Alex Slawson is the Editor-in-Chief of the Vanderbilt Political Review. A senior majoring in political science and economics, Alex is passionate about writing and public policy.
Our overly politically-correct environment has made criticizing religion taboo. People react to a religious critique as if it were racism–as if saying “Christianity has a lot of flaws” were akin to saying “black people have a lot of flaws.” But it is not at all the same. Religion is a choice. It is a system of beliefs and practices. It is a community. If I know Mark is a churchgoing Baptist, I know something about Mark. If I know that Mark is caucasian, the only assumption I can reasonably make is that his skin is going to be pale. And, if Mark decided he didn’t want to be white anymore, well, too bad for Mark. However, if Mark wanted to convert to Judaism tomorrow, there are steps he could take to do that. A race change wouldn’t be that simple, Michael Jackson jokes aside.
Here’s a policy I try to uphold:
1) Don’t criticize someone for something they have no control over
2) Don’t criticize someone if their activity/belief/other quality isn’t hurting anyone else.
So, for instance, a homophobic insult violates both rules. Criticizing the weird dude in your dorm who spends all of his free time climbing trees violates the second rule. Any critique of religion inherently passes rule one, and it often passes rule two as well. Let me be clear: there is good religion and bad religion. Many brave souls now fighting Ebola do so because of good religion. When the lunatics at the Westboro Baptist Church protest funerals, that’s bad religion. But the key is it’s still religion.
Which brings me to my point: when someone says that ISIS, Al-Qaeda, or some other Islamic-terrorists are not “true Muslims,” it makes me want to put my head through a wall. People are so hesitant to criticize religion that they say something like “terrorists have no religion.” Our own president does it frequently. In response to the beheading of journalist James Foley, President Obama said, “ISIL speaks for no religion.” On another date he said, “ISIL is not Islamic…ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple” as if the two were mutually exclusive. To quote a genius article by Jerry Coyne, “if ISIS is not Islamic, then the Inquisition was not Catholic.” There is no such thing as “true” religion. Bin Laden’s form of Islam is just as correct as anyone else’s. It’s a horrid form of Islam. A vile, diseased form. But it’s still Islam.
Religion is broad, and religion is vague. It’s a man made doctrine, and it’s continuing to be made and remade daily. One religion will vary internally because people emphasize certain scriptures and traditions while deemphasizing others. For this reason, a religion can inspire radical love and, in others, radical hate. Therefore, no one person can tell another that his religion is not “true.” So why, when an Islamic terrorist kills someone while literally screaming “God is great,” are our leaders insisting that the terrorist is not actually a Muslim? Can we stop with this madness? Can’t we agree that there is a strain of Islam that is dangerous and that we need to work to eliminate it? Can’t we agree that, just as the Inquisition was a dangerous spawn of Christianity, Jihadism is a dangerous spawn of Islam? Is religion so immune from criticism that we can’t call what is thrown in our faces–the violent pictures we see on the news every night–what it is: Islam gone wrong? And while we’re on the subject, can we stop insisting that terrorists are not acting out of faith but, rather, out of political interest? Granted, religion does not exist in a vacuum, and, yes, it is impossible to separate religion from politics. But think about a teenager about to blow himself up in a crowded market. Can you honestly say that this boy, who has chosen to violently and painfully exit this world in hopes of reaching the next, does so out of political interest?
It’s time we spoke frankly about religion. By frank I do not mean spouting off like Carol Swain. I mean by stating what is so apparently true. There are many good Muslims, and they well outnumber the bad. However, the bad ones do exist, and they are Muslims none-the-less. There is a violent form of Islam in the world, and a lot of very dangerous people have chosen it as their own. No amount of political correctness is going to change that.