I don’t know WHO killed them, but I know WHAT killed them! – Martin Luther King Jr
Some time ago, I shared Epicurus’ 18th Book On Nature: Against the Use of Empty Words. It’s time to dig into that arsenal now that it turns out that, not only the Paris massacre, but also the one in San Bernardino, were carried out by people who had pledged allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State … mainly because we keep hearing that Islam is the so-called religion of peace, and it seems like the people who say this do not know what a religion of peace would presumably look like and feel like. Or even that words have meaning.
The book invites us to call everything by its name based on empirical evidence whenever possible and to avoid empty words. Another founder of this tradition, Polyaenus, devoted a treaty to Definitions. The idea is that every word that is used must have a clear correspondence in nature, in reality, as is evident to our faculties.
The result of this doctrine is that the first Epicureans often changed the names of things with empirical justification, so that the words were in line with the things signified and with their own descriptions. The notion of the inconceivable is derived from this process because in order to refer to something, we must first clearly conceive it. In the treaty, the distinction is also discussed between the knowable and the unknowable (i.e., what can and can not be known through the senses and faculties).
The central point of Epicurus’ book was that when we use a word, it should have a clear meaning, one that is observable in nature by our faculties. Alternately, if it can’t be directly observed, it must be inferred from observations made in nature, in reality. This is just a matter of basic intellectual decency: calling things by their proper name.
The term “religion of peace” should have a clear, observable meaning. We can infer that THE religion of peace would engage in non-violent conflict-resolution, and that it will likely drive their followers to engage in vegetarianism and to avoid the purchase of items that produced suffering to other living beings.
In India, non-violence is known as ahimsa and it’s a central tenet of Jainism, of Buddhism, and some sects of Hinduism. It was this ideal that inspired Ghandi’s non-violent use of the boycott to liberate India from colonialism. Insofar as they adhere to ahimsa, these are the true religions of peace. In practice, and in the example they set, they embody the ideals of non-violence in a way that is observable in nature.
And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter. – Quran 2:191
There are also verses on wife-beating (4:34) and other instructions to engage in violence in both the Quran and hadith (traditions of prophet Muhammad) which conflict with the experienced reality of what a religion of peace should look and feel like, and what its instructions for living should be. It’s interesting that Jainists are not claiming to be THE religion of peace, although they clearly are. The strictest of vegetarians, they avoid killing even microbes and are radical in their ahimsa. In the case of Buddhists, their practice of tranquility takes the form of meditative experiments which produce bliss. Peace is much more of a direct experience of one’s mind.
But it seems like peace is thrown around among muslims for propaganda purposes, and that it does not really mean non-violence in practice. They are not vegetarians, and they do not seem to be very good at non-violent conflict resolution; in fact many or most of the religious conflicts in the world today involve muslims, frequently as violent attackers of innocent people, or people who have committed imaginary crimes for which there is no victim (like apostasy or homosexuality). A religion of peace would not have need for soldiers, and it certainly would not have ISIS or any instance of terrorism, as we’ve seen.
Peace MEANS something. To us Epicureans, it means ataraxia: that imperturbable state of equanimity and pleasant abiding that we seek to cultivate in our practice.
Therefore, the Quranic instructions concerning jihad and violence disqualify Islam as a potential religion of peace, and certainly it should not attempt to call itself “THE” religion of peace. It has more features of a warrior religion, than of a religion of peace.