Islam's Identity Crisis
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The State Department now says it never believed the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was a film protest gone awry, giving congressional Republicans new fodder for criticizing the Obama administration's initial accounts of the assault.
Now that the shock of the terrorist attack on the US mission in Benghazi has begun to wear off, and it has been established that the administration was lying to us all along about whether an operation involving two coordinated waves of militants armed with assault rifles, anti-aircraft cannon, RPGs, and GPS sighted mortar tubes, was a spontaneous uprising of the street, the deep thinkers of the liberal media, columnists like Maureen Dowd and Paul Krugman, can explain to the faithful why an administration that promised pristine transparency in government finds it so difficult to admit the obvious, that there are fanatical anti-American terrorists in the world and that they are almost invariably Muslim. As if the phrase 'Muslim terrorist' was a nominalist abstraction, and the refusal to use the expression would abrogate the reality; as if Islamic terrorism feeds off our exaggerated reaction to it, and if we ignore it, it will wither from inattention. God forbid we should ever confront Dar al-Islam with its supremacist vision of itself and its all-or-nothing, end-of-times rhetoric.
In a sense, the Administration's blase response and negligence are understandable: who would have guessed that the citizen militias of a city saved from certain destruction at the hands of Muammar Gaddafi and his thugs would attack and kill the very principals who had intervened on their behalf? Such a betrayal was unthinkable and unprecedented. Muslim treachery? Go to! Arab cunning? It's practically an oxymoron!
Well, actually, maybe not. Muqtada al-Sadr seemed none too grateful when the US Army rescued Iraqi Shiites from the tender mercies of Saddam Hussein and his genocidal regime, and a Muslim man from Kosovo was so impressed by the liberation of his country from Serbia's program of "ethnic cleansing" by the American military that he assassinated two US airmen at the Frankfort Airport. Speaking of rank ingratitude, there are reports that the mullahs are stirring up anti-American sentiment in Bangladesh, where an American Navy task force routinely mounts rescue operations, providing food, water, and drugs to the homeless victims of the country's perennial floods.
What the liberal bloggers and talking heads will make of all this is anyone's guess, but one of the most frequent questions we hear from them is the plaintive, "Why do they hate us?" There is something repellent and pusillanimous about this question: its premise is that there must be a rationale behind the attacks and riots and, as a corollary, that America is somehow to blame; that if the extremists would only state their grievances, we would be willing to mend our ways and come to an agreeable accommodation. Gosh darn, if I haven't just described the president's new, ground-breaking foreign policy initiative, the Middle Eastern "reset" that was supposed to endear us to Arab malcontents, but has only earned us their undying contempt and--it is at least arguable--got us in this pickle in the first place.
Notwithstanding, there is a growing appreciation for the view that "they" don't hate us at all, that "they" only hate themselves and are projecting their self-loathing on us. Arnold Toynbee wrote nearly a century ago that Islam was besieged on all sides with the culture and technology of the West, and predicted, correctly, that the resulting loss of identity in the Muslim world would be a powerful catalyst for violence. The psychology is well understood and originates in a pathological resentment of the dominant, universal society. Who do you blame for your failures, your obscurity, your poverty, and for the searing humiliation of Islam's decline, but the top dog who has his hands on the levers of power? Moreover, if you attack the top dog, rather than the actual agents of your misery, doesn't this make you important by association? (Who gets more press than jihadist terrorists?) Muslim hatred, observed editorialist Andrew Coyne, "exists because America exists, and if America did not exist it would attach itself to something else."
More important than the question of why is the question of who. Who are they? Are we referring to a cross section of Islamic society, or only its extremist elements? Is there any difference? I have lived and worked in two Muslim countries, in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and have been meditating on the subject for some time, and have a few thoughts to offer. I'll be the first to admit that my sojourn in Islamic lands does not qualify me as an 'expert' in the field, but expertise usually involves a quantitative approach to the question, which is necessarily reductive. I believe personal encounters and anecdotal information often yield a more refined and flavorful picture of events than is found in a rigorous empirical study. Not that the answers are any easier to come by; in fact, what follows is of necessity a work in progress. There are shadings within the shadings, and over its turbulent history Islam has presented a rich and sometimes contradictory tableau.
