If you decide to make the sky fall

9 10 2014

I am not a Christian, Muslim, or Jew.

I am not Hindu, or Buddhist, or Jain, Taoist, Bahá’í, Wiccan, Yazidi, Shinto, Zoroastrian, Sikh, or any sort of pagan or animist.

I am not spiritual, and believe in neither demons nor angels nor supernatural vibes of any sort.

I am agnostic, which means I lack knowledge, along with faith and belief. I do not know if none, one, some, or all of the above traditions holds any or the entirety of truth. I do not know if some other tradition holds any portion of truth.

And I’m all right with that. I call myself a “doubter”, and that doubt works for me.

I’m also all right with others who have do have faith in some tradition or another, and, contra Hitchens, do not believe that “religion poisons everything”.

Or should I say, that religion uniquely poisons everything. I think religion is a powerful human invention and thus, like any powerful human invention, may poison its adherents or the course of events, but not that it necessarily or always does so.

It is also possible that religion (l.a.p.h.i.), may serve as an antidote to other invented poisons.

All of which is a rather long prologue to a rather convoluted post on the rather convoluted topic of the role of Islam in the world today, viz., is it uniquely bad in its effects on co-religionists and non-co’s alike?

There is today far more violence among Muslims and between Muslims and non-Muslims than there is in other world religions*. This doesn’t discount other intra- and inter-religious violence or aggression, nor other less-deadly forms of intolerance, but given conflicts across parts of Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, it’s pretty clear that there are. . . issues in Islam.

Are these issues unique to Islam? A little trip through history points to “no”, and had pundits existed in the 16th century, they may have raised similar questions about the aggressiveness and intolerance of Christianity.

Are these issues endemic to Islam? Whatever the violent history of Christianity, it’s mostly not violent today*, which leads some to note that aggression is therefore not an essential part of Christianity. Can Islam work its violence out of its system as Christianity has, or is supremacism and aggression so interwoven in its scripture and traditions that it cannot transform itself as Christianity has?

Trick questions!

Christianity is a sprawling complex of tradition and change and interpretation which has sometimes been violent, sometime intolerant, sometimes triumphalist, and other times, not. That Christianity is currently not at the center of strife in the world* does not mean that its aggressiveness has been bred out of its system. It’s sidelined, but extirpated? Eh.

Islam is also a sprawling complex of tradition and change and interpretation, and thus like Christianity, can find within that complex support for both aggression and tolerance. It is thus difficult to determine whether any one strand within is always and forever at the center of what it needs to be Muslim.

So, why trick questions? Because what counts as essential has been and is contested in history, and what must be interpreted in this way today may be interpreted in that way tomorrow. That is the condition of all human inventions.

None of this is to shield Islam or any other tradition (or human invention) from criticism, and that there may exist no absolute and eternal standards of how to treat one another doesn’t mean one can’t construct and apply our own provisional and worldly standards.

Which is a rather convoluted way to say: of course Islam may be criticized, as should be those who find in Islam justification for horrid acts.

That Muslims are not unique in their religious—or ideological—justifications is also no barrier to criticism: your mom probably pointed out to you long ago that “everyone else is doing it!” is no excuse for your own bad behavior.

One last turn around: If you’re going to go after an entire religious belief system and its effects on adherents and non-adherents alike, then fer-cryin’-out-loud, look at the entire belief system, not just at what you don’t like.

Is there poison in Islam? Yes. But that doesn’t mean Islam is all and only poison.

Or maybe it is. It’s possibly that after thorough study one might conclude nothing good has ever or will ever come from Islam—or any religion.

