Sunday, September 17, 2006

Stand Up to the Bullies?

Ray Harris makes some provocative points about Islam over at Open Integral. Here is the juice:

Islam has long felt the need to prove itself superior to the Abrahamic traditions that preceeded it. It is a competition that is largely driven by internal dynamics. If you come after Judaism and Christianity and claim that you are necessarily superior to them because you have the ‘final’ word of God then you are naturally in competition. In fact the very failure of these previous versions to submit and convert is an insult to God. Their existance is evidence of the failure to convince them about what should be perfectly obvious...It’s not that Muslims as inividuals are any different to any one else. This is not about people. It’s about ideology and doctrine. It’s about the internal logic of a belief that says it has the final and absolute word of the only God. Such a belief leads to fanaticism. And it leads to fanaticism in any religion...It’s also simply about bullying and intimidation. The fundamentalists know that their base is being steadily eroded by free speech. They know that the only way they can protect their absurd beliefs is by suppressing criticism. Islam has maintained its power by oppression. The very reason the gates of ijtihad were closed was to prevent Islam disintegrating into a thousand sects...Imagine this - every Muslim is given the freedom to question the Koran. The laws against blasphemy and apostasy are all removed. There are no consequences if you declare your disbelief or convert to another religion. What happens next?...We forget that in evey Christian (and Jewish) country we are free to disbelieve, that we are even free to criticize. In many Muslims countries you simply do not have such freedom. You have to be careful about what you say. Why? Because purist imams and mullahs will inspire their followers to kill you (and they do kill you)...The core beliefs of Islam are false. Islam needs to be roundly criticized. Mohammed made it all up. It was a fantasy. We do not have to kow-tow to myths. We do not have to be sensitive to the demands of bullies.

I'm no expert on Islam, but Ray's points about the religion seem sensible enough. If a religion claims to be based on God's exact words as revealed by His final and greatest prophet, then it stands to reason that its true believers will consider other religions inferior, and, to the extent that they claim divine sanction for ideas contrary to the one, true religion, heretical. It's also no wonder that these true believers will use intimidation and terror tactics issuing from the very law laid down by their one, true God to quash the kind of questioning and dissent within and criticism without the faith that could subvert their God's grand plan of a world united under His glorious rule.

Actually, while it's no wonder that this would happen, it doesn't seem entirely consistent with free will. For if we are free to choose to submit or not to submit to Allah, what's wrong with letting people be exposed to questioning and criticism of the "one true faith" whose proof of its legitimacy to the title can surely overcome all challenges? After all, we can freely choose to accept or reject this questioning and criticism, and it is surely nobler to believe even when we've encountered, considered, and dismissed the best reasons for not believing than it is to believe only because we don't know any other way to do. But try out this logic on the truest of the true believers and you might well be cursed or even beheaded to gleeful chants of "Allahu Akbar." Yet, I wonder how long it would take for Islam to erode or evolve the way Harris rightfully points out that Christianity has if the "purist imams and mullahs" and those in their sway were to follow my logic rather than their illogic and permit the freedom to question, challenge, and even reject the faith.

I also agree with Harris that the core beliefs of Islam, as I understand them, are false and that we should not kow-tow to the "bullies" who would suppress, by any means necessary or unnecessary, dissent. However, as I suggested yesterday, I still believe that the Pope showed poor judgment in saying what he did when and where he did. For it's one thing to kow-tow to bullies and quite another to say things you know or should know the bullies will react to with crazed violence that victimizes innocent Christians when there is no really good reason for saying them. Surely the Pope could have made whatever point he was trying to make without quoting an obscure 14th century figure who called Mohammed the purveyor only of "evil and inhuman" things.

He could have but he didn't, and I can't help but continue to wonder why.

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