Monday, March 13, 2006

Two Methods of Attack

Civilization faces the threat of a resurgent Islam, a vast growing movement to revive the jihadist ideals exemplified by Islam’s founder, Mohammad, and the imperialist warrior ideology of the early Caliphate. Amidst the vast denial of Islam’s inherent threat to civilization, there are two distinct but related intellectual camps that are able to face the harsh reality of this vicious ideology. One camp fights Islam under the banner of the Enlightenment while the other waves the flag of the Judeo-Christian tradition. The purpose of this article is to describe these two different approaches, how they grapple with the jihadist ideology, and how they arrive at much the same conclusion but organize their knowledge around different conceptual centers.

The Enlightenment Viewpoint

The Enlightenment camp is a broad group that includes secular classical liberals and modern left-liberals. In both sub-groups there is an emphasis on Islam as a religious reductio ad absurdum that rejects reason for blind faith, disparages reality for an after-life in another realm, banishes independent thought in submission to a dogmatic tradition, and prohibits individual liberty to establish religious theocracy. Islam is an example of a full and consistent rejection of the core virtue of Western culture whose roots go back to Ancient Greece: rationality. The Enlightenment critique centers the analysis on process: reason, empiricism, skepticism, and liberty—the high points of the Anglo-American Enlightenment and shared to some extent by the Continental Enlightenment before its decent into the collectivist/relativist decay of the 19th and 20th century.

The spirit is captured by Thomas Jefferson: “Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because, if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear." The Enlightenment camp, as a very broad group, advocates the primacy of reason as the means to understand nature, both natural and social. The origin of reason to human affairs originated in Ancient Greece after philosophy moved from the cosmological period to the anthropological period; Socrates countered the relativists of his day, the Sophists, by arguing that philosophy can establish ethical knowledge to govern human affairs. Aristotle wrote the first treatise on ethics in human history; he applied Hellenic rationalism to natural observations of human flourishing and character excellence.

The Latin Christian tradition absorbed Hellenic rationalism in a fundamental manner that Orthodox Christians failed to do. Thomas Aquinas championed Aristotle thereby setting the foundation for a transformation of Western thought. Aristotle’s potent empiricism (for example Darwin admired his biological studies) was at times little understood as his work was unfairly associated with the faults of the Catholic Church. However, in human affairs, the founding fathers were arduous students of political history in a manner reminiscent of Aristotle exhaustive study of the constitutions of his day.

In ethical and political thought, the Anglo-American tradition’s empirical disposition, while not without its faults, remained grounded in a reality-based practice that avoided the extremes of continental collectivist ideology. The privatization of religion leaves the common ground of social affairs within the realm of rational discourse. Even America’s traditionalist conservatives speak of religion as a disposition. Talking about religion at the time of the American Revolution, Paul Johnson, in A History of the American People, says it was a “specifically American form of Christianity – undogmatic, moralistic rather than creedal, tolerant but strong … an ecumenical and American type of religious devotion …”

Today, we see the Enlightenment critique of Islam in books by Sam Harris and Ibn Warraq; and in articles by David Kelley and Peter Schwartz. It is common in Europe where Pim Fortuyn, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Oriana Fallaci attack Islam from a secular perspective.

The Judeo-Christian Critique of Islam.

While the secular Enlightenment camp rightly points to a vast difference—of degree—between Western religions and Islam, the critics of Judeo-Christian camp will insist there is a difference in kind. If the secular camp critiques Islam’s backwardness based on process—a faith fully consuming and preempting rational reality-based thought—the Judeo-Christian critic immediate zooms in on the content: the ethical doctrines and myths of the Islamic faith.

Islam’s origin and its key figure are unique: rarely in history does one find a religion founded by a warrior and dominated by that example. Mohammad set a very different example than Jesus. Mohammad was a man of war who committed atrocities in his quest to create a culture of domination, submission and servitude. This is clearly not a moral man by any stretch of the imagination.

The Judeo-Christian camp sees the West’s moral base derived from the Bible; and religion as the only foundation for morality. Modern secularism is dominated by relativism and materialism, which holds that human nature, lacking volition, needs no code of ethics; nature or nurture determines individual character. This no-fault worldview is a nihilistic attack on traditional American values. In the Judeo-Christian camp is Lawrence Auster, Joseph Farah, Robert Spencer, Paul M. Weyrich, Don Feder, etc.

The Western tradition, however, is Greco-Roman as well as Judeo-Christian. It is far from trivial to do an attribution analysis. St. Paul, whose writing comprises 40% of the New Testament, was an educated Hellenistic Jew. Augustine was educated in Greek and Roman philosophy. Aquinas is one of history’s foremost scholars of Aristotle. Traditionalists tend to respect the totality under the banner of Western Civilization. But by doing so they have often been the standard bearers, by default, of much of the Hellenic inheritance as post-modern intellectuals exhibit a hostility to the Aristotelian worldview—and the American ideals.

Content vs. Process

Both camps correctly see Islam as an outlier. For the Enlightenment camp, Islam differs from modernity by being religious and Islam differs from today’s Christianity by a vast difference in degree. For the Judeo-Christian camp, Islam differs from Christianity by being a different kind of a religious ideology inspired by a completely different kind of prophet. These two camps differ on how they’d describe the core nature of the West: reason based on our Greco-Roman secular heritage or religious morality based on our Judeo-Christian heritage.

The differences between Islam and Christianity, in content, create extra hurdles for Islam that prohibit any significant integration with reason and modernity. Moderation in Arab and Muslim nations in the past has come with Islam’s marginalization. Islam is inherently an illiberal political ideology. In terms of doctrine, it has far less play to allow the emergence of a large-scale sustainable moderate yet profoundly religious practice. However, the relationship between the intractable illiberal oppressiveness of Islam and its extreme practice of intellectual submission to dogma and authority are intimately related. Such oppressive backwardness, given what mankind has achieved in every sphere of human activity, requires a mind closed to reason, pumped-up with irrational hate, and frozen by fear.

