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Historian Philippe Buc on Religion and Violence

Philippe Buc has been at Stanford since 1990. He earned his Ph.D. from the Ecole des Hautes Etudes in Sciences Sociales, Paris. His research has been concerned with religion and power in pre-modern western Europe, principally from Late Antiquity to the High Middle Ages, so the 2nd to 14th centuries of the Common Era. The […]

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This symposium is about to begin.
Our topic today is religion and violence.
We've touched on it before in one of our early programs with anthropologists Konigirad,
but today we're going to approach it from a more historical perspective with my colleague, Felipe Buke,
who teaches in the Department of History here at Stanford.
Before I welcome him to the show, let me quote from one of my most treasured books, The New Science by Jumbati Stavico,
who in 1744 wrote, "Wherever a people has grown savage in arms so that human laws have no longer any place among it,
the only powerful means of reducing it is religion."
Vico goes on to state.
This axiom establishes that divine providence initiated the process by which the fierce and violent were brought from their outlaw state to humanity
and by which nations were instituted among them.
It did so by awakening in them a confused idea of divinity.
Thus through the terror of this imagined divinity, they began to put themselves in some sort of order."
That was the founding power of archaic religions.
They put communities in some sort of order through the terror of an imagined divinity.
That doesn't mean that they counteracted the inherent violence of violent men.
It means that their divinities served to regulate human violence by submitting it to a regime of authority, ritual, and law.
Archaic religions were extremely fierce as Vico never tires of reminding us.
Much violence was committed in accordance with their decrees and in function of their creeds and rituals.
One could say that the same holds true to some extent for non-archaic religions like Judaism, Christianity, or Islam.
Wherever there is religion, it seems there is also the spectra of violence,
as if the former were somehow the sponsor of the latter and the latter the hidden core of the former.
Perhaps there is something archaic and violent about all religions, however, enlightened their doctrines may be.
Many philosophers of the Enlightenment, observing how much blood was shed in the name of religion, would have abolished religion altogether from their ideal republics.
But when you do away with religion, do you do away with the source of human conflict and violence, or do you in fact do away with the agency that humanizes us in the first place?
At the dawn of the age of Enlightenment, Vico wrote, I quote, "
"My guest today, Phili Buke is not a philosopher but a brilliant historian who has been kind enough to join us.
He is currently working on a book about that topic, a book that both looks back over the long history of this relation, while also keeping its eye on various forms of religious violence that have convulsed contemporary society of late."
I can assure you that I am looking forward to my conversation with him just as much as you are, since I know I will be learning a great deal about the history of this connection between religion and violence as we proceed.
Phili, welcome to the program.
Thank you, Robert.
The quote from Vico is quite fascinating and it builds on a long reflection in fact about the relationship of religion and violence.
What he says, could be a paraphrase of the Roman historian, Livy, who imagines the origins of Rome and the second ruler of Rome, the second king of Rome after the bellicose,
first king is a king who invents rituals and laws.
So, the trappings of religion and the trappings of the law in order to civilise the fierce Roman.
So, the Italian Vico is, of course, drawing a leaf on a very old reflection that has structured the questions that social scientists have asked for a long, long time.
He is religion, a break to violence, or is religion a foster of violence.
It probably is neither.
And the question that I usually get about a relationship between religion and violence is religion, the cause of violence.
And empirically, it's not true.
There are correlations.
There are violences that take religious forms.
Many violences in religious societies are going to involve the gods because the human beings will call on the gods.
But religion is not always the cause of violence when it begins and we have examples of that in fairly recent history.
We have the case of the explosion of former Yugoslavia, for example, where free groups faced one another of around Sarajevo, the Basniac Muslims, the Serbs who claimed orthodoxy, and the Croats who were
who claim Catholicism. But at the beginning this violence is ethnic. It's not religious.
Muslims in Serbia was a category by law. It did not denote anything about their belief and the place of religion in this minority's practices.
For about a year, actually, in the 90s, when the Civil War exploded, there was no call to religion.
It was only after a year that the Serbs began finding themselves Orthodox.
They were the so-called Muslims who were not effectively, as I said, Muslims as a religious group, but were Muslim as they were categorised under Tito.
