Don't blame "Religion"

I haven't blogged in a bit because I've been sick. I didn't realize how sick, but it turns out I have pneumonia. It is unpleasant.

I thought about complaining about my condition, but considering what's going on in the world, my pneumonia seems a bit paltry.

Then I received an email today from someone on one of the various Obama list-serves I got onto during the election, claiming that the situation was intractable, but simple to understand. Muslims, Christians, and Jews all want to live in Isreal and won't move away, so they will fight about it forever because, this person claimed, religion causes all the wars in the world. Moreover, without religion this person said there would be no war.

That, I felt, demanded a response.

I'm sorry, but that's just one of the most patently ridiculous things I've ever heard. Without religion there would be no war? Really? You know, Stalin was an atheist. Hitler specifically wrote that his issues with Jews did not have to do with their religion but with what he considered to be something deficient in them as detected by the rational science of his day. I'm not going to defend all world religions, or any of them, for that matter. Many are expressly violent, and many others are used as a pretext by powerful people to motivate followers to carry out violence. But people find lots of reasons to fight; scarcity of land, of water, of goods, old-fashioned human rage. It's insulting when religious people condescend to non-religious people, judging their behavior based on religious schema the non-religious person does not hold. But it's also insulting when non-religious people condescend to religious people, treating them all as ignorant yahoos or worse, responsible for all the wars in the world. So let's avoid both kinds of ignorant rhetoric, if possible.

The situation between Palestine and Israel is incredibly complex. The countries aren't religiously homogeneous. The people of both countries do not have universal feelings about their governments' actions. These Muslims, Christians, and Jews the writer mentioned already all do live in Israel, and already all do live in Palestine. This is not a clear-cut religious war. The internal political realities inside both Israel and Palestine should not be ignored by our media, who like to talk about the conflict as though it's a two-sided sports match. There are wheels within wheels here. One interesting example: I heard a tidbit that the rockets Hamas has been launching were nearing the range to hit Israel's nuclear reactor where they have been making their nukes (unofficially) for decades. To what degree is the defense of civilians a pretext to defend a military instillation against future attack should those rockets gain greater range and accuracy? We'll never know, nor will the parents of the people who die on both sides of the conflict. So if the war is so complicated the Israelis and Palestinians don't fully know why they are fighting, we shouldn't try to dismiss the whole explanation with a single word: "Religion."

We oversimplify at our own expense.