First the book, then the movie

I submitted my proposal for “The Irrational Atheist” to the publisher last night, so we’ll have to wait and see if they decide to do it or not. Those of you who enjoy my lean, stripped-down prose will no doubt be amused to note that at 16,612 words, the two-chapter proposal clocks in just 10 percent shorter than Sam Harris’ recent book… or pamphlet, as I prefer to call it.

Here’s a brief sample from Chapter IV, which is titled Sam Tzu and the Art of War:

From “The Irrational Atheist” by Vox Day
copyright (c) 2007
All rights reserved

The conflict in Palestine is primarily ethnic, not religious. Atheist Jews, who represent 22.9 percent(15) of the Israeli population, are targeted by their Arab enemies as readily as the ultra-Orthodox. (Another 21 percent call themselves secular and do not practice any religion, but nevertheless profess to believe in God.) Moreover, the violence in Palestine began with the secular Zionists attacking the Christian British.

In Sri Lanka, the political divide is linguistic, not religious. Tamil-speaking Hindus and Christians are allied against Sinhalese-speaking Buddhists and Muslims. The government’s main rival, the revolutionary Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, are secular Marxists seeking political independence for a Tamil-speaking state. The LTTE’s own Internet FAQ settles the matter conclusively, stating in no uncertain terms that the Tamil Tigers are not a religious organization.(16)

To list the many historical counterexamples that disprove Harris’ contention would require a book of its own, but a short list of territorial conflicts between co-religionists would have to include the Roman wars of the Italian peninsula, the Renaissance wars of the Italian city-states, the wars of the Greek city-states, the wars of the petty German principalities, the eleven Russo-Swedish wars, the English Wars of the Roses, in short, nearly the entire history of European warfare(17). It is simply not true that most conflicts which “seem entirely driven by territorial concerns” are “often deeply rooted in religion”. They almost never are.

For as Jared Diamond, the author of the award-winning “Guns, Germs, and Steel”, informs us, territorial conflicts are predominantly rooted in geography, not religion. To suggest otherwise would be to eviscerate his Nobel Prize-worthy explanation for how Europe’s technological development managed to leapfrog that of China during the fifteenth century, as it was European political disunity created by geography that prevented the centralized stasis which left a backward-looking China mired in the past.

“Hence the real problem in understanding China’s loss of political and technological preeminence to Europe is to understand China’s chronic unity and Europe’s chronic disunity. The answer is again suggested by maps. Europe has a highly indented coastline, with five large peninsulas that approach islands in their isloation, and all of which evolved independent languages, ethnic groups and governments…. Europe is carved up into independent linguistic, ethnic, and political units by high mountains (the Alps, Pyrenees, Carpathians, and Norwegian border mountains), while China’s mountains east of the Tibetan plateau are much less formidable barriers…. Unlike China, Europe has many small core areas, none big enough to dominate the others for long, and each the center of chronically independent states.”(18)

In a continent with only four religions or religious denominations of note in 1400,(19) Europe was divided into over 1,000 independent political states.(20) This number was reduced by half only one hundred and seventeen years later, at the start of the Protestant Reformation. And while there was certainly an amount of violent interdenominational Christian conflict during the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, it is difficult to imagine that even with the increase in the amount of potential religious conflict, more wars took place than occurred during a century wherein half of the political entities disappeared, swallowed up by their larger, more powerful neighbors.

Indeed, the contrast between the largely peaceful spread of Christianity throughout the continent of Europe with the violent migratory invasions that wracked it from 300 to 700 AD as the Goths, Vandals and Franks moved westward, later followed by the Slavs, Alans, Avars, Bulgars, Hungarians, Pechenegs and Tatars, underlines the fundamental absence of historical support for Harris’ assertion.

(15) Shmuel Neeman Institute for Advanced Study in Science and Technology, Haifa.
(16) “Is the LTTE a religious organization? No. Most members of the LTTE are Hindus however there are many members who are Christian. The LTTE does not have religious motivation for fighting against the government of Sri Lanka. The theoretician for the LTTE and one of the founding members is Anton Balasingham, who is a Christian.” (2006)
(17) I shall concede the Thirty Years War and the eight French Huegenot Wars, and, in an ecumenical spirit of generosity, exclude the Peasant’s War and the English Civil Wars from my list of counterexamples.
(18) Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel (1999), 413.
(19) Catholic Christianity, Orthodox Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses in 1517.
(20) Diamond, 412.