Philosophy, Religion, the State, and the Problem of Terrorism
© 2001 by Pierre Grimes, Ph.D.

When long established beliefs clash it often happens that amid the rubble illusions also tumble, for history has no favorites. It is, of course, possible for some people to continue to live as if the clash of forces did not bring down oneís favorite idol, but for others it offers a new chance to view what they should have known needed to be questioned and, possibly, rejected. The tragic and terribly destructive act of terrorism that struck New York has forced us to re-examine our beliefs so that we might be better able to face our future without tolerating what we know should not have been ignored.

The significance of the list of what we have ignored speaks for itself, because the mere mention of these items surfaces issues that can easily divide people into warring camps. While these issues may be dealt with individually they interrelate with one another, forming a unity of which terrorism is an underlying theme. However, even if the necessary information were available to the public to solve such issues there must also be the courage to face the issues that generated those problems in the first place. Actually, the information is available, but it is not being featured so that the public can fully grasp it. There is a reluctance to examine these issues partly because there is the suspicion that there may be no way to solve them. For, to understand terrorism and the threat it poses means we must have the courage and willingness to clearly see its connection with religion and the secular state. And, it is likely that the most difficult task we face is to understand religionís role in the present circumstance, which means we must have the willingness to see its connection with its spiritual source. There should be no wonder about the seriousness and depth of these issues because behind these issues are the most profound questions about the nature of the relationship between God and Man, Man and the State, as well as the conditions for Manís psychic development.

Terrorism has a long history and has been with us for ages, but with the rise of a new technology terrorism marks our age. The means of mass destruction are now available to many people with only modest training, and the technology of mass media brings to nearly every hamlet vivid scenes of injustice and violence, the very elements that can both spawn terrorism and give it most needed visibility. If terrorism is called evil then the response is a religious one, a holy war. Once we announce that the cause of something is evil then there is no need to search for any further cause because evil is its own answer. The Oklahoma terrorist, Timothy McVeigh, was brought to trial and convicted for his criminal act, he was not tried as a Christian terrorist. If he had been labeled evil and judged as representing his religion then his co-religionists would have been rounded up and indefinitely detained, their funds conficasted, and those who may have inspired him and directly influenced him would be hunted down by the military, and a large reward offered for the mastermind behind the deed. We all know that to discover the reasons why anyone does anything, including unjust things, takes time, requires careful analysis, and that presumes one does not know the answers before-hand. But, we still donít know the outcome of the McVeigh inquiry nor has the data emerged to discover who else might have been implicated. The media does not explore the reasons behind these chilling and horrific scenes because it has redefined its task to be reporting events, but not to explain them in any depth. Instead of being guided by the highest standards of journalism the media has become a side-show and competes with other forms of entertainment. The ownership of the media is dominated by only a few corporations, and they are guided by profits; they place no honor in serving the cause of justice.

Surely, there is a crucial need for unbiased information, but here in the United States the media has learned from the Nixon era not to go too far in investigative journalism or they might topple another president. They have learned to play down some issues and ignore others that do not advance their own political agenda. We need to discover whether the news media has embraced the same agenda as that of the conservatives. For the political vision that guides the conservatives is to roll back the social and political progress of the last century to the pre-New Deal era and establish the old oligarchy of moneyed interests.