Islam requires extreme blind faith and obedience because of the extent that its teachings are at odds with living a full life in a free society. If Islam is to be practiced in full, and not merely perfunctory or selectively practiced, it will lead to continued impoverishment, oppression, war, and death. It is interesting that the post-modern left, to retain its dream of socialism after all the evidence of its failure and capitalism’s success, needs to maintain the epistemologically nihilistic doctrine of postmodernism that denounces the very concept of truth. Both flee from reality to hold on to cherish dogma. And they are united by a common enemy: America.

The Challenges for Each Camp.

Secular critics need to avoid a conflation of Islam and Christianity that is achieved by ignoring the vast differences of degree. This is common with the multi-cultural left that either claims Christianity is no better or that Islam is no worse. This absurdly ignores reality: Christians today aren’t driven by a religious fervor to fly planes into buildings, killing peaceful members of civilization, in an attempt to take the world back to the Dark Ages. And Islamic nations have not established tolerance societies that respect individual rights, reason and science except for transitory isolated exceptions. Furthermore, to claim that Islam has the potentiality to reform like Christianity can not be asserted a priori. Upon investigation there are severe barriers due to the specific content of Islam that makes such prospects a pipedream. To ignore the vast differences between the religions of Islam and Christianity obliterates crucial distinctions that serve no other purpose but to drive a needless wedge between secular and Christian opponents of Islam.

The relativist left buckles under the weight of its moral skepticism and inability to trumpet our superiority over barbaric cultures like Islam. Their approach is a dead end both figuratively and literally. Those approaching the Islamic threat from a secular perspective have to rely on the certainly of moral absolutes that were standard in secular philosophic thought before the subjectivism of the last two centuries. Tolerance of rights isn’t based on moral skepticism. Nothing follows from wholesale skepticism.

The religious camp faces a challenge it has assiduously hoped to avoid: the examination of the doctrines of different religions. Traditionalists once Anglo-American culture was described as Protestant (with a Calvinist emphasis), then Christian (to include Catholics) and finally Judeo-Christian (to include Jews.) The ecumenical spirit required glossing over differences in content. This general disposition embodied the notion that all long-established religions held the equally valid moral traditions. Communism helped convince many that this was true. The resurgence of Islam threatens the ecumenical spirit. To delve into the content of this religion opens a Pandora’s Box that conservatives instinctively fear may revive religious disharmony.

However, the ecumenical spirit is unnecessary if religion is a private matter. If public disputes are subject to reality-checks applying reason to human history and appreciating the ethical principles that make civilization possible, we can settle disputes and live in harmony. Private matters, like religion, remain private. Thus, the secularization of society protected by individual rights makes a natural diversity possible. Islam, being inherently a political ideology, is incompatible with a pluralistic secular society of equal rights and mutual respect.

In Summary

A worldview isn’t created or altered by simple arguments; it is an integrating philosophy that spans a lifetime. The threat of Islam, like the threat of communism for previous generations, will encourage us to take stock of our cultural resources and strengths. The first order of business is to fact the fact that there is a vast difference between them and us; then we can move on to the question of what has made our culture great. The latter should be an enjoyable and ongoing debate. Taking inventory at this stage shows core groups in every camp are up to the challenge but we have a majority of people who are still in denial about the severity of the problem—for several reasons some of which were mentioned above.

In summary, the two approaches emphasize two aspects of the same problem, process and content. Blind faith is required to support an oppressive religious ideology. The nature of Islam requires this methodology. Religion in the West has accepted the coin of reason in everyday affairs while the Greco-Roman tradition, which dominated secular thought before the rise of relativism, provided a solid foundation for the ethical truths that were once widely accepted. Islam fails to fit with neither contemporary tolerant Christianity nor traditional Enlightenment rationality. Islam is the odd man out. As we avoid secular relativism, promiscuous religious ecumenicalism, and religious dogmatism, we can unite against the common threat.

34 Comments:

Blogger Brooke said...

Whew! Quite a read, and a good one, too!

3/13/06, 6:34 PM  
Blogger Always On Watch said...

Jason,
Excellent essay--and worth the wait!

As we avoid secular relativism, promiscuous religious ecumenicalism, and religious dogmatism, we can unite against the common threat.

Yes! As I've said many times before, I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those who recognize the threat from Islam.

3/13/06, 10:17 PM  
Blogger kevin said...

This may be the best of some very good work Jason, I'm going to have to link this one.

3/14/06, 12:34 AM  
Blogger Pim's Ghost said...

Jason, beautifully done. I agree with your assessment and identification of the "camps". I think that there is a new worldview emerging, as they frequently do. We are just in the process of seeing the change take place and don't know where things stand at the moment or in what shape they will emerge. As you mentioned Pim, I'll point out the example of his treatment in the press. He was blasted as being "far-right" and a "bigot" (and killed for this as well) yet he was VERY far from being a real right winger. Many of his policies and outlooks, like mine, are rather liberal, many conservative, many moderate. But my stance on the preservation of the West as well as my stance on Islam will have me branded as a "far-right bigot" until there are enough of us speaking out against the threat and the out-dated idiocy of the modern Left.

3/14/06, 1:26 PM  
Anonymous Old Peculier said...

Jason - one of your best - and there is stiff competition.

3/14/06, 5:13 PM  
Anonymous Mustafa Kamel said...

