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The Big Answer


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The New Cold War? Religious Nationalism Confronts the Secular State

a book by Mark Juergensmeyer

(our site's book review)

The author’s thesis is that the Cold War with two superpowers going eyeball to eyeball in a blinking contest has been replaced with the secular West going up against the new religious and ethnic nationalists. The thesis was only strengthened in the 1999 Kosovo crisis, as both China and Russia decided that they liked the U.S. even less than they’d previously thought, and massive bombing was—like in Vietnam—once more shown to be no panacea in conflict.

War
War

The West may wonder what’s wrong with the non-Western world that they combine religion and nationalism to support violence and intolerance and oppression of women and others, but the non-Western world has been wondering for many years what’s wrong with the West that they cannot see that their separation of church and state has precipitated corrupt and degenerate democracies and welfare states, blasphemously without God, values or honor. In their eyes, the Great Satan West has exposed the hopelessness of people trying to run their lives without God running the show. Of course, the radical religious fundamentalists in the U.S. would agree somewhat, but still opt for limited democracy in which the religions get a lot more power but somehow we’re all still free. Many see an oxymoron here.

Bible thumping religious fundamentalist
Bible thumping religious fundamentalist

If Juergensmeyer is correct, many of the leaders of the American Revolution had been influenced by 18th-century deism, a religion of science and natural law that was devoted to exposing Church religion to the light of knowledge. The Third Wave, of course, by its very nature, will have a similar tendency, but the U.S. Christian fundamentalists are unlikely to sit still for this: They may lose all faith in knowledge and scientific truth and begin to act like current day Islamic fundamentalists, attempting to convince the country to abandon its progressive ideas and regress back to the oppressive—but "God-centered"—Dark Ages. Our wisest people (e.g., Sagan, Slater, the Tofflers, et al.) have warned of this fundamentalist tendency, which evolves because all knowledge which doesn’t jive with their gospels is discarded by these people; this means that they’ve turned the conflict between science and religion into a black-and-white either/or struggle, and science lost.

In the conflict between science and religion, to fundamentalists, science lost
In the conflict between science and religion, to fundamentalists, science lost


The book prefers a balance between the religious and the secular, fearing that if either of these get too powerful, extreme danger will result: “Without that balance, an absolute power of the worst sort could claim its most evil deeds to be legitimate moral duties.” The author believes that in virtually every religious tradition, images of violence occupy a central place. “For that reason, any attempt to understand the violence of religious nationalism must begin with an understanding of the violent nature of religion in general.”

Jesus Christ preached peace and love, but the Church altered its focus to fear, guilt, violence, Puritanism and shame
Jesus Christ preached peace and love, but the Church altered its focus to fear, guilt, violence, Puritanism and shame

(Christ’s teachings, before the Church turned them into part of an authoritarian doctrine full of fear, guilt, violence, Puritanism and shame, were an exception, and essentially peaceful, according to Philip Slater in A Dream Deferred and Riane Eisler in Sacred Pleasure.) The author feels that symbols and rituals about violence in religion help to displace feelings of aggression, thereby helping to keep the peace. He apparently didn’t happen to notice that playing and watching sports performs this function much more effectively.

Playing or watching sports effectively displaces feelings of aggression
Playing or watching sports effectively displaces feelings of aggression

Juergensmeyer sees hope in the fact that a sizable number of the new religious nation-states, in spite of numerous forces to the contrary, still subscribe so deeply to human rights and democratic procedures that their violence potential is mitigated. But he also sees the possibility that the secular and religious nationalists will engage in escalating levels of conflict that, like the metaphorical slippery slope, are hard to retreat from. Armageddon and the Rapture, anyone?

Armageddon will be our reward is we continue warmongering insanity for no reason—all these neocons gambling with precious life just to make a buck: makes one wonder just how much our culture is worth saving, if it has, indeed, brought us to such a precarious juncture
Armageddon will be our reward is we continue warmongering insanity for no reason—all these neocons gambling with precious life just to make a buck: makes one wonder just how much our culture is worth saving, if it has, indeed, brought us to such a precarious juncture

NOTE: The religious nationalists will engage in escalating levels of conflict with the U.S., but not because they're radical religious fundamentalist Islamic people, but because the U.S. military has the annoying habit of attacking them unprovoked and then exploiting them while hypocritically calling it a War on Terror when the main purveyor of terror is the USA! The U.S. military is a veritable terrorist factory, creating 10 terrorists for every one it kills! See Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire.

The U.S. military is a veritable terrorist factory, creating 10 terrorists for every one it kills!
The U.S. military is a veritable terrorist factory, creating 10 terrorists for every one it kills!


During the Rapture, we'll have angels taking people to heaven
During the Rapture, we'll have angels taking people to heaven


Neocon nutjobs tell us that dumping our Bill of Rights and our Constitution was a prerequisite for our safety, which no intelligent citizen could possibly buy
Neocon nutjobs tell us that dumping our Bill of Rights and our Constitution was a prerequisite for our safety, which no intelligent citizen could possibly buy


Juergensmeyer is the swinging banjo in the movie Deliverance, forewarning us of grave repercussions should we continue on the wrongheaded path we're on in which political, military, and religious authority undermine truth and science
Juergensmeyer is the swinging banjo in the movie Deliverance, forewarning us of grave repercussions should we continue on the wrongheaded path we're on in which political, military, and religious authority undermine truth and science