Just before Christmas, Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury published an editorial in the London Times where he condemned Bush and Blaire for contributing to anti-Christian violence in the Middle East. The Archbishop was visiting the holy land, including Bethlehem, and noted that a large number of Christians are being driven out by anti-Christian violence in mostly Muslim areas.
There is a problem with Williams’ line of reasoning – or, at least, an important moral omission. In this piece, Williams ignores the blameworthiness of a major part of the evil he writes about. This anti-Christian violence that the Archbishop wrote about is, itself, an injustice. It is being committed by people who have decided to blame the innocent for the crimes of the guilty – because of some incidental relationship between the two. A Muslim is no more justified in blaming his Christian neighbor for the acts of George Bush and Tony Blair than a Christian American is justified in blaming his Muslim neighbor for the crimes of Al-Queida or his atheist neighbor for the crimes of Stalin.
In fact, those who perpetrate these types of injustice are proving that they are no better (and, perhaps, morally worse) than those they condemn. They prove that they have little love of justice or fairness, and are willing to make these virtues subservient to hate.
In his editorial, Williams offers little in the way of condemnation for the Muslims who engage in this unjust behavior towards Middle-East Christians. The mild rebuke of the Muslims who commit or condone these injustices suggests that these actions are not really wrong – that the true wrong rests with Bush and Blair.
In fact, insofar as these types of actions are unjust, it is fair to blame the Muslims who commit these actions – and those who act so as to defend them – with injustice. Even though it would be wrong to infer that every Muslim is unjust, it is perfectly reasonable, given the evidence, that there is not sufficient love of justice in those communities in which these moral crimes take place to protect innocent people from this injustice.
Bush’s and Blair’s Recklessness
Yet, recognition that Muslim injustice towards their Christian neighbors is a moral crime does not let Bush or Blaire off of the moral hook.
Assume that I have reason to suspect that at least one staff member at a local summer camp will sometimes lose his temper and beat the children under his care. Yet, I still send my child to that facility. The fact that the staff member who sometimes beats children can be morally condemned for his actions does not change the fact that I am still morally responsible for the reckless endangerment of this child’s welfare.
Similarly, even though there are Muslims who treat their Christian neighbors unjustly – blaming them for actions that they had not part in and at least some of them do not even condone – does not absolve Bush and Blair from the responsibility of putting those Christians in a dangerous situation. At the very least, Bush and Blair are guilty of negligence for putting Middle-East Christians at risk of unjust violence.
So, I am not saying that the Archbishop Williams was wrong to condemn Bush and Blaire for their negligence. I am saying that it deserves mention that the negligence itself is founded on Muslim injustice. (And, it deserves mention, that I doubt that all Muslims treat their neighbors unjustly. Some do – and the Muslim community as a whole does not condemn their unjust members forcefully enough to provide for the security of their Christian neighbors. Not all Muslims are unjust, but where this anti-Christian violence is forcing Christians to move, there is insufficient love of justice in the Muslim community for the love of justice to defeat the evil of violence against innocent Christian neighbors.
Baghdad Writ Large
Now, there is a second concern buried in the Archbishop’s commentary.
I read his comments about Muslims driving Christians out of their neighborhood for no reason other than the fact that they are Christians. I read about Representative [name] saying that we must change our immigration laws to make sure that the Muslims in America remain an impotent minority – and to use the instruments of law (which, after all, are instruments of violence) to accomplish this end.
And I compare this to the situation in Baghdad, where the Shiites are using violence or threats of violence to force their Sunni neighbors out to live in Sunni neighborhoods. While, at the same time, Sunnis seek to drive Shiite neighbors out of their neighborhoods, in order to create a neighborhood that is religiously pure.
I look at the situation in Baghdad, and I see exactly the same forces at play on a world stage, as different communities strive for religious purity.
And, to be honest, I hear atheists talk about the need to drive the theists out of their neighborhood – even if the atheist neighborhood is more virtual than physical. The atheist neighborhood, in this case, is the scientific community – which, as it turns out, is dominated by and substantially lead by people who do not believe in a God. And there are those who say that theism is incompatible with membership in this community. These atheists do not require that their theists move to a new neighborhood, but do talk about putting pressure on their theist friends to find another line of work.
Yet, again, this is minor when compared to the theists who call for driving the atheists out of their community. Allegedly, peace and prosperity are forbidden to any community that allows atheists to be anything more than a small and impotent minority.
In Baghdad, this quest for religious purity in one’s communities has taken the form of nearly unrestrained violence – stacking up a hundred bodies per day in this one city alone.
The body count is only one cost – and it is not even the greatest cost. There are also those who are maimed in these battles. In addition, there are children who cannot go to school. Parents cannot go to work. There is no electricity, little medicine, and little to do with one’s time other than pick up a gun and join the armed bands that are roaming the concrete jungle of Baghdad to further enforce the new requirement for religious purity.
The poverty and ignorance that this breeds is a huge cost, that will scar the children of Baghdad for the rest of their lives – leaving them with few opportunities to profit from productive labor.
The events that the Archbishop of Canterbury wrote about, that can be found in calls for changes in immigration law in the United States to preserve the religious purity of its population, and calls for an elected Muslim congressman to take his oath of office on a Christian Bible to at least pay homage to the notion of religious purity in the House of Representatives (while violating that purity in fact), are all examples of this same phenomena on a wider scale.
It is a doctrine that will do far more harm than good, and which good people should see fit to resist.
This does not mean that it is wrong to criticize other people’s beliefs. As I wrote in earlier posts, criticism is not bigotry – the statement, “You are mistaken on this matter,” is not proof of intolerance. Freedom of speech, in fact, requires the freedom to say, “You are mistaken,” when, in fact, one has reason to believe that others are mistaken.
But to say that we are going to allow open and civil debate on an issue is not the same as demanding the type of religious purity that people around the world today (particularly in the Middle East and in America) seem to be demanding.
You do not see String Theorists (in physics) demanding community purges of those who do not accept the theory. Instead, what you see is a debate being conducted in the scientific literature to the effect that, “Here is the evidence that Theory A is correct,” and “Here is the evidence that Theory A is mistaken.” Neither is calling for a purge of the other – only an open debate on the ideas.
Similarly, there is nothing to prevent Christians from saying that Muslims are mistaken, Muslims from saying Christians are mistaken, nor Atheists from saying that both are mistaken – without calling for a purge of any group. Nothing, that is, but the hate-filled bigotry that certain people seem driven to feed.
Also, this is not to say that everybody must accept all religions. A Christian certainly has no more reason to accept a Muslim sect that says, “Death to all Christians” than a Muslim has to accept a Christian sect that says, “We must drive the infidels from the holy land.” Avoiding Baghdad on a global scale does require distinguishing religions that can live at peace with others and those who cannot. There will never be much choice but to give those who cannot live in peaceful harmony with the rest of us the violence they seek.
However, if those who can live with all but the harshest fundamentalists of any religion stick together, the should be able to defeat all comers. After all, it is not likely that the “Death to all Christians” faction is going to manage an alliance with the “No Muslims Allowed” Christians (or the “No Theists Allowed” atheists).