The Muslims found thanks to Saudi money Islam again, and the Croats became more Catholic than they had been.
It's only a year after the beginning of the ethnic hostilities that Serbs massively got themselves baptized, etc.
Can I ask if I may interrupt what is the source of the ethnic differences, then they're certainly not racial, and if they're not religious, in terms of religious creed, is it linguistic?
I mean, at a certain point, these groups did divide up in very clear demarcations.
The Serbs and the Croats in their imagination go back to medieval protonational differences.
The Bosniacs were understood by their neighbors.
Bosniac Muslims were understood by their neighbors to be either Turkish transplants or Slavs who had converted from orthodoxy to Islam.
The Zarlie around 1800, if one looks at Serbian discourse, this conversion is irreversible.
So, it's a conversion that has become racialised.
In normal, Catholic, and Orthodox understanding, a conversion is always reversible, but bizarrely in the 19th century, there's the belief that once you've been a Turk, you're always a Turk.
If you were once a Slav who became a Muslim through conversion to Islam, then you cannot go back. It's become part of your race.
So, fundamentally, the problem is racism. The lines of demarcation are imagined races with references to a deep past of conflict.
In some cases, imaginary in some cases is real, but a lot of imagination can join to be real.
In how many cases historically, this is a generic question, it's about Serbia.
We have a very particular circumstance, but can one even ask a general question to the effect that how much does the practice of a certain religion serve for a community to distinguish itself from neighboring communities who observe different religions and therefore, just because of those differences, hostilities could arise, and therefore, historians could be tempted to say that they're not.
If religion is not a direct cause of violence among groups, then certainly it is very easy to invoke religion in order to perpetuate violence.
It is certainly very easy to invoke it, but to call it a cause is a very different thing.
We have a Rwanda crisis where religion, if it played a role, played a very minor role, the fundamental conflict is over history, over a relationship between the two cities and the hoods and who was a governing group at one point and who was the subject group at another point.
It's about physical differences, the tall two cities, the chunkier of hoods about violence.
No one's claiming that all crises of violence are religious in origin.
Well, I suppose to get into the substance of our theme, there are, I refer to archaic religions, Vico, and Vocesum, from your studies.
What do you make of religions, as we know, for example, the Aztecs, which have sacrificial violence as part of their ritualized enactment of their beliefs?
Well, in a non-secularized world where the gods are everywhere, every practice is going to take a religious change.
So the gods and religion is always going to be present for as there is no giving that.
The heart of my research is effectively on religions of a book.
So the monophasem that came out of the so-called Abrahamic tradition, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and more specifically on Christian violence.
And while, of course, there is a common denominator, and so far as when the Aztecs go to war, the gods are there, and when people of a book go to war, the god, a singular, is there.
The nature of a violence is very different.
And I think that's the key point for the historian, that different religions generate very different kinds of experiences of violence, different rhythms to violence, are understood in ways that are completely different.
And this has consequences for violence on the ground.
We know there has always been violence in human societies. It used to be that one believed that there was a golden age before the appearance of settlements in agriculture, where human beings did not kill one another on mass, and this is being revisited.
One has found mass graves, one has reds, grave, there's mass graves.
And the Mexico, the Aztec case, is very interesting to me, because effectively what one has there is a society that is massively violent, that is intensely competitive, individuals love to fight one another. It's extremely fist-appursed. There are lots of civil wars in the world of the Aztecs, with lots of compositions and decompositions of entities, all under the god.
But Aztec religious violence is completely different than Christian religious violence, because Aztec religious violence, as many of you know, is understood as an attempt to capture prisoners of war, to feed the gods with human blood. Blood is a substance of everything, including plants on which human beings feed.
And it has to be done constantly, because otherwise this world is going to end.
Because their gods were bloodthirsty.
Because their gods are themselves initially were believed to have sacrificed themselves and sacrificed their substance to allow this world to be created. It's an issue of warmth and energy.
Yes, the gods are bloodthirsty, but they're firsty, because that's the only way to make the world go round, literally. And it's a cyclical universe.
So this world is going to disappear unescapably, but to maintain it as long as possible when it has to take prisoners and sacrifice them to the gods on the top of the pyramids.
