The Arrogance of Truth, Religion and Terrorism

Posted: October 19, 2013 in Uncategorized


by Emmanuel James Ibe-Anyanwu  Image

Bombs are evangelical loudspeakers that kill. For the Islamist terrorist, the ideology is simple: all men must convert to the ‘truth’; nations must implement the ‘true’ laws of God, the Sharia, or be sorry for themselves.

Yesterday, my teenage cousins were arguing to establish who qualifies as world’s most powerful man. “It’s Obama”, said one. “No, it’s Putin”, said the other. My walking in was a timely intervention. They asked me to settle the matter, but were  disappointed by my judgment: “It’s the suicide bomber.”

For me, no man is more powerful than that creature who despises his own life. Whoever has no regard for his own life is the master of that of another. To kill the suicide bomber is to assist his own design. A few years ago, some Islamist terrorists in Chechnya held people hostage in a cinema. Their message to the authorities was clear: “We are more keen on dying than you are on living.” Contempt for life and death is the worst insertion in terrorism.

No, it’s not completely true – that the contempt for life and death is the worst invention in terrorism. It’s also not very true that poverty and malicious politics are the causes of terror. These may qualify as assistant scourges but we must reach at the bottom of the hierarchy of evil, in trying to understand how we got here. At that bottom lies the chief menace, ensconced in pure safety,  wreaking havoc without the interference of discourse. I call it ‘the hubris of religious truth.’ Let me explain.

Every religion insists that it holds the ultimate truth: other religions or worldviews are evil, false. Each religion knows, for sure, how man came to be; how phenomena came about; how the world will end; etc. Each has no doubts about the certainty of its truth claims. People who dispute any such claims are going to hell: Christians are going to the Muslim hell; Muslims, Buddists, Judaists and the rest are going to the Christian hell. Each of them is brandishing the ultimate truth, yet these truths are divergent.

Let us understand first, that religion, just like science, philosophy, mysticism, etc., is one of man’s early attempts at making sense of the world and explaining the human condition. But science and philosophy, for instance, even with their conquests in explaining life, are hardly arrogant: they admit their errors and limitations, and accept that the quest for the ultimate truth is an ongoing enterprise. They understand that phenomena and Nature evolve; they know that to reach absolute certainty in our knowledge of the world is to have retrogressed, not to have progressed. For, reality is a journey, not a destination.

Not so with religion. It knows precisely everything. It does not admit error or accept that reality is relative, that most people in contrary belief systems are there out of their innocent pursuit of the same God. Armed with this arrogant certainty, religion sets forth to demonise contrary worldviews, and has succeeded in dividing the world into competitive kingdoms – or rather, ‘wardoms.’ Everybody is trying to save everybody. The Catholic Christian is trying to save the Muslim, and after the Muslim is saved, the Deeper-Life Christian goes to re-save the same Muslim. And it goes on. Some Muslim sects do not have the time for door-to-door or street evangelism. They know that bombs are louder than loudspeakers. And they get busy.

Bombs are evangelical loudspeakers that kill. For the Islamist terrorist, the ideology is simple: all men must convert to the ‘truth’; nations must implement the ‘true’ laws of God, the Sharia, or be sorry for themselves. The male suicide bomber is not only arrogantly certain about the truth of his religion; he is also certain that seven virgins are cached in heaven for him, though we have not yet been properly briefed on how he intends to ravish such a population when his manhood would have been shattered by the bomb. Whether that is even a fair deal remains to be seen but let it pass for now – that a woman who has been virtuous with a lifetime of celibacy is rewarded with the gift of a terrorist, not even for her alone but to share with six other women. The suicide bomber’s impatience to be lodged into this heavenly orgy is understandable. Men have killed people over a singular woman. Seven virgins are enough to kill and die for.

While it is true that virtually all religions are blighted by this truth arrogance, Islam, either by design or misrepresentation, appears not to be content with mere arrogance. As its scholars try hard to present it as a religion of peace, terrorists continue to contradict that effort by blitz of terror. Perhaps it is true what some say, that belligerent Islamism is merely an Arabian input to the faith, occasioned by what has been identified as the prevalent character of anger and violence in that region. Be that as it may, religion’s hubris of truth is the fundamental cause of religious terrorism. If religions, from start, had accepted the validity of contrary others, knowing that everyone was just trying to reach truth in ways open to them, we would not be having this problem. The Muslim would know that the Christian and the others, just like him or her, are partners in the quest for ultimate truth. The Christian would not term anyone an “unbeliever.” Just like one large extended family, humanity would be sharing ideas about life and death, phenomena and Nature, etc. We would be more united, and would know that religious truth is relative, that certainty is what we are seeking, not what we have reached. And God would be less busy.

Religious branding, a product of this truth arrogance, is part of what we have to fight against in our effort to contain terrorism. It’s unrealistic, I know. Everyone is going to continue insisting on their truth claims. But while we deploy military solutions in fighting terror, let us begin also to preach, in our different religions, that we are all on the search for ultimate truth. Little by little, we could get more people to understand the relativity of religious truth. A lot of people on the social media already share this belief. We could change the world one person at a time.


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