"If one does not acknowledge transcendent truth, then the force of
power takes over, and each person tends to make full use of the means at his
disposal in order to impose his own interests or his own opinion, with no
regard of the rights of others. People are then respected only to the extent
they can be exploited for selfish ends. Thus, the root of modern
totalitarianism is to be found in the denial of the transcendent dignity of the
human person who, as the visible image of the invisible God, is therefore by
his very nature the subject of rights which no one may violate — no
individual, group, class, nation or state."
We see this principle being played out in the current fight against
terrorists. Because we cannot appeal to the transcendent truth of Christianity
and say "Radical Islam is false" and "blowing up civilians is
evil according to the laws of the one true God" we are forced to gain
control of it through different means.
The first step in this process is to define the problem not as Islam, but as
"religious extremism." Notice this story from today:
officials of the Bush administration have changed the way that they talk about
terrorism. They have stopped speaking of a “war on terrorism.” Thinking it too
narrowly defined, they now talk of a “struggle against global extremism.”
And what is extremism? Generally speaking, people are considered extremists
if they believe God speaks to them and are willing to follow his commands
rather than the social norms of society.
This leaves society and the extremists two options if they are to co-exist.
Either the extremists have to voluntarily change their beliefs about God –
adjust the doctrines of their religion – or society must force them to do so.
There is currently a worldwide appeal for Islam to reform itself and expunge
certain beliefs. However, most do not expect this effort to be completely successful
and therefore are starting to propose laws that would attempt to have the same
effect. For example Patrick
The US-based Free Muslims Coalition, which was set up after 9/11 to promote
a modern and secular version of Islam, has proposed the following:
1. A re-interpretation of Islam for the 21st century, where terrorism is not
justified under any circumstances.
2. Separation of religion and state.
3. Democracy as the best form of government.
4. Secularism in all forms of political activity.
5. Equality for women.
6. Religion to be a personal relationship between the individual and his or her
God, not to be forced on anyone.
This tempting vision of an Islam reformed along such lines is unlikely to be
achieved except by a long and painful process of small steps. What might these
be and how can we make a start? One step would be, as urged by the Prince of
Wales, that every Muslim should ‘condemn these atrocities [the London bombings] and root out those among
them who preach and practice such hatred and bitterness’. Universal
condemnation of suicide bombers instead of acclamation as heroes would indeed
be an excellent start.
Mansoor Ijaz has suggested a practical three-point action plan:
1. Forbid radical hate-filled preaching in British mosques. Deport imams who
fail to comply.
2. Scrutinise British Islamic charities to identify those that fund terrorism.
Prevent them receiving more than 10 per cent of their income from overseas.
3. Form community-watch groups comprising Muslim citizens to contribute useful
information on fanatical Muslims to the authorities.
Notice the progression. From asking Muslims to change their doctrines to
forcing them to by setting up a police state reminiscent of Nazi Germany (turning
each other in to the authorities?).
Of course in our politically correct climate, this approach cannot be
limited to Islam, for that would be racist. Therefore, inevitably, the
government must rest control of all forms of religious extremism.
take the form of forcing all children into public schools, as has
been proposed in Australia, so that families would be denied the
opportunity to "shelter their kids from outside views" and
"indoctrinate" them into any particular religion. (Rather the government
would indoctrinate them into the state religion).
Or it might mean that
government simply takes control of religion, as was proposed last
week by Bob Ferguson on Canada’s
national broadcasting network. If this doesn’t send a chill down your spine,
you may be too far gone already:
Given the inertia of the Catholic Church, perhaps we could encourage reform
by changing the environment in which all religions operate.
Couldn’t we insist that human rights, employment and consumer legislation
apply to them as it does other organizations? Then it would be illegal to
require a particular marital status as a condition of employment or to exclude
women from the priesthood.
Of course the Vatican wouldn’t like the changes, but they would come to accept them in time as a
fact of life in Canada. Indeed I suspect many clergy would welcome the external pressure.
We could also help the general cause of religious freedom by introducing a
code of moral practice for religions. They will never achieve unity so why not
try for compatibility? Can’t religious leaders agree to adjust doctrine so all
religions can operate within the code?
I am an engineer so the model I am thinking about is rather like the
provincial acts regulating the practice of engineering. For example, engineers
must have an engineering degree from a recognized university or pass
qualification exams. They must have a number of years of practical experience
and pass an ethics exam. The different branches: mechanical, electrical, civil
and the like have a code of practice that applies to everyone. Why can’t
religious groups do the same?
I envisage a congress meeting to hammer out a code that would form the basis
of legislation to regulate the practice of religion. Like the professional
engineers’ P.Eng designation, there would then be RRPs (or registered religious
practitioners). To carry the analogy to its conclusion, no one could be a
religious practitioner without this qualification.
I won’t try to propose what might be in the new code except for a few
obvious things: A key item would have to be a ban on claims of exclusivity. It
should be unethical for any RRP to claim that theirs was the one true religion
and believers in anything else or nothing were doomed to fire and brimstone.
One might also expect prohibition of ritual circumcisions, bans on preaching
hate or violence, the regulation of faith healers, protocols for missionary
Now what is the point of proposing this? I do it because I am worried that
the separation between church and state is under threat. Religion is important
in our lives, but it can become a danger to society when people claim that the
unalterable will of God is the basis for their opinions and actions. Yes
religion can be a comfort and a guide, but we cannot take rules from our holy
books and apply them to the modern world without democratic debate and due
regard for the law.
We are on a very dangerous trajectory and very few seem to be
paying attention. It’s time to wake up.