Of course, there are moments of crisis when one wants to sacrifice more, but it's a constant practice.
Christian religious violence goes more in leaps and bounds, or periods without it, and periods with it.
And it's tied to a completely different notion of history.
Mexico notion of history, like most Mesoamerican notion of history, is circular, is cyclical.
Abrahamic religions have a linear notion of history.
And so in the Christian imagination, there are specific moments for violence.
There is a violence of a past, the violence of the Old Testament, and the Christian understanding, the god of a Jews is a bloodthirsty god.
The Jews were bloodthirsty. The time of the Old Testament is a time of vengeance and violence.
They understand themselves, the Christians, in a age of peace, brought about by the passive sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
But because the Christians still accept the validity of the Old Testament, because Christ has not completely fulfilled all the promises, the promises that have to be fulfilled at the end of times, there's still the notion of vengeance in the new era.
So the Old Testament, as it were, the god of the Old Testament, the god, the father of vengeance, casts a shadow into the present and vengeance can be justified.
And there's another moment where violence is going to come. It's violence at the end of times.
Now before we get there to clarify, this is the Christian interpretation of Judaism.
It is not the Jewish interpretation of Judaism.
So, and according that interpretation, the Old Testament god is, they call the Christians' call it, was a vengeful god.
He was a vengeful god. But with the new dispensation in the Christian era, that the Christ of an put an end to, or transformed, transformed this vengeful god into now a god of forgiveness and of mercy.
And that presumably would seem, at least on the surface, that we've entered into a regime of pacifism or of a rejection, repudiation of violence, and there are interpretations of Christ's violent death on the cross as it are called to end all such.
And this is not false, but we have to understand the relationship between the two eras, the eras before Christ and the era after Christ is dialectical, because since the end of the world did not come with Christ's crucifixion, the monsianic age has not been fully entered upon, the Old Testament norms are still alive as a kind of shadow into the new era.
And there is also another force that casts a shadow of violence into the present age, which is understood by Christians to be the age of a church, right, the age where the Christian church, the age of Christianity, it is the end of the world, and in revelations.
Revelations prophesies a very violent purge of the wicked, of the sinners, of the false brothers, of all the traitors, very violent purge.
So there are two ways in which violence reenters into the present age for Christian theologians of the Protestant era and all the way into the present.
It is one because the Old Testament norms are not completely transcended, and two because there are moments where groups of Christians convince themselves that they have come to the end of times, or that their own time in some way is an important way station to the purgation that is going to come at the end of time.
And does that mean that if you're at the end time, violence is justified? Is that one of the exceptions where a certain engagement in violence is legitimate for Christians?
It is a point that a number of Christians will make. It's not uncontroversial. I mean, scriptural interpretation allows many differences.
There is an important point of debate as to whether it is human beings who have to take up the sword and be the reaping angels, or whether the reaping angels or revelations truly have to be angels, are human beings going to be passive at the end of times, or are they going to participate in the great harvest of the wicked?
Well, in Christianity, obviously it's a long history with very many different stages, and you have written some very interesting things about martyrdom, which is in the, especially in the early centuries of Christianity, there is a certain violence which is performed on the persecuted group of Christians in Rome, for example, in the Colosseums and the...
The spectacle of their encounter with the animals and so forth. But you say that there is actually in martyrdom itself a counter violence towards those who perform violence on the Christian, early Christian martyrs. Can you explain this logic or this dynamic?
Yes, I mean, it gets us back to what you mentioned that is that for most of us, Christianity in its essence is pacifistic, and it's not false, theologically, if one dismisses the dialectic, but it would be false to dismiss the dialectic, but it's true that the main thrust of Christianity is pacifistic, but there is something else within it.
So you're talking about martyrdom, and martyrdom is an important test for this dialectic, because usually one says that violence comes into Christianity from the outside.
It comes into Christianity when, and for Constantine converts to Christianity in the earlier part of the fourth century, so when power comes to the Christians, it comes into Christianity when the barbarians take over the Roman Empire,
and the barbarians love to fight, that's a common explanation. It comes into Christianity when feudalism, quote unquote, so warrior, nightly, value, stake over religion.
