Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Dennett: the war discredits religion

I feel the need to get that Jesus-Boxer picture off of the top of the page, so I guess it's time for a new post.

Over at On Faith, Daniel Dennett answers the question of whether the invasion of Iraq constituted a just war. He spends most of his response giving the obvious answer, and then turns his attention to the role of religion in the move towards invasion:
Inflating these declarations [of good intent] with religious rhetoric about God being on our side is nothing less than obscene, however sincerely these protestations of faith may be uttered.
OK, so far so good. But Dennett continues:
Nothing has done more to discredit religious faith in recent years than the self-righteous overconfidence with which our leaders have “listened to God” instead of listening to the knowledgeable secular advisors who have warned them, repeatedly, of the follies they were embarking on.

Defenders of religion are eager to point out that the motivation for this war was not religious, in spite of President Bush’s blunder in calling it a “crusade,” but they must admit that the administration’s faith in faith over faith in facts has probably been the principle cause of the moral calamity that now confronts us.
I'm not sure where he got the idea that the decision to invade Iraq had anything to do with anyone thinking they'd "listened to God". The only relevant piece of evidence I can think of comes from this report:
According to Abbas, immediately thereafter Bush said: "God told me to strike at al Qaida and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East."
But this piece of testimony is pretty worthless, as was pointed out in Common Dreams (not an outfit known for its loyalty to Dubya):
Before you jump to any conclusions, remember that you are reading a translation of a translation of a translation. Mahmoud Abas does not speak English. Bush does not speak Arabic. If Bush said these words, or something like them, Abas heard them from a translator. Then Abas repeated them, as he remembered them a couple of weeks later, in Arabic. Some unknown person wrote down what he thought he heard Abas say. Then Regular, or someone at Ha'aretz, translated them back into English-or perhaps first into Hebrew and then into English.

Clearly, we don't yet know what Bush said, or why.
There is plenty of room to criticize the decision to go to war without basing criticisms on unsubstantiated hearsay.

Even if Bush did think that God had told him to invade Iraq, I doubt that Cheney or Rumsfeld or the other major figures in the Admin would ever have cared much about Bush's imagined conversations with God. It's true that the invasion was based in a kind of faith, but it was faith in a purely political fantasy (being greeted as liberators, democracy spreading throughout the region, etc.). What that has to do with religion is anyone's guess.

And even if religious claims had played some substantial role in the decision to go to war, it's mysterious how that could serve to "discredit religious faith" in general, as Dennett claims.


Paul said...

When asked whether he had consulted with his father over the decision to go to war with Iraq, Bush fairly famously replied "I consulted with a higher father."

Sorry, but religious sanction counted for something with some of these folks. Not all: most of the neocons are at most mildly religious. But the certitude afforded by religious sanctimony played its part.

Toby said...

Oh, yeah, I forgot about Woodward's quote. OK, I'll go along with that one.

Still, saying that "religious sanction counted for something" is pretty ambiguous. I take Bush for the kinda guy who reads "religious sanction" into his choice of breakfast cereal.

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4. www.coteda.com