Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Benedict-ion III

Some final thoughts on Benedict---the uproar, backlash, defenses, and the like.

I spent the last long one establishing Benedict's Roman ecclesiocentricism. The Western Augustinian doctrine and the Church and its sacramental/institutinoal/charitable processes are the only hope for fallen humanity.

Those are views I do not agree with. Those sum up, in large measure, much of the rationale behind my decision to leave the Roman Catholic Church. But the Pope is the Pope and is free to express views I find ignorant--not completely so by any stretch but some definite deep flaws in my estimation.

But that aside, should he have said what he said?

There are differences, big differences as well as enormous similarities between Christianity and Islam.

In Islam, for example, there is no Original Sin. Adam sinned but God forgave him. All humans are born with the will to choose to do good and thereby receive everlasting reward. Prophet Muhammad, though deeply respected, is not a Savior. There is no Incarnation. In fact, technically there is no conversion to Islam. Islam considers itself the Primal Religion, which those since Adam have forgotten. Hence Islam does not seek conversion but rather refers to its mission as a "calling back". [There's a deep mystical truth, that the Sufis picked up on, to that theme--remembrance, anamesis. But that for another time].

On that level, Christianity and Islam can work together towards greater understanding, respect, and work together for justice and morals in this world. All of which Benedict desires. But on the religious level there is no over-arching agreement to be had. Christianity is going to be Christianity; Islam Islam. Not just at the so-called literalist level, but further up the chain.

I generally lean, in the post 9/11 world, to a position of self-moral censure. Or at the very least deep considered thought of the likely negative outcomes of wading into this Islamic debate from the outside in a blogospheric/instant communication world, when one holds a position of such authority as does the Pope.

By self-moral censor I mean knowing that it is not always just a question of rights but also responsibilities and consequences. You may have the right to say something, but that doesn't mean it is necessarily wise to do so.

Like I said, I think the Pope could have made more explicit in the speech---assuming he wanted to?--that he distanced himself from Manuel II. He repeatedly emphasized he didn't want to weigh in on the matters because it would have distracted him from his main point. That's a little different in my book from repudiating some of the more extraneous views therein.

I think self-censor pulls the rug out from PC anti-hate speech bs. As in the piece I linked to in the first installment of this triad from the Guardian. The idea that nothing should be said in our world in public that offends people. That offending groups is in and of itself clear evidence that whatever was said was malicious.

I don't believe that at all. Which is why I support, depending on the situation, individuals censoring themselves whenever necessary so that line of thinking doesn't come up.

Obviously I do think we should, as much as we can, always seek to speak honrably, to take others opinions/sensitivities/feelings into account, but there are going to be disagreements, whether intended or otherwise.

Now on the other hand, I do support free speech. Anne Applebaum's piece has been floating around the b-sphere calling for the West to apologize less and support free speech more. Benedict is not responsible for the death of a nun in Somalia killed, it appears, in reaction to this speech. Nor the violent protesting--which one has to ask only serves to strengthen the point perhaps and make (elements of) Islam look violent and irrational.

The individuals responsible are those who perpetrate violence. If people, like myself, disagree with the Pope's words then show your displeasure by writing letters, speaking out, showing how the Pope was wrong. Whatever.

There is no excuse for violence. No matter how profound people's suffering. I can sympathize with the anger and the fact that the real anger is towards the humiliation and the oppression people feel domestically and that the only allowed outlet for such autonomy/fighting back is against the West. But there is no excuse. Period. It is wrong and abhorrent to the religion of the Quran.

But this post 9/11 world is one in which those in positions of authority have to ask themselves every time they speak around this issue to consider the possible negative consequences. Ray Harris has said that Islam is failing.

I think that's only part of the story. A phase of Islam is dying, and actually this phase will never die out completely, but it will (if God wills it) lose its primacy/strangehold on the faith. Islam is in the middle of its Reformation.

Ray writes:

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?

The imaginary scenario misses a key point. Namely that one of the problems now facing Islam--which it has faced in different forms though not to this degree recurrently in its history--is that in fact many....though by no means a great majority as in the West.....are in fact giving their own interpretations to the Quran/Islam and the traditional class is unable to stop them.

Its not just that the fundamentalists, who appear then to be the old guards, are losing their base and fighting a rearguard. Actually in many cases its the fundamentalists, even the jiahdis, who are the cutting edge of exegesis, theology, etc.

In Sunni Islam, particularly, which is what most of this is really about---Shia Islam, Iran, uses this as everything else to play its political gambit that the West is so stupidly ignoring (i.e. France and US).

Sunni interpretation used to be held by the ulema--the legal scholars. In Sunni Islam there is no tradition of ordination like Christian priests, except in Shia. Imans, muftis, etc. are more like local Baptist preachers--men who have read the text (Bible, Quran) and are considered experts and lead prayers, give spiritual advice, etc.

Colonialism fundamentally destroyed the traditional hold of that class and its traditional theological practice. As Philip Jenkins notes, only since the 1950s has religion relied primarily on reading the actual words.

I was reminded of this fact after attending mass the other day where the Eucharist Prayers were chanted. Its a point Karen Armstrong often cites as well. Prior to the modern age, people came to contact these ancient texts primarily through common worship. And most do still throughout the world today. There was a way in which, in chant style, the believer got a sense of the whole more.

Only with the advent of mass literacy is it possible to pick and choose to such a degree in our religious leanings. In Islam, the ulema are losing control--often to the "fundamentalists" (who are themselves the innovators). Qutb, Mawdudi, bin Laden, Zawahiri, Zarqawi all non-clerics.

In Islam the rulings of a cleric are only good for the disciples of that cleric. There is no Pope in Islam. Sunni Islam then is struggles, like Protestantism, to find a center, a stabilizing guiding institution.

The question is only whether a quasi-modern theology will arise out of this as acceptable to the masses--how that will occur (God's will) and in what way can that movement be aided? What we do know is that no religion that has undergone a modern turn--Judaism and Christianity being the only two to actually do that for real--only did so after the populations had reached stable middle income brackets.

Catholicism only had Vatican II in the late 50s/60s by which time Southern Catholic Europe was starting to catch up economically to Northern Protestant Europe, which had undergone the modern turn 100 years prior.

And the Islamic world is not yet reached that economic plateau and the West's refusal to get smart on rule-building, institutional ventures, in that part of the world bodes ill for the theological turn necessary in the religion.

In other words, all the debate about self-censor/free speech/hate speech, what is wrong with them, why we are so mean, etc. All of it takes place outside the context of the inner Islamic Reformation. Which is why to me the debate is so sterile and on such an abstract level.


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