They have remained silent about the theft of the presidency since the conservative wing of the Supreme Court selected Bush as the president before the complete count of the American voters expressed their preference. The Democratic Party has become a silent partner to this travesty of justice. They were afraid to oppose those who showed they had the audacity to steal a presidency because they knew that if they were to challenge that sham election they would jeopardize their own sources of financial contributions. The public recognized the theft but believed it didnít matter which candidate won since their differences didnít matter in a system already corrupted by money. One of the primary issues is whether the media has the courage and the integrity to do its job of investigative reporting to surface the role money plays in corrupting our system of government. Clearly, unless this issue can be argued in public the suspicion will take on the aura of a fact and we will conclude that the media, fourth estate, has fallen victim in a silent war that may have more terrible consequences than the terrorism that struck New York. Another vital issue is whether the media will publish the impartial analysis of the Bush-Gore election that was promised by the leading papers but was withdrawn after the 9-11 calamity. The report was blocked, censored, not by the government but the news media itself to preserve the unity of the nation, but what kind of unity can there be if those guilty of stealing an election are not charged with the greatest political injustice, treason. Surely, the news media must reassure the world that the same people responsible for the theft of the election are not those who are influencing the president-select to risk a holy war between civilizations and world religions that only the extremists of both sides believe is inevitable. For this talk of holy wars and evil will be understood by fundamentalists as a rallying call that will further radicalize populations and topple Near East governments as it will fore shadow a holy war, an Armengadon. Thus, we are left to wonder if the conservative cause has also embraced the religious right wing agenda, then there is much the public does not know but should know because the consequences are likely to be ugly.

Behind this issue is another and that is to identify the people who have master-minded this takeover of our government. Indeed, our newly appointed leaderís remarks betray a shallowness beyond belief and an inability to control his own religious war rhetoric. Indeed, he is trying to direct and control this crisis, but it is a crisis he brought on himself, for the response to his war rhetoric is to make an enemy of a people and alert them to a possible war. It is a crisis the consequences of which many people will have to suffer before it is over.

Further, the news media should feature how this administration undermines our freedoms in their frenzy to protect us. The underlying issue is whether our freedoms are being curtailed because of the threat against us or is it designed to block discussions of this very kind from gaining a large audience? We know the consequences of censorship on our democracy; it will be far reaching, and will likely be more disastrous to our noble experiment with freedom and equality. Again, where are the news features that can discuss how this war will be financed? For, the support for this so-called war against evil is being paid by making the poor and the middle class foot the bill while giving astonishing pay backs to the major corporations and the wealthiest class. For, the projected costs of this so called war against terrorism will fall on the backs of the workers and the middle class, since 80 percent of the proposed 100 billion dollar tax cut will go to the wealthiest 5 percent of our citizens. Clearly, corporate welfare is now an accepted fact of this administration, but while that give away is going on there are 170,000 Americans who live on the streets, homeless.

Surely, we all know that the good that flows from freedom of the press and the media is vital to our growth, and plays a decisive role in our maturity. Since every person is most likely to change their views when presented with information they can trust, it is essential that every person receive unbiased information. It is like good food, since by it the mind receives the conditions for its growth. However, we also know that if those in control of this media use it to create images that fire the imagination and set into motion energies that are destructive to our human values and feed the fears, we are better off without it. Thus, we must expose this anti-democratic movement and find laws that block their agenda. The status quo needs the defense of censorship to mask its injustices because the fear of disclosure drives the spirit of censorship. The fear of the mind is but another side of the fear of freedom. Indeed, it is to be expected that those who fear the mind also fear women gaining equal rights because the excellence of the mind knows no gender, nor race, nor nationality, but brings a nobility of the spirit with its increasing vision.

To explore the root of terrorism it is necessary to discuss its relation to religion. Consider, is there any difference between Christian and Moslem extremists? They are both willing to sacrifice their lives, or risk their lives, by destroying the symbols of what they most hate. Surely, those who murder doctors who practice in abortion clinics, or the Klu Klux Klan who leave burning crosses behind after burning down African-American churches in the South, and these Moslem extremistsí acts of terrorism have all sprung from the deep hostility against those symbols that represent an opposition to their own religious agenda. True believers are dangerous to themselves and to others because they have sacrificed their understanding for the certainty of their faith, and during personal crises they are all too willing to sacrifice themselves to prove that their faith is stronger than their will to survive.