A Deadly Tribal Dispute
My first assignment was in Saudi Arabia, where I taught English to a class of Saudi noncoms at a military base outside Riyadh to prepare them for weapons training in Texas. One morning a Captain Hazim of the Saudi National Guard asked if he might sit in on my class. He said he had heard that I was the best teacher in the school. (I've never been more than an average teacher but such gratuities come easily to Arab lips.) I got to know him well, and one day he invited me and another English teacher to his home for dinner.
We arrived at his walled villa late in the afternoon. We removed our shoes and reclined on the rugs and divans in a large meeting room with several other guests, mostly tribal elders and sub-chieftains. Pleasantries were exchanged with Captain Hazim and his brother Faisal, and we sipped tea to fill the moments of awkward silence (my Arabic being somewhat less proficient than their English). Then a friendly and unassuming old chieftain arrived, and after much hand and cheek kissing he was introduced to us as Captain Hazim's father. D.R. (the other teacher) told me later that this sheik and his Bedouin tribesmen had been instrumental in putting Khalid bin Abdul-Aziz on the throne following the death of King Faisal, assassinated a year earlier by one of his nephews. (It is said the Arabs never forget a favor or a wrong, imagined or real.) The Sheik was in a particularly chipper mood because he had married a fourth wife a few days before. As my host and his Bedouin tribesmen were strict Wahhabis no smoking was permitted nor women present.
The only time we expats in Saudi Arabia ever saw a woman's face was in the souk, when female shoppers would lower their veils to examine wares in jewelry counters. Once while hiking in the countryside on the outskirts of Ta'if I encountered a large group of Arab women washing clothes at a communal basin. Rounding a knoll, I had come upon them rather suddenly and expected them to raise their veils and turn away from the foreign infidel in fastidious dismay, but to my amazement their voices rose in a lively jeer of mockery and flirtation. (This was in stark contrast to another time, when walking down the main street of a mud-brick village, I heard only the sound of the wooden shutters slamming shut.)
I thought this informality remarkable, given prevailing Wahhabi attitudes, but it happened again and again. Once while walking back to the Riyadh Hotel in the company of another teacher--a tall, blonde-haired young man of dashing appearance--a school bus filled with high school-age girls stopped nearby at an intersection and a spontaneous hosanna of flirtatious cooing arose from the students. I wondered at the time if this wasn't the influence of American movies and golden-haired matinee idols such as Robert Redford and Steve McQueen.
I meant to ask Captain Hazim about this, but the opportunity to raise what might have been a forbidden subject never came. We sat on the Persian carpets squirming in an approximation of the lotus position for what seemed a rather long time, when I noticed the Bedouins had begun to talk in loud and animated voices, and were becoming progressively more agitated. The Sheik suddenly rose and asked if we would like to repair to the lawn carpets. Of course we would. He returned to the salon with several of the tribal elders, but the large wooden doors did not completely muffle the shouting within. I thought nothing of this. The Arabs are a demonstrative people and often serenest when yelling at one another.
Soon after, dinner was served, a roasted goat laid on a huge tub of rice. Some awkwardness ensued: I was sternly rebuked by a servant for returning a tea cup with my left hand, and when I tried to hunker down around the goat carcass, Hazim asked if I wouldn't like a chair (the ultimate insult). I replied, "La, ana Badawi!" (No, I am a Bedouin!): this was in some sense true, for my students had voted me an honorary member of their tribe, al-Otaibi, some weeks before. Hazim and his companions seemed amused by this declaration, but the ordeal was only beginning. The Bedouins have a sly sense of humor, and since I was a Bedouin, they would regale me with such choice morsels as the tongue, eyes, and lips of the goat. These exquisite delicacies, they assured me, were usually reserved for the prince. As I said, an ordeal, and one that moderated my interest in cross-cultural experience for some time. My hosts may have detected this, for though I was invited to spend the weekend at their date farm in an oasis town an hour from Riyadh (I think the place was called al Khurage), I heard nothing more about it.
A short time later the school reshuffled our classes, moving mine to another classroom in the building. Captain Hazim did not appear, and once meeting him in the hall, I mentioned to him that the students and I missed him, and told him of the room change. He said he'd gone to the old classroom, but found another class--and yes, he'd be glad to resume the arrangement. But he never showed up. In fact, he dropped out of sight completely. I assumed he was either ill or had been reassigned, but I was also puzzled. He had seemed preoccupied recently, a mood utterly out of character with his usual bonhomie and jollity, and the air of negligence the Saudi officers carried about them like a talisman.
