Eliezer Finkelman

Secularism and Peace, Religious Fanaticism and War

Secularism and Warmongering


Religious Fanaticism and Intractable Wars


A friend of mine floats the idea, from time to time, that the Palestine/Israel conflict seems intractable because religious fanatics on both sides refuse to compromise.  If only people could get past religion, they could solve the problems that lead to war, my friend suggests.  Look at the comments after any article on the conflict, and, amid the other opinions, you can find people who agree with my friend.

He and they might be right.  Certainly, many secularists can contemplate letting go of ideas that lead to endless fighting.  Secularists, by and large, do not say things like, “My ethnic group is destined to possess this mountain, and we must kill anyone else who currently controls it” or ‘It is right and just to kill infidels.”  I have the impression, too, that secularism has become more prevalent in the world over the centuries, and religious fanaticism, while undoubtedly strong, has become less universal.

But if we have to wait for religious fanaticism to disappear, I fear we have no prospects for peaceful settlements of disputes on any reasonable timeline.  The trend would appear to take centuries.  In the meantime, a peace plan that assumes that we can satisfy the secularists and ignore the religious fanatics must fail, because it does not connect with reality.  Maybe the trend can produce peace in a few centuries.

Even then, the trend might not produce the desired result.  The major premise might not hold water.  Some of the worst warmongers in history have not a trace of anything we would conventionally call religion.  Mao, Pol Pot, Stalin, Hitler, in the previous century, had intractable convictions that brought their followers to violence.  Perhaps you could redefine Nazism and Communism as religions, but that would so stretch the definitions, and complicate the neat narrative promulgated by my friend.

So I think the observation that this conflict could get solved if only people were not so fanatically religious turns out . . . no so helpful.

Afterthought: Secular humanists take part in sometimes violent rallies in favor of Hamas.  That challenges the whole thesis, doesn’t it?

Eliezer Finkelman                          December 4, 2023

About the Author
Louis Finkelman currently resides in Beit Shemesh, Israel. Until recently, he taught Literature and Writing at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Michigan, and served as half the rabbinic team at Congregation Or Chadash in Oak Park, Michigan.
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