In a futile effort to make headway in the cultural war against the evil known as Islam, some conservatives claim that Islam is not a religion.* This claim is dangerously false.
Of course, Islam is not a “religion of peace,” and everyone knows this, including those who claim otherwise. But the idea that Islam is not a religion at all is absurd.
Islam has all of the essential characteristics of a religion. It has a metaphysics of “God”: the idea that there is an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good being who is the creator of the universe, the source of all truth, and the maker of moral law. It has an epistemology of faith: the idea that knowledge can be acquired by accepting ideas as true when there is no evidence in support of them. It has a moral code that follows from those basic characteristics: the idea that being moral consists in having faith in God’s existence and obeying his will. And it has a politics that follows from all of that: the idea that the only legitimate laws are those set forth or sanctioned by God.
If Westerners want to win the cultural war against Islam, we must accurately identify Islam for what it is. It’s a religion.
Why does it matter whether we call this religion a religion? It matters (among other reasons) because recognizing Islam as a religion is the first step in dealing with the problem of jihad—a problem that is much broader than the tenets of Islam calling for the submission or murder of infidels. As I show in “Islamic Jihad and Western Faith,” the fundamental problem is not the specific tenets of Islam, but the idea that faith is a means of knowledge.
If people can know by means of faith that God exists, what He wills to be true, that His will is the moral law, and what He commands people to do, then they can know literally anything to be true. If a person’s “spiritual sense” tells him that God says he should love his neighbor, then he knows he should love his neighbor. If it tells him that God says he should love his enemies, then he knows he should love them. If it tells him that God says he should turn the other cheek if someone strikes him, then he knows what to do when that happens. If it tells him that God says to kill his son, then he knows he must do so. If it later tells him that God says not to kill his son, then he knows he should not. If it tells him that God says he should convert or kill unbelievers, then he knows he should convert or kill unbelievers. If it tells him that God says the Koran is the word of God and that if he fails to believe and obey every word of it he will burn in hell, then he knows that to be true. . . .
Either faith is a means of knowledge, or it is not. If it is a means of knowledge, then it is a means of knowledge. If faith is a means of divining truth, then whatever anyone divines by means of faith is by that fact true. If faith is a means of knowledge, then the tenets of Islam—which are “known” by means of faith—are true, in which case Muslims should convert or kill infidels. By what standard can an advocate of faith say otherwise? . . .
To lend credence to the notion that faith is a means of knowledge is to support and encourage Islamic regimes and jihadist groups at the most fundamental level possible: the epistemological level. It is to say to them, in effect: “Whatever our disagreements, your method of arriving at truth and knowledge is correct.” Well, if their method is correct, how can the content they “know” by means of it be incorrect?
If Westerners want to win the cultural war against Islam, we must be willing to recognize—and to openly acknowledge—the fundamental and relevant truths of the matter. Those truths include the fact that Islam is a religion, and the fact that faith is not a means of knowledge.
Conservatives are uncomfortable with these facts because they are religious themselves, and they want religion and faith to be good things. But discomfort with facts doesn’t alter them. And wanting things to be good doesn’t make them so.
The solution to discomfort arising from the fact that Islam is a religion is not to pretend that Islam is not a religion, but to recognize and accept the fact that religion as such is inherently irrational and potentially murderous because it posits a non-rational means of knowledge.
*See for example, “State Rep. John Bennett Stands By Anti-Islam Comments: ‘Islam Is Not Even A Religion,’” Huffington Post, Septermber 22, 2014, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/22/oklahoma-john-bennett-islam_n_5863084.html; “Pat Robertson: ‘Islam is not a religion. It is a worldwide political movement meant on domination,’” Media Matters, June 12, 2007, http://mediamatters.org/research/2007/06/12/robertson-islam-is-not-a-religion-it-is-a-world/139073; “Islam Does Not Deserve Tax Exempt Status Because Islam is Not a Religion,” The Patriot Factor, April 6, 2012, http://thepatriotfactor.blogspot.com/p/islkam-is-not-religion.html; “Islam is Neither Peaceful, Nor is it a Religion,” Universal Free Press, January 10, 2015, http://universalfreepress.com/islam-neither-peaceful-religion/; and “Is Islam a Religion?”, The Catholic Thing, June 23, 2014, http://www.thecatholicthing.org/2014/06/23/is-islam-a-religion/.