Trump World Grab-Bag--A Collection

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Thinking it Over, I'm With Affleck and Kristoff

It's not like me to mull something like this over so long. For a long while I had a leaning in the direction that Maher and Harris are displaying, although to help their argument, I think what they are looking for is the word "fundamentalism". Unwavering fundamentalism in religion, a hard-core unwavering ideological belief system, is pretty basically pernicious and unhelpful and impedes dialog. And I will allow that it is true that majority Islamic nations have a high percentage of people who have fundamentalist Islamic views and that people who are professed Muslims tend to agree with those fundamentalist views, wherever they happen to be--although I kind of think this might be "more in theory than in practice."

I've done a bit of evolving myself over the religious question. I used to have a scarlet "A" from Dawkins' Out Atheism project on my sidebar, but I just don't care--atheism isn't an organized thing. And as my atheism might suggest, I ain't so much of a joiner anyways. I was skeptical of the idea that the US had to recognize the variety and specific understandings of people of faith in the areas we diplomatically dealt with, but think I got even then that we are dealing with a problem of multiple viewpoints. And now, considering a group like ISIL, it makes even more sense to embrace the Islam that mostly is practiced by moderate and peace-loving folks, to alienate the abhorrent chaotic nightmare these extremists want to wage, and share a common viewpoint that random violence and beheadings and all that are not acceptable.

We don't chose, most of us, our mental landscape. I mean, we for the most part are steeped in some version of cultural stew. Islamists have their thing. This doesn't necessarily poison all of Islam. Anymore than the crusade of Scott Lively impacts my understanding of Pope Francis regarding "Christiandom". I see the difference and it's getting better all the time.

Yes, I think the Pope still presides over a basically anti-gay church, But his deal is more open than Citizen Scotty's Crusade. There are, it would seem, very different strokes for extremely different folks. Ditto with Islam. I'm not keen on alienating a majority to strike at a minority. I say, I like people I can speak with, and I can't with ISIL or NOM or whatever. But the problem isn't in Islam alone. It's in the ideology, the fundamentalism, the exclusion of any conversation with other faiths. And so long as there is the potential for dialog with Islamic nations, I think Maher and them are missing an important point.



mikey said...

Huh. OK. Opinions, as they say...

Me? As much as I think Maher is a loudmouth and a dick, I don't think he's wrong. Interestingly, in my writing on this topic going back to 9/11 I HAVE used the term 'fundamentalist' to describe those who believe they should live their lives according to the writings of madmen and political manipulators from thousands of years ago.

But as you say at the end of your piece, the problem isn't Islam - the problem is Religious mythology and the dogma it asks it's adherents to believe. First, you can't HAVE a religion without a core of fundamentalists, and second, when people say that groups like ISIS do not represent Islam, that's exactly wrong. They DO represent the Islam that was originally written down, and are the truest expression of its doctrine. Just as the murderous christianist Crusaders were the true expression of the hatred fomented by their scriptures.

For me, I AM a loud, activist Atheist. I think religion is toxic and dangerous - and events from Kashmir to Syria to Sub-Saharan Africa tend to bear me out - and a big part of life's work is to deprogram as many people as I can. I've actually had some success in the past, and as my messaging becomes cleaner and more compelling, I expect to have more...

Vixen Strangely said...

I think the problem though, is that coming on like "Hi, I'm from The West and I'm here to deprogram you" probably isn't the tact that's going to play well with people who go full-out bugshit when someone makes a mildly offensive cartoon or names a teddy bear "Mohammed."

Organized religion is a top-down systemized mindscrew--given. I don't mind arguing with people with the same privileges and background as I have in general because I have experiences like knowing the Bible pretty well and understanding the history of Christianity well enough to ask whether someone can agree with all the doubletalk and the impossibility of all of it being literally true. I think one finds some pretty outspoken atheists coming from the background of a fundamentalist mindset who just reached about their tolerance of cognitive dissonance and decided to chuck it, lock, stock and barrel.

But the non-fundamentalist, spiritual believer--I think that's a different thing. They *feel* a personal experience with the divine, and that kind of subjective experience is hard to argue with. And for non-fundamentalists, there is still an issue of identity and the need to belong. Criticizing/insulting their religion, whether they "really, really" believe it or not, is kind of like insulting their mamma. You're dealing with a heritage sensibility.

The experience of religious thought being as common as it is, one is hard-pressed to consider the existence of any control-group to fully identify religion as the main culprit in the human tendency towards utter bastardry. (Although Scandinavian countries at the moment are mostly secular and quite nice.)

I just think any ideology can go pear-shaped if people get drunk enough on it. They signify. Soccer hooligans light fires and up-end vehicles to show that they really, really, love their football team. People kill random folk for gang initiations. Dick Cheney ginned up a false pretext for war and pushed for an absolute license for fossil fuel companies to poison drinking water to make Halliburton happy.

I'm just kind of over thinking religion is the main reason human beings do really messed-up shit. There's tons of people with religious beliefs not doing messed-up shit. I think religion can be like an accelerant to a social arsonist. But I question singling Islam out, and leaving the historical context of majority-Islamic states and how they came to be out of the equation, and not considering how the "Arab street" views "THE WEST", as being a bit "naïve" as Reza Aslan put it.