Brilliant analysis of Western difficulties with Islam. But there's another meaning of Enlightenment:

"Do not believe in anything simply because you
have heard it. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. Do
not believe anything because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything because it is
written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and
elders. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is
conducive to the good and the benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it."
- Buddha's advice in the Kalama Sutra

It isn't just Islam against the West, it's Islam against the Rest.

Islam has killed far more Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs than Christians and Jews. It isn't a clash of civilisations, its a clash with civilisations.

We need a multifaith Kafir alliance with the best of Islamoskeptic essays being translated into all languages (especially Chinese, Russian and Hindi), not just the western European languages. This is a global jihad which must be fought globally.

Publishing in English is inneffective globally. You'll only reach the 'educated' dhimmified elite. Get the message to the people (difficult enough in native English-speaking countries) because ordinary folks don't intellectualise and prevaricate about Islam. If it looks like a turd, and smells like a turd, then the chances are it is a turd.

3/14/06, 6:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jason, you end with:

"Islam [fits] with neither contemporary tolerant Christianity nor traditional Enlightenment rationality. Islam is the odd man out. As we avoid secular relativism, promiscuous religious ecumenicalism, and religious dogmatism, we can unite against the common threat."

What's depressing here is just how weak (in my view) the Religious Right and Multi-culti Left are in opposing the terrible evil which is mainstream/moderate Islam. For example, it's simply shocking to realize how much the PCers in Europe protect the reactionary, fascist Muslims. The good news, however, is the terms "libertarian" and "liberal" now seem to be widely used and accepted (at least among the educated). What is needed is not Rightist or Leftist opposition but Western (liberal) opposition. As always, what I think we desperately need here is a new term to rally behind.

--Andre Zantonavitch

3/15/06, 5:37 AM  
Blogger Cubed © said...

Mustafa,

"It isn't just Islam against the West, it's Islam against the Rest."

You are so right, and I am encouraged that people are seeing that more and more. I hope that the people at places like "The
Voice of Dharma" are reaching the folks in their region.

Andre Z.,

"What's depressing here is just how weak (in my view) the Religious Right and Multi-culti Left are in opposing the terrible evil which is mainstream/moderate Islam."

Yes indeed, but the upside is that I think this sort of provincialism is fading quickly as we recognized at ever-increasing levels what Mustafa has said about "The West against the Rest."

Bit by bit, too, we are beginning to realize that in so many ways, the Left and the Right are not so different from each other - PC is a terrible problem, among other things. It's the CLASSICAL liberals of the Enlightenment (not the postmodernist liberal s*** that is parading around today) that are our proper models.

Beak,

It sounds good; everybody, have you read "Anthem" yet (Ayn Rand)? It's a post-apocalyptic novelette that describes the first suggestions of the ascent out of the blackness of the next Dark Age. Even though she died in 1982, long before Islam became a problem, it focuses on the issue of re-acquiring the knowledge and respect for reason that was lost to us for so long.

Give a copy to your kids; it's a superb introduction to philosophy (after Aesop's Fables). I first picked it off the science fiction shelf in a book store when I was about 10. Now, of course, it's over in the philosophy section where it belongs (although it would do well to find a home on both shelves).

3/15/06, 3:42 PM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

When I wrote this blog entry I was breaking my rule that blog posts should be at most 4 or 5 paragraphs and make one point. However, the point here was the “big picture” view of where we stand--those few who are facing today's threat. Thus, I’m grateful for everyone who read the whole article and left worthy comments of your own.

It is definitely “Islam vs. the rest” and it is still surprising that there is widespread denial. But for those of us who can face the threat, it is apparent that we are, by that fact, more reality oriented despite what differences we’d have on other issues. This is a glaring threat. One of the evasions, which I’ve never mentioned, is the hopelessness that leads to denial: “I hope you’re wrong and there is no problem because I don’t know what we’d do.” Robert Spencer sees this attitude in this encounter. And he responds appropriately: “Where do we go from here? We go to reality. We stop deceiving ourselves and allowing ourselves to be deceived by others.”

Facts are facts.

3/15/06, 4:43 PM  
Anonymous Mustafa Kamel said...

Comes the dawn!

At last American Christians are awakening to the fact that Allah isn't just another name for the Judeo-Christian God, in fact he's rather different, see

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/4805952.stm

Christians are beginning to notice the demonic psychopathic energy driving this cult.

Of course they are much too PC and polite to say what needs to be said, but here it is anyway:

Allah is Satan and Mohammed sucks pigshit in hell.

3/15/06, 7:53 PM  
Blogger Charles N. Steele said...

Jason -- the alleged qualitative difference between Chrsitianity and Islam to which you point is generated by selectively defining Christianity (and Islam as well).

You argue that where Muslim societies have advanced, it is through the marginalization of Islam. But the same goes for Christian societies...the Enlightenment was profoundly anti-Christian in content, and it was through an increasingly shrinking role for faith and ecclesiastical power that Western civilization advanced (to the regret of Protestant fundamentalists, the Catholic Church, etc.)

Your statement that Islam cannot be reformed in a fashion similar to Christianity is empirically falsified, since there already exists moderate Islam....just as there does liberal Christianity, reformed Judaism, etc.

3/15/06, 9:01 PM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

Yes, Charles, that’s right I do have a particular definition of each religion; one that relies on the essentials of the religion as exemplified by the central prophet that defines each religion. I’m fully aware that both Christians and Muslims have multiple definitions that vary among the faithful. However, there is a core essence with makes it reasonable to call many people Christian or Muslim as the case may be. I state my case descriptively here.

Without a total restatement let me point out that Jesus was not a political figure and never defined a political system. Mohammad was political and it was key to his whole life. Muslims don’t consider Mohammad’s rise to power as a minor detail. Indeed, the Muslim calendar starts not with his birth but with his trek to Medina where he comes to power and establishes the rule of Islam.

