Speaking of Terror - Part VI

Christian ideas imply a view of the origin of creation entirely under the sovereign rule of God. In discussions of morality, the Christian must point backwards, to creation and to the fall. There are many, however, who see the past as irrelevant. They see progress aligned with improved morals and religion, always tied to the past, with getting in the way.

Martin Amis, for example, argues that 9/11 was the result of what he calls a “time war” – a war of resistance to progress and modernity: “September 11 was a day of de-enlightenment... The conflicts we now face or fear involve opposed geographical arenas, but also opposed centuries or even millennia. It is a landscape of ferocious anachronisms: nuclear jihad on the Indian subcontinent; the medieval agonism of Islam; the Bronze Age blunderings of the Middle East.”1 In order to get past this conflict, he suggests, “We would have to sit through a Renaissance and a Reformation, and then await an Enlightenment. And we're not going to do that.”2

Islam, Amis argues, is attempting to recover from its humiliation, from the defeats suffered at the hands of Israel and its allies. It has, so to speak, reached an impasse. Ahead lies the path of modernity with all its concrete, fast food and cell phones or the alternate path of nostalgia, of resistance, of revolution. The latter, Amis argues, is the choice of the Islamist who, seeing nothing of glory in the first option, opts for nostalgia, for a digging in.3

German sociologist, Jürgen Habermas, explains it in Kantian terms – the shift to modernity being a shift in the modality of belief, not in the content. He argues that the fundamentalist is reacting to modernity with violence, attempting to purge it from its system to avoid infection. He sees the enlightenment project, and its ensuing pluralistic modern state, as too challenging for pre-modern religion to adapt to: “The confessional schism and the secularization of society have compelled religious belief to reflect on its nonexclusive place within a universal discourse shared with other religions and limited by a scientifically generated worldly knowledge.”4

Habermas pits universal nonexclusivity against religious belief. The trouble with this is that there is only one kind of reality. Reality is exclusively and universally the Christian reality. It could not be otherwise. One cannot have a reduced sphere of the reality which is set out in the Bible. It would involve suggesting that we both originated through chance and through the creative act of God. But God cannot be the same God as the one who reveals himself to us in the Bible if he shares every event with chance.

At this juncture the Christian seems as retrograde as the Islamist. Amis allies the rebellion against modernity with the stubborn man who refuses to relinquish his pre-modern, and therefore religious, mooring. To disparage the resistance to modernity is, therefore, to disparage religion:

To be clear: an ideology is a belief system with an inadequate basis in reality; a religion is a belief system with no basis in reality whatever. Religious belief is without reason and without dignity, and its record is near-universally dreadful. It is straightforward—and never mind, for now, about plagues and famines: if God existed, and if he cared for humankind, he would never have given us religion.5

For Amis, terrorism and, therefore, religion “undermines morality” because it “undermines reason.”6 For Amis, it is reason which is the arbiter of what is right. It stands outside and looks in, we merely need to reach for it and dwell in it: Amis calls this “species consciousness,” a place of unity devoid of ideological boundaries: “Our best destiny, as planetary cohabitants, is the development of what has been called “species consciousness,” something over and above nationalisms, blocs, religions, ethnicities. During this week of incredulous misery, I have been trying to apply such a consciousness, and such a sensibility. Thinking of the victims, the perpetrators, and the near future, I felt species grief, then species shame, then species fear.”7

Reason, in the mind of Amis, is the outsider looking in, transcending event. It is also the thing which emerges from historical process. The finite must become, through historical progress, infinite. This is man’s “best destiny.” Religion is flawed, therefore, because it points backwards to origin for the basis for rationality. It puts the breaks on man’s reaching for “species consciousness” or, as Marx called it, “species being.”8 Hegel called it, “absolute knowledge.”

But how does one know what it is, if it has not yet arrived? If something is not already there, how would anyone know what it is going to be? Applied to the assumptions of Amis, how does he know that reason emerges from an unshackling of the world from religion or, more specifically, from God? Amis says that terrorism is immoral and that that, in turn, is unreasonable, but he is in no place to provide reasons for immorality if the basis for it is not yet there and cannot yet be known. He might say that we are becoming more moral as history advances, but how does he know this if the absolute has not yet been reached? The truth is that he cannot. The Christian, on the other hand, can say that the absolute has already been reached, in fact, it never had need to be reached, but was always there. There is a standard by which morality and rationality can be measured and that is by God from whom all that is reasonable derives. It is not the vain hope of a moral order which will somehow emerge in the future, but the eternal existence of God which is the guarantee of all that is moral.

1 Amis, 13.
2 Ibid., 9.
3 Ibid., 203-204.
4Borradori, 19.
5Amis, 14
6 Ibid., 22.
7 Ibid., 9.
8 Karl Marx, Early Writings (London: Penguin, 1992), 176.