The ISIL or AQ Qutbist is an outlier. It's like saying Gene Robinson and Joseph Kony are of the same belief, or equating the Dalai Lama with Aum Shinryko because of a common interest in the Pali sutras. I don't believe in religion, but I think there is a way to tell a sane religionist from a kook. And I'm saying--go after the kooks, by all means--but respect people's sense of belonging.

mikey said...

Perfectly lucid.

2 points.

First, nobody ever said that religion is the root cause of violence and brutality. If I had to name a single cause, it would be a word I use often: Tribalism. But at the same time, religious doctrine is the source for a great deal of human brutality and suffering, from the Muslim problems we are discussing here to the Catholic prevention of the delivery of condoms in Sub Saharan Africa greatly contributing to the spread of AIDS there to the Christians in the US and Africa oppressing gays, trans and preventing abortions that can help raise young women out of poverty. So overall, my view is that religious mythology is a net negative to society, and like any human behavior with massive negative externalities, needs to be radically reformed or eliminated.

Second, the problem with the moderate observer is that they enable the fundamentalist. If everybody rejected the ISIS ideology, they would look like utter raving lunatics, and the world would be much better positioned to resist them. Instead, you have a billion people around the world saying 'y'know, the whole murdering apostates thing is wrong, but there is no god but allah and mohammed is his prophet'. When people complain that Muslims don't take a firm stand against their fundamentalists, this is why - they essentially believe the same things, but choose to ignore the more distasteful doctrines. Same is true with Christians - the people bombing abortion clinics have a base of support enabled by the mainstream acceptance of their core beliefs.

Formerly Amherst said...

Hi Vixen, no, I am not back. However, I had my rotator cuff surgery and will start physical therapy soon. Problem is I sleep on my side and find it impossible to sleep on my back. As a consequence I have gone without sleep for about a month. (Note to other occultists: when you do without sleep for a long time it becomes impossible to scrupulously get through to your spirit guides and evaluate their message even if you are very experienced at moving from one level of consciousness to another as I am.)

I have drug the gracious and lovely Alicia in here to type for me since that will be impossible for a while.

It is very difficult to make universal statements about "Religion." It would be like trying to make universal statements about literature. You know, Yeats was very concerned that his writings might have contributed to the death that flowed from the activities of the Irish Republican Army. Or like making universal statements about science. After all, most of our military deaths have come from scientific and technological advances. As Krishnamurti says, technology without consciousness is violence.

Paul Tillich is my favorite Christian theologian. He is widely regarded as one of the two most important theologian of the 20th century. In the introduction to his Systematic Theology, he says about fundamentalists:
"They confuse eternal truth with the temporal expression of this truth. This is evident in European theological orthodoxy, which in America is known as fundamentalism. When fundamentalism is combined with an anti-theological bias, as it is, for instance, in its Biblical-Evangelical form, the theological truth of yesterday is defended as an unchangeable message against the theological truth of today and tomorrow. Fundamentalism fails to make contact with the present situation, not because it speaks from beyond every situation, but because it speaks from a situation of the past. It elevates something finite and transitory to infinite and eternal validity. In this respect fundamentalism has demonic traits. It destroys the humble honesty of the search for truth, it splits the conscience of its thoughtful adherents, and it makes them fanatical because they are forced to suppress elements of truth of which they are dimly aware."

Now this quote originates from one of the most important Christian theologian of our time and demonstrates the wide variety of different points of view in the Christian world. I remember a Catholic priest of my acquaintance saying much the same thing, even though Tillich was a Protestant.

When it comes to terrorist organizations like ISIS, I would suggest that any argument they may have had was destroyed when they started killing others in the name of their ideological bias. As Ayn Rand wrote, when force comes through the door, morality goes out the window. Once ISIS began the killing, none of their propositions mattered from that point forward. As you know, Vixen, I'm an old military man, and when the killing starts it's no longer philosophical or theological. It is now entirely strategic and tactical. They gave up advancing a point of view when they decided to join hands with their bloodthirsty ancestors.

Vixen Strangely said...

Formerly Amherst! I hope you are on the mend (sorry about the sleep thing, though--I have been a chronic insomniac for much of my life and know it is a blinding hassle to manage on an unsmoothed unconscious. Sometimes the best trick is sitting naps in a recliner if you can manage it--it's not a lot of sleep, but it's enough to get your delta waves sorted if you can knock out three hours at a time) and kind regards to Alicia as well!

I see fundamentalism as a form of totalitarianism--much like a totalitarianist government like the USSR. One of the points where I deviate from John Rawls regarding diversity is on the subject of intolerance. I am more in line with Karl Popper, who articulated 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.

ISIL is very much the "intolerance" he was talking about. I've noticed that Saudi Arabia, not especially known for their freedom or tolerance, is not at all a fan of ISIL, but Turkey, considered a secular Islamic-dominated society, has not yet found themselves especially concerned enough to raise a finger even with ISIL on their border. (Tribal beef with Kurds I think). The ideology of ISIL or AQ with Saud is compatible, with Turkey--not so much. The allegiances here appear then to be, more, as Mikey has said--tribal than purely religious.

But to the extent that I see ISIL as totalitarianists, I think they serve an odd purpose in appalling the Islamic world. Not that I want to see them prosper to prove any point--but maybe they serve as a particularly bad example that can persuade Iran ( ahem) or whomever that there is no real benefit in paying off Wahabbi jihadi-come-latelies to go play elsewhere. Because they will come home to roost.