John Derbyshire wishes I had read his review of my book Religion of Peace? “more carefully,” since he now contends that he did not say – as I had characterized him as saying — that “Christianity and Islam are ‘equally likely to incite violence.’”
I ask Mr. Derbyshire’s indulgence if I mistook his statement in his review that “God’s instructions to us through Mohammed are no more or less likely to make us better or worse than his instructions through Christ” as meaning that God’s instructions to us through Mohammed are no more or less likely to make us better or worse than his instructions through Christ. It was on that that I based my own summary of what I took to be his view: that Christianity and Islam are “equally likely to incite violence.” Looking at his words again, I still think it’s reasonable to conclude that that’s what they mean.
But no matter. If he doesn’t mean that, so much the better. He now says, “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.” This is obviously true, but Charles Manson is in the bughouse for excellent reasons, and if Derbyshire is now saying that any text – any text at all – is no more or less likely to incite violence than any other, this would manifest a nihilism so corrosive as to strip all words, and everything altogether, of any meaning. It is certainly true that someone who is thoroughly deranged and depraved could understand “Do you don’t you want me to love you/I’m comin’ down fast but I’m miles above you” (from the Beatles song in question) or even “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” as containing some kind of coded command to destroy other human beings, but clearly the words don’t mean that, and that is why we do not see and have never seen large-scale, international movements of terrorists justifying their actions by invoking Beatles songs, or Harry Potter, or Science and Health, or…the Bible.
The Qur’an, however, is quite another matter. It has given rise to a global movement of terrorists who frequently and copiously quote its teachings to justify their actions (in ways the Crusaders, Inquisitors, and all the rest of history’s Christian bogeymen never dreamed of doing with the Bible). Unless words mean absolutely nothing, “slay the unbelievers wherever you find them” (9:5) and “fight…the People of the Book…until they pay the jizya with willing submission and feel themselves subdued” (9:29) and “fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for Allah” (2:193) and all the rest (and there are many more) do contain more incitement to violence than a pop song about a playground slide, and thus more violence is committed in the name of the Qur’an than in the name of Helter Skelter.
And to be sure, Mr. Derbyshire is cautiously “inclined to think that Islam offers more and better justifications for militancy than does Christianity.” That, of course, is my entire point in the book, since that very point is routinely controverted in the mainstream media. It is controverted to an extent that I thought it necessary to consider it in a book-length treatment, and to try in the process to give people who enjoy the benefits of living in the Judeo-Christian West a sense that they have a culture and a civilization that they should be proud of, and begin to defend more forthrightly and unapologetically.
This is not a matter of religious belief or proselytizing. I don’t proselytize in the book, which is about the value of Judeo-Christian civilization; accordingly, Mr. Derbyshire’s continued insistence that “irreligious people see all religions as equally preposterous” seems to me to be a bit off the point in this discussion. I am not arguing in this book that Christianity is less preposterous than Islam, and there is nothing I wrote in it that could not have been written by an informed atheist, or Jew, or Buddhist. The fact that Mr. Derbyshire considers Christianity preposterous is noted; it may, however, have blinded him to the ways in which he benefits from the civilizational advances it fostered, as well as to the ways in which the propagandistic “equivalence” arguments that are so prevalent nowadays sap the will of Westerners to defend what we are told every day is a rotten, worthless thing.
Thus I appreciate Derbyshire’s quip that “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!,’” but I must reject the sentiment. The whole point of my book is that Judeo-Christian civilization stands for values that are more humane and life-affirming than those of Islamic Sharia. In place of supremacism, conformism, fear, and a culture of violence and revenge, there is the possibility of genuine virtue, born in genuine freedom, and an affirmation of the dignity of the human person that does not – pace Derbyshire’s earlier contention – lead with any inevitably to relativism and the loss of the will to defend one’s own. We can only regain that will by recovering a sense of the value of who we are, of what we have done, and of what we have made. That is why I wrote this book, and why I am as glad as he is that Mr. Derbyshire and I share some views of what must be done to extricate us from this present fix. With all his immense talent and insight, I look forward to fighting alongside him for the survival of our embattled common civilization.
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