By Ted Belman
I have written an article not yet published in which I review Elliot Abrams’ book, War and Decision in which he tracks the first 10 days of the deliberations in the Bush administration following on 911 and leading to their declaration of war.
I ended by being very critical of its description of the war and felt we were worse off because of it. I intended to write a second essay arguing for a better war. My preference was to find someone more capable than I do write it. So I wrote to Andy Bostom and he informed me that he just published a book on the subject called Sharia and Freedom. In another post I will highlight an interview of him by FPM in which he tells what it is all about.
The book includes a forward by Andrew McCarthy subtitled “Religious relativism is a destroyer of conviction.” Here’s an extract:
Who cares what the Koran and the other sources of Islamic scripture — the hadith and the authoritative biographies of Islam’s warrior prophet — actually say? We are to regard them as “holy,” the same adjective our official lexicon ubiquitously attaches to cities like Mecca, Medina, and Qom — even as the word “Christmas” is purged as a modifier of “carol,” “card,” “tree,” “present,” “party,” and “celebration.” In the West we no longer acknowledge, much less celebrate, what distinguished us as the West.
Such distinctions, though, were the inspiration for Cardinal Ratzinger’s clarion note of caution against multi-religious prayer. Religion as cosmetic reverence shorn of substantive content is a virtue only the postmodern, post-doctrinal West could love: its self-congratulatory elites having evolved beyond anything so quaint as doctrine and arrived at . . . nihilism. Ratzinger knew better. Doctrinal differences never lose their salience because it is doctrine that defines a believer. To airbrush our differences — even for the well-intentioned purpose of elevating “peace” as a transcendent value — is to deny the essence of who we are.
Thus should multi-religious prayer be a rarity, Ratzinger admonished — “to make clear that there is no such thing . . . as a common concept of God or belief in God.” Far from religion, religious relativism — oblivious of doctrinal content, eroding real faith — is a destroyer of conviction. The philosopher cardinal grasped, moreover, that the obverse is true: Real faith has such transcendent power that religious relativism — this “common concept of God,” this nihilism swaddled in politically correct reverence — cannot compete.
Real faith is an ultimate claim about what constitutes the good life. It is the antithesis of relativism, whether that relativism takes the form of an amorphous quest for “peace” or similarly fashionable pieties: “anti-terrorism,” “social justice,” “equality,” “freedom,” or “democracy.” Such noble ideals, we blithely assure ourselves, could not conceivably provoke dissent from any creed worthy of the name “religion.” Indeed, in our post-doctrinal West, such dissent actually deprives the underlying belief system of any standing as religion — and, therefore, of any need for us to examine the belief system or come to terms with how broadly its convictions are held. That was the wayward reasoning of the British government after the jihadist bombings of July 7, 2005. Terrorism, pronounced Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, is “un-Islamic activity” simply by dint of its being terrorism. After all, Islam is a religion, so violence perforce could not possibly be rooted in Islamic doctrine. Q.E.D. — why tarry over what the doctrine actually says?
Well, because it matters. There is no common concept of God, and the mush that passes for this feel-good illusion cannot obscure that real faiths exist. They are different because they represent different claims about ultimate truth. One cannot apprehend what those claims are, and how the believer is apt to act on them, without studying doctrine and respecting the divergences between faiths. Substantive differences, civilizational chasms, and supremacist ambitions do not evaporate just because we wish to believe everyone wants “peace.”
Real faith inspires. It has meaning and gives purpose to our lives.
Real convictions, no matter how loathsome they may seem to an unbeliever, inspire allegiance and action. Nihilism, no matter how alluringly coifed, is a feckless competitor. Something will always beat nothing.