Sunday, December 14, 2008

"Language of Faith" Wins Wars?

There's an article up at Pajamas Media by Elisabeth Scalia entitled "Winning This War Requires Language of Faith."  The war in question is the fight against radical Islamic terrorism.  Her thesis is that 
As the West evolves into a post-faith society — disdainful of religion and confident in the primacy of reason alone — it is rendering itself ineffective and mute. Mute against an enemy that, for better or worse, communicates solely in the language of the supernatural and belief.
According to Scalia
Silencing the language of faith in public discourse and policy weakens the West’s ability to engage and defeat an enemy entirely motivated by relentless theology. By failing to speak in the same language, it has no weapons for victory, short of destroying whole cities.

I find her argument weak, lacking in specifics, and unconvincing -- it is little more than a call for "faith," as if engaging in magical thinking will somehow help us defeat terrorism.  It is built on a series of strawmen.  Scalia condemns various unrealistic approaches to dealing with radical Islam, such as appeasement and diplomacy.  But what do they have to do with faith? There are plenty of non-religious people, such as myself, who agree on these points.  Does she think that only the religious can understand that radical Islam cannot be reasoned with or accommodated? She appears to be confusing part of the secular left with all secular individuals.  Do prominent atheists Christopher Hitchens & Sam Harris have any difficulty understanding the threat of radical Islam? 

Scalia claims that "We should consider that Islamic terrorism may not be defeatable, except on its own terms, on the battlefield of the supernatural."  What is that supposed to mean?  We need to rely on our God(s) to beat theirs? She never spells out how the "language of faith" should be used, or what it will accomplish.  The article is so vague on these points that she could be calling for anything from mild propaganda to a crusade.  When you write an article that advocates relying on faith as a strategy for fighting radical Islam, you have no standing to criticize anyone else for taking an unrealistic approach.



  1. Contra Scalia, I wouldn't count on the supernatural making a difference one way or another in the problem. However, whatever happens, there will be plenty who will attribute the results to the supernatural.

  2. I don't think anyone since Orwell has argued convincingly that traditional values, such as patriotism or religion, are useful in times of war. There have been a lot of people who are sure that the lack of religiosity in the West is a sign of the apocalypse, and who dream of a past when the US was less self-conscious about its dirty history, but they've never really argued anything convincing.

  3. I'm not even sure what Scalia is actually advocating. She also conveniently overlooks the fact that the U.S, which is certainly part of the West, is still very religious.