It comes into Christianity when the state becomes too powerful, so usually oftentimes violence in Christian societies is viewed as something extraneous to Christianity as a condemnation.
It certainly helps to have a converted emperor, it certainly helps to have barbarians who love to fight and who's initial gods are gods of war. It may help to have a nightly society, it may help to have a state, but when we look at martyrdom, we notice, or at least I notice something very interesting.
Of course the martyrs are allowing themselves to be killed, so they're passive in the sense of a term. But a number of the martyrdom texts indicate very clearly that what is happening in the arena is that the Christians are giving a choice to the pagan audience. They're telling them convert, or we are going to kill you in the spirit.
If you look at it from the standpoint of a creed that actually believes that the life of the soul is a more important life, the afterlife.
To kill in the spirit is worse on killing and the body, so the martyrs are not killing the persecutors, physically unlike Muhammadata, of 9/11 same, but the martyrs are killing really. They're killing essentially, they're killing in the dimension that matters.
And we see this, for example, in the famous martyrdom of her pitua, which is a text from about 202, perhaps of the common era, perpetuating her companions come into the arena, and they gesture the pagans and say they were saying, "You're killing us today, but on that other day God will get you. They gesture at the pagan audience and they send this message."
This is not a isolated instance, so there is a vengeful of it, where a component to martyrdom, there is a kind of passive aggressive, if I may use this metaphor with the limits that metaphors should be subjected to in Christian martyrdom.
This is a very soon, actually, after the conversion of Constantine, the made up martyr stories that come to grace Christianity because Christianity is hungry for bodies of saints on which to build institutions, monasteries, churches, royal chapels, the stories of martyrs become increasingly aggressive.
Does this suggest that Nietzsche had it right when he said that there is such a sublimated aggressiveness in the rise of Christianity as what he called a slave religion and the intrinsic impotence of the Christians expressed itself through these wild fantasies of revenge at the end of time or beyond the bounds of death and that those who are the masters in this world will then be the ones right.
Be the ones riding in hell in the other world and that there will be this flip-flop and the helpless and the weak will become the most powerful and most glorious.
I have a special fondness for Nietzsche, but it can also be explained historically, these fantasies were fantasies that were shared by radical segments of Judaism under similar conditions.
The Greek, Ptolemaic or Seleucid Domination of the Holy Land, then the Roman conquest gave birth to severe fantasies of liberation out of which John's revelation is only one avatar.
We have a lot of texts from Jewish millias that speak of a purge at the end of time where the true Jews who have never compromised themselves with the rulers of pagan rulers of the Holy Land will come out and fight alongside the angels against the powers of the darkness.
It's powers of darkness that include bad Jews. You've got to realize that in these Abrahamic notions of holy warfare there's not only the war against the others, but there's the war against the inside enemy, the traitor who has to be purged and against that other even more insidious inside enemies, the vices.
You've got to be pure, you've got to prepare yourself for a combat, you've got to practice asceticism means a certain kind of relationship to women obviously.
You've got to find the traitors and reconvert them or execute them, and then you've got to fight against the outside powers and material powers who are in the grip of Satan.
It's a tall order. But some of us have tried to realize that in 20th century history or even in 21st century history when one hears an American preacher right after 9/11 saying this catastrophe is because of our sexual sins.
This makes sense to me. This makes sense to me.
It makes sense to me on a historical continuum. Yes, I don't know a single religious revolution or a secular revolution in the Western tradition that is in a tradition that builds on religion even though it can expel God, that does not contain in various proportions this correlation, this simultaneous presence of outside war in the name of a theology.
Or if an ideology plus civil war plus desire to reform the self in society, these things are linked in the Western tradition well beyond secularization that is well beyond the moment when God gets kicked out.
So the French Revolution is a marvelous example of that.
I want to talk about that French Revolution, the secular versions, and eventually also Islam, the way the concept of a holy war, there's the same sort of ambiguity that might apply between is it literally the same kind of a
word to be taken literally as going out and fighting the enemies of Islam or is it a war that must be engaged within the self, within the moral sphere.
But first to get a little bit of clarity more about the history of Christianity, how much trouble did the theologians have to go through in order to justify institutional forms of violence like war or let's say the Crusades,
which again at least doctrinally would seem to be going exactly against the fundamental commandment of both the Judea and Christian traditions which is thou shall not kill.
