Religion

This is a strange category for me. All at once I think religion is the cultural pheromone to define insiders and outsiders, and also a local municipal code.
But it is also the numinous, The heaven that is deeper than hell. The transcendent reality. I haven’t believed in any god I’ve heard of but I feel the numinous powerfully every day.

(Read aloud, even if under your breath)

Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle, and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

 

 

 

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“Less well known is the paradox of tolerance: Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. — In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should, therefore, claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.”

― Karl Raimund Popper, The Open Society, and Its Enemies

Tolerance-Khalid-Hussein

A society based on freedom and liberal humanism must value tolerance just to exist. But it must value itself more highly than any culture or alternate system of government if it is to survive. When the Mohamed cartoons controversy arose we were faced with another culture protesting the rules of our own. There were threats of murder, and outraged demands to change our rules on their behalf. Demands to essentially to add a dogma of Islam (not depicting Mohamed) as an amendment to western values from now on.

The west responded with a mix of:

  1. Cowardice: “OK! Done.”
  2. Nationalistic grumbling.
  3. Assholes taunting Muslims by burning Korans.
  4. Liberal appeasement, which volunteered to alter our way of life because other cultures naturally take precedence.
  5. Indifference, the deciding vote of many disputes.
  6. Worry by those who know that there are no take backs when you hand over any part of your autonomy.

The conciliatory impulse when someone is (or even seems) deeply offended is to apologize and seek accommodation. It’s a good impulse because peace is good. In seeking peace you ask what will make it right.  The clear message from the Islamic protesters was: “You aren’t allowed to do that, it must never happen again.” Claiming the right in a non-Islamic, free speech culture to determine not only what they see in newspapers but what everyone else sees too.

Many European politicians acceded instantly, deploring the cartoons, many in the media acceded to cowardice really but cloaked as respect for feelings. There have been roughly 200 deaths related to the cartoon controversy since 2005 and anti-blasphemy laws have sprouted up in many places giving more control over speech to those who feel offended. Tolerant European societies began dismantling their foundations partly from fear of religious thugs and partly out of the desire to be nice people and not cause offense.

This hardly constitutes the death of a tolerant culture, but it was surrendering the autonomy of a tolerant culture to the demands of an intolerant one. This is “proof of concept” for Popper’s thesis.  What possible polar corollary can we dream up where Europe is offended by an Islamic meme and Islam is sorry and wants to make it right?  There is no such situation. In fact, throughout Islamic cultures, things we would find outrageously offensive are common-place: Horrible anti-semitic cartoons are daily fare, hateful denouncements of everything in the west and hope for their prompt destruction is the stuff of coffee chat on TV.

All impulse to appease travels one way, and that is through the hole in our cultural defenses wrought by tolerance. The values we thrive on and hope to leave in place for the future will be further weakened by the culture of being too “nice”. Our cultural immune system recognizes certain hot topics for special handling. We maintain our Nazi defenses, we recognize that this hateful speech is something to be watched cautiously. We also recognize that it would permanently fracture society if we cripple free speech to silence Nazis. The problem now isn’t recognizing an overt enemy but a more subtle one. We are vulnerable on our left flank to the idea that all cultures are at least equal; and that any culture that has suffered insult or injury from the west at large deserves to have a say in our own. The welcoming tolerance of pluralistic cultures must be maintained, yet for it to be maintained it must have limits.

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote: “We should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loathe and believe to be fraught with death unless they so imminently threaten immediate interference with the lawful and pressing purposes of the law that an immediate check is required to save the country.”

In other words, it ought to take a matter nearing our imminent destruction to make us consider hitting the pause button on freedom of speech, not the first complaint raised against it.

UPDATE: Insulting Prophet Muhammad not ‘free speech,’ ECtHR rules

 

 

 

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These are screen grabs from Saudi television. I know that Memri TV attempts to make Arabic/Muslim culture more transparent to the west but I don’t know how these stack up in terms of intensity. Are they average moments of television or extreme? I can’t place them solidly in context where they belong but I also know that liberal westerners under-imagine the hostility to humanistic cultures and how far outside our norms of accepting diversity conservative Muslim cultures are.

I can tell you you that this is not like selecting the very worst of Christian broadcasting in the United States – this is much closer to mainstream in Saudi Arabia which makes no pretense of loving those outside its cultural signature.