The targets that religious terrorists have selected for destruction are chosen carefully because they believe these are the symbols representing evil. But, we know a truth of history that everyone needs to recall once again. The destruction of the non-military target of fabled Dresden in Germany during WWII was meant to demonstrate that the Fascists were not the only ones who could destroy symbols of culture. Shall the response to the destruction of our treasured symbols bring us to retaliate in like manner? Will the Mosques of Islam, of Mecca, be destroyed after St. Peterís in Rome, the Eiffel Tower of Paris, and the Statue of Liberty crumble? But, it is not symbols alone that are to be targeted by terrorists, because the targets that are selected must also bring death to many innocent people so that a terrible fear will grip the hearts of their enemies. These acts are designed to signify an outrage against a perceived injustice; the perpetrators see themselves as agents of God and they expect to be rewarded for their deadly unjust acts. However, for the acts of terrorism to be effective their message must be widely known and possibly witnessed by many, for it must demonstrate to all the righteous power of the powerless. Thus, terrorists need the news media as their publicity agent.

The history of this struggle, in part, has its origin in the bitter struggles between church and state. The struggle ended in a draw since they struck a deal, a compromise, so that there would be a separation between church and state; each would have its proper domain and neither would interfere in the affairs of the other. This compromise subordinated religious systems to the power of the secular government. But, now, there is a new struggle, for we must face the possible clash between religiously inspired states and modern secular nation states, as well as the re-emergence of religionists challenging the right of the state to lead people in conflicts that they perceive as centering on their own religious issues.

This long simmering antagonism between fundamentalists and the modern nation state surfaces conflict for reasons they neither understand nor care to comprehend. This is because they are like brothers who have forgotten who their father is. They have the same source and serve the same function. Both religion and the nation state exist to provide an exclusive sense of group identity and common bond of feeling for their members, while reassuring them that the spirit of justice is on their side. The sacrifice of personal interests for the group identity is the price for membership in each. They believe that they are justified in protecting their domain, and both act out violently when they perceive their existence is threatened. They are competitors and each is jealous of its powers and, given the opportunity, either one will seek to overthrow the other. Thus, each has a violent side, its fundamentalist side, which when aroused lashes out to destroy its enemy. For, if they cannot retaliate when challenged or attacked then the security and identity provided loses its meaning and they fade away into the inconsequential. The commonness they share is not accidental, nor is the danger they represent trivial. Their leaders can direct the arousing of public feelings both to real or unreal threats, and the havoc they unleash can be devastating. Indeed, Gibbon has traced the fall of the Roman Empire to the effects of the terrible conflicts and turmoil that the different bands of Christians unleashed against those who differed from their own brand of faith.

What separates belief based religions from one another breeds antagonism and hostility even though the sameness they share is remarkable. Equally, the sameness between the nation state and these book religions lies in their similar functions: these religions and the modern nation state believe they have the right to fulfill their destiny and they promises to protect their people and avenge any wrong against themselves. In exchange it is expected that their subjectsí rights of expression will be compromised for the good of the state or religion. In times of emergency the people are expected to fight to preserve and crush their enemies. This is done while allowing social injustices within their own borders to go unchallenged.

The rise of the European nation states can be seen to have been inspired by the thought of Ibn Khaldoun, a 14th Century Muslim philosopher, who advanced the idea that once a people share a common bond of religious feeling a nation is born and becomes powerful as it plays out its destiny in history. The nation state ignores religious feeling and replaces it with the bond of patriotism which is awakened when the state is threatened or attacked. In the secular state it is the nationís flag instead of the symbol of the cross or the crescent that is honored and excites the spirit as it is unfurled in the wind. Since the problems of religion and the nation state are one so the solution should be the same.

Secular governments strive to achieve a just society by means of social contracts that are based upon the idea that conflicts within a society can be moderated by appeals to law. However, within such governments there are financial and religious groups who when circumstances require them to defend either their money or the principles of their faith they believe their position places them above the secular law of the nation state. Both must be brought under law, either the laws under which they do business or evangelize, or international law, otherwise the seeds of terrorism are the only weapon of the powerless. With the emergence of modern multinational corporations, we enter a new age of capitalism that operates independent of the laws of both religion and the secular state. For, as is well known, multinational corporations have undermined the sovereignty of states and their economies, and are entirely indifferent to the populations and environment they exploit for profit. The states that provide a haven and basis for their unjust operations are perceived as playing a major part in the injustice to the general public and in the destruction of our environment. Since nation-states permit the multinational corporations to operate with impunity, they are painted with the same brush, but sooner or later these spoilers will become the next targets of terrorism.