It's always a state of exception where killing is permitted.
So what sorts of justifications or how could one launch wars in the name of Christianity?
Well, it's true that for quite a while we don't see predominating as it were of a spirit of Crusades in the Latin West.
I'm not going to talk about the Orthodox Greek East which I don't know so much.
But one, the Old Testament as it is understood by Catholic theologians is not about by shall not kill.
It is a story of a conquest of a holy land.
It is filled with prophets who talk about vengeance and purge.
It's a very bloody text and Christian theologians who are of a more ironic band have to explain these passages of where
and say that these are about wars of a spirit. These wars get sublimated if it were.
They're understood to be wars against vices, but not only about vices by the time when it gets to a fourth century,
they're understood to be wars against pharatics.
So the Old Testament is on the one hand dematerialized but it can get rematerialized.
So by the time you get to the 9th century, for example, discussing the polline saying that our war is not against flesh and blood,
but against principalities and powers of darkness.
Carolingia nexit sheets were in the 9th century in a kingdom called the Carolingian Empire by the name of its king, Charlemagne.
By the 9th century, it's understood that the wars of a spirit are conducted against the powers of darkness and against their material servants,
heretics and pagans who are ruled by dark angels.
And that's the way some fundamentalist Christians still see sacred warfare nowadays.
In fact, reading you, I learned that heresy is invoked in all sorts of circumstances which we don't necessarily associate with heresy.
Even the Turks were considered heretics and therefore the infidel was a heretic and that fighting them was something that is done not just on behalf of the church,
but also something that is presumably supposed to be for their own good, ultimately.
Islamicism is a strange case because theologians have a taste for a long time as to where it sits, whether it's paganism or heresy.
Dante has it with the heretics.
Yes, it goes back and forth and heretics are worse, obviously.
Well, maybe not so obviously, but they're closed by, so the more dangerous enemies because they speak the same language and they're aching us,
which is the ultimate trick of Satan to look like the true church in order to deceive.
There is nothing worse than somebody who looks like you and preaches like you and dresses like you and you.
It is slightly different in the Christian imagination.
Satan is the prince of darkness who transforms himself into an angel of light.
Maybe he's the double.
He's a double.
He's a double.
And people who are doubles have to be killed.
Can we, that I lost a thread here?
Well, the thread was the justification for the exercise of violence, especially in the name of heresy.
And yet, the Islam or the Crusades as being, when one thinks about the relationship between or let's say Christian religious violence,
the first thing that comes to everyone's mind is really the Crusades and the persecution of witches or of heretics.
The burning of Jordano, Brun or something of that sort, but especially the Crusades.
Well, the prosecutions, the include material prosecutions have a bad name in popular imagination, but in fact, they were much more moderate than many things that were conducted in the secular side back then
or have been conducted without God in the 20th century.
So the Inquisition and its heyday in the Middle Ages, perhaps burned three people a day.
It was an institution that tried to reshape the delinquent and it was like a gulag fundamentally and very the continuum,
ideologically between the Inquisition and the Gulag that was well noticed by contemporaries.
The Crusades, the first Crusades is clearly, clearly occurs in a military moment.
There are enough transformations in the 11th century, enough crisis that segments of a population and segments of a clerical leadership believe that they might be at the end of times and that therefore radical measures have to be taken.
And one of the key myths in the Middle Ages is that history can only end, and it's a good thing for history to end, when the Holy Land will be in Christian hands again, pagans will have massively been deceded, and the King or Emperor will deposit his crown on the Mount of Olives, and then Antichrist will come, which is a bad thing, but also a good thing because at the end of history, and the last days will begin, the final struggle will begin.
So for some, not all of the Crusaders, the scenario is the battle at the end of time, which explains a bloodshed that they perpetrate in the Holy Land, which also explains why some Crusaders going through the Rhineland on their way Germans and French going through the Rhineland on their way to Jerusalem offer to the Jews the choice of conversion or death, which is essentially the same thing that they're going to be in the Holy Land.
Because the scenario of the End Times does not do that, theologically speaking, unless time is up, and there's no more time.