Both Christians and Muslims will move beyond the defining essence and claim a wider identity of the religion and that differs given the sect and the century. Thus, when some Christians claim the Divine Right of Kings justifies monarchy, others (like John Locke) object. But neither can provide a compelling reason why the other should be considered a heretic. Such additions are not an intrinsic part of the religion. Consequently, Christians can remain devout without contradiction by holding such beliefs that Jesus died for their sins, to take one example of a potent belief, and still differ in their politics. There are good Christians who are libertarians and good Christians who are socialists. There are good Christians that fought for the Union and good Christians that fought for the Confederacy.

Islam is a very different religion as Mohammad was first and foremost a warrior who conquered and became a tyrant. Muslims who want to exclude Islam from secular concerns omit a core part of Mohammad’s legacy. Are they good Muslims? Or are they partial Muslims? Or are they lax Muslims?

Can a devout Muslim claim that opposition to a state run by Sharia law is a heretic on a sound religious basis? Unfortunately, yes. It is done all the time and the religious doctrines are on the side of the Sharia advocate.

Now make no mistake, I’m glad when Muslims are lax. That’s what I call marginalization of their religion. Christians, however, can fully embrace Jesus’ message without seeming lax given reasonable readings of their religious texts. Charles, these are just very different religions and there is more play in Christianity than Islam. Even given that, it took centuries of work to develop societies where Christians could be privately devout and tolerate of a secular society. You’re right that it was philosophy that paved the way and religion that stepped aside. But it could do so without massive degree of self-deception that is required by Islam because Christianity didn’t start with a political figure. If it was that hard for a non-political religion, what hope is there for an intrinsically political religion defined by a warrior/tyrant? Can it be done on a sustainable basis through out the totality of the Islamic community?

3/15/06, 10:58 PM  
Blogger Charles N. Steele said...

Jason -- quite to the contrary, Jesus was political. He pointed out that he was there not to abolish the law, but to uphold every iota of it -- the law refering to the Mosaic law, which is as totalitarian as any system I can think of.

Happily, Christians interpret these words as signifying something other than totalitarianism; similarly, many Muslims already interpret Islam in a non-totalitarian way.

May I ask, are you a Christian?

3/16/06, 12:26 AM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

I’m non-religious.

First of all, Charles, I remember you quoted Mathew some months ago on “upholding the law.” I’m aware of that. However, if you look at the whole tenor of the NT you can’t single out any one line and say “this is Christianity.” Scholars believe Mathew was addressing Jews and arguing that they should follow Jesus while Luke was addressing and trying to convert non-Jews and he reads very differently. But more importantly Paul (who accounts for 40% of the NT) seeks to convert non-Jews and exempts them from Jewish Law. By doing so most scholars essentially see Paul as creating a new religion out of what was a Jewish reform movement. But more importantly, the NT is considered a new covenant and, by its chronological position, supersedes the OT. Christians in the 1st century were twice removed from power and expected the imminent end of the world. They weren’t theorizing about politics. To assign a political theory to Christianity is just not fair.

The end did not come! Almost all Christians augment the original religion by one of several means. This differs depending of the sect and the century. One could accept the Roman model of government, refer to the OT, read Plato or Aristotle, or develop new methods by empirical means. But these additions cannot be an essential of the religion. Christianity is considerable open in this regard and few scholars would assign a political theory to Christianity but they would not say Christianity ruled out libertarianism or socialism. Of course, there are lines in the NT that are what I call hooks. You can single them out and attach your favorite extension of the religion. But even Christians today realize that this makes one of several plausible extensions. They feel strongly about their particular variant; but knowledgeable Christians know that these extensions were added during the 2000 years of history.

Islam must change, not by shedding additional baggage, but by surgically cutting core aspects of Mohammad’s life or twisting the meaning to such a degree one is absurdly and unconvincingly distorting the original example of Mohammad. Islam has a challenge that is very different than Christianity.

There is no law of the universe that says all religions must be the same. Sure, qua religion, they accept faith and the supernatural. But how, in what manner, and in what degree, can differ considerably. It is just not fair to say Islam is like Christianity, a priori.

3/16/06, 6:55 AM  
Blogger LASunsett said...

Jason,

How you continue to outdo yourself, is beyond me. But, excellent job, sir.

Islam will need an enlightment if the ultimate clash is to be avoided, to be sure. The current philosophy of radical absolutism is not conducive to peaceful co-existence. As long as Islam subscribes to an objective of domination and oppression, there will be trouble anywhere Islam is permitted to exist.

3/16/06, 7:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jason,

Have you read Ayn Rand's essay "Faith and Force"? I think you are making far too much out of the differences between Christian and Islamic doctrine. And even though you make many points that I agree with and I commend you for, you do come across as a heavy Christian apologist. I also see by the people who comment on your blog that you attract a large number of Christians. Personally, I don't think that in the end Christians will be an ally in this war. This war is ultimately an expression of the centuries long debate between reason and faith. All faith in the end is inimical to human life. True, Islamic faith is pure poison whereas today's Christianity is highly watered down. But that is just a matter of degree and not of principle.

Religion is mankind's enemy. Period.

D. Eastbrook

3/16/06, 1:31 PM  
Blogger Freedomnow said...

Anonymous,

I despise religion but I am not shallow-minded enough to say that Christianity is creating a problem. It is your lack of tolerance that is creating a problem...

Your sliding degrees theory is nothing but fear-mongering. While Islamist terrorism is a real threat.

3/16/06, 2:18 PM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

DE, You’re clearly in the first camp when you say “But that is just a matter of degree and not of principle.” However, the degree is huge. I’d have to spend a few thousand words to describe the difference. There is degree of intensity: how much does a person rely on faith as opposed to reason in a given argument. There is degree of scope: how many areas are governed by faith? There is degree of centrality: is faith primary and the central component of knowledge? In all these cases Islam, today, is orders of magnitude from the practice of today’s Christians.

