does that help?


  9. Burk Braun says:

    Are you kidding? If the author puts the problem as the fatal inability of religion to survive if the state exists, then there is a conflict of some seriousness. If he fails to rationally conclude his own thinking, that is not my problem.

    It reminds me of those Imams who say- I didn't tell anyone to blow anything up, I was just preaching hate.

    Anyhow, the basic question is whether the state is bad or not. the basic theory of the state is that the best way to organize large societies is to create a legitimate state that has a monopoly on violence, which it then metes out judiciously based on constitutions, law, legal procedures, democratic procedures, etc.

    You can see this process work itself out in all the anarchic places the US has been involved in of late- Iraq at its worst, and Afghanistan. Both places did/do not have state monopolies on violence (i.e. they have militias, other armed insurgent and criminal groups) and they thus have anarchy, weak government, and chaos. It is a disaster, whether religion is strong or weak. Such anarchy is very bad.

    Can governments go bad and abuse their power? Sure they can. But the track record in the west with mature governments has been very good, validating the basic deal of the state as outlined above.

    What does religion have to do with it? The author indicates that only one can survive in the long term- religion or the state. In the west, the state has defanged religion, which is to say, restricted it from sharing state-like powers, especially violent powers and judicial powers.

    The author would like to see all this reversed. How far, it is not clear. By what method, it is not clear. We have to read his mind. You are walking back his main points. But the basic proposition seems to be that the state needs to be destroyed so that religion may live, and that seems not only debatable, but quite dangerous.


  10. Darrell says:


    Really? You are comparing a professor at the Divinity School of Duke University (That bastion of radical and terroristic state bashing!?) to an Imam in the Middle East?

    Talk about jumping to conclusions and conspiracy theories (with all due respect to Glen Beck)! Wow, this is why both the Left and Right Wing in this country are both equally ridiculous.

    “But the track record in the west with mature governments has been very good…” I’m not sure what you mean by mature, but has the last two-to-three hundred years, especially the 20th Century escaped you? Two world wars, death camps, the gulag, executions on scales completely unheard of, thousands of smaller wars and actions, and on and on. Were these Christian states or Muslim states that did all this? Oh, that’s right—they were “secular” states. Oh, never mind.

    And how one could suggest that what the writer wants is for the state to be “destroyed” is not only beyond me, but mostly it is an irresponsible and uncharitable way to read anyone, let alone the author in question.

    This is a great example of how we “see” and “read” what we want to and not what is necessarily there. This might be a great example of what we have been talking about on Eric’s blog as to “seeing” and “interpreting” facts.


  11. Burk Braun says:

    Alright, so then my first comment seems to hold. Religion will die, and that is OK with you as it is with me. Very well.


  12. Darrell says:


    Yes, absolutely, your original insight was correct. How could we have thought otherwise? Perhaps you should contact the author and tell him what he really meant.


  13. Burk Braun says:

    Hi- You might enjoy a Hitchens column on a similar matter.


Comments are closed.