But I kinda doubt it.

~~~

*Crucial caveat: people living in countries having bombs recently dropped on them by Christians might contest this notion of Christianity as not-aggressive.

h/t for link to Sullivan, and this entire damned post was set off by the Maher-Harris-Affleck kerfuffle





God sometimes you just don’t come through

2 12 2013

Be afraid. Be very, very afraid.

So says Rod Dreher:

Turmarion says:

With each passing day, we come closer to Cardinal George’s prophecy being fulfilled. — RD

You mean that bishops will be imprisoned or executed? Do you really think that?

[NFR: Imprisoned, yes, I really believe that. — RD]

Dreher has long expressed concern about life in a “post-Christian culture”—defined as one in which the organizing principles of his version of Christianity (traditional, orthodox) are no long the central organizing principles of society—but this is the first time I can recall him stating so explicitly his belief that Christians will be hunted by the government.

Makes sense, in its own nonsensical way: If one believes that Christians must remain in charge in order not to be persecuted, then when they are no longer in charge, they will of course be put to the cross. So to speak.

I have my doubts about whether we in the US do, in fact, live in a post-Christian culture, or whether Europeans, with many fewer believers, are post-Christian, either. To put it another way, we are post-Christian in the way we are post-modern: not at all.

That’s another argument for another time, however. I want instead to focus on the profound bad faith of Dreher’s statement. I don’t doubt that he does, truly, believe this, but the statement itself betrays a cynicism about government, society, and human beings which sets off even my bitter little heart.

To repeat: Christians must be in charge or be persecuted. Let us consider what is contained in such a Manichaean axiom:

  1. Christians must be in charge, always.
  2. Non-Christians cannot be trusted not to persecute Christians.
  3. The only persecution which matters is that of Christians.

Most excellent, that belief, that people who do not share you views have it in for you.

We, the heretics and infidels and apostates and agnostics and atheists and Morally Therapeutic Deists (a favorite Trojan horse of Dreher’s) must by the very fact that we are not Certifiable Christians want to imprison the faithful, and are only prevented from doing so by the (benevolent) power of Christianity.

Once that power fades, we, the heretofore-necessarily-second-classed, shall be unleashed to lay waste to the land.

The persecution complex runs strong in American mythos—Puritans, anyone?—as is what Richard Hofstadter called “the paranoid style in American politics“; the belief that bishops will be soon be hauled off to jail is simply another brick in the great wall of reaction.

Still pisses me off, though, that I am to trust, but cannot be trusted.





I want a pistol in my hand

23 04 2013

All day long a post fermenting, only to end up boiling away to nothing.

Is Islam uniquely violent? That Christ died on the cross and Muhammed took up the sword—does that matter in some fundamental way?*

It does, I suppose, if you want it to. If not, then not.

This isn’t a slam against Christianity or Islam or belief (in anything. . . ); it is an observation of the condition of belief.

We construct our beliefs, believe because we want to believe, have to believe, believe how we want to believe. Or not.

We deprecate this and emphasize that, as is our preference, driven by yet other preferences.

I don’t mean to be a lazy relativist, even as this reads as lazy relativism. That is not my preference. No, it is just that beliefs arise from narratives, and the more complicated the narrative, the more beliefs can arise, and the more complicated the beliefs about the beliefs, the greater the likelihood that the beliefs and the beliefs about the beliefs can and will justify anything.

Hitchens said “religion poisons everything.”

Perhaps. But it is not the only source of poison. It is not the primary source. For if, as Hitchens believed, there is no God, and religion a construct of humans, then would it not be more accurate to say that the source of the source is the problem?

I’m tired and my thoughts are fading, and I do not wish to excuse ideologies and religions that celebrate or even excuse violence, but it seems rather too convenient for those who profess belief in Narrative C (of which some streams has in the past celebrated or excused violence) to claim that Narrative I (of which some streams currently celebrates or excuses violence) is inherently violent, while the former, only contingently or mistakenly so.

Shorter version: double-reverse No True Scotsman!

Be glad that my brain is flat, or else I’d ramble on trying to puzzle out if this means we are all Scotsmen or if there are no Scotsmen or how does one come to construct a Scotsman. . . .

*By way of Sullivan and Dreher





Get back to where you once belonged

13 03 2013

One law to rule them all.

It ought come as no surprise that I give a Hard Look* to claims for religious exemptions to laws of general applicability: for all to be equal before the law, we must all be equally under the law.  To exempt someone from the obligations of law while simultaneously granting her the protection of  that same law is a form of favoritism which must be defended, not merely assumed.

Two points. One, this does not mean exemptions may never be granted. Exemptions are granted to religious institutions, for example, based on the freedom guaranteed in the First Amendment  (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”). There are political and juridical tussles over the interpretation of these two clauses, but in the main there is a general sense that it is right and proper that the government not tell people how to practice their religion in terms of their religious ceremonies and their relationship to their fellow congregants.