I’m in the first camp also. And one of the things I’d like to argue is that much of what we take for granted as Western originates or relies upon our Hellenic tradition of reason. But that’s a tall order and it isn’t a matter of arguing and agreeing after a few minutes. It’s my contention from reading conservative literature than much that is from Aristotle (and that we view as common sense) is being labeled as Christian in origin. We need to enter the debate and argue the matter.

The important thing for those of us who aren’t religious is: which religion is open to such a secular influence? If Christianity doesn’t have an extensive political agenda, Christians can maintain a devout practice while allowing reason to determine secular matters. And they have (after 1000+ years.) Islam comes with an extensive worldly agenda that permeates every aspect of living this life in a way that original Christianity doesn’t demand.

After 300 years of persecution, Christianity came to power in the Roman Empire and quickly suppressed the other 70 religions practiced in Rome. In the second half of its first 1000 years, when faith was dominant, we have to Dark Ages. After Aquinas, faith was limited and room was made for reason. I think we need to describe the rise of reason in detail as it happened in a context dominated by the Latin Church. We have to explain how reason and faith competed and/or divided knowledge between them. We have to describe how naturalism came to dominate during the 18th century that allowed the most religiously pluralistic community on earth, colonial America, to agree on how to live this life and by mutual consent construct a robust constitution to secure our liberties.

You’ll find most religious people today are willing to appreciate the rise of reason in human affairs as they keep their religion private in important ways or see a harmony between what reason implies and what they see as the sentiment of their religious practice. If you look at traditional conservatives from the 1950s, they advocate sentiment more than dogma. It sounds subjectivist to me, but we’ll leave that to another time.

In the abstract you’re right about faith and when that fully dominates a society reason, consent, and individual autonomy is lost as the Dark Ages show. However, it doesn’t fully dominate and we need to appreciate what we have, how it has come about and how we can secure for the future a society where individual deal with each other via reason and not force. The article above was meant to be descriptive to appreciate the current state of the world. You’re wrong in your assumption about the commentators; they are split about 50-50 between the two camps. And we are able to talk about our differences, which evolve over a lifetime.

3/16/06, 2:30 PM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

One more thing: if both the Enlightenment camp and the Judeo-Christian camp can face the threat of Islam, that first and foremost shows a willingness to face reality instead of engaging in wishful thinking. We have that to work with as we admit are differences. But that is not a minor fact … reality is it; it’s our lives.

It’s the multi-cultural left and the promiscuously ecumenical right that holds, as an article of faith, that all religions are the same. This means they have to elevate Islam and deflate contemporary Christianity until they become defenders of Islam in practice. As a result you’ll see sophomoric statements about Islam that sound as lame as the flower child roaming the streets of London during the Blitzkreig. We’ve laughed (and cried) over statements made by our Secretary of State, President, or the Democratic opposition.

3/16/06, 2:46 PM  
Blogger Cubed © said...

Jason,

Even though faith, the acceptance of something in the absence of evidence or proof, is an obstacle to reason, I agree 100% with you that there is a sort of "sliding scale" of the problems that different faiths present.

Islam, for reasons far too long to enumerate here (suffice it to say that the tribal mentality of the Bedouin, the codification of the tribal mentality by Islam, and the spread of the tribal mentality through both conquest and the new-born language, Arabic, which immediately became the "official" language of Islam, were all heavily involved), disallows any change whatsoever.

The split of Islam into Sunni and Shia sects in a squabble over the succession shortly after Mo's death is a beautiful illustration of how dangerous the rigid tribal mentality of Islam considers change to be.

Change was interpreted as disloyalty to the tribe. In the harsh environment of the pre-Islamic Bedouin, the failure to sticking together to adhere to a routine that had proven successful could put survival at risk.

In addition, in that environment, resources were few, so there was intense competition between tribes to try to acquire the resource for themselves.

They used robbery, murder, betrayal, and whatever else was required to acquire resources and promote routine that helped ensure the survival of the tribe.

To smile at a member of a competing tribe, only to turn on him later, was not considered a bad thing at all; appearing attractive to a potential enemy was a means of disarming him, placing him at a disadvantage.

With that practice, there developed a defensive mode; don't trust anyone who is not a member of your tribe, especially the guy who smiles at you. In Islam (along with some other religions), that got translated into "Anything you find attractive is probably Satan (the enemy from another tribe) in disguise, so beware."

Personally, when a Muslim man finds a woman attractive and considers her evil for being attractive and wants to control her and cover her up. . . Well, I won't get into that!

Anyway, the Sunni and Shia are still punishing each other in order to "avenge" the perceived "disloyalty" to Mohammed (leader of the "tribe" of Islam) as represented by disagreeing with each other. Each sect considers the other to be from a "different tribe," and not a loyal member of the Tribe of Islam.

In order to minimize the number of enemies, it makes sense (to Muslims) to minimize the number of tribes (sects). In order to accomplish this, horrible punishments are used to enforce loyalty to the tribe. No questions are allowed, since questions might cause people to think and acquire alternative views, then they might to go off and form their own tribes.

The early Christians grew and matured in the Roman Empire, which had a long history of who-gives-a-damn-about-which-gods-you-worship. The Romans did come to regard the Christians as a problem, but that was because many Christians refused to take a sort of "pledge of allegiance" that involved recognizing the Emperor as a god. There was also a group of Christians (their "position paper" was Revelations, written not long after the crucifixion) that really wanted to overthrow Rome.

