Terror and Civilization: Christianity, Politics, and the Western Psyche
Shadia B. Drury
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"Terror and Civilization is nothing less than a tour de force. Critically examining Christianity's oldest and deepest ideological roots, regardless of our own religious convictions or convictions about religion Drury compels us to reflect on our beliefs for the subtle ways they unwittingly implicate us in the violence we thought we had opposed. Required reading for religious and anti-religious thinkers, moralists and anti-moralists, for truth seekers and critics of truth, for idealists and realists of all persuasions. A fine scholarly work, yet written with a clarity that makes it accessible to audiences outside the academic community."--Morton Schoolman, SUNY Albany
About the Author
Shadia B. Drury is a Professor of Political Science and Philosophy at the University of Calgary in Canada.
By Thomas Atwater on January 26, 2004
Drury argues that the relation between terror and civilization has been seriously misconstrued in the history of the West. She maintains that terror is neither the opposite of civilization nor the secret of its success. Rather, the worst atrocities have their source in civilization itself - the pursuit of a sublime ideal that is believed to be so majestic, magnificent, and grand that it is worthy of every sacrifice, hardship, and abomination. Christianity and Islam are examples of such exalted ideals. Drury focuses on Christianity to examine how religious beliefs inspire pernicious and malevolent conduct.
In Part I Drury gives a critical account of the religion of Jesus. She argues that from its earliest and supposedly most idealistic beginnings, Christianity betrays a bleak austerity behind the apparently genial personality of Jesus. She focuses on faith, salvation, sin, death, and damnation. She explains why the religion of Jesus is zealous, immoderate, and unwise, and thus why Jesus cannot be totally absolved of the savage history of the Church.
In Part II Drury argues against Christianity in politics. She maintains that Christianity cannot be vested with political power without courting disaster. The political success of Christianity invites the worst tyranny - tyranny which seeks dominion not only over the actions of the body, but over the thoughts, dreams, and longings of the mind.
Part III is a critical examination of the moral teaching of Jesus, the "ethic of love." In contrast to Nietzsche, Drury argues that the morality of Jesus is rich in tragic gloom. Moreover, far from coming into conflict with what Drury in Part I calls Christianity's "metaphysics of terror," the morality of Jesus is intimately connected with it.
In Part IV Drury argues that the ethic of love has unwittingly fostered a conception of conscience as an inner state of siege. She maintains that both psychoanalysis and postmodernism are the heirs of Christianity: both are trapped within the its horizon. Indeed, she argues, Freud has provided Christianity with scientific justification! Likewise, it is alleged that Foucault is not free of the yoke of Christianity. He assumes that there is a deep conflict between human nature and civilization, and that the latter depends for its success on psychic terror. But, Drury contends, this understanding of civilization and terror has the effects of deprecating morality, inviting a Promethean revolt, and romanticizing evil.
In Part V Drury pulls her argument about civilization and terror together. She maintains that ideals and their zealous pursuit are at the heart of both the sweetness of civilization and its terror. Christianity and Islam are both examples. What makes the conflict between Islam and the West so deadly is not the radical difference between the antagonists but their similarity: Both live in the shadow of Biblical religion, which accounts for the radical and polarizing nature of the conflict. Transcending the Biblical horizon is, Drury concludes, the first step in the quest for genuine political life, which aims at peace and order in a climate of freedom, and is marked by moderation and an acknowledgment of the plurality of ideals.
The book includes extensive endnotes and a richly annotated bibliography.
This is an immensely thought-provoking work, especially, for me, the vigorous and informed critique of Christianity in Part I. The book is well-argued throughout and readily encourages sustained reading. It is a necessary antidote to the imprudent, ignorant, and sanctimonious rhetoric surrounding the Bush administration's "war on terror," but Drury's arguments ought to give many critics of Bush pause as well.
My only strong complaint about the book is its outrageous price. One hopes the publisher will issue a reasonably priced paperback edition soon, so that this timely and important work will get the wide circulation which it so clearly merits.
behind the goodness of religion. Some of the evil deeds that are committed cannot be made sense of in the absence of religious beliefs and assumptions. In contrast to the cynicism about human nature that is characteristic of Christianity, I believe that people genuinely seek the good. But religious beliefs and superstitions often cloud and distort the already difficult search for the good and the right. In examining how religious beliefs inspire pernicious and malevolent conduct we should begin
radical transcendence leads to morally obscene conclusions. And it is not surprising that Voegelin appeals to the political right in America. He appeals to those who resist political initiatives to improve life in this world—less poverty, greater freedom, and more sexual equality. Fourth, Voegelin’s world is as dualistic as the world of Augustine, the Manicheans, and the Gnostics. It is made up of the first reality and the second reality, the searchers for truth and the rebels against reality,
succeeds so well because it goes with the grain—not against the grain. And that is why there is no reason to marvel at its astounding success. Civilization cannot succeed against all odds. It succeeds because it answers a deep need for discipline, a need to give life structure and meaning, a need to be admired, and to admire oneself. Civilization succeeds not because it is contrary to nature, but precisely because it appeals to certain fundamental aspects of our nature. In particular, it allows
blessings had their source in the sacrifices of the ancestors. This debt could only be discharged by obedience to the will of the ancestors, and by sacrifices. Accordingly, they sacrificed their crops, their animals, and their firstborn. The more they prospered the more glorious the ancestors seemed, until they were deified. But then, a very astonishing god appeared on the scene—the god of Christianity. The image of the crucified God was utterly ingenious—it presented the spectacle of a debt that
conflict between good and evil; more often than not, it is a competition between a plurality of competing and incommensurable goods. Side by side with this naïve and dualistic view of the relation between terror and civilization, is a more sophisticated, but deeply cynical view that has informed Western thought. And like the naïve view, the cynical view also has its roots in the biblical tradition. In particular, the Christian assumption that human nature has been profoundly corrupted by the