Clearly, to bring all nation states into a single order that can adjudicate the conflicts between all states is essential. A system of law that protects against military expansion and economic exploitation is essential. It was only when the nation states of Europe realized that their fate hinged upon cooperation with each other that they joined a greater union, the EU. Each of the states had to convince their people that economic cooperation would bring with it the possibility of a greater good as well as military security. A similar need exists among religious systems and especially among belief-based religious systems. For, clearly there is a need to curtail their efforts towards promoting religious wars, evangelizing populations, and dominating and restricting the development of culture, since these are the goals of all belief-based religions. These are the religions ĖZoroasterism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - that claim that in the eyes of God belief alone is sufficient for the religious life, and since their teachings can be found in their holy books, they are the book religions.

These religions are movements that provide a sense of group identity and offer protection from unknown sinister forces that prey upon and possess innocent people. In the act of belief the believer gives up their need for revenge against those perceived as unjust, believing that their God will chastise those who act unjustly in the final Armageddon. But, they reserve the right to assist their God in bringing about justice through launching holy wars. Calling their enemies evil they can eliminate them without having to understand the causes of the perceived injustices done against them nor do they need to examine their own role in those acts.

In the case of the book religions the core belief is that the divine, God, will protect believers against evil and avenge any wrong against the group. In sharing an exclusive allegiance to God they become a family of believers, and those deemed just are to benefit in the next world. Those outside the family of believers share no such bond until they join a religion or form one of their own. Christianity offered those who were neither Greeks nor Jews a brotherhood of belief, a family that required neither the cultivation of the mind as with the Hellenics nor the circumcision of the Jews. Islam adapted Judaism and Christianity and became another book religion, offering an identity, kinship, protection, and a system by which to establish a mode of justice.

Unless the book religions recognize and appreciate their roots there will always be conflict among them. There is no better or worse religions among them because the source of them is higher than any one of them. The nature of that higher source is the subject of the Platonic tradition, as it is also the source of later additions to their traditions, since the seers who added to their foundersí systems did so from that Platonic tradition. Thus, the Platonic system has been called by fundamentalists the mother of all heresies.

The Hellenic vision of philosophy reached its most profound level in the Platonic tradition. Every revival of culture has its Platonic seed and its flowering has made each renaissance possible. To meet the needs of a wider audience the spiritual power of this mystical-intellectual system was diluted by taking on Stoic, Cynic and Gnostic forms. Indeed, as Cynic philosophy inspired Christianity so Stoic thought inspired the Gnostic religion.

The sameness running through the book religions is that the source of their highest vision is the most brilliant light of divine radiance that they recognize as the presence of God. The founders then become the spokesmen of that vision and create systems that others can participate in to gain an access to a religious life. The belief systems hold out the hope that if the vision is not gained during the lifetime of the believer it will be theirs eternally after death if they follow the words of the seer.

The religious systems that include a dialectic, like Nagarjunaís Madyamika, go beyond the divine radiance, and in doing so they go beyond religious visionaries. But only the Platonic system includes a dialectic that cultivates the understanding so that one can pass through that most brilliant light of Being to the Good or the One itself without sacrificing the mind to go beyond the mind.

The appreciation that the dialectic can bring about a profound understanding and realization which is beyond even the radiance of divine luminosity vindicates the intuition that man is an integral part of an intelligible cosmos in which justice plays out its wondrous hand. It follows from this realization that Providence does indeed have dominion over all intelligible things and extends to them a goodness that is most appropriate for their condition while that which is beyond Being is the source of the oneness that extends to all things.

