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Derbyshire v Spencer, Round Three

Round One was John Derbyshire's review of Robert Spencer's %%AMAZON=1596985151 Religion of Peace?-Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn't%%. Round Two was Robert Spencer's response. Today, John Derbyshire replies.

John Derbyshire


August 25, 2007 - 3:45 am

I am obliged to Robert Spencer for having taken the time to read my review of his book, but I wish he had read it more carefully. I did not say the things he says I said. I do not think that Christianity and Islam are “equally likely to incite violence.” How could I have any opinion on the matter when, as I admitted, I have not read the Koran? What I actually think is that persons wishing to commit violence will find justification in any text they pick up-the New Testament, the Koran, Science and Health, or the Harry Potter saga. Charles Manson, if memory serves, got his inspiration from a Beatles song about a fairground attraction.

What I said was

* Irreligious people see all religions as equally preposterous.

* This is difficult for believers to grasp.

* So “equivalence” is not merely true or false to a believer, but also baffling and vexing.

* And that (in my opinion) is why Spencer spends too much time (in my opinion) on it in his book.

On circumstantial evidence-among which, I include Spencer’s “persuasive” book-I am inclined to think that Islam offers more and better justifications for militancy than does Christianity. To have a more solid opinion, I’d have to do the kind of deep reading in Islamic scriptures that Spencer has, and I have no intention of doing that.

I do read newspapers and books about current affairs, though, and I can say with much stronger assurance what I said in my review: “in the present state of the world, Islam contains a far higher proportion of crazy troublemakers that does Christianity.” I would not exclude the possibility that in some other state of the world, things might be the other way round. I see religious faith as an intensifier, a dispersive factor on the behavior bell curve, making good people better and bad people worse.

Similarly, I carefully (I hope) qualified my own remarks about Islam with phrases like “so far as the present state of Islam is concerned…” The present state of Islam can be sufficiently divined by reading the newspapers; the deep meaning of Islam’s core doctrines, and their implications, can be extracted only by relentless study such has been undertaken by Spencer, and by all those Islamic clerics who no doubt would like to hotly dispute his conclusions, in some forum I do not wish to be present at.

On the prescriptive front, I am very glad to know (that is not facetious: Spencer is widely read and respected, and I am very glad to know) that we are in broad agreement, though I don’t think the bribery policy is as foolish as he says. Something could be worked out, I am sure. Be that as it may, we-he, since this is really his beat, not mine-should try to get some respectable public figure to come out for separationism. I believe it would have wide public appeal, though those “constitutional niceties” I mentioned might hold us up for a few decades.

The rest of what Spencer says seems to be a call to resurrect the Church Militant. I wouldn’t mind that happening myself. The Charlton Heston, Sophia Loren movie of El Cid was a favorite of my teen years; and one of the (lesser) factors that drove me out of Christianity was that wretched and embarrassing “peace” hug-in my case, a squirm. Give me the Cid and Richard the First any time (though not, please, Richard’s hug).

To one who has recently set down Spencer’s book, though, this call to arms sounds a bit off-pitch. Perhaps the book’s subtitle should be: “Why Christianity is a religion of peace and Islam isn’t, and how I wish it were the other way round!”

British-born John Derbyshire is the author most recently of %%AMAZON=0452288533 Unknown Quantity: A Real and Imaginary History of Algebra.%% His %%AMAZON=0312156499 Seeing Calvin Coolidge in a Dream: A Novel%% was a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year.

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