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Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business. Charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business… The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business.” – Jacob Marley, A Christmas Carol

Epistle of James – Warning to the Rich (5:1-6)

5 Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. 2 Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 3 Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. 4 Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. 5 You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.

  • Proverbs 22:16 Whoever oppresses the poor for his own increase and whoever gives to the rich, both come to poverty.
  • Proverbs 22:26–27 Do not be one of those who shakes hands in a pledge, one of those who is surety for debts; if you have nothing with which to pay, why should he take away your bed from under you?
  • Proverbs 29:7 A righteous man knows the rights of the poor; a wicked man does not understand such knowledge.
  • Psalm 82:3-4 Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.
  • Isaiah 1:17 Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.
  • Ezekiel 16:49 Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.
  • Ecclesiastes 5:10-14 Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless. As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owners except to feast their eyes on them?
  • Matthew 5:42 Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.
  • Matthew 6:24 No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
  • Matthew 19:21 “If you want to be perfect, go and sell your belongings and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.”
  • Mark 8:36 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?
  • Luke 12:15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
  • Acts 8:20 May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money!
  • Acts 20:35 “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
  • 1 Timothy 6:17-19 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.
  • James 2:14-17 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm and well-fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
  • 1 John 3:17-18 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

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iran79This is a picture of women protesting the forced Hijab in Iran days after the 1979 revolution. Don’t forget this and the fact that they lost this freedom when you are defending the Hijab.

Is it really too hard hard to hold two thoughts in mind at the same time? You can be tolerant toward emigrants AND see the ways their culture is anti-women (and gays, and freedom of speech). Your ancestors saw these things in OUR culture and fought them, not to success, but to an ever threatened improvement. It’s obvious that right wing Americans consider equal rights for women to be a political football and very much in play.

Progress is never a settled issue. Ignoring the things your own mothers hated having forced upon them, while claiming a feminist perspective is cognitive dissonance. Other cultures are not wiser, purer, better than us. It’s like saying you can’t understand what food tastes like. Taste it.


Also… The image to the right does not represent my opinion, I’m critiquing it. hkapology
This is a logical fallacy, a false equivalence on several levels.
It aims to equate honor killings, a socially accepted, cold blooded, ethically based rationale for murdering a family member with a sampled statistic for north american murders of women.

1. We consider murder a horrible crime with no religious or other mitigation. Where honor killings are practiced they are seen by some as murder and by many as a cultural/religious obligation.
2. They also have regular horrible murders, which the article ignores entirely, satisfied with the math it’s done so far.
3. In standard Islam, a man is committing no crime by beating his wife. In fact it is a cultural norm approved by religious authorities.
4. Ultimately what does the article wish us to think? It seems that the idea is to neutralize any outrage at honor killings by saying to ourselves: “I live in a flawed place too, Who am I to judge?”

And don’t forget in Islamic courts , known in many places as “THE court” women’s testimony counts half or even a third as much as a man’s. The cultural norms we are talking about display a pattern of treating women as goods and chattels and should be despised by people who are happy to see that idea stamped out here.
It’s astounding to me that a woman taking a theoretically feminist stance would write this letter which plays out as becoming an apologist on the subject of honor killings. I could imagine virtually the same letter being written by a conservative Islamic cleric.

There is a huge taboo on disliking and judging  any culture except our own. Hating OUR culture is a given in politically correct circles. I have no comfortable seat on this subject, as the right wing tends to only like “our culture” in the same way the people with gluten allergies like baked goods. If there’s a conclusion, it’s that when you separate something from the political scrum around it, you can see it’s merits and failings for exactly what they are.

 

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13880151_1216830431748911_624550834602818979_nA friend put this up on Facebook and I just can’t let it alone. Again, I’m liberal politically, and I long for us all to get along. But there is a self destructive streak in the tolerance movement which blames people for reacting in ways that aren’t blindly accepting.

1. Beards: I don’t think the beard thing is an especially big problem for Muslim men, but to answer WHY, which seems to be the question: I might guess a jewish fellow with a full beard was a bit extreme, but it wouldn’t matter to me because they represent no threat to me, historically or statistically. When that look is part of the uniform for the very high profile danger of Islamic terrorists our brains connect it to risk. Our brains are shaped by evolution to look for patterns that mean danger.