Man may ignore his place in this intelligible cosmos and cling to some partial vision for a personal and social advantage but those who do so become, to that degree, unjust and cannot access those higher functions of mind, because we become only what we have allowed ourselves to see. The voyage we are to embark upon is to chart the reach to the mind and to explore its furthermost reach. For on the one hand we all need to clearly see the forces that make a true believer and how the believer becomes a terrorist while on the other hand we need to grasp fully the process to become a sage. The highest function, direct knowing, comes to those fortunate few who have prepared themselves for vision and it is from these that the spiritual founders of the book religions are members. Such a course of exploration will return one to the philosophical task of charting the blocks and difficulties in the passage from image thinking, to belief, to understanding, and to knowing. Knowing directly is a unified vision into the divine and it is the culmination of the human endeavor.

Each of the book religions absorbed as much as they could of this unified vision, but to go beyond the limits imposed by their culture is a thing not impossible. If any given culture were to fully accept such a unified vision it would transform the culture into the splendor of a Hellenic Age. In each of these religions a charismatic leader was able to absorb much of this wisdom, personify it, and transform it into a form that would allow a literary expression of its content. What was left unsaid became the task for later visionaries to add to and reshape so that it could reflect a greater unity. These visionaries became the great minds who sought to complete and to bring to perfection what lay implicit in the founderís revelation. In many cases the visionaries who sought to contribute to their religion did so at their own peril, for those who benefit by restraining the mind become despots and lead some form of inquisition against the seers.

In Judaism in the third century BCE a Platonic understanding was advanced when Ben Sira identified Sophia with the Torah and when Aristobulus added allegorical interpretation to develop and preserve a pure conception of God. In the twelfth century Moses of Leon adapted Neo-Platonic thought which became the Kabbalah. In a similar way we find Pseudo-Dionysius carrying the Neo-Platonic world of philosophy into Christian thought, as Miester Ekchart did in the twelfth century and Ficino in the fifteenth century. We find a parallel in the Islamic world when Suhrawardi, the Master of Illumination, advanced a Neo-Platonic emanationistic theory; Al-Arabi and Jalal ad-Din Rumi brought a Neo-Platonic tradition to the Sufis.

There are five principle ideas that all religions share and their differences in doctrines are the result of the way they combine these elements together. The first positive attribute of the divine is that it is the source of Being and extends its various modes to all things, both animate and inanimate. The second describes the mode of divine participation in what had been brought into Being and existence. The third recognizes that all forms of unity are but modes of Being expressing the presence of the divine. The fourth presents the One that is above Being as transcendent and describes what consequences there must be upon all else when separated from that divine One. For, whatever is cannot be without the divine. In opposition to these ideas there are also a set of ideas that reject these positive attributes, and in doing so they generate four negative world views. These are the systems that retreat from mind and understanding and argue, in a descending order, that since all is relative we inhabit a world of phantasmorgia, that we are right to hold to atheism, that the truth of all is a materialism, and, finally, since there is only nothing, nihilism is the only defensible position. But, beyond these four affirmative and negative ideas there is the idea that the divine is beyond all predicates and is essentially unknown to the intellect and reason. Each of the religions may at one time or another stress one aspect above the others, or may reject various aspects, but whatever combination they absorb or reject, the rest of them play a subordinate role. Thus, we can see that the first positive attribute stands to Taoism as the second does to Kasmir Shivism, as Pauline Christianity is to the third, and as the transcendentalism of Judaism is to the fourth.

These are the nine hypotheses that are the subject of Platoís Parmenides, and they were formulated before the historical emergence of the religions that express these ideas in their doctrines. The study of the interrelationship of these ideas, and their denials, brings the reader to the realization that the religious expression of these ideas can be subsumed within this Platonic doctrine.

Therefore, as secular states have come to recognize that they can flourish when they combine into more fruitful unions, so too must the book religions come to realize that they express parts of a vision whose completion is the source of each. Both secular and religious states must support and encourage a freedom of discussion and investigation into all claims of justice and injustice and praise the one and expose the other. For all people are part of that one family called the human race whose growth and development shines forth in that progress of thought in which the dignity of man finds its finest hour in completing that spiritual path that is our destiny to complete.