Then one day, sitting in the company bus going to the school, I overheard snatches of a conversation. An instructor of one of the officers' classes was talking about a student of his who had been absent for two weeks--something about his father being murdered in a tribal dispute. It will give you some idea of how mentally fatiguing a six-day teaching week is when I tell you I didn't put these two events together. It was only a day later, when a Saudi colonel mentioned the incident again, in connection with absenteeism, that I connected the facts. The absentee was, of course, Hazim, and it was his father, the Sheik, who had been murdered.
To reconstruct events that emerged from newspaper accounts and D.R., Hazim was not someone who would strike you as a vigorous man of action or even as a scion of a Bedouin chieftain. He was jolly and robust of girth, bursting with laughter at the drop of a hat. The only inkling of his importance came when the Saudi noncoms scattered to find him a chair when he entered the class. One would never guess he had a revolver under his thobe and an assault rifle in his car.
But he did--after a similar attack, some years before, when his father was gunned down the first time.
Apparently the discussion in Hazim's villa that evening involved a land dispute with another member of the tribe. The matter was so serious that a few days later the disputants where hauled into court and the argument settled there--in the Sheik's favor. But on returning from court, the Sheik and Hazim's brother Faisal were ambushed just outside their villa by the other litigant, and the Sheik killed in a violent gun battle. Faisal was also wounded, but not without wounding the assailant, who ended up on the chopping block three days later in Deera Square. According to D.R., after the execution, Hazim and Faisal conferred with King Khalid at the summer palace in Ta'if to forestall a much-feared tribal feud.
The routine for expats in the Kingdom, where there is no wine, women, and song, can be monotonous and enervating (you might call it a good operational definition of hell); but occasionally real life intervenes in the form of a tragic event and one realizes that one is not watching the six o'clock news, that one is no longer a passive voyeur watching the world go by, but experiencing life in its full existential terror, majesty, and pathos.
The Middle East has changed since I worked there, and much for the worse. In 1975 it was still possible to feel a sense of excitement and hope for the Saudi Kingdom as jets roared into the sky from the Riyadh Airport. Modernization was in full swing, and it seemed only a matter of time before the countries of the Middle East would become cooperative members of the international community. Yet even then there were ominous signs of the evils that were about to engulf the region.
I remember a conversation I had with a young educated army captain--our liaison officer at the Ta'if military base--in which I tried to get a fix on the Arab attitude toward Israel. Weren't the Jews and the Arabs descendants of the same Semitic ethnic group? And, weren't they, therefore, brothers? Why were they at dagger points? The young captain was not reluctant to discuss the subject, but he was implacable: brothers often fight one another to the death, he replied. (This was certainly true of the Arabs.) I also remember a Jordanian support employee at the school who was crowing about the performance of the Arab armies against Israel in the Yom Kippur War. I reminded him that, despite the initial successes of the Egyptian and Syrian surprise attacks, at war's end the Arab air forces had been completely destroyed, and the Israelis had encircled Egypt's Third Army 25 miles outside Cairo.
A sobering thought occurred to me: even elite members of the Middle Eastern intelligentsia measure their manhood by their hatred of, and their determination to destroy, a tiny nation occupying a narrow strip of real estate on the Mediterranean coast. The challenges of grinding poverty, chronic political instability, and a barren civic life were minor affairs compared to this obsession to eliminate the Jewish state. Middle Eastern despots had discovered early on that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a foolproof way to distract their miserable and impoverished populations from atrocious social conditions. Saturating Arab media with anti-Israel slogans and propagating anti-Western hate speech in mosques, madrassas, and school textbooks have become institutionalized strategies by which incompetent tyrants of the failed states of the region continue to maintain political power and prop up their unpopular regimes. It remains to be seen whether this strategy will survive the so-called 'Arab spring,' but attitudes that thrive on ignorance die hard, and it is unlikely that the theocrats who replace the secular despots will abandon such an effective campaign of propaganda.
