Saturday, April 26, 2014

Steve Clarke's "The Justification of Religious Violence"

Steve Clarke is a Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at Charles Sturt University in Australia, and a Senior Research Associate of the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford. He has published over sixty academic papers and is the author of Metaphysics and the Disunity of Scientific Knowledge (1998), and co-editor of three books including Religion, Intolerance and Conflict: a Scientific and Conceptual Investigation (with Russell Powell and Julian Savulescu, 2013).

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Justification of Religious Violence, and reported the following:
As the name suggests, this is a book about justifications offered for violence that appeal to religion. I examine the reasoning of the religiously violent. I find that it typically exemplifies the same logical forms found in ordinary secular justifications for violence. What is distinctive about religious justifications for violence is that they are usually grounded in the rich metaphysics of religious worldviews. Persistent themes can be discerned in the justifications for violence that have been offered in the name of different religions. Many involve appeals to a state of ‘cosmic war’, many involve appeals to an afterlife, and many involve appeals to sacred values.

Page 99 is in the middle of Chapter Four, ‘Justifying Violence, War and Cosmic War’. I start the chapter by looking at secular justifications for violence. I then focus on secular justifications for war, especially those developed in the ‘just war’ tradition, before showing how these can be transposed into justifications for violent action in religious ‘cosmic wars’. A cosmic war is a grand struggle between good and evil that takes place across (and perhaps beyond) the sweep of history. In the Christian tradition, a cosmic war is said to be taking place between God and Satan; and some Christians believe that they are justified in acting violently, in order to contribute to the war effort. In 1997, two members of the American Christian group ‘The Gatekeepers’ murdered a former member, whom they believed to have become a government informer. They believed that Satan had taken control of the US Government and that, therefore, the former member was working for Satan. In their view they were helping God to win the cosmic war against Satan by killing the former member.

The text on p. 99 is part of a discussion of pacifist objections to war. The discussion takes place after I’ve examined just war theory and before I discuss cosmic war. If you only read this page you’d be left with a misleading impression of the book’s contents. The discussion on the page is about ways in which pacifist opposition to war might be given secular philosophical support. But the book is about religious justifications for violence. Is the quality of the writing on p. 99 representative of the quality of the writing in the book? I leave it to readers to decide. Here is a sample from that page:
If consequentialists are to be absolutist pacifists then they will need to find some basis for a rule against ever going to war. A rule-utilitarian form of pacifism looks useful here, but it is not clear that a strict application of such a rule, in circumstances where the possibility of war looms, would tend toproduce the best consequences, as the absolutist consequentialist pacifist needs to claim. If, for example, at the outbreak of World War II, the Allied powers had not resisted the Axis powers, then it is reasonable to think that the Axis powers would have taken control of most, if not all, of the inhabited territory of world. As the Axis powers were fascist and imperialistic, they would have imposed fascist, imperialistic rule on conquered territories and, all things being equal, we would now be living in a world dominated by fascist, imperialistic governments, ruthlessly suppressing dissent, promulgating racist doctrines, and massacring races deemed to be inferior. It is very hard to believe that such a world would be better than the one we currently have, so it is very hard to see why a fair-minded consequentialist would endorse a rule that could well have led to such an outcome.
Learn more about The Justification of Religious Violence at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue