A Religion of Peace?

In his dialogue with Euthyphro, Socrates poses a crucial question that has application even today.  He asks Euthyphro “is what is holy, holy because the gods approve it or do they approve it because it is holy?”  Put in other words, he is asking whether something is good because God commands it or whether God commands it because it is good?  A moment’s reflection reveals a philosophical catch-22.  The question is essentially trying to answer which of the two—goodness or approval of the gods—is the cause and which is the effect.  Euthyphro contends that a thing is good because God commands it.  But this makes God arbitrary and mankind subject to His every whim.  Socrates chooses the second; God commands a thing because it is good.  This too presents a problem, namely that there appears to be something above God, binding His omnipotence.

Which answer is correct?  Both.  Both Euthyphro and Socrates are right.  But because they do not know God in the manner He has revealed Himself to Christians, they are also wrong.  They assume a cause and effect relationship between commandments and God’s will.  Instead it is of God’s nature to act in accord with reason.  The Christian conception of God is one in which God is a God of reason.  We worship the Logos or the Word Made Flesh because we alone recognize God’s true nature.

This problem of somehow seeing laws as constraining God has plagued both the East and the West.  In the Christian West it has led to the rejection of Natural Law and reduced all law to the “will of the People.”  In the East it took the form of a religion called Islam.

euthyphro painting

It is this philosophical problem that plagues Islam and is ultimately the reason why Islam cannot be a religion of peace without being first a religion of force.  There are two ways in which a man can be compelled—by reason and by force.  A god who is pure will and not governed by reason is necessarily a god who will command violence.  A god not governed by reason can only make his law known by commanding it.

In his Regensburg Lecture, Pope Benedict XVI used a quotation of Manuel II to draw out this truth.  Manuel II said that “To convince a reasonable soul one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening the person with death.”  His point is that the truth has a compelling force of its own.  Certainly we are fallen creatures and have difficulty both arriving at and conforming ourselves to the truth, but never the less the truth is ultimately what sets us free.

If you remove truth (through moral relativism) or our ability to know the truth on our own (like in Islam where man can only know what God tells him directly) then the only compelling force to follow laws is through force.  If truth does not make right then “might makes right.”  If Allah is the mightiest then he will ultimately resort to violence to enforce his will.  This violence is not directed just towards non-Muslims, but all mankind.  The violence is done to man’s nature and freedom to come to know the truth and live in accord with it.  For non-Muslims the violence simply extends into man’s material being as well.

This is why any claims that Islam is a religion of peace are logically incoherent with their conception of God.  If we assume that God is a god of pure will then the commands in the Koran such as, “Fight in the way of God against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! God loves not aggressors. And slay them wherever you find them and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter,” (Sura 2:190-193) naturally follow.  When reason or Logos does not govern action then it necessarily becomes a matter of “might makes right.”  What we label as terrorism is simply a logical consequence of a voluntarist Allah to whom the entire world must be submitted.

As an aside it is worth understanding the claim that the Sura quoted above only allows fighting for self-defense.  The problem with this explanation is the definition of what constitutes an act of aggression against Islam.  Some Islamic schools say non-belief in Islam is itself an act of aggression since it is the true and original religion.  It is assumed that the truth of Islam is so obvious that only an obstinate person would refuse to accept it.

It is said that the goal of Islam is peace.  This is why they greet fellow Muslims with “as-salamu alaykum” (“the peace of Allah be upon you “).  This same greeting is never extended to a non-Muslim because in Islam there exists no concept of peace between nonbeliever and devout Muslims.  The peace that is promoted is within Umma or the worldwide Muslim brotherhood and is the fruit of everyone submitting (the meaning of the word Islam) to the rule of Allah.

For Islam the whole world is wakf , which means it is territory belonging to Allah.  This territory has been promised to the Muslims and jihad is the means by which those lands that have been “illegally” held by infidels are brought back into Islamic possession.  In other words, Muslims can never be accused of occupation or oppression because they believe the land is theirs.  Before allowing any mass “migration” into a country this needs to be understood.  A Muslim who is faithful to the Koran does not see himself as an immigrant anywhere, but instead as coming into land that is by right his.

Everyone has a philosophy whether they recognize it or not.  As Cicero once said, the choice is not between having a philosophy and not having one, but between having a good one or a bad one.  By recognizing the underlying philosophy of Islam, we are able to cut through a lot of the false ideas and rhetoric surrounding it.  A belief in a capricious god always leads to violence as his followers enforce his arbitrary rulings.

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