2. Habits vs Burkas: Very few nuns still wear the habit and when they do it’s part of the uniform for an order that takes them OUT of normal society. In cover-up cultures it isn’t devotion to god, like the nuns, it’s an inflexible societal norm. There are many Muslim women who feel OK about covering up but in many places no choice is allowed and physical danger or at least loud and intimidating disapproval is a likely outcome to NOT dressing that way. Hence, oppression.

3. Defending the homeland: The Palestinians seem to be the focus of the third picture and while right wing Israelis may call them terrorists, much of the rest of the world sees them as oppressed victims, albeit victims who often make hot headed poor choices. If it (the picture) represents any place with an Islamic culture where there’s a battle over territory then it probably does have at least some terrorist influence at play because they have inserted themselves as players in these situations.

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“You’re going to Hell, but I’m not driving.”

 
Neither Christianity nor Judaism is free of adherents who wish death for others based on their religious texts. Read about the Sabra and Shatila massacre and observe the hateful behavior of conservative west bank settlers. 
 
But the percentage of such zealots is tiny compared to that within Islam. I think worldwide, Muslims have not reached an overall level of cultural relativity and sophistication equal to that (mostly) achieved by Jews and Christians (and non-believers). If there is a “You must be this tall to go on this ride” for peaceful co-existence it is this: “I don’t like your beliefs but it’s bad for everyone if we try to control each other”.  There are toxic ideas in Judaism and Christianity but overall in western societies a little more “live and let live” worked into the fabric of life to allow civil and diverse society to flower. 
 
There is a good bit of bullying and rule by fear within the various cultures of Islam. We do have some Christians like this in the United States who would love to bully others with their religion. If our religious bullies gained any actual power they would be deadly. They seek political power and we watch them carefully, trying our hardest to retain separation of church and state. But religious police don’t patrol the streets, separating lovers and punishing women for dress code violations. There are no gangs of murderous Christians hacking bloggers to death for opposing the radical “Christianists”. Until the center of gravity shifts beneath the majority of Muslims to similarly downgrade their self appointed religious police force, they won’t be ready for a modern world that frankly requires diversity. 

Continue reading

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Because 9 isn’t enough and 11 is too many.

The 10 Commandments (hereafter known by their DJ name, 10C) are often cited as an important foundation of morality for the west: Sort of the moral grandfather to western civilization. This makes the assumption that without them we would behave badly, that if we are behaving well it is partly due to their influence, and that people without them must behave measurably worse.  Since they are treated as a collection I assume that they are all viewed as good and basically equal in worth. Conservative politicians have made enormous efforts at times to connect them with our government and put them in front of us in as many places as they can. It’s always amusing when a reporter asks them to recite the 10C and they can pull together maybe two of them. 

Since I could remember about the same number, I decided to read them over and evaluate their worth as a moral compass. 

1 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me.”

This is a message addressed to ancient Hebrews, why it should concern anyone else is unclear. They certainly would not have considered Christians (when they came along) as an appropriate audience for this message. In fact they might well have been outraged. The last bit is interesting because it implies that there ARE other Gods but you mustn’t put them first. Theoretically, it seems to hold out the possibility of worshipping demigods if you don’t get all carried away. As far as western morality is concerned the only link I see here is too monotheism and Christianity in particular. 

2 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My Commandments.”

This appears to be a restating of the first one with a sudden very strong disapproval of arts and crafts. The emphasis on jealousy reinforces the “other gods exist” idea because otherwise, what is he jealous of? Finally there is a sub clause explaining that if you violate the arts and crafts rule he will kill your grandchildren and beyond. Message for western morality? Be very serious about Christianity. 

3 “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.”

Perhaps it means don’t speak the name at all, again a Hebrew thing. Perhaps it means don’t use it out of the context of worship and adoration because that is blasphemy. Perhaps it means don’t pretend you love me: YOU HAVE TO REALLY LOVE ME! In any event it’s a carrying on of rule number one as additional sub-clauses. I think the vagueness inherent in this one may even be intentional, since one is uncertain what it even means, speaking the name is fraught with the danger that one MIGHT be doing something wrong. This serves the whole “tremble before me” thing. Also, this one seems to suffer from a little self referential thought circle e.g. “Don’t do it because… I’ll consider you guilty if you do it. Because I hate it when you do that.” Continue reading

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