And there are Americans in our myths who believe this very literally and who promote the idea of a conflagration in the Middle East precisely because there's this wild expectation that once that starts, the End Time is near, and that this is a fundamentally good thing.
And we see it with many sects and cults, the crazy ones, the more crazy, the more transparent is the logic where the more this expectation becomes fervent, and the more there's a delay in the actual happening of the End, the more they will provoke what they take through violent means, that sort of apocalyptic scenario, either through their own
mass suicide or you know, "Waco Texas" or something of that sort, or even perhaps an invasion of a Middle Eastern country.
Well, if we go to 2003, because of the Iraqi war are not fully known yet, but it's clear that there were various agents who went into this place for various reasons, and it's likely that for some people,
around the White House, there was something very special about this war that had to do with the Holy Land, that had to do with the gathering of old Jews in the Holy Land, then to get the choice of conversion to Christianity or destruction, which is part of that old scenario.
I mean, any war is complicated. I would never say that the whole White House leadership is made up of fanatics who would be intelligible to the 11th century, but there may have been some, and there was the interesting case of Lutin General Boykin, who went out giving speeches to various sovereign Protestant churches during the six months before the March 2004.
The first case of the invasion of Iraq in six months after, who seems to have held beliefs that are quite understandable from the standpoint of a crusader. If that is, he would go about presenting George Bush in a typological relationship with Queen Hester, who saved the Jews in a very special time, a moment of crisis, and then he would go on to show slides of Osama bin Laden,
Saddam Hussein, and the North Korean dictator and ask, is this the enemy? And he would answer his own question, rhetorical question. He would say, no, these are not the enemy, the enemy is the Prince of Darkness. So a reference to Ephesians 6, but he clearly believes that these men are the agents of the enemy and that they have to be fought, which is the way the Carolingians understood the relationship between spiritual warfare and material warfare,
and which of the way the crusaders understood the relationship between material warfare and spiritual warfare. If we cannot hit, if we cannot kill material Muslims, one of them wrote, how can we hope to fight against the demons?
Well, if I could jump to the Muslims and ask, is there an equivalent sort of end times thinking in their tradition and what they consider their holy war, some of them consider their holy war against the West? Does it follow a different logic?
I will take a pass on Muslim eschatology, because I don't want to be appended, but there are similarities, very visible similarities between the Muslims and their Christian cousins when it comes to holy war.
There has been a debate after September 11th as to whether what had happened was characteristic of Islam or not. And as a result of that there were apologetics,
that said no jihad, the real meaning of jihad is inner war, its spiritual warfare, its control of self, acquisition of virtues, and material jihad is not fundamental in the Muslim tradition.
And much as I wish it were true, it seems to me on the strength of readings that I have done both primary and secondary that the two of them go hand in hand, just as in the Christian tradition, a crusader should be pure, a crusader should work on the self, the society that backs a crusader should be pure and regenerate itself, and the crusader will fight material warfare, but material warfare that is spiritual because it's the name of God.
For a relationship between the two jihad's, the material jihad and the spiritual jihad is exactly the same. They go hand in hand. The spiritual jihad is called the greater jihad because it's understood in a religious society that what is spiritual is greater than what is physical, but it does not mean that these are mutually exclusive.
For moments in these two traditions where theologians will dissociate them, so you can get to a pacifist. You can get to a pacifist stance out of that by dissociating greater jihad, so spiritual jihad, from material jihad and arguing actually imposing that the greater jihad is a spiritual one, and you can do that also in the Catholic tradition. It's, it happened. There is a moment that I love in 15th century, which is the husk like the
revolution. The husk site were a group of heretics from a Catholic standpoint, who took their name after a young
who's a Prague theologian, and they rebelled effectively against the Catholic church, and very huge debates as to the place of violence among the husk sites because they face military
a position from a Catholic several crusades are preached against them. And there is a pacifist wing that says no, the real warfare is not material, the real warfare is pacifist, the sword is of a devil, we cannot take the sword. The sword is fully of the Old Testament, and the Old Testament is fully abolished.