Religious Tolerance Was the Rule for the Early Caliphs
I said there was no wine, women, and song in the Kingdom, but, of course, this was not always the case. The current oppression and degradation of Muslim women by the Salafists, the Wahhabis, and the Taliban, have little authority in Arab history. Sir Richard Francis Burton, the famed nineteenth-century ethnologist and Arabist, praised the Bedouins for their gallantry toward women, and declared that their respect for their wives was second only to that of the American Indian. And Arab historian Philip Hitti tells us that
[T]he early 'Abbasid woman enjoyed the same measure of liberty as her Umayyad sister.... Not only do we read of women in the high circles of that early period achieving distinction and exercising influence in state affairs ... but of Arab maidens going to war and commanding troops, composing poetry and competing with men in literary pursuits or enlivening society with their wit, musical talent and vocal accomplishments. Such was 'Ubaydah al-Tunburiyah ... who won national fame in the days of al-Mu'tasim as a beauty, a singer and a musician.
It was only after periods of excessive concubinage, sexual laxity, and moral decline that Muslim women earned the reputation for cunning and intrigue portrayed in the Arabian Nights, adds Dr. Hitti. But when the Abbasid dynasty was at the pinnacle of its achievements, when it was assimilating the ancient lore of Persia and the heritage of Hellenism, and quaffing the cultural elixir of India and Byzantium, women were not secluded and segregated, but played a central role in Islamic society.
The ignorance of terrorists and militant organizations, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, of the religion over which they claim stewardship, is extraordinary. Only consider the irony of jihadists named after Islamic heroes and celebrated caliphs like Mansur, who would have considered them barbarians, apostates and theological ignoramuses, and would in all probability have had them hanged as thugs and cutthroats. The fanaticism and intolerance we witness in Islam today, e.g. the attacks on Christian communities in Iraq and Coptic Christians in Egypt, would have been antithetical to the policies of the early caliphs. Christian Arab tribes such as the banu-Taghlib roamed al Jazira for centuries, unmolested. Mu'awiyah's wife was a Christian, as were his poet, physician, and secretary of finance, not to mention the many other ministers, scholars, translators, and viziers who were Jewish or Christian. Al-Mansur's court physician, Jurjis ibn-Bakhtishu, retained his Nestorian Christian faith, and when invited by the caliph to embrace Islam, declined, saying that he preferred the company of his fathers, whether in heaven or in hell.
The Umayyad and Abbasid caliphs were receptive to the influence of Greece, Rome, Persia, India, and Byzantium, because they were confident in their faith. Modern Muslim fundamentalists fear the West and its culture precisely because they are insecure about their own faith. Historically, Islam was a religion of the sword, and submission to the Prophet often coerced. Many subject peoples "turned Turk" simply to avoid paying tribute in the form of high poll and land taxes; i.e. the adoption of the Muslim religion was not grounded in a true spiritual awakening, but in material advantage. The result has often been a faith of shallow observance and empty ritual, of simple-minded peasant pieties, obscurantism, and medieval barbarity.
To the extent that a religion advances a political ideology and projects power, it is no longer a religion: Timur and his Mongolian hordes claimed Muslim affiliation (he referred to himself variously as the ghazi, "Sword of Islam," "Defender of the Sunnah"), but it is estimated that his military campaigns resulted in the deaths of 17 million people, most of whom were Muslim. Indeed, the more believers become convinced of the intrinsic spiritual value of their faith and experience 'the peace of God that passeth all understanding,' the less likely they are to impose their beliefs on others, forcibly or otherwise, or to be motivated by an irresistible desire to dominate their fellow man. Converts, like Timur, are proverbially fanatical, and it is a commonplace that conspicuous religious fervor, e.g. the exaggerated vehemence, and protests of moral purity, and hysterical exhibitionism we witness in Muslim fundamentalists today, conceal a profound spiritual deprivation. When Thomas Moore burned six Protestant heretics at the stake, was this an act of Christian love?
Most religions have a warring phase. And this is nearly always true of the first iteration of a faith. The Old Testament is filled with violence, chiefly against the Canaanites. Like the national epics from which they are nearly indistinguishable (e.g. The Edda and The Iliad), religions often take on a militaristic form in their early stages when they are most vulnerable to reaction. The Bhagavad-Gita ("Song of God"), the most revered passage in the Mahabharata, consists of a conversation between Krishna and Arjuna that takes place on the battlefield before the start of the Kurukshetra war. But like other social institutions, religions evolve and mature, and just as the New Testament enjoins us to reject violence and love our fellow man (an inspired reapplication of Old Testament law), militant Hinduism morphed into quietism: Mahayana Buddhism and Zen Buddhism. The Tao Te Ching is spiritually superior to Confucian ethics, and even a medieval religion of the sword like Islam, with its barbaric fatwas and reflexive intolerance, manifests a mystical essence in Sufism.
