- The Article on Islamic Terrorism I’d have written
- More Gnostic than Hedonist
- Diversity’s a crock; stultifying conformity’s the reality
- Secular revolution, too
- Tech talk, tech reality
- Humane Vitae in an App
- Item 4 as limerick
- Au revoir
If I had gone to the trouble of researching and writing an article about Islam and terrorism, I think this is essentially the article I’d have written (i.e., it agrees with, and elaborates on, my critical but anecdotal observations).
The only glaring omission is my intuition that exporting smut and whoring our daughters by the clothes we buy them (even though I suspect that many a pre-terrorist has enjoyed such “benefits” before recoiling in self-revulsion) contributes to the perception that we’re only getting what we deserve.
We need to strongly resist the view that Islam is the problem, that the Qur’an is the problem, that Muhammad is the problem. To denounce Islam as a death-loving religion—or the Qur’an and Muhammad as a constitution and example, respectively, for terrorists—provides excuses for twisted zealots. It reinforces their deluded belief that they and only they are the true Muslims. Moreover, it inspires fear and mistrust among the great majority of Muslims, who are not jihadists. If the Qur’an and Islam are the problems, what is the solution? Drop bombs on the Ka’bah in Mecca? Ban the use of the Qur’an?
Those who argue that jihadi groups represent the “essence” of Islam actually reflect a very Western way of thinking. Wittingly or unwittingly, they presume a scripturalist interpretation of Islam, imagining that we can explain Islamic terrorism by drawing a straight line between authoritative texts and the actions of jihadists. To prove their point, these Islam-is-the-problem critics tend to link specific acts of jihadi groups to a string of references from Islamic scripture, traditions, legal texts, and Muslim scholarly opinions. Perversely, this sola scriptura approach is no different from the jihadists’ own “Qur’an and sunna alone” approach.
The truth about religious lives is not so simple. The vast majority of Christians and Muslims don’t live by sola scriptura, or by Qur’an and sunna alone—and this is the case even when they claim to do so. A complex, shifting web of sociopolitical, geopolitical, racial, ethnic, cultural, economic, historical, and existential realities inform the way all of us live out our faith. My own view is that Islamic texts contain seeds of violence. In the corruption, illiteracy, poverty, and oppressive governments that plague many Muslim societies, those seeds find fertile ground in which they take root, sprout, and flourish—as well as in historical memories, foreign-policy missteps by Western governments, and alienation felt by Muslim youth in Western societies.
We cannot make sense of the jihadi mindset, let alone work out a credible and sustainable response, without taking such background conditions seriously. Undoubtedly the disorientation caused by modernity and postmodernity is key. Economic development and an increasingly global commerce in movies, TV, and other forms of popular culture weaken traditional Islamic institutions and disturb and disorient many Muslims. It is in this context that heretical groups such as Boko Haram and the Islamic State flourish. They’re part zealot, part thug, part political entrepreneur, in societies undergoing profound social transformations.
What, then, are we to say about Islam and terrorism? There is no question that the jihadists quote mainstream Islamic texts to justify their actions. But bear in mind that, in itself, quoting Islamic texts does not necessarily make one’s views and actions Islamic. The Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda quotes the Bible, as did the Branch Davidians of David Koresh, the People’s Temple of Jim Jones, and many other eccentric Christian cults. That does not make their views and actions Christian.
I have read and met Evangelical commentators who, regarding any efforts to distinguish jihadi abuses of Islamic traditions from Islam itself, dismiss them as no more than attempts to prevent us from holding Islam accountable for the actions of the jihadi groups. They insist that we would blunt their criticism of Islam and thereby prevent them from helping the victims of jihadism. But I can’t see how judging Islam on the basis of jihadi actions helps their victims. Quite the contrary, in fact. If it is right to judge Islam as a whole on the basis of the barbarism of jihadi groups, how should we explain—and encourage—the actions of Kurdish Muslims and many other Muslims who are standing up to the jihadists and paying with their lives to protect Christian and Yazidi minorities in Iraq? They read the same Qur’an, follow the same Muhammad, and perform the same daily prayers.
When I press this point, some lamely argue that the good deeds of the Kurds are motivated by nationalism whereas the evil deeds of IS are motivated by Islam. But this is little more than a conclusion latching onto a convenient argument. And the argument is unconvincing. It’s absurd to imagine a separation of religious and ethnic identity in the Middle East.
(John A. Azumah at First Things – emphasis added – which does have a paywall for fresh content; go back in a month or two if you incorrigibly refuse to subscribe.) For my money, this was the best article in an excellent January 2015 issue.
It’s tempting to think the sexual revolution has sought hedonism’s triumph. But that’s not true, or at least not nearly true enough. The sexual revolution has been a Gnostic one. It wants to convince us that human bodies provide us with raw material to be formed and reformed as we think best suits our dreams and aspirations. This is antithetical to Christian humanism.
That’s why, to my mind, the more telling issue isn’t that we want to have sex without worrying about the possibility of children—that’s a desire as old as humanity, now made much easier to satisfy with contraceptive technology. Instead, it’s that a woman freezes her eggs, wanting to have a whole season of life unhindered by her body’s natural fertility and, later, to have recourse to her body’s fertility. The same goes for homosexuality. There have always been men who want to have sex with men. But now gay men hire surrogates to bear children. In both instances the sexual revolution asserts that we have a “right” to the mode of life of our choosing without regard to our bodies. This attitude toward the body is especially clear with the assertion of a “right” to be transgendered or the “right” to a sex-change operation—and in the legal determination that a pregnant woman can treat the child’s body in her womb in whatever way suits her. The redefinition of marriage to exclude the difference between male and female bodies is deeply symbolic of this Gnostic revolution, which is why it’s a focal point.
