What Defines 'Religion'?
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.
Just as leftist-influenced Western religion has abandoned the search for spiritual transcendence, Islam similarly does not provide a path to spiritual transcendence, either, Bynum asserts. Islam does not qualify as a religion, she argues, because it lacks the essential qualities and attributes of religion. Muslims are not free to establish a relationship with Allah but are required to recite prayers in a specific format and direct them to an object -- the Kaaba, a cube-shaped building in Mecca that is the most sacred site in Islam. In Islam, strict rules regulate all behavior and Islamic worship is merely unquestioned obedience. Lacking is any quest for truth, acknowledgment of reality, or historical verification. The goal of Islam is complete control over the mind and the physical body and its functions. Bodies and minds are controlled with no nourishment for the soul.
With no outlet for individual expression in Islam, creativity does not exist nor does anything that would capture the human heart or spirit. No quest to discover Allah is required because he exists merely to be obeyed. Piety is enforced by conformity to Islamic doctrine with sinners severely punished or killed to uphold the community’s purity. Islam’s goal is complete submission, which stifles curiosity, creativity, motivation, and individuality, plus denies the truth.
In Islam, history begins with Mohammed. Nothing that occurred prior to his existence is of any value, thus history is revised and knowledge rendered meaningless. Islam requires cultural genocide because culture is an obstacle to establishing Allah’s authority on Earth. No concept of G-d-given free will and tolerance exists. Individual thought makes no difference because only the decrees of Islamic doctrine have value.
Islam requires complete self-denial and robot-like functioning as part of a collective: the umma, or Islamic community. Behavior is mandated by the shariah, which makes law and morality one and the same. Islam does not recognize the state as a higher authority and requires ultimate jurisdiction in all worldly matters. No explorations of and independent conclusions about justice and judgment exist as the shariah explicitly outlines every aspect of existence and sanctions forced marriage, child marriage, polygamy, death for apostasy, dhimmi status for non-Muslims, and other rulings and actions outlawed in other societies. Islam is the highest value, with no room for mercy or compassion. Islamic doctrine is immutable, unquestioned, and does not bend to any human circumstances.
Because of all these characteristics, Islam is not a religion, Bynum concludes, as it places ideology above life itself. It fails to advance individual morality, sacrificing the individual for the collective. It is unable to preserve wisdom because it denies everything but Islamic beliefs. It fails to foster peace and social harmony and instead requires perpetual war with non-believers. It weakens the family as the foundational unit of society by promoting polygamy. It is not transcendent in purpose, as its highest purpose is to perpetuate itself, and it has little meaning beyond rituals.
Islam cannot stand with the other religions of the world as a belief system that relates humanity to spirituality and to moral values and imbues life with meaning, Bynum writes. Instead, Islam is a supremacist, totalitarian, theo-political-legal ideology that engages in constant war with non-believers, controls the lives of its believers who are unable to question or relinquish its mandates, and fails to provide spiritual nourishment and to promote social harmony.
Just as the secular humanism of the Left diminishes man, Islam similarly diminishes man through its hatred of non-believers and its emulation of its brutal, murderous prophet as the ideal specimen of a man. Thus, leftists who assert their nonreligious and non-spiritual agenda and diligently work to eliminate G-d from the public square -- including prohibitions against religious observances, holidays, symbols, and prayer -- are allying with Muslim efforts to demonize and supplant non-Muslim faiths. Both represent a danger to Western society, and in particular the United States, which was founded on a core belief in G-d and the transcendent power of spirituality. Both Islam and the left’s secular humanism are godless ideologies that undermine Western values and civilization.