Most religions are also political to some degree, but in the case of the Salafists, Wahhabis, Taliban, and Muslim Brotherhood, and terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah, the pursuit of power is clearly fascistic: if we are to credit their oft-stated goals, they will settle for nothing less than world domination and the extermination or enslavement of all who resists them. Referring to a recent proposal to admit Turkey to the European Union, Andrew C. McCarthy wrote:
In their obsession over not being seen as Islamophobic, in their purblind insistence that aggressive supremacism is not the nature of mainstream Islam, European elites assume that they know Islam better than did such Muslim giants as Ataturk and his contemporary, Hassan al-Banna -- the Muslim Brotherhood founder who notoriously wrote that "it is the nature of Islam to dominate, not to be dominated" and that Islam sought "to impose its law on all nations and to extend its power to the entire planet."
What is to be said of the Faithful if in their communion with their god the take-away is to kill or enslave nonbelievers? And how are we to interpret Islam's threats of doomsday annihilation in an age of nuclear proliferation? The parallels to other religions obsessed with death, like the worship of Huitzilopochtli (the Aztec god of human sacrifice), or the murderous Thuggee of India (who worshipped Kali, 'Lord of Death'), are too obvious to ignore. The cult of death has been the curse not only of Islam (e.g. the cult of the Assassins), but of all urban societies, from time immemorial, not excluding contemporary civilization:
[T]he most precious collective invention of civilization, the city, second only to language itself in the transmission of culture, became from the outset the container of disruptive internal forces, directed toward ceaseless destruction and extermination. As a result of that deep-rutted heritage, the very survival of civilization, or indeed of any large and unmutilated portion of the human race, is now in doubt--and may long remain in doubt whatever temporary accommodations may be made. Each historic civilization, as Patrick Geddes long ago pointed out, begins with a living urban core, the polis, and ends in a common graveyard of dust and bones, a Necropolis, or city of the dead: fire-scorched ruins, shattered buildings, empty workshops, heaps of meaningless refuse, the population massacred or driven into slavery. (Lewis Mumford, The City in History, p.53.)
What Went Wrong?
Where did Islam go wrong? How could the society that created the Taj Mahal and Alhambra, and great cultural centers like Agra, Cordoba, and Granada, degenerate into a conflict-ridden cesspool of failed states? How did Arabic, the language that preserved so much of Greek Science and philosophy, become a medium for anti-intellectualism and obscurantism? In the traditional view the turning point came with the destruction of the Islamic army outside the gates of Vienna in 1683. So complete was the route of the Vizier's troops that Islam never fully recovered: in a single day Muslim armies lost their reputation for invincibility. The Battle of Vienna marked the end of Ottoman expansion into Europe, and began the long but inexorable reconquest of Hungary and Russia; leading to catastrophic territorial losses in the very heart of Islam itself, e.g., Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in 1798, and to the humiliating occupation by European colonial powers.
Other historians have speculated that Islam's decline began with the discovery of the New World and Europe's spectacular advances in naval architecture. It is not generally understood what an amazing piece of technology the square-rigged galleon was, comparable in its mechanical complexity to the space shuttle. The moon shot was a comparatively safe excursion compared to Magellan's circumnavigation of the globe. The economic zeitgeist shifted from the East and the Mediterranean to the Atlantic and the Americas, and the commercial shipping that followed in the wake of Europe's hardy mariners gradually supplanted the lucrative spice trade routes and fabled Silk Road that had filled Islam's coffers for centuries.
Philip Hitti touches on the subject only briefly in his monumental history, The Arabs, and attributes Islam's decline to Islamic scholasticism, embodied in the person of Muhammad al-Ghazali.
