What Defines ‘Religion’?
A new book tackles that question, and focuses on another: does Islam qualify?
August 14, 2011 - 12:02 am
By Rebecca Bynum
Published by New English Review Press, 2011
160 pp., $17.95
Reviewed by Janet Levy
In a July 29 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit essentially regulated the language of prayer by ruling that any mention of “Jesus” during public prayer constitutes sectarian and unconstitutional language. The Board of Commissioners of Forsyth County, North Carolina, had long used such invocations to bless its work. But the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) brought the legal challenge seeking to end in Forsyth County a traditional practice commonly used before public meetings in state and local legislative bodies across America.
Such attacks by the Left against religious expression are commonplace. This month, leftist groups roundly criticized Texas Governor Rick Perry’s call for a day of prayer to “seek G-d’s guidance and wisdom in addressing the challenges that face our communities, states and nation.” In January, Hawaii caved in to ACLU demands and became the first state to eliminate daily prayer, although approval of a 2009 bill to celebrate “Islam Day” mysteriously escaped their censure.
Meanwhile, as I reported here, several state legislatures including Iowa, Texas, and Washington have opened their sessions with Islamic prayers invoking Allah, calling for “victory over those who disbelieve” and soliciting “protection from the Great Satan.” These requests that Allah grant Muslims victory over non-Muslims are hardly prayers to bless the work of legislatures, but neither the ACLU or AU raised objections, even though the prayers excluded Christians and Jews and declared cultural war against American society.
In the past, the Left, which asked the nihilistic question “Is G-d Dead?,” made common cause with communism and rejected religious faith in favor of “godless” secular humanism. Today the connection between the totalitarianism of the Left — control of human activity and thought in the name of “social justice” — and the totalitarianism of Islam — control of every aspect of life through the shariah — is a bond fusing their efforts to pursue a common agenda: to undermine America’s Judeo-Christian values and traditional institutions.
In her book Allah Is Dead: Why Islam Is Not A Religion, Rebecca Bynum (author and publisher of New English Review) adeptly explores the traditional role of religion, the G-d is dead posture of the left, and the nature of Islam. She offers astute observations on the meaning and essence of religion as the very basis of reality for Western culture, extols its noble purpose of elevating man toward a path of righteousness, and contrasts this with the nihilistic ideologies presented as religion by the Left and Islam. She describes the deleterious effects of the Left on the meaning, value, and practice of religion, and argues that Islam’s fundamental characteristics deny it status as a religion.
Bynum identifies the critical role religion plays in fostering morality, anchoring society, buttressing the family, and promoting social harmony, public service, and charity. She makes important distinctions between the mechanical adherence to religious doctrine and the exalted, living experience of faith. A transcendent reality, faith captures the human heart and spirit and imbues our lives with meaning, Bynum writes. Faith is not coercion through the recitation of Biblical passages. Instead, scripture is a series of guidelines for human behavior which empower individuals to freely and creatively chart a path, constantly striving toward spiritual perfection. Bynum emphasizes that individual free will encouraged by faith is the pathway to understanding goodness, truth, and beauty, and ultimately the unique experience of discovering G-d and godliness.
The influence of the anti-religion Left has caused the church to abandon this traditional role and these values, Bynum asserts. For the most part, the church has turned away from spiritual ministry toward political and social causes with a focus on “works” over faith and religious practice. Religion is used politically to bolster social reforms, she writes, rather than to nurture spiritual and moral development. Religion emphasizes self-realization and sensual comfort, rather than attainment of the ideals of truth, beauty, and goodness. Instead of helping individuals aspire to the virtues of self-reliance, self-control, and gratitude, religion fosters an infantile sense of entitlement, a victim mentality of blaming external factors, and an unwillingness to take personal responsibility.
For the Left, religion is the enemy, morality is non-existent, and actions relate to narcissistic wants. Bynum describes the modern secular movement advanced by the Left as debasing man and diminishing his importance in the universe, viewing him as equivalent and as equally deserving as all other creatures on Earth. In this view, man’s higher purpose, his ability for self-reflection, and his capacity for imagination are denied. Man is no longer heroic. He is reduced to the level of any other member of the animal kingdom, just another organism competing to survive and reproduce. As human dignity has been debased, the human values of love, truth, and goodness, as well as religious experience, are dismissed as delusional. Bynum concludes that spiritual transcendence is impossible when free will is viewed as an illusion and morality is arbitrary.