And then you have a very belleco's faction that says basically slaughter of a mole. The bad bohemians included the bad ones. It's a, I'm just thinking how extraordinary in American politics, the people on the left and people on the right, there's still this fault line that separates some American for whom any use of the sword is really employing the devil's instrument, and this radical anti-war sentiment among
a certain constituency of what the Democratic Party versus another way of thinking is, and that divide, I think, runs very deep and it's not ever going to be British, but
you've worked also on the testaments of the nine, the perpetrators of the 9/11 things like Mohammed Atah whom you mentioned earlier and so forth, and you found that there were some similarities in these testaments as well with things that are familiar to us from Christian history, is that am I getting that right?
Well, I use it in teaching actually to show similarities as well as difference, so I have paired a testament of Atah with act of Christian martyrs to show similar insistence on purity, preparation for death, invocation of scripture, and willingness to kill the case of the Christian martyrs only in the spirit in the case of Mohammed Atah physically, and
in the spirit, there's clearly a difference there, but they're clearly similarities, so I use it to bring together for the sake of discussion, two traditions and two moments of time that are radically different.
As a historian, do you find that all these phenomena under consideration are a kind of story of human madness, and without any sort of basis in what we might know about the nature of reality and their fantastications ultimately, or can you imagine yourself also being the heir of these long centuries of a
way of thinking? Well, I think that most of the political faiths of the 20th century and the 21st century are heirs of these theologies for good and for bad, for good and for bad, and you were alluding to discussions between left and right, certainly, a Bolshevism is the heir of these theologies.
In what sense? The desire to transform the self, the notion of clarification of the self, the sense of being a vanguard, the need for a national revolution, which is also world evolution.
And also the role of heresy, the persecution of the heretics is going after one's own, reconverting their own, putting them through a gulag, getting rid of them if they cannot be reconstructed.
But, you know, there is also part of that messianism in the democracies in America, not only in America, but the sense that the sword has to be taken up to make the world better.
And it's a very difficult thing to allocate, if one speaks as a moralist, because it is a good thing, perhaps for some of us, at least from me, that out of this Christian tradition of
intervention to destroy evil, we have gained the right of intervention into the affairs of states whose rulers are persecuting their citizens.
And, of course, it's difficult to know what separates the American intervention in Bosnia, the American intervention in Kosovo, where the American intervention in Iraq, in an abstract level.
But, it is some of us, like the first two interventions, they're not like the third one.
And we're also very critical some of us about the non-intervention in Rwanda and the non-invented are poor.
As I often say, the Aztecs did not invent human rights.
It is the same Christian tradition that brought holy war and crusades with things that we don't like, that has also brought the dream of protecting the weak even beyond one's borders.
And it's hard to throw away the baby without the bathwater, in this case.
Do we want to destroy these energies?
If one is a radical pacifist, of course, the answer is a simple one.
But, I personally am not.
But what I want to say is that, yes, there is an intimate relationship between Christianity and a certain kind of violence, a violence which is a universalist that has universalist aspirations to correct, rectify everything.
And we may not like that.
But there is something also very Christian about taking the physical means, the material means, the military means that it takes to impose justice and goodness in the world.
This is the profound ambiguity of America.
And what about the case of terror reorganizations that also believe that this taking up of arms is justified in the name of the good, and in the name of fighting on behalf of the oppressed?
You mentioned Bolshevism, which, Messianic, as you can get with the idea of bringing about the ultimate communist state as the end of history, that sense.
But in Italy, for example, the Brigatero Cé about which I know a little bit, they had this deeply Catholic substructure to their way of thinking.
I know that you've also been interested in the Badur Minehof in Germany. You find that the legacies are still very alive with them, no?
Yes, states and terrorist groups function in the same way.
These states that believe that they have a universal mission, and that universalism comes out of Christianity even when it's secularized.
So the French once thought they had a universal mission, it took them a little few centuries to give it up.
The Americans certainly feel they have a universal mission, the Bolsheviks did feel they had a universal mission, and small terrorist groups that are non-state organizations,
to see the same kind of myths and the same kind of ideologies they believe that they have a vanguard. Then guard duty to enlighten the Badur Minehof, the Roté Abifaxion, produced many documents justifying its position, and it argues in ways that are eerily understandable to a scholar of late antiquity in medieval Europe, which is my professional specialty.
