In Chapter 9, Peter Hitchens begins to take on some of the standard arguments advanced by the new atheists. The first, their Goliath taunting the armies of Israel, is the charge that religion is the source of endless conflict. If we want deliverance from strife and sectarian violence, we must have a secular state. And the new atheists are arguing that in order to maintain this secular state, we really need an overwhelmingly secular citizenry. If religious types are free to educate their children, for example, a situation might arise where religious fervor breaks out once again, you guessed it, into sectarian violence.
“Among the favorite arguments of the irreligious — one that they almost invariably advance in the opening offensive of their attacks on faith — is this: that conflicts fought in the name of religion are necessarily conflicts about religion” (p. 127).
Peter then walks us through a number of these conflicts, the ones used as poster children for secularist propaganda, and describes briefly what those conflicts are actually about. He touches on the Thirty Years War (p. 128), Christians, Muslims and Jews in the Middle East (p. 129), Christians and Muslims in the Balkans (p. 132), and Northern Ireland (p. 128). Peter’s summary is a very good one. “The only general lesson that can be drawn from these differing wars is that man is inclined to make war on man when he thinks it will gain him power or wealth or land” (p. 127).
Man is a violent creature, and when he turns to violence, he will pick up any available rocks to throw. If those rocks happen to include religious pointy edges, so much the better.
But the secular catechism goes like this. This is the story that the secularists tell us when they are describing how “these gods” brought us up out of the land of Egypt. Our forefathers were wearied with unending religious strife, one of the best examples being the Thirty Years War. Protestants and Catholics fought one another to the point of exhaustion, and in the fullness of time, the idea of a neutral, secular state was finally developed, a state which stepped in and saved us all. Yay. The only problem for this thesis is that it is almost entirely wrong. That war was caused by the rise of the modern state, and the modern state used all the available resources, as they always do. If the Thirty Years War was caused by religion, then how do you explain the Catholics fighting Catholics, and the Protestant/Catholic alliances?
In this chapter, Peter also addresses the dismal record of secularism when it comes to violence and war. It turns out that the elimination of sectarian violence did not exactly head off the possibility of Stalin. And Peter closes the door to any appeal to the lost potential of Trotsky, who was just a thug who died too soon to have his thuggery manifested to the world. The Soviet state was a standing embarrassment to leftists everywhere, and its collapse, Peter points out, has been a great relief to them. Something very difficult for them to explain does not need to be explained anymore. But for people who have read a book, and who remember something about recent history, like Peter Hitchens, that still does need to be explained, and so Peter presses the point.
One final point on this subject, but one that goes off at an oblique angle from Peter’s point here. I have recently ordered William Cavanaugh’s The Myth of Religious Violence, which I am very much looking forward to. His Theopolitical Imagination was very good on this subject, and I anticipate more of the same. But the thing that baffles me about writers like Cavanaugh, and those who read him all trendy-like, is the utter absence of hostility to the Left, which wants to do nothing but grow the state.
If the modern nation/state is an idol (and it is), then it is the duty of every right-thinking Christian to support defunding it — not to give it pay raises in the hopes that it will mysteriously start using that money like a good little Christian. But support for defunding the state is not tres chic at the present. It might bring you under the charge of being a tea partier, and there is no better way to find yourself on the outs with the trendy-makers of contempo-evangelicalism.
Cavanaugh is very sensitve to the idolatry of nationalism, of the kind that might result in a flag decal on a pick-up truck. But if you were to round up one hundred such trucks, and take a vote among their owners, the idol’s budget for next year would be dramatically slashed, to such an extent that the administrators of said budget might have to start thinking of themselves as finite creatures. Buy if you were to round up the owners of 100 Volvos, whose owners taught at establishment evangelical colleges, and who have all read Cavanaugh, and whose cars sported bumperstickers that said “Hate is not a Family Value,” what would happen to the idol’s funding by their vote? Not a trick question, everybody.
In sum, let us compare the media treatment given to tea partiers here, made up of grannies and small shop-owners, calling upon the government to stop spending money like a drunk on a major bender and/or toot, and protesters in the streets of Athens, protesting the possible diminution of their benefits by throwing Molotov cocktails. Which one has everybody all in a lather about the possibility of violence?
Peter is exactly right. “God is the leftists’ chief rival” (p. 134).