By and large, though,the Christians fared reasonably well in Rome, excluding an incident or two with Nero, a bit of a problem with Diocletian, a disagreement with with Marcus Aurelius, etc. But despite the fact that there were indeed some really bad moments, but they were just that - moments. They came and they went.

When Christianity arose, it imposed its own bad moments on the competing religions and newly-formed sects, but they weren't so severe or consistent that they resulted in eternal warfare or forever prevented "spin-offs," a process where people looked at the belief system, selected what they liked about it, and then formed a new sect constructed around it.

The process of new sect-formation has really sped up in the last few centuries; just LOOK at all the sects that there are now!

And while there are on-going attempts by some sects to bring the force of government into their causes, so long as we have a secular government whose powers are severely restricted by a godless constitution, we are all - religious or not - safe and free to think whatever we want, while at the same time, we cannot use force against one another to compel one belief over another.

That, of course, is so unlike Islam, where the Koran, the literal word of Allah, is their "constitution," so no questions are possible, no deviation is possible, no differentiation via sect-formation is possible, no "agreements to disagree" are possible, and any attempts to be "different" are severely punished - so no peace is possible.

Thomas Jefferson characterized the difference between the Enlightenment view, where the value of the individual was supreme, and the Islamic view, where loyalty to the tribe, or group, is supreme, when he said:

"It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god; it neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."

3/16/06, 8:36 PM  
Blogger Charles N. Steele said...

Jason, you are confirming my basic point. The Christianity espoused by Jesus was not the Christianity espoused by Paul was not the Christianity espoused by subsequent interpreters, and all of it was/is based on the totalitarian laws of the OT.

Since people persist in believing religious faiths, it's desirable that the faiths be transformed by Enlightenment values as much as possible. You argue that this is impossible with Islam because this would contradict Islamic doctrine. But it contradicts original Judeo-Christian doctrines just as mcuh.

And if contradictions within a doctrine were an insurmountable barrier to belief, no one would have a religious faith in the first place.

3/16/06, 9:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I appreciated and concurred with Jason’s article “Two Methods of Attack” and view his aim to “unite against the common threat” as the primary imperative of our age. I do not have any comments that directly bear on his ideas, but wish to make a few points that are indirectly related.

When America fought WWII she worked with the USSR, who was her enemy.
It makes even more sense today for the secular Enlightenment & Judeo-Christian camps to cooperate in joint defense, for these are not enemies, but are (by my definition) partners in the development and defense of civilization. Allow me to present my terminology, so as to clarify this position.

I define “Civilization” as the organization of society around a transcendent ideal, to uplift man while restraining barbarism, where “Culture” uplifts man, while “Government” restrains aggression. To clarify a “transcendent ideal”, I surely do not mean the aim of the social democrat to bestow benefits, nor that of the communist to eliminate private property, nor that of the fascist to dominate. These fit into the base motives of the barbarian. Rather I mean such ideals as truth, justice and righteousness that go beyond what man can fully apprehend.

From this perspective, we note that Islam does not aim at enhancing the inner man, but at subordinating him to (the animal drives of) domination. Moreover, rather than restraining barbarism, it enables it to flourish, where there are acceptable practices of murder, rape, torture, and endless other barbaric practices. Perhaps the great success that Islam has in prison, is giving vent to the motives of the criminal. In sum, Islam is not merely a poor civilization but its very antithesis. What better way is there to undermine civilization than to view as holy that which curtails the inner man, while liberating his barbarism?

Yet what of Islam’s religious status? To address this, requires a definition of religion, which we should present in its best light. I shall quote Rabbi Heschel's view, which is consistent with that of the Christian theologians Reinhold Niebuhr and A. Roy Eckhardt. It is that religion is what man does with his sense of awe and wonder, while emphasizing moral behavior. From that vantage point, Islam is the very antithesis of a religion, for it subordinates the inner man to external domination, directing him toward war & conquest. It preaches that faith be spread by the sword, and truth be subordinated to politics. It divides the world into Dar al Islam, the "house of Islam" and Dar al Harb, the "house of war" which is composed of infidels who must either submit or die. If we sought the purest example of an anti-religion, could we find anything better than Islam? Can there be a better way to define Islam than as an anti-religion?

Perhaps the most effective defense of Islam has been to portray it as a civilization and as a religion, thereby implying the qualities of development inherent in civilization, and the qualities of uplifting man that we associate with a true religion. Yet once we specify that which is of value in civilization and religion, Islam is seen as their antithesis.

There is an additional consideration regarding civilization and religion, namely the methods needed for bringing it about. Culture can spread only by example and suasion. To impose virtue would undermine man, by precluding his free-will. Conversely, Government is the embodiment of force, and needed to restrain barbarism. Thus Civilization must spread its values solely by suasion, while defending its existence by force (which is what I view as the principle of the non-initiation of force). Here, the proper analog of religion is given by Zechariah “Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.” The idea is that one improves the world spiritually, while force is solely for defense. It is the antithesis of Islam which is averse to uplifting man, while making the world in its image by the sword.

One can of course define matters differently, and I welcome readers to do so. However, there is a gap in the way I have characterized the similarities between the religionists and the secularists, namely by not adequately clarifying their relation. The above implies that religion has been fruitful in developing the transcendent ideals that have been shared by the secularists, while the secularists have developed the structures needed for civilization. Arch atheists normally acknowledge the ideals which have stemmed from religious insights, while religionists have appreciated the developments of the modernists. Yet isn’t there a fundamental divide which cannot be bridged? Either there is a God or there isn’t. Either His son was Jesus, or he wasn’t? Either the world was created, or it was always here. Either the world operates teleologically, or in a purely causal manner?

