November 7, 2005 § 10 Comments
Mark Shea correctly points out that there are few (if any) things that we can denounce as “pure evil”. One of his frequent contexts in this observation is the religion of Islam. But we have to be careful about the premeses which underly this sort of observation. The contention that few things are purely 100% evil often itself rests on nominalist (and thus false) premeses.
There is a difference between saying that Islam is categorically evil (which is true) and saying that everything that every Moslem believes is 100% pure evil (which is false). When everyone is a nominalist we just have one error competing with another: to a nominalist there is no such thing as categorical evil, there are just things with greater or lesser evil densities. Thus the fixation (typically shared by both sides in discussions on Mark’s blog) on whether a thing is or is not pure evil, as if the question of pure evil were relevant or even particularly coherent.
Contra the nominalist, it is true that one cannot be a Moslem without believing in and having some degree of loyalty to evil things. The reason this is true is because Islam-qua-Islam is categorically (but not “a set containing only”) evil.
One of Mark’s commenters writes:
Yes, Islam is a “religion of the Book,” and like Protestantism, there are many different “versions” of it.
That doesn’t mean that “protestant” as a category has no meaning whatsoever, though. A protestant is a person who attempts to be a Christian while simultaneously rejecting the Catholic Church.
Islam is an objective thing, independent of what any of us – or any Moslem, for that matter – thinks about it. A Moslem is someone who has some degree of loylaty to (that is, faith in) Islam. And if a person has a degree of loyalty to Islam, then that person has a degree of loyalty to something which is categorically evil. Purity – that is, the density of particularly evil doctrines over a given group of doctrines within Islam – is irrelevant.
Of course we all have attachments to things which are categorically evil. To the extent my attachment to greed is weak, I am not a particularly good miser. And in this sense it is quite true that a Moslem who is not committed to Jihad is not a particularly good Moslem. (Though of course good here is used as a measure of loyalty to a thing independent of that thing’s objective moral goodness).