A friend of mine is very critical of religion and recently posted that you hear people blowing up buildings in the name of God, but you never hear people blowing up buildings in the name of science. It seemed to me that she could not really believe that. After all we hear about the United States blowing up Nagasaki in the name of — what exactly? Revenge, or victory, or the American way of life, or peace. And we hear about people committing sins of omission all the time — not reading articles about the bloodbath in Yemen and instead reading an article about their favorite television show — and this is not in the name of any God. So there is much bloodshed, positive and negative, not in the name of religion.
And yet there was clearly something troubling her about buildings blown up and people killed in the name of God. I asked a friend, Rochelle, what she thought about this issue and she offered some clarifying thoughts.
“Your friend”, said Rochelle “Is worried not about violence — violence supports her way of life — so much as she is concerned with disorganized, unpredictable violence. And she is right to connect religion with disorganization and unpredictability. Since the Protestant Reformation religion has become a matter of individual conscience. And religion is the dimension of human life that conceptualizes those wagers we are willing to bet our entire life upon. What we are willing to live for and die for. So if you add religion to disorganization you unleash the potential for unpredictable, disorganized violence.”
“What is your solution?” I asked.
“The only solution is an organized, universal church. Before that there will be unpredictable violence.”
“What about no religion?” I asked.
“That is a superstitious dream. Religion is baked into human neurobiology, like the love of music.”
“But what if intellectuals virtuously eschew religion because of its potential for mayhem? What if they avoid it because it is intellectually unfounded.”
“Many may do so. They will all be defeated by intellectuals who are less scrupulous than they, who are willing to use religion to organize the masses to defeat them.”
Rochelle’s pessimism disturbed me. I didn’t want to see a replay of the 17th century wars of religion as various church militants struggled to bring the Earth under their scepter. I knew that the prospect of religious violence had unnerved the previously secular democracies of the West and they had it seems resolved to fight fire with fire. When Rochelle left the room (she was a dancer and was going on tour) her younger sister Shanay remained behind. She was fifteen years old and regarded me from the shadows of their converted motel/apartment.
“There is a solution that Rochelle didn’t mention.”
“What?” I asked.
“Not a global church but the end of the nation state. Not until politics becomes as disorganized and fluid as religion will there be peace.”
I went home by Lyft in a light rain thinking about these two sisters and their two stark possibilities: universal anarchy or universal theocracy. I hoped they had left something out but the night was late, and I was tired and not as smart as I used to be or thought I had been, and I couldn’t see what.