The great conflict of the 21st century may be between the West and terrorism. But terrorism is a tactic, not a belief. The underlying battle will be between modern civilization and anti-modernist fanatics; between those who believe in the primacy of the individual and those who believe that human beings owe blind allegiance to a higher authority; between those who give priority to life in this world and those who believe that human life is no more than preparation for an existence beyond life; between those who believe that truth is revealed solely through scripture and religious dogma, and those who rely primarily on science, reason, and logic. Terrorism will disrupt and destroy lives. But terrorism is not the only danger we face.
Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor under Clinton.
We do ourselves well to understand the underlying nature of this conflict. In its simplest form, it is a battle between faith and reason; between individualism and collectivism masked in religious dogma; between self-guidance and authoritarian rule from a pulpit. I cringe each and every time I hear Bush, Kerry, or anyone else invoke his God as authority and justification for the task at hand. It is the belief in the primacy of faith over reason that is at the root of all of this, and evangelicals whom we are told are going to make the biggest difference for Bush this year, and all others who vow allegiance to a religion should clearly understand that their own philosophical house is not clean.
I understand that modern western religions over the past couple of centuries have demonstrated an ability to move with the times, for the most part. So, pragmatically, I’m willing to call them my friends—for now. But I also understand that people can exist as walking contradictions only to a point. Clearly, the fundamentalists of Islam have been pushed past their point. Modernity is a threat to their religious beliefs, and rather than modernize their beliefs, they wish to destroy modernity.
But modernity also has shown itself to advance at an ever-increasing rate. Will its advances eventually outpace the demonstrated resilience of modern religions? What happens, for instance, if cloning, stem cell, genetic engineering, or as-yet-unimagined technologies advance us to a point where we “overcome God,” i.e., cure physical death? What then? Do we then have another group of terrorists to contend with, wanting to smash the modernity that threatens their primacy of belief?
Do you see? The premises are identical. It is only the degree to which things differ.