Culture

The Secular Left’s Religious Ignorance Harms Our National Security and Divides Our Nation

( Chalermphon Kumchai/Dreamstime)

The Left won’t stop looking for non-religious reasons for jihad. If you thought climate change led to the rise of ISIS, you’re wrong. It was inequality. At least that’s the latest theory from Thomas Piketty, acclaimed author of Capital in the Twenty-First Century, the Left’s favorite modern economic tome.

Piketty’s argument goes something like this: Since the Middle East is the world’s most economically unequal region, a small elite keeps the large majority — “including women and refugees” — in a state of “semi-slavery.” He singles out the “oil monarchies,” including Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, for particular blame, and of course blames the West for propping up those regimes politically and militarily. Dramatic inequality thus sets the stage for revolution.

His solution? Western powers “should demonstrate that they are more concerned with the social development of the region than they are with their own financial interests and relationships with ruling families.” He wants to make sure that “Middle Eastern oil money funds ‘regional development,’ including far more education.”

No one denies that the Middle East is a fundamentally unjust place. Further, no one denies that it has suffered through recent crop failures and other economic disruptions due to severe drought. But do economic hardships and crop failures explain the rise of an apocalyptic jihadist movement that is populated by people from diverse economic backgrounds and often led by members of the Middle East elite? While climate factors and economic mismanagement are well-known contributors to instability, they do not explain the particular instability of jihad. If the conditions exist for Middle East revolutionary movements, why is jihad just as common as — if not more common than — a secular revolt?

After all, other regions peacefully struggle through catastrophic drought, and according to Piketty’s data, the United States is almost as unequal as the Middle East:

Does this mean that the U.S. is close to tearing itself apart in a spate of brutal violence? Why hasn’t California, a drought-ridden state dominated by some of America’s most unequal cities, erupted in revolution?

#share#As the secular Left is increasingly separated from authentic expressions of genuine faith, it is losing the capability of understanding the world. Given that religious zeal is so far from their hearts, they have a hard time believing the words of the religious. Thus the constant quest to discern the “real” reasons why believers behave the way they do.

RELATED: No, America Doesn’t Have a Christian Terrorist Problem

It is one of the quirks of the modern Left that this inability to understand faith leads them to think better of America’s enemies and worse of their fellow citizens. Thus, jihadists aren’t evil religious zealots utterly dedicated to killing their way to the Apocalypse. They’re oppressed youth in need of a good jobs program. Meanwhile, the Evangelical Christian down the street isn’t simply trying to know and do the will of God — he’s seizing on ancient and discredited texts to justify his hatred for women and gays.

The result is a nation more vulnerable to jihadist threats from abroad and more bitterly divided at home. The Obama administration has consistently underestimated not just the threat of jihad but also the strength of the response necessary to defeat an enemy with eternity on his mind. At the same time, the administration has turned on its domestic critics — especially its religious domestic critics — with undisguised rage and hostility, using not just rhetoric but the power of the federal government to marginalize religious liberty and confine the citizenry’s right to free exercise to ever smaller and more private spheres of influence.

Walled off in ideologically uniform cultural enclaves, the Left doesn’t know the faithful, it only studies them — mainly using texts and resources developed by other Leftists.

If we’re looking for “root causes” to this phenomenon, look no farther than the increasing isolation of the urban and collegiate intellectual Left. Walled off in ideologically uniform cultural enclaves (the entire borough of Manhattan is less politically diverse than your average Evangelical church), the Left doesn’t know the faithful, it only studies them — mainly using texts and resources developed by other Leftists.

During my own time in places like Cambridge, Mass., and Ithaca, N.Y., I frequently encountered people who claimed they’d “never met” another Evangelical or “never heard” one of my relatively standard conservative arguments. Their ignorance was matched only by their condescension, as they were convinced they knew the “true” motivations for my deeply held beliefs.

That’s not to say that nothing else matters besides religion, but when encountering people who proclaim faith-based motivations for their actions, it is generally prudent to take them at their word and evaluate their actions and intentions from within their own frame of reference. If the Left applied this framework to jihadists abroad and Christians at home, it would understand that the reality is both worse than they fear and better than they hope. Jihadists are more deadly and vicious than they understand, while the religious neighbors the Left so despises turn out to be among America’s most kind and generous citizens.

In other words, when it comes to religion, the credentialed Left needs an education. Its ignorance is making our nation weak and tearing it apart.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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