A response to “How to deal with religious extremism”

I must take umbrage with Eric’s assertion that the difference between Christianity and Islam, concerning violence, is one of reformation.

I must take umbrage with Eric’s assertion that the difference between Christianity and Islam, concerning violence, is one of reformation. One could infer that Catholic and Orthodox believers are more prone to brutality than Protestants. This claim holds no evidence. For starters, Catholicism had its reformation in the middle ages. The Protest Reformation was more of a rejection; after all, many individuals chose to leave the Church instead of doing the difficult work of combatting personal and institutionalized sin. Orthodoxy has not gone through a Reformation, and one would be hard pressed to find any evidence to suggest that Eastern Christians are more violent than their Protestant brothers and sisters.

I must also take issue with the expression “religious extremism.” The implication is that a little religion is ok, but if someone is devoutly religious he is likely to be a hateful, malevolent person. The problem is, in actuality, the opposite. Christians, be they Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant, who commit evil deeds, are not religious enough. If all Christians were to follow Christ as closely as humanly possible, we would have a world of saints, not a world plagued by bloodshed. This would be true regardless of any so-called reformation.

Also, one could infer from the term “religious extremism” that if the world could be rid of religion that we would also be free of terrorism and war. Recent history tells a different story. The Soviet Union was meant to be religion free and yet is responsible for both war and genocide, costing the world numerous innocent lives. The same is true for China under Mao. Or Cambodia under Pol Pot. Or Mexico in the 1930s. All efforts to remove religion from the public square have been done had the edge of the sword and in all cases have wrought great calamities on the masses. This is legalized, government-funded, terrorism.

As for the separation of Church a state, this is something that the Church wants, rarely the state. There were no state churches until the Protestant Reformation. First, England kicked out priests and other religious: priests were executed for celebrating mass. Then, individuals who did not turn up at the Church of England were fined. In Germany, during the Holocaust, churches were not closed, they simply came under the direct control of the Nazi government. Not much different than England under Elizabeth I. Today in Quebec, one can be fined for performing a religious ceremony in a space not zoned as religious. What we have in these examples is conflicting ideologies: religious people want to be free to practice their religions and many governments, both past and present, will not permit this.

There would be no modern science without the Church. Georges Lemaitre was a Catholic priest who proposed what became known as the Big Bang Theory. Darwin was a Christian and seriously considered becoming an Anglican clergyman. Roger Bacon, Descartes, Pascal, and even Galileo were all Catholics. As for Galileo, the Pope accepted the thesis of a heliocentric universe shortly after it was published. What got Galileo in trouble was dogmatism: he insisted that his theory be seen as fact before it was proven. That took another hundred years. The Church is concerned rightly with scientism: the belief that science can answer all questions and itself need not be questioned.

I do agree with Eric that to educate young girls is one way to combat terrorism. But when we do this, we must expect there will be more martyrs in retaliation. I would suggest that we must commit to two difficult tasks if we wish to live in peace. One, we must study religions, ideologies, and philosophies with rigor. We must determine which lead to peace and which lead to turmoil. Second, we must willing to suffer or we can only respond to martyrdom with murder, a cycle which can beget itself into eternity.

Timothy N. Nelson

Editor’s note: Religious matters, even within a political context (or rather because of it) are wide open to misinterpretation. Therefore, readers are free to have their own take of ideas submitted for their judgment.