Does Religion Have Anything to Do With Terrorism?
by Michael Greaney
Religion has nothing to do with terrorism—and everything.
Distortions of the teachings of various organized religions have always been used to justify everything under the sun. Similarly, great wrongs have been committed in the name of the family and the State. It should come as no surprise that activities by terrorist or insurgent groups in the name of various religions over the past several centuries have succeeded in giving all organized religion, and ultimately all forms of religious belief, a very black all-seeing eye. If such-and-such can be done in the name of religion, the reasoning goes, then religion must be a very bad thing indeed.
Such reasoning, while plausible, is not well thought out. It is a form of the logical fallacy called “hasty generalization.” That is, because we see instances of the misuse of organized religion, we generalize on insufficient knowledge and data, and assume that all organized religion (and ultimately all religion) constitutes misuse of what Aristotle called the “virtue of religion.” That is, by engaging in terrorism, individuals and groups are acting contrary to the habit of rendering to that which you believe to be God (or gods) His (or their) due as Supreme Being (or beings). Such hypocrisy—so we assume—invalidates the beliefs and motivations, real or imagined, behind the actions.
Human society is divided into three principal parts. These are domestic society (the family), civil society (the State), and religious society (organized religion). Demagogues have always used the natural affinity that normal people have for all three parts of human society to distort and pervert people’s beliefs in order to achieve their private ends. This is particularly so when they make the Machiavellian assumption that the end justifies the means. The visceral reaction that normal people feel when they are persuaded that their family, faith, or country is in danger can very easily be manipulated by unscrupulous individuals or groups—all in a good cause, of course.
This is in large measure how other people can be persuaded that, because religion is used to justify terrorism, religion is bad. Similarly, because “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel,” we risk falling into the error that patriotism isn’t the first refuge of the patriot. Anyone professing religious belief or expressing patriotism is, ipso fact, a hypocrite and a scoundrel. Family, faith, and country, because of the distortions and violations we see in the name of all three, become viewed by the cynical and suspicious as phony, ploys used to trap and control the gullible.
The only solution to this problem is to reorient people and help them to understand that organized religion, as well as family, and the State, have specific and necessary roles to play. We cannot allow such critical social props to be hijacked by any individual or group bent on using them in support of “brief and transient causes”—or anything that is not ordered for the benefit of everyone within the common good and in a manner consistent with that essential human nature on which society is based.
The social order must be restructured to comply with basic principles of natural law, which human reason helps us discern, and which organized religion helps us learn and understand. The natural law being consistent with human nature and based on it, this will maximize the delivery of justice within the social order. It will thereby remove the chief cause of terrorism: people convinced that others are treating them unjustly, whether or not this is true.
Once the structures of injustice have been removed or reformed into structures of justice, the family, the State, and, yes, organized religion can take their proper places in a well-organized social order. This will not be achieved overnight, but removing the causes of terrorism will ultimately eliminate terrorism.
One possible program that would in large measure remove the causes of terrorism in the Middle East is called the “Abraham Federation,” a proposal developed by the interfaith Center for Economic and Social Justice.
The Abraham Federation, while based on principles found in the three great Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, can be adapted for use in virtually any set of circumstances. This is because the essential principles of the Abraham Federation—an application of a proposal called “capital homesteading for every citizen”—are consistent with the natural law discerned in and derived from human nature.
Yes, religion has everything to do with terrorism—just as it has everything to do with eliminating it.
Originally published on Helium