Ultimately, there is a disparity between the religionist and the secularist. Yet let us consider that in part this is akin to the poles of a dichotomy. Plato saw the world mystically, as a reflection of the beyond, while Aristotle saw it immanently, as comprised solely of what can be directly apprehended. A physicist sees a ruler as a straightedge, breaking matter down to the molecular level, with little curves along the way. A mathematician sees it as an infinitely divisible ideal. Intuitionists see a mathematical system as a sequence of tangible finitudes, while the meta-mathematician views it as a reflection of an external ideal.

My point is that the age-old split between those who employ their vision of the beyond, with those who apply their empiric methods has been mutually beneficial. The religionists have needed to be corrected by the scientists, who dispelled their literal interpretation of the Bible, while the secularists have needed the aspirations of the religionists to ensure their sincerity. Aspirations and operations are ultimately inseparable, and mutually challenging.

Conversely, the difference between Islam and ourselves (the Enlightenment plus Judeo-Christianity) is no more reconcilable than truth and falsity, or civilization and barbarism. We are under attack, and have no choice but to defend or perish.

-Allen Weingarten

3/16/06, 9:37 PM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

I’m not sure how that confirms your point Charles but I believe I understand what your point is. I see vast differences in the content that made one religion able to lessen the grip of faith and accept reason in the broad realm that matters to us: this life. But I see the content of the other religion as adding considerable obstacles for making room for reason on a scale and sustained basis to support a liberal order. I see I haven’t convinced you. If we don’t agree on the categorization of Christianity, we’d have to roll-up our sleeves and dig into the NT. I suggest we disagree instead! I don’t mind intelligent disagreement.

3/16/06, 9:46 PM  
Blogger Moved Elsewhere said...

I have examined critiques of Islam by secularists and by former Muslims who have converted to Christianity. I found no substantive differences between the two.

Christians, like those practicing any other faith, will compare their faith with Islam. Nevertheless, that which they find most objectionable about Islam is identical to that which repels those of little or no religious faith.

I have found no evidence of any notable group of Christians whose objections to Islam are significantly different from my own and I am an atheist -- the very rare tolerant variety thereof. They are far more offended by the violence and oppression of Islam than by Islam's rejection of Christ's divinity.

I have seen no evidence that Christians are uneasy about comparing their faiths to those of others or think that doing so would jeopardize an ecumenical spirit. As you provide no evidence to support your claims in this regard I cannot accept your proposition.

Citing the names of some commentators and pundits who you believe represent two different critiques of Islam is an extraordinarily weak foundation for your thesis.

I think you may be making a distinction without a difference.

3/17/06, 12:32 AM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

Actually, ken, you’re agreeing with my thesis: there are both secular and Christian critics that can face the threat of Islam. Both focus on Islam as the religion that it is given its documents and history; both focus on reality. The Christian critic doesn’t care that Muslims don’t accept Jesus as divine and as a savior (many others don’t like Buddhists and atheists.) And most atheists don’t care that they are religious but how they are religious (or to what degree they use faith to crowd out reason) and what that means for us. Both point to the harsh reality. I agree that both are reality bound and that makes for a common ground. That’s my main point.

A secondary point is that some believe the fight can't include the other (secular or Christian.) Yes, I didn’t not provide the evidence because of space requirement. However, look at Auster’s blog for his worries about secular opposition and look at Eastbrook’s post above that sees Christianity as part of the same problem. I’ve come across many people who have trouble with a broad coalition (but still they are outnumbered by the rest of us.)

A third point is the failure of some secularists and some Christians in understanding the Islamic threat. That was really beyond the focus of the article and I discuss it elsewhere. The vast majority of people in both camps don’t face the threat of Islam. I say that assuming that it is common knowledge.

Thanks ken for giving me intelligent criticism. I’ll think more about what you’re saying but the above is my first thoughts.

3/17/06, 11:57 AM  
Blogger Moved Elsewhere said...

Imagine a Venn diagram with two circles overlapping each other so closely that the semi-circles exclusive to each are razor thin. Further imagine that one of the circles is one twentieth the size of the other. That is why I see no evidence of the two groups that you postulate. Common ground dominates while minor differences are superfluous. There is no need to multiply entities beyond necessity.

While a handful of atheists and agnostics might feel some trepidation at making common cause with people of faith this is hardly worthy of note. At best, it is much ado about nothing.

3/17/06, 2:54 PM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

I like your spirit, Ken. Alas, if I’ve been pre-emptive, so be it.

3/17/06, 4:19 PM  
Blogger Moved Elsewhere said...

I have been an atheist for all of my life. I have also been an atheist bigot for most of my life. I ridiculed, despised and held people of faith in absolute contempt. All religions to me were instances of ignorant superstition.

It was Michael Medved's "Hollywood Versus America" that turned me around. When I put the book down I realized how gratuitously cruel and intolerant I had been. I repented, in part, by writing Michael and thanking him for making me a better person. A week later he called me at home and thanked me for thanking him.

All atheists reject supernatural explanations. However, that does not mean rejecting out of hand or treating with contempt all those who accept supernatural explanations. An agreement to politely disagree, if the matter comes up at all, is all that is required between civilized people who differ on matters of faith.

Although I find television evangelists revolting I will not single out and attempt to punish any Christian who finds his or her life enriched by them. If a Mormon missionary or Jehovah's Witness shows up at my door I will not insult him or argue with him. I will instead politely inform him that I am an atheist and would prefer not to discuss matters of faith further In so doing I would express the civility and tolerance so obviously lacking in some of those whose comments precede mine.

3/17/06, 7:20 PM  
Blogger Freedomnow said...

Ken,

When I read the title of your post, "Are We Winning the War Yet, Mommy?" I burst out laughing. It is a gift when you can sum up a whole political movement in just one sentence.

Like you I am a life-long atheist with no love of Christian proselytizing. However, just like you, I am tolerant enough to understand that many Christians believe that they are helping me to save my soul.