Thus, churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, and sundry other religious institutions are exempted from laws regarding discrimination in hiring and firing of clergy and, for the most part, on working conditions. I may roll my eyes at arguments regarding the necessity of all-male clergy, for example, but I nonetheless agree that allowing the exemption to religious institutions is of no great concern to those outside of those institutions.

This, of course, is the case only insofar as the obligations of the religion apply only to the adherents of that religion. The free-exercise clause applies not only to congregants, but also to non-congregants, that is, you may voluntarily choose to align your behavior with your favored religious strictures, but you cannot force me to align my behavior to your religious strictures.

Point two: Certain religious institutions in the US are fighting for exemptions based on non-reciprocal understandings of religious freedom. What is new(ish) is not the non-reciprocal understanding—it wasn’t until the 20th century that the courts began to extend the protections of the First Amendment to (numerically) marginal religions, a process which continues, bumpily, today—but the fact that these institutions do, in fact, have to fight.

They can no longer wave the cross or the crucifix over every last act and expect dissidents, challengers, and the state to stop transfixed before them. There cannot presume exemption; they must defend it.

Rod Dreher, among others, bemoans the loss of status-entitlement of what he calls orthodox Christianity, a loss he sees as an erosion of religious freedom. That most Americans favor the use of contraception and increasingly favor same-sex marriage and equality for queer folk means that they are less willing to grant authority to those orthodox religious leaders—which means that they are less willing to grant legal leeway to those same leaders.

In this sense, I agree with Dreher that these churches and traditions are losing, but while he sees a loss of freedom, I see a loss of entitlement. John Holbo notes, correctly, that those who argue that religion deserves its entitlement rely on a notion of “an extra epistemic concession”, that is, that an argument ought to be granted respect or extra points because: Religion. It is in no way clear why this should be so.

And that’s the nub: in the past it rarely had to be made clear why this should be so; it just was. But now, for any number of reasons, that extra epistemic concession is no longer granted, with the result that the authority of those relying upon that concession has been degraded. “Because (God) says so” is no longer enough.

This hardly stops folks from trying to protect their entitlement. Since Americans do tend to respond to appeals to individual rights, the ground has shifted from authority to freedom. That a private business run by religious people might  be required to provide benefits (read: contraception) to their employees which they, the employers, find religiously offensive, is seen as an infringement upon their (the employers’) freedom.

Call it the Taco Bell defense.

Some nations do, in fact, have different laws for different religions. In India, for example, Muslim men may take multiple wives, but Hindu men may not. Martha Nussbaum offered a limited defense of such variation in Women and Human Development, but even this was more a practical concession to the historical and political realities of India than a ringing defense of the idea of This law for thee and That law for thou.

In the US, however, we had the opposite: throughout the 19th and into the 20th century, there was a default Protestantism, and it was only through decades of court fights that recourse to that default was diminished. The Catholic Church, often victimized by this default, was nonetheless able to take advantage of the authority offered to Christianity in general in order to assume its share of privileges in spaces beyond the church steps. Unsurprisingly, they seek to maintain that authority-based privilege.

Dreher, in recognizing the loss of authority, has argued that orthodox Christians make their stand on the ground of religious freedom instead, but absent the status granted by that extra epistemic concession, it is difficult to see why one individual ought to prevail over another in competing claims of the exercise of that freedom.

As so many have already pointed, why should the religious beliefs of the employers ought to matter more than that of the employee, the doctor over the patient, the pharmacist over the customer, or the taxi driver over the passenger?

Those who seek to protect themselves from offense have every right to do so: they get to make the argument in the political and cultural realms and in the courts.

They just don’t get to presume a win.

*h/t Robyn Anderson, who uses this term to great effect on Love & Hisses





19 05 2011

JUDGMENT DAY

THE END OF THE WORLD IS ALMOST HERE!
HOLY GOD WILL BRING JUDGMENT DAY ON
MAY 21, 2011

      Thus Holy God is showing us by the words of 2 Peter 3:8 that He wants us to know that exactly 7,000 years after He destroyed the world with water in Noah’s day, He plans to destroy the entire world forever. Because the year 2011 A.D. is exactly 7,000 years after 4990 B.C. when the flood began, the Bible has given us absolute proof that the year 2011 is the end of the world during the Day of Judgment, which will come on the last day of the Day of Judgment.

      Amazingly, May 21, 2011 is the 17th day of the 2nd month of the Biblical calendar of our day. Remember, the flood waters also began on the 17th day of the 2nd month, in the year 4990 B.C.

