Sunday, August 20, 2017

To be Truly Peaceful, Religionists Must Embrace Religion-State Separation

New Jersey Star-Ledger guest columnist Gerald L. Zelizer argued that We must ignore the destructive teachings of Scriptures.

It is as erroneous to claim that Islam, Christianity or Judaism is uniformly peaceful as it is to claim that they are unvaryingly violent.

The sacred literature and history of each contain both peaceful and violent components. It depends where the voice who speaks for the religion chooses to look.

In the United States, the preponderance of believers of all three religions opt for the universal and merciful components, eschewing the underside of our Abrahamic religions.

Zelizer is probably right about American religionists, including American Muslims. But there’s more to the issue.

I left these comments, expanded and edited for clarity:

It’s not enough for religionists to proclaim adherence to the peaceful passages over the violent ones in their respective texts. They must walk the walk, too. Violence is a species of force. Force is the method of authoritarians. As this article makes clear, religion is inherently authoritarian, each believing their God is the one true authority who must be followed unquestioningly.

This is why the West banned the convergence of religion and political power. The Enlightenment recognized the inalienable rights of the individual. Individual rights led to limited rights-protecting government. Rights-protecting government led to secular government based largely on the separation of religion and state. This separation is the fundamental issue for religion and for society at large.

Here is the chasm that separates Christianity and Judaism from Islam. The preponderance of Christians and Jews renounced not just violence but force, including government force—i.e., Christianity and Judaism have been Enlightened. Each has accepted the separation of church and state and synagogue and state, respectively—meaning, they accepted secular government that protects freedom of conscience for all people, including atheists, and renounced the belief that they have the right to legally—i.e. forcibly—impose their religious beliefs on others.

Can the same be said of Muslims? Has Islam accepted the Enlightenment? It may be true that only a small percentage of Muslims would personally commit or support random violence. But how many renounce force? How many embrace the separation of Mosque and state? Without that, any claim to love, pluralism, universality, tolerance, or kindness rings hollow. After all, a government, even an elected government, can be just as oppressive and violent to religious minorities as terrorists. That’s why we have the First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom—to constitutionally protect us from legal religious oppression.

I think it’s safe to say that a substantial minority if not a majority of the world’s Muslims have no problem legally imposing their religion on all of society, relegating non-believers to second class status at best and, at worst, to persecution, prison, and even death. Sharia Law is theocracy, and what is theocracy but slow-motion violence and terrorism? Any Muslim who believes in Sharia Law over secular government shares the same goal [with the terrorists] of forcible subjugation to Islam, merely differing on the tactics. To put it bluntly, Muslims who demand Islamic theocracy are on the side of the terrorists, even if they claim to embrace the “peaceful” side of their double-edged sacred text.  

Until and unless the vast majority of Muslims explicitly embrace the Enlightenment principle of separation of religion and state, it cannot be said that the preponderance of believers of Islam opt for the universal and merciful components of their sacred texts.


Granted, there are violent Christians and Jews acting sporadically on their sacred texts. But they are truly fringe elements. The violent Islamists are an organized ideological tip of a vast Muslim faction that demands Sharia theocracy. There’s a major difference.

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