There can be no doubt about the importance of the sexual revolution. As Roger Scruton (“Is Sex Necessary?”) and James Kalb (“Sex and the Religion of Me”) observed in the last issue, today’s progressivism no longer concerns itself with promoting alternatives to capitalism but instead fixes on sex and sexual freedom as its core commitment. Yale University does not have a Dignity of the Worker Week. It does not have a Save the Planet Week. Instead, it has Sex Week, an occasion to catechize tomorrow’s leaders in the Gnostic dogma that our bodies—and the bodies of others universally available under the sole limitation of consent—are there for us to do with as we wish.
(R.R. Reno at First Things, emphasis added. See the caveats at the end of item 1)
Equality requires the suppression of differences—ironically, the very opposite of what the language of diversity, multiculturalism, and tolerance projects. It is a liberal enterprise in its decree that nothing accidental in a person’s life should come between him and his aspirations. Not birth, money, skin color, gender, sexuality, or religion.
(Mark Bauerlein at First Things. Getting the picture?)
Christian Smith edited a whole book on America’s secular revolution between 1870 and 1930. It explains a lot, but for those who want the short version, there was a coup. The secular team won, the religious team lost. There was nothing accidental or inevitable about the outcome. In the words of Smith, it was “an intentional political struggle by secularizing activists to overthrow a religious establishment’s control over socially legitimate knowledge.” It worked, and the results have trickled down through our courts, universities, mass media, and legislatures ever since.
This is bad news, because religious faith plays a key role in sustaining the American experience. In a liberal democracy, the source of political legitimacy is the will of the sovereign individual, which is expressed through elected representatives. Anything that places obligations on the individual—except for the government itself, which embodies the will of the majority of individuals—becomes the target of suspicion.
To protect the sovereignty of individuals, democracy separates them. It isolates them from each other, and it inevitably seeks to break down or dominate anything that stands in the way. That includes every kind of mediating institution, from community organizations, to synagogues and churches, to the family itself. This is why Tocqueville said that “despotism, which is dangerous at all times, is . . . particularly to be feared in democratic centuries.”
(Charles J. Chaput, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Philadelphia, in the 2014 Erasmus Lecture. At First Things, of course.) I’ve been fretting about the co-opting, subverting or destruction of mediating institutions for more than 40 years, if memory serves. Thoughts on what to do about it – consciously living counter-culturally I take for granted – are welcome.
I’ve also railed against religion as a utilitarian tool, too. Abp. Chaput observes:
Religion only works its influence on democracy if people really believe what it teaches. Nobody believes in God merely because it’s useful—and if people try, they make themselves liars. To put it in Catholic terms, Christianity is worthless as a leaven in society unless people actually believe in Jesus Christ, follow the Gospel, love the Church, and act like real disciples with passion and purpose. If they don’t, then religion is just another form of self-medicating. And that, sadly, sums up the way too many people in my generation have lived out their baptism.
The tech moguls have managed to convince the American public that “they are not here just to make money but [to] ‘change the world.’” Which is usually where the trouble starts. Whatever lip service they may pay to supporting progressive causes, the truth of the matter is that the tech industry does not put its money where its mouth is. Silicon Valley doesn’t have organized labor, sends as much of their business offshore as possible, and doesn’t even measure up philanthropically to their peers in other industries, according to Kotkin. In addition to their hubris and disregard for the privacy of the typical user of their gadgets and software, the tech moguls have also spent unprecedented amounts of money in Washington. Facebook’s lobbying budget grew from $351,000 in 2010 to $2.45 million in the first quarter of 2013.
And what are they lobbying for? It’s not just fewer regulations and better tax breaks. The “oligarchs” of the Bay Area, says Kotkin, are spending their personal fortunes pushing for greater investment in renewable energy while blocking middle-class job creators like the Keystone Pipeline. (The debate over fracking, he rightly notes, is really a class conflict between those who are willing to make small environmental tradeoffs in order to improve economic conditions and those who don’t need to because they already have money.)
I disagree with Kotkin and Riley that “[t]he debate over fracking … is really a class conflict ….” I’m uneasy with fracking not because I’ve got mine, but because it’s in nobody’s interest from us to hurtle off an obvious cliff at 90 mph, and that (aren’t you tired of bubble metaphors?) is where the lies about the profitability of fracking and “100 years of natural gas” are leading the society foolish enough to swallow them.
Are we living in the Humanae Vitae moment? Seems like a ridiculous question, but last June particle physicist Elina Berglund and her physicist husband, Raoul Scherwitzl, founded NaturalCycles. It’s a tech start-up that provides a natural family planning app. Women enter their basal body temperature each day and the NaturalCycles app crunches the data to predict when they are fertile and infertile. The app gets more and more accurate with continued use, because the algorithm self-revises to account for the variations in each woman’s cycle. The company recently raised additional venture capital to develop a wireless thermometer so that body temperature inputs are automatic, making the app even more accurate in its predictions. The company reports 10,000 users since launching in December 2013. Cost: $59.90 per year.
God’s world made a hopeful beginning
But man marred his chances by sinning.
We trust that the story
Will end in God’s glory,
But at present the other side’s winning.
“The Catholic Gentleman.” Love the heading a lot and the concept more than a little, but I’m finding the content not all that helpful for The Orthodox Curmudgeon. Your mileage may vary.
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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)