Abu Hamed Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Ghazali (1058--1111 C.E.) was Islam's leading philosopher, and second only to the Prophet in his influence on Islamic thought. Al Ghazali famously told his acolytes that when you put a lighted match to a piece of paper it is Allah that makes the paper burn. Needless to say, this theological explanation of cause and effect was not a sound foundation upon which to base the physical sciences. Having encased Arab science in amber, Al-Ghazali proceeded to instill in Muslims a superstitious worldview, and a complacency and ignorance of the world, that persist to this day. The Muslim Faithful see the supernatural everywhere. The following is an AP filing of April 19, 2010:
A senior Iranian cleric says women who wear immodest clothing and behave promiscuously are to blame for earthquakes. "Many women who do not dress modestly lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which increases earthquakes," the cleric, Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi, was quoted as saying by Iranian media. Mr. Sedighi is Tehran's acting Friday Prayer leader. Women in Iran, one of the world's most earthquake-prone countries, are required by law to cover from head to toe but many, especially the young, ignore some of the stricter codes and wear tight coats and scarves pulled back that show much of the hair. "What can we do to avoid being buried under the rubble?" Mr. Sedighi asked during a prayer sermon on Friday. "There is no other solution but to take refuge in religion and to adapt our lives to Islam's moral codes."
It would probably be disrespectful to suggest that Sedighi is himself getting off on those sexy Iranian bints in tight coats and exposed locks. Surrealistic decrees from Iran's delusional leadership are, of course, nothing new. Nonetheless, the certainty with which this revered Shiite cleric describes the cause and effect between male arousal and earthquakes should give us pause, coming as it does from a theocratic state that may soon have access to nuclear weapons. This is not to say that Muslims have a monopoly on superstition: most Americans believe the world was created six thousand years ago (which may come as a surprise to the Paleolithic artists who created a stone-age cathedral at Altamira); and even a man of the stature of Cardinal John Newman had an unwholesome preoccupation with miracles and religious relics that many would find astonishing today.
In contrast to Islam, Western scholasticism, building on Archimedes, Hero and Aristotelian mechanics and statics, took a radically empirical and quantitative turn in the sixteenth century. Marshall McLuhan reports that "scientists at Merton College, Oxford developed a theorem of 'a uniform acceleration and a movement uniform at the speed possessed by the uniformly accelerating body at the middle instant of the time of acceleration."' I.e. in their attempt to explain the physical universe, the Merton scientists were knocking on the door of modern calculus.
Nowhere is the intellectual nullity of Islam more apparent than in a comparison of Nobel Prize winners. Islam, 20% of the world's population, has produced six Nobel Laureates, while the Jewish community, a tiny minority of 0.2%, has produced 165. Intellectual curiosity is obviously not a highly rated virtue in the Koran; "Islam" is a Syriac word meaning submission, which is the surrender of the mind to faith, i.e., the abdication of free conscience and independent thought to the teachings of the Prophet.
Muslim fundamentalists, who drive around in Toyota pickups and enjoy all the modern conveniences (e.g. cell phones, the Internet, modern medical science, air travel, and tragically, modern Western weaponry), want to have their cake and eat it too: to teach and promote ignorance of the modern world, as prescribed by their medieval interpretation of Islam, while they exploit the technological prowess of the very society they profess to despise; as if these products of Western invention were, like the Middle East's oil fields, a largess bequeathed to them by the Prophet. History is not kind to moral blindness. The time is quickly approaching when the Salafists, Wahhabis, and Islam's other jihadist organizations, must decide whether they are going to worship at the shrine of fascism, hatred and violence, or live in harmony with the community of mankind. If they choose the former rather than the latter course, Dar al-Islam could well find itself in the apocalyptic nightmare described by Lewis Mumford: "in a common graveyard of dust and bones, a Necropolis, or city of the dead: fire-scorched ruins, shattered buildings, empty workshops, heaps of meaningless refuse, the population massacred...."
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Copyright 2013 William Fankboner
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The God Conspiracy: A Confirmed Agnostic Probes the Mind of a Devout Catholic
Wm. B. Fankboner
Aug 25, 2013
If we identify institutions, civil or religious, by their worst exemplars, none pass muster. This is the grand strategy of militant atheists to discredit religion across the boards--to taint Christianity with the burning of heretics, Hinduism with the Thuggee, and Judaism with the extermination of the Canaanites. The temptation for secularists must be irresistible, but were we to apply the same exclusionary logic to other imperfect institutions, like constitutional government, based on (say) the performance of the Iranian parliament or the People's Assembly of North Korea, we would forswear civilization itself. The institution of religion is not maintenance-free: like democracy and free market capitalism, it is a work in progress. It makes as much sense to purge society of religion because of corrupt clerics as it does to discard capitalism because of a few greedy investment bankers.
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