Maybe it’s the Europeans?

Dennis Prager wrote an article examining the common complaint that religion is the source of all evil and that, if you just got rid of religion, the world would be at peace. This argument is always framed in terms of historical references to the Crusades, the religious wars that ravaged Europe in the 17th Century, the Russian/Polish pogroms, or the Spanish Inquisition, all of which saw massive killings in God’s name. It’s a cute argument but, as Prager points out, manages to miss a rather significant chapter in European history:

However, Cohen and others who argue for a secular society ignore the even heavier price in blood Europe has paid for secular fervor. Secular fervor, i.e., communism and Nazism, slaughtered, tortured and enslaved more people in 50 years than all Europe’s religious wars did in the course of centuries.

The Cohen to whom Prager refers in the above quotation is Roger Cohen, a columnist for the The New York Times who is the latest one to state that religion is always the problem. He went onto Dennis’ show, which I haven’t heard yet, but Dennis assures his readers that he was a charming guest, which I readily believe. Dennis uses his column to reiterate the points Cohen made and the fallacies that he believes lie in those points.

The whole column, though, gave me a different idea. If Europeans with religion are aggressively violent and Europeans without religion are aggressively violent, might the problem lie, not with religion (its presence or absence), but with the Europeans themselves? Europe is an old, old culture, with most countries reflecting tribal lines that go back a couple of thousand years. Might it be that, even if they deck themselves in truly beautiful art, architecture, literature and music, there is something in these tribal Europeans that still leads them to incredible acts of violence when they feel threatened? When they’re in religious mode, the threat and the reaction are painted in religious terms. When they’re in secular mode, the threat and the reaction are painted in secular terms. But maybe, when you’re European, the reaction is always going to be that atavistic tribal response, something that transcends whatever value system holds sway at that moment in time.

UPDATE:  Having had a chance to think about this post, I should note that its focus is on the Europeans just because they’re the ones that liberals like to trot out as some sort of higher, more sophisticated and pure entity, compared to rustic and primitive Americans.  It’s against that backdrop that it’s important to remind the Europhiles that, in the 224 years of America’s life, Europeans have done some pretty heinous things.  To me, this means that their moral high ground — that which they ascribe to themselves and that which liberals ascribe to them — is pretty shaky.

America has had its own nasty, brutish behavior, both as regards to blacks and Indians.  Nevertheless, it so far has not engaged in the enormous convulsions that have distinguished Europeans over their long history.  Yes, I know we had the Civil War, which left hundreds of thousands dead, but it was a war between armed combatants, not a slaughter of civilians/innocents, something that has characterized a fair number of European upheavals.  In any event, right now the verdict is still out on whether America has a better system, with its democratic republic and mainstream Christianity, or if America simply has not had enough time to build up to the bloodshed that sometimes distinguishes Europe.

Incidentally, I too used to be quite the Europhile.  Europe’s chronic and rising antisemitism and anti-Americanism, however, coupled with the manifest failures of its semi-socialist economic system, have left me jaded.  I can still admire Europe’s many virtues, its rare beauty, and the gifts, both aesthetic and intellectual, that it has bestowed on the world, as well as appreciating the goodness of hundreds of thousands, yes, millions of individual Europeans — but I still don’t have to like the collective Europe right now.

3 Responses

  1. The important point about religion is not that it makes us “good”, but that it puts us on the path to becoming “better” individuals. As someone once noted, church isn’t a meeting place for saints but a rehab center for sinners.

    The problem with Europeans is their historic infatuation with grand abstractions, be it empire or collectivism, that contradict human nature. When one is a secular humanist, one has no hope of finding Eden in a transcendental reality after death. There is only the hope of creating Eden (EUtopia?) on earth and collectively force-fitting human beings into that dream.

    Incidentally, I think that one of the most telling bits of evidence arguing for a Creator is the universal longing for Eden, be it through personal salvation, utopian political movements or modern environmentalism. It certainly is hardwired into our makeups.

  2. Greetings:

    If you’re interested in an analysis of the ramifications of tribal culture, here’s a link to an article I found in the Middle East Quarterly:

    http://www.meforum.org/article/1813

    The Middle East’s Tribal DNA

    by Philip Carl Salzman
    Middle East Quarterly
    Winter 2008

  3. Denis – good article.

    The fact that this country largely left tribal affiliations behind is what makes our culture work.

    Belgium is a perfect example of Europe’s continuing problems with tribalism.

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