Posts tagged ‘islam’

January 7, 2008

On the defects of current religions

What are some of the major defects of current religions?

Ossified metaphysics. In Christianity, for example, we have a trinity, a god-man, sin, creation ex nihilo, all of which are non-negotiable elements, which cannot be jettisoned or replaced no matter how unfit they have become to describe our current world (surprisingly enough it is perhaps only creation ex nihilo that still makes sense – in a quantum sort of way). If religions are to remain relevant and not require ever further sacrifices of the intellect, then they must regain some of their initial flexibility and start reworking from the ground up the entirety of their so-called worldviews.

Individual salvation. Be it Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism or Islam (this doesn’t apply to Judaism), all of these religions preach salvation, but they preach it first and foremost to the individual. You can be saved/save your soul without having to worry about anyone else, let alone your surrounding ecosystem. This is probably what killed the dinosaurs. And it is certainly not helping to prevent our new species’ impending doom.

Disregard for the body/world. Most major religions are “soul-religions” in the sense that what ultimately matters is not our current bodies, but some immaterial self that will survive beyond whatever happens to your body and this universe. This doesn’t mean all religious people are either too fat or overly emaciated; but it does probably contribute to a certain je-m’en-foutisme (i-don’t-careism), wether or not we go all the way to blowing our bodies, or the world, up.

Future Salvation. This is the counterpart to the “soulishness” of current religions and is just as damaging to our current health.

Exclusiveness. Though Buddhism often claims to embrace all other religions, it does so exclusively on its own terms. Christianity and Islam are notorious us-versus-them religions, with the belligerent consequences we know too well. Of course, this is in great part due to an ossified metaphysics.

Impractical. Religions just don’t seem able to help us solve our current problems. They were probably pretty good at solving whatever was wrong back when they sprung up, three to five half-centuries ago, but as far as current wars, pollutions, poverties and other bad stuff go, they have nothing to offer.

Ossified institutions. Who isn’t bored to death in church? What are monks still doing running around? Why can they still not marry? What is the deal with that big black thing in mecca?

Politically passive. Finally, the current crop of old, grey-haired, mostly decrepit religions is remarkably … inactive. Of course, telling people they need only worry about the future of their souls doesn’t help. But at least they could do a bit more than preach and set up a few orphanages. Today doesn’t need personal, but rather global, institutional salvation.

January 5, 2008

reason, islam and the west

From Ayaan Hrsi Ali’s review of Harris’ new book:

I was not born in the West. I was raised with the code of Islam, and from birth I was indoctrinated into a tribal mind-set. Yet I have changed, I have adopted the values of the Enlightenment, and as a result I have to live with the rejection of my native clan as well as the Islamic tribe. Why have I done so? Because in a tribal society, life is cruel and terrible. And I am not alone. Muslims have been migrating to the West in droves for decades now. They are in search of a better life. Yet their tribal and cultural constraints have traveled with them. And the multiculturalism and moral relativism that reign in the West have accommodated this.

Harris is correct, I believe, that many Western leaders are terribly confused about the Islamic world. They are woefully uninformed and often unwilling to confront the tribal nature of Islam. The problem, however, is not too much reason but too little. Harris also fails to address the enemies of reason within the West: religion and the Romantic movement. It is out of rejection of religion that the Enlightenment emerged; Romanticism was a revolt against reason.

I can agree with her on this point. However, i too would wonder with Harris if Reason is
the solution to the problem. Or at least we need to distinguish between two types of reason: The wise and pragmatic reason of those trying to find a solution and willing to consider religious and other non-enlightenment solutions; over against the attempt to enforce “our” reason upon the “unreasonable”. Using reason in the former sense is certainly necessary and perhaps sufficient. The second type of imperialistic reason can only fail.

I know a fair number of muslims, though mostly well-educated ones who’ve moved to Europe. Some remain religious, most have jettisoned religion. All remain more or less attached to Arab culture (food, family structure, language). And all eschew violence. They have, all accepted the necessity of reason and (something akin to) non-violence. Their ultimate strength however, lies in their ability to distinguish between culture, religion and violence. Not to crassly oppose islam and reason.

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January 5, 2008

books on islam

the NYT has a new Books Update out all about islam (and Mary Magdalene). Some of the Highlights:

Books Reviews: 

‘The Suicide of Reason’ By LEE HARRIS Reviewed by AYAAN HIRSI ALI

“Arguing that the West’s “fanaticism of reason” is no match for the fanaticism of radical Islam.”

‘American Crescent’ By HASSAN QAZWINI Reviewed by RASHID KHALIDI:
“From his mosque in Michigan, a cleric argues that Muslims can be integrated into national life.”


An essay by Fouad Ajami entilted The Clash: “I doubted Samuel Huntington when he predicted a struggle between Islam and the West. My mistake.”

thx ed.

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