Sunday, September 17, 2006

Observer's notes from a pseudo-religious debacle....

Some perceived assumptions and between-the-lines observations here:

* Despite the fact that Catholicism is only one denomination of Christianity and is hardly agreed with by all others, the Pope is being assumed as the head of Christianity so far as this debate goes, and most Muslims who do not know (hell, why should they bother?) the history of Christianity assume that he speaks for far more people than he actually does.

* It is also being assumed (hmm, possibly because it's been harped upon so much by evangelical Christian conservatives?) that the United States itself is an inherently Christian nation and that that is the essence of its apparent bias against Islamic nations and entities.

* From points one and two, it is also being assumed that the Pope has connection with the United States (its administration) in terms of influence and agenda, even though that is only the case in terms of social mores and prejudices that are already shared by the vast majority of Muslims and all of "traditional" Islamic cultures.

* The first three points, taken together, imply a Christian crusade being led by the United States against Islam as a whole, with the Pope as the clerical leader/figurehead/spokeperson.

* The repeated demands for a personal apology from the Pope, taking into account his perceived standing as the highest cleric in Christendom, are in actuality a call for symbolic capitulation by one religion to another.

* This wave of demands is being backed by the threat and actuality of anti-Christian violence, regardless of denomination or solidarity with the Pope's supposed anti-Islam bias.

* This reaction, seeing as it has not been tempered with any calls to buck Koranic literality and repudiate the concept of external jihad (i.e., 'fighting the good fight' against others instead of within oneself), only reinforces the original observation of Emperor Manuel Palaeologos that Islam has an irrational bent towards spreading the faith by the sword.

* This is not to say that Christianity has not had a similar bent throughout its official span as a state-recognized/adopted religion, but it is well worth noticing that Eastern Christianity (Greek Orthodoxy and the Byzantine Empire) after the great schism was not part of this historical trend of conquering and enforced conversion, but on the contrary bore the attacks of the Crusaders from the West under the orders/permission of the Pope, who had not exactly made it clear that the inhabitants of Constantinople at that time were of the same essential faith......(oops, his bad)...

* Greek religion/philosophy (whether Pagan or Christian or otherwise) has always had a tendency to debate rather than just enforce its beliefs, and to merely consider those who could not accept them as being intellectually benighted (believe me, I've read enough Orthodox apologetics to have ample proof of this--they far prefer the art of intellectual/psychological argument to that of brute ecclesiastical force, and this is part of a general East-West split as well in terms of ideological extremes).

It's the Western Churches (Catholic and Protestant alike) that have had the most pronounced trends to violence in spreading and enforcing their beliefs upon others. This said, it is a bit deceptive (though intentionally mild?) that Pope Benedict would choose a Byzantine source rather than a Latin one to introduce his point of violence being unjustified in the cause of faith.

* To put words in the mouths of those who feel justified in threatening violence against all who mention the historical (and recent) violence done in the name of Islam, I need only quote Curly Howard: "Hey!--I resemble that remark!!"

* Islam was originated in a reaction against the prior establishment (and cultural status/stability) of Judaism and Christianity. It may have had some 'angelic'/supernatural inspiration, but there is no logical way that it can claim any greater revelation without having addressed in its own scriptures the real and central theological concerns of those religions as they stood at that point in time. If one is to assume possession of an "insider's perspective" on divine matters, then one must also have that same perspective and knowledge of how things are going among believers on earth to warrant a new prophet and a new message. Without sufficient evidence that Mohammed (through Gabriel as cited) had accurate knowledge of the theological premises that Jews and Christians were actually operating under in their pre-existing belief/practice, there is no logical reason why they should accept that his was any better message than that which they already had. One can clearly argue that Jesus understood his own religious upbringing and culture well enough to see where it was failing "the lost sheep of the house of Israel", but the most that one can logically see in Mohammed's own personal motives is a desire for cultural solidarity among his own people, together with an implied oneupsmanship towards the established Jewish and Christian cultures. It is no surprise that they tended to resist his claims; it is no surprise that (given their own 'Abrahamic' tendency towards zealotry and no compromise) there has been perpetual strife wherever people take any of these religions too seriously in intolerance of others and their own beliefs. Put two or three of them together, and one gets either a mutual massacre or a pan-monotheistic theocratical regime against all others. I'm not sure which option strikes me as the lesser of two evils, but at least with the first you actually have a chance of the meek inheriting the earth once the fanatics are done killing each other.

* I believe (as do most sane people, I think) that any religion that thinks it justified to kill others if they don't convert to it or adhere to its social mores is morally wrong. And regarding the difference between a social more and an actual crime, there are only a limited amount of things that one can consider as unequivocal crimes against others, and it's better to stick to the here and now (and already-born) in terms of determining what those offenses are so far as explicit law, rather than expanding/maintaining the list of assumed offences (according to sentiment and scriptural interpretation) without providing a clear and rationally-undeniable argument for each one's universal validity. This applies to all beliefs that want to expand their beliefs/practices into the general sphere of conduct -- they have to prove that whatever they want to forbid is actually and consistently a source of harm to all, regardless of whether it's done willingly or not. I.e., it should require an objective proof and not merely an emotional/scriptural one, if it's to be accepted as an objective and universal standard of restriction.

