Pierre Bayle: On Coercion and Conscience in Religion
I've just read an article on Pierre Bayle titled "The Golden Rule of Toleration," in the magazine Christianity Today (5/07/2009), by Joseph Loconte, a senior research fellow at The King's College in New York City. The article spurred my thinking on today's blog entry.
Islamist views seem almost dominant in Islam as it is currently practiced. The Islamists, at any rate, intend to dominate. We see the Taliban flooding across Pakistan -- though the government there is currently fighting against that tide. We saw, only two or three weeks ago, a seventeen-year-old girl in Pakistan's Swat Valley publicly flogged for leaving her home unaccompanied by a close male relative. In the video that appeared on You Tube, she could be heard screaming that she would obey the rules, which is precisely the submission that the Islamists desire.
Obviously, such obedience, such submission, is physically, forcefully coerced.
From Loconte, I learned that the Huguenot thinker Pierre Bayle had some appropriate remarks about coercion in religious matters:
[E]very one that fears God ought, with all his Authority, to prevent the Commission of Crimes; and what Crimes are there, which they ought to prevent with greater care, than religious Hypocrisys, Acts against the Instinct and Lights of Conscience? Now these the Maxims arising from the literal Sense do infallibly produce. Ordain Punishments for all who practise the Rites of any one Religion, and who refuse to practise those of another; expose 'em to the Violence of the Soldiery, buffet 'em, thrust 'em into noisom Dungeons, deprive 'em of Employments and Honors, condemn 'em to the Mines or Gallys, hang up those who are impertinent, load others with Favors and Rewards who renounce their Worship: you may depend upon't, a great many will change, as to the outward Profession, from the Religion they esteem the best, and make profession of that which they are convinc'd is false. Acts of Hypocrisy and High Treason against the Divine Majesty, which is never so directly affronted, as when Men draw near to his Worship in a way which their Consciences, I mean even the most erroneous Consciences, represent as dishonorable to him. So that a Prince who wou'd prevent, as much as in him lies, the Depravation of his Subjects, and their being guilty of that Sin, which of all Sins is the most provoking to Almighty God, and the most certainly Sin, shou'd take special care to purge his Dominions of all Christians of persecuting Principles. (Pierre Bayle, Chapter 5, A Philosophical Commentary on These Words of the Gospel, Luke 14.23, 'Compel Them to Come In, That My House May Be Full', edited, with an Introduction by John Kilcullen and Chandran Kukathas, Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2005)Bayle's argument is that God hates hypocrisy more than any other sin. In fact, he hates whatever encourages hypocrisy. Religious persecution encourages hypocrisy. Therefore God hates religious persecution. Bayle thus counsels against coerced adherence to any religion.
Despite the Taliban and most other Islamist movements, Islam would seem -- at a first glance in the Qur'an -- to reject coercion in religious matters, for the Qur'an, in Sura 2:256 states:
"There is no compulsion in religion."That would appear to settle the issue . . . except that other verses seem to justify compulsion. Many if not most early Muslim authorities seem to treat Sura 2:256 as abrogated by the so-called "Sword Verses," such as Sura 9:5:
"But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay those who join other gods with Allah wherever you find them; besiege them, seize them, lay in wait for them with every kind of ambush."I could cite other sword verses, but that would be tedious and unnecessary, for the tendency of Islamism today is toward ever greater intolerance . . . or seems to be. The problem appears to be that this contradiction in the Qur'an is resolved in favor of the "sword verses," which are taken to be later revelations, a method of resolving contradictions known as "abrogation." Later revelation can abrogate earlier revelation.
Presumably, there's some evidence that the "sword verses" came later, but is that certain? Be that as it may, I would think that Pierre Bayle's argument would apply to Islam as well . . . or are current-day Islamists mainly interested only in outward conformity, caring little that coercion breeds hypocrisy?