~~~~~~~

Huh. Guess I can stop worrying about my student loan debt.

(h/t: Jaweed Kaleem, HuffPo)





The expulsion from the Garden of Eden is the beginning of life as I know it

19 09 2010

I’m a little fuzzy on the whole sin thing.

Yes, something about disobeying God, with apples, snakes, naked people, banishment, knowledge. . . really, if I were religious, I’d surely find this all fascinating, but as I’m not, well, it just seems curious to me.

But one thing I do like about the insistence on the sinfulness of humans is that those propounding on this corruption tend to see it as all-inclusive: Everyone is a sinner, everyone needs grace.

Handy to remember that.

I’d circled this issue in the last two posts, in terms of Christians and TeePers behaving badly, but one of the things I was too angry (!) to deal with in the Wars-of-Religion post and too politically-minded to deal with in confronting Howard Beale is my basic belief that almost all of us carry almost all of the possible characteristics any human being can demonstrate. The proportions may vary, sure, but outside of the exceptional few, I think we’re all capable of the same basic range of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

This doesn’t make us all the same: there are clearly differences in the mix, as well as what each of us brings to that mix in terms of conscious effort and habituation.

Oh, crap, I’m getting too windy.

Lemme put it this way: I didn’t post the extensive quote about rampaging Christians (in response to Peretz’s claim that ‘Muslim life is cheap, especially to Muslims’) as a way of saying See! It’s not just Muslims! Christians are bad, too! Boos, all around! No, the point—which I didn’t explicitly make—is that people behaving violently in the name of religion is unsurprising, given that people are capable of behaving violently.

Yes, there are belief systems which explicitly forbid violence, but the existence of pacifist belief systems proves the point: If the adherents weren’t themselves capable of violence and aggression, there’d be little need for a system to discipline them.

Again, another capacity of humans: to restrain ourselves from doing all that we can possibly do.

But why restrain or indulge? What leads Christians in one period to slaughter one another and non-Christians and in another to tolerate and even respect them? What leads Muslims to laud or condemn conquest? What makes rightists or leftists righteously angry and what will they do with that righteousness and anger?

Ask the question instead of assuming the answer.

It’s too easy to say Christians are peaceful and Muslims aggressive (or vice versa), or rightists are patriotic and leftists traitors (or vice versa), especially when the historical evidence indicates otherwise. Nor is it enough to say that x-behavior isn’t representative of true belief, especially when—again—evidence indicates that x-behavior in another time or place was treated as the sine qua non of true belief.

Do you feel the breeze? Sorry, getting windy again.

I just don’t think we humans are better or worse than we were before, nor that we can even define better or worse outside of a particular historical context. Best simply to try to understand what we  mean by these terms, and to recognize what we are capable of.

For better and for worse.

***

Addendum: Perhaps this also the case for other creatures, and how we act towards and respond to them.





Are we not men?

13 09 2010

This is cheap, I know, but Martin Peretz doesn’t deserve the cost of real thought:

On a spring day in May 1631, Count von Tilly celebrated a mass to thank God for his conquest of Magdeburg, the chief city of the Protestant Reformation, boasting that no such victory had occurred since the destruction of Jerusalem. He was only slightly exaggerating—the cathedral in which the mass was held was one of three buildings that had not been burned to the ground. His Catholic League troops had besieged the city since November, living in muddy trenches through the winter snows, enduring the daily jeers and abuse of the Protestant inhabitants of the city. Once they stormed through the gates their zeal, rapacity, and greed knew no bounds. The slaughter was unstoppable. Fires were set throughout the city, children were thrown into the flames, and women were raped before being butchered. Fifty-three women were beheaded in a church where they sought refuge. No one was spared—twenty-five thousand Protestants were massacred or incinerated, and of the five thousand survivors some few were noblemen held for ransom, but all the rest were women who had been carried off to the imperial camp to be raped and sold from soldier to soldier. News of this atrocity quickly spread throughout Europe, hardening the sectarian lines of a conflict that had begun thirteen years before and that would rage on for another seventeen

. . . The slaughter at Magdeburg, for all its horror, was not the first nor the last such event. During the Peasants’ Rebellion in the 1520s, over one hundred thousand German peasants and impoverished townspeople were slaughtered, many of them when they rushed headlong into battle against heavily armed troops, convinced by their leader Thomas Müntzer that true believers were immune to musket balls. In 1572, seventy thousand French Huguenots were slaughtered in the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. The Franciscan monks who had preached that killing heretics was the surest way to salvation were pleased, but apparently not as pleased as Pope Gregory XIII, who was so delighted to receive the head of the slain Huguenot leader Coligny in a box that he had a special medal struck commemorating the event. And finally, lest anyone imagine that the barbarity was one-sided, Cromwell’s model army sacked the Irish town of Drogheda in 1649, killing virtually everyone. They burned alive all those who had taken refuge in the St. Mary’s Cathedral, butchered the women hiding in the vaults beneath it, used Irish children as human shields, hunted down and killed every priest, and sold the thirty surviving defenders into slavery. Cromwell, without the least sense of irony, thanked God for giving him the opportunity to destroy such barbarous heretics.

Michael Allen Gillespie, The Theological Origins of Modernity, pp. 129-130.








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