* If Pope Benedict should be called to task and made to apologize for anything in this particular case, it's for the many many instances in which the Roman Catholic Church has spread and maintained itself through the use of violence, harassment, censure & silencing, destruction, torture and execution. To this date, the Spanish Inquisition itself is officially conceded only as an unfortunate footnote and misunderstanding, rather than one of the most determined and aggressive acts of genocide (actually, I think I'll use the apter term "credocide"...) in history. That is the missing part of his speech, in terms of having any moral standing from which to speak. One cannot honestly attack the faults of another religion without admitting where they have been shared by one's own, and Palaeologos was likely in a far better position to make such a statement as he did than Pope Benedict would have been to declare it in his own right.

* End point, though, he didn't say it himself, he only used it to make the more general point that no religion is justified in using violence to perpetuate itself. Admittedly, he could and should have gone further in terms of applying that dictum, but nowhere did he say anything that could be construed as an essential insult to Islam. Even the original statement was not against Islam in itself so much as the negative methods that it took in establishing itself as a new religion among others, when it could (theoretically) have simply stuck to the essentials of polite religious practice as generally understood, and not started out as such a militant and conversion-intent force that was set on sweeping all others out of the way in this present world and establishing itself as a total all-encompassing theocracy. Even Judaism was originally tribal-territorially limited in its aspirations, and Christianity was assumed to be an underdog of spiritual integrity without temporal ambitions up until the point when it was adopted by Emperor Constantine as his state religion, and then officially mandated as such in AD 380. That's about 350 years from its founding until its being used as a rationale for oppressing/coercing those of other faiths (with a lot of persecution experienced in between), whereas Mohammed wrote the precepts of external jihad into the Medina-era hadiths without much ado or delay. Some might say he was jumping the gun just a tad, if he wanted Islam to be known as (as some have loudly asserted it) a religion of peace and tolerance. Some might say that he just wanted to get as quickly as possible to the position of worldly rule/influence that it had taken both Jews and Christians centuries of endurance and longsuffering to get to in any appreciable degree. Either way, he didn't really go about it very wisely, so far as foreseeing (surely the Archangel could have told him this?) a future in which many religions including his own would be split and diversified and spread over all lands to deal with each other as best they could, and in which any religious injuction to violence against others would be an inevitable liability to the faith should it be taken seriously/literally. It is the tragedy of all religions with large bodies of sacred scriptures and codes, that they tend to cling to the letter (or assumed letter) of those things like children instead of understanding their spirit, and take a long time to evolve with their world and find maturity in the greater social reality that cannot be pinned under one creed or observance.

Or even the utter lack thereof, as some would gladly have it. There's as little justification for destroying religions wholesale as there is for enforcing them absolutely -- the best thing to do for all concerned is just to admit that no one can claim to be justified by their own faith & scriptures in forcing their ways on all. No one, no matter who, because the civil law (in order to be called civil, one might think) should always be wider than the sum scope of the religions within its jurisdiction. Not narrower, not restricting them down to the most conservative end of common practise. If it "threatens" your personal beliefs to not be able to threaten and bully and legislate others into following your own prejudices (or letting you practise them without any liability), then either you've got a weak belief or a rather faulty religion to believe in.

And no doubt I could expand on those last few paragraphs a good deal, but that's for other blogposts and such. In general, though, I think that everyone in the center of this is suffering from a widespread lack of understanding (or responsible explanation) of history, and that most are suffering (whether they'll ever admit it or not) from an unfortunate tendency to jump to vehemently outraged conclusions.

Is the concept of jihad against all "infidels" something that peaceable and civilized Muslims really ought to be defending as part-and-parcel of their religion's honour?--now there's a good question.

Not that anyone's actually going to dare to ask it, of course....

Articles of recent provenance regarding this situation:

Pope stops short of apology to Muslims (Yahoo/AP)

Pope's apology fails to halt Islamic uproar (Daily Telegraph)

God is not to be second-guessed (Daily Telegraph)
Excerpt: [...Pope Benedict did not claim, and does not believe, that Islam is wicked. On the contrary, he has made a closer study of the Koran than any previous pontiff. As he said yesterday, he acknowledges that Muslims worship the same deity as Christians.

His point, rather, was that the spread of religion through coercion is indefensible. Some Muslims share this view, and some do not. But the Pope unquestionably raised an important point, as may be inferred from the reaction to his words: insulted by the suggestion that their religion was violent, thousands of young men took to the streets to threaten violence.

The awkward truth is that all three Abrahamic faiths, interpreted literally, urge intolerance on their followers. The Old Testament is every bit as hard on those who go whoring after other gods as is the Koran.

Here is the Book of Judges: "Ye shall make no league with the inhabitants of this land; ye shall throw down their altars" (2:2). And here is the Koran: "Therefore when ye meet those who disbelieve, strike their necks" (47:4). In practice, of course, the followers of the monotheistic faiths do not generally do these things....]

What the pope said (Daily Telegraph) --actual /official statements made thus far
[All death threats/etc. will be read and responded to logically. Which incidentally comes from the Greek word/concept logos, which some understand to be the guiding principle of reason and justice and balance in the universe.......]

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