They believe that the proletariat and the German citizenry is cast in blindness, it's been blinded by material advantages, capitalism.
Its leaders are in a shadowy conspiracy with powers of darkness, imperialist America fighting in Vietnam, but also Israel, which is a renegade state paraxelos, because out of a martyr Jews have come the persecutors.
And they believe in a violence that is going to be enlightening. They will commit acts of spectacular violence and the scales will fall from the eyes of a proletariat and things will be rectified.
So they believe in this universal conspiracy and a system with outside enemies and inner enemies, traitorrs and all of that.
So you put God back into the equation, and you could be in the 11th century when the 13th century again.
But as you were saying earlier, it's very difficult to know where to come down on these legacies.
Redemption is a word that we haven't used, but it seems to be implied by a lot of what you've been saying in terms of what one can do to redeem history or the end time, or how to bring about certain forms of redemption through activist means.
A lot of times that redemption does require violence, but does that mean that we give up the dream of bringing about certain forms of secular redemption in our own social worlds?
I agree with you that there's a risk of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but many of our listeners might want to say that whenever one is committing violence and the next thing,
and the name of God, it has nothing to do with God.
It only has to do with human projection about what God is and so forth.
And that God is not part of the picture.
It's what human beings do themselves having been turned over to their own self-responsibility that uses religion as a noble framework in order to justify themselves.
And maybe some of them would be better if one could take out God and religious framework because it would give us less sort of easy, less, it would make it much more difficult to find justifications if it takes out where the case is.
One could use it.
Well, I mean, the Bolsheviks had no God.
They had a secularized version.
That's true.
That's true.
They would still have committed violence without God.
And I think fundamentally this idea, this idea that human beings use God is a secularist reading, even on the part of pious students, I've heard things like that.
They do not trust religious motivations of religious actors, but I would say certainly for the past, and certainly for fundamentalist groups, these motivations are very real.
And they also explain the details of their behavior, why they kill, when they kill, how they kill.
So it's still worth investigating.
But I don't think it's very helpful to dismiss the religious motivations of religious actors.
I don't think it helps.
In fact, it echoes a very old critique because religious observers of religious violence, for example, in the wars of religion, always painted the other side,
as being motivated by political or selfish reasons, and their violence with innocent, their violence with purely religious.
So this is a kind of argument to have a history.
And I think it's a very dubious history.
I don't think it's helpful in understanding what these people are doing.
I think one has to take this religious discourse extremely seriously.
This does not mean that one cannot mitigate current religious violence through economics and politics, of course, when can influence the way in which people are going to orient themselves, but these beliefs are sincere.
They're more likely perhaps to appear in certain kinds of situation, but these beliefs are in the main quite sincere.
Finally, Philip, you're French by...
Oh, wait.
And I was in France recently, and I know that France, like many countries in Europe, it's very different than the United States.
In fact, the churches are largely empty.
There's such a secularization that has taken place already that it would seem that religion has next to nothing to do, certainly with politics in Western Europe.
And less and less to do as time goes on with the personal lives of the citizenry.
Do you agree that the secularization has become almost complete?
And if so, what might be the nefarious consequences of that?
Well, of course, varies by country.
And as far as I understand, is the European country where there are the greatest numbers of atheists and agnostics and its politics are structured with the principle of exclusion of religion from political life, because the French remember or imagined that the greatest crisis for France were the words of religion.
So the idea is, let's keep religion, the closet, and the bedroom, it's something that we don't want in the public sphere.
The question is whether entities that have kept God out of their life are not vulnerable to moralistic or religious discourse, because they no longer have a faith, an norm, and everything becomes a question of contract and rules.
The old debate that has taken place many times in this century.
The question, for example, was German democracy not very vulnerable to people like the Hotel Mifaktsion, like the bottom-line of Geng, who are coming out with an extremely moralistic, ideological position, and the state understood itself only as an arbiter of contracts and in a law making thing without any reference to transcendental good.
And so the debate that rages and it's not ideological, in fact.
Yeah, and we're not going to resolve it today, and we'll have to wait and see.
Well, thanks, Philippe. It's been a fascinating discussion. We'll have you on again in the future.
I've learned a lot, as I expected to do. Bye-bye.
Thank you, Robert.