Despite the fact that I think their beliefs are equal to that of a Shaman doing a rain dance while clothed in deer skin with a head dress of monkey asses has no bearing on their sincerity and good intentions.

Most people believe in religion and it is not my place to attack them for what they believe in. The day that Christian suicide bombers begin blowing up weddings and mosques is the day I will oppose them.

I cannot stomach the fear mongering of the Left, which uses moral equivalence arguments to suggest that Christians are evil.

3/17/06, 8:52 PM  
Anonymous Amplify said...

Charles N. Steele:
[Jason's] statement that Islam cannot be reformed in a fashion similar to Christianity is empirically falsified, since there already exists moderate Islam....

I personally see this as an issue of giving credit where credit is due. The thing is, when Muslims are lax in their practice, it is the Muslims who should be given credit for that, and not Islam. If we assume that such Muslims themselves think that they are not lax, but consider their practice to be somehow derived from Islamic scriptures, that means that to the extent that they cannot actually support this practice by referring to Islamic scriptures, they have had to find justifications for circumventing or ignoring parts of Islam, probably by putting someone else's authority and will (most likely their own) above the authority of Allah, whose will is after all revealed in the Islamic scriptures. It would obviously be wrong to give Islam the credit for being circumvented or ignored! (Besides, putting your own or someone else's will above that of Allah is basically apostasy.) So again, it is the Muslims who would be given credit for this.


As should be common knowledge by now, moderate Islam does not exist because it cannot exist. The reason for this is that in order to make Islam moderate, one would have to deprive it of its core essential features, at which point it would actually cease to be Islam. (Of course it is possible to argue against this, but I have yet to see anyone do so convincingly, ie. without resorting to nominalistic "label speak".) When Muslims are lax in their religious practice or find justifications for circumventing or ignoring essential parts of Islam, they do not invent moderate Islam - they simply come up with something more moderate than Islam, but which at the end of the day isn't Islam.

So, Charles N. Steele, when you say that moderate Islam exists, I take it that has to mean that you know of something which superficially resembles Islam and which is even labelled "Islam" by people who call themselves Muslims, but which cannot actually be Islam and is actually the creation of de facto apostates.

3/18/06, 9:44 AM  
Blogger Shah Alexander said...

Very insightful post! I would like to stop by again to read this further.

Regarding Islam and rationality, I found an interesting article on the following site.

http://www.aei.org/publications/pubID.23872,filter.all/pub_detail.asp

Particularly, this comment is worth to think of.


"Islamic civilization may yet produce its Edward Gibbon, a sincere religious voyager who ends up scrutinizing the foundations of his civilization with a skeptical, cynical, and, at times, profoundly unfair irreligious eye."

3/18/06, 10:15 AM  
Blogger Charles N. Steele said...

Amplify: Islam is as Muslims do.

I hope I am not putting words in Jason's mouth, but I gather he thinks there is one absolutely correct definition of Islamic doctrine. I do not.

By analogy, look at Christianity. Every denomination and sect supposes it has THE correct interpretation of the bible. And every one of them is Christian, at least in my view. I think my view is pretty reasonable.

Similarly, there are differing interpretations among Muslims as to what the Quran means, and what Islam really is. These range from Talibanesque to radical libertarian. All are Islam, and based in interpretations of the Quran.

3/20/06, 12:18 AM  
Anonymous Amplify said...

Charles N. Steele
Amplify: Islam is as Muslims do.

That's not correct, as that means that whatever Muslims do, and decide to call Islam, would be Islam. In effect, this means that "Islam" as such cannot be said to be anything but a label used to describe whatever people who call themselves Muslims do at any given point in time. In other words, it is nominalistic label speak - as usual.

By redefining "Islam" into what Muslims do, a person is resorting to nominalism, which disqualifies him from rational debate. In addition, regardless of the person's intention, he becomes a de facto Islam apologist, as his arguments tend to confuse people to the point where they can no longer see the inherent evil in Islam.

I hope I am not putting words in Jason's mouth, but I gather he thinks there is one absolutely correct definition of Islamic doctrine. I do not.

That's not how I read him, but I'll let him answer himself :).

I think this post by a certain Jim Kalb might be relevant in this context:

To say there’s an essential Islam, Christianity, Judaism or whatever is to say that there’s a functional system of beliefs and practices that works for a lot of different people in a lot of different settings and stops working nearly so well if you change or downplay basic concepts too much. That doesn’t mean that the system won’t change at all in secondary ways (and those can be important), or won’t go dead for a while, or people won’t give it up and turn to something else, as in the case of Christianity in the EU. What it means is that the system has a lot of lives. Its basic principles keep coming back with a lot more force than someone might expect who thinks of religion as a arbitrary and contingent concatenation of influences that’s been given form in response to circumstances and purposes and can be rejiggered ad infinitum for any new circumstances and purposes that come along.

On that view it makes sense to treat Islam, Christianity, liberalism, the West, China and what not else somewhat as characters acting in history that are likely to stay in character.


Charles N. Steele:
Similarly, there are differing interpretations among Muslims as to what the Quran means, and what Islam really is. These range from Talibanesque to radical libertarian. All are Islam, and based in interpretations of the Quran.

The fact that you explicitly mention interpretations of the Quran looks to me like a tacit admission that Islam has an essence, with the Quran being central.

3/20/06, 1:30 PM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

Cubed, it’s good to hear how you think about it, as always.

Thanks for the interesting article, Shah. I don’t quite agree with the “democracy cures everything” viewpoint but the author makes many interesting point along the way.

Amplify makes excellent points in both comments. Thanks, I’m going to have to start quoting you!

3/20/06, 9:02 PM  

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