Sunday, August 26, 2007

Secular Critique for Believers

How times can Christiane Amanpour repeat the phrase "G-d's Warriors," either directly or in variation? What ought to have been compelling reportage on fundamentalism turned into a rhetorical exercise. Perhaps I should expect no more: this was journalism, not rigorous scholarship. However, this leitmotiv couched the fact that Amanpour exposed the mobilization of religious sentiment in conflict while ignoring the conflict writ large. During the segment on "G-ds Jewish Warriors," I was repeatedly troubled that Amanpour did not follow the involvement of secular and atheist Israelis (although she calls them only Jews) in the settlements in the West Bank. What connection was there for the Israeli who cared nothing for religion, who, so to speak, did not "long for Messiah"?

It would be easy to call this anti-religion, but reductive seems more appropriate. These fundamentalists, reactionaries, terrorists ... whatever you will call them ... respond to a call that Amanpour hastens to avoid. By calling the series "G-d's warriors," she invites the audience to believe that this is "G-d's War," the crux of the religious calling. It is religion detached from society, and in many cases, many within society cannot be called religious practitioners. This is the danger that Horkheimer diagnosed: the loss of dialogue between religion and reason to the detriment of both.

The program fits well next to Harris, Hitchens and Dawkins. They reduce religion to hate and intolerance, qualities that are by no means exclusively religious. Religion, like society, politics, and culture, is multi-faceted: a nexus of beliefs, institutions, and practices that are not all harmonious with one another and that can serve as a repository of ideas for both love and hate.

In some ways I welcomed Mark Lilla's essay, "The Politics of God," which appeared in the New York Times magazine last week. Many things in the essay were problematic. Lilla seemed to have unreserved faith in non-religious politics, ignoring the rise of ideology that occurred after Luther, religious and non-religious. When he says, "That is what happened in Weimar Germany," I feel compelled to remind him that Germans longed for leadership, spirit and power, and they checked religion at the door.

However, Lilla's emphasis on political theology has merits. Brandon expressed reservations about the concept because of its vagueness. But there needs to be some means of focusing in on the relationship between religion and politics. In particular, how religion is imported into the field of politics, either directly or symbolically, to justify aggression.

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