Wednesday, July 18, 2007

One of the Good False Religions

Balance is certainly important. I've always been careful to observe, if not to emphasize, the distinction between Islam and islamism. Islam is a fine false religion. It has a proud and admirable history, in many ways. Its practitioners would be indistinguishable in their overall accomplishments if compared to contemporaneous Europeans or Indians or Chinese or Japanese. The civilization that these races have built are the products of some of the highest aspirations of the human soul.

As a practitioner of my own particular faith, I hold it to be superior to any other. If I thought some other were superior, I would practice that other. Any contradiction to such a position would be disingenuous or ill-considered. Agnostics and atheists and secular humanists and wiccans and squishy liberals and good-time partyboys all think that's the way to go. For them. Point being, of course all other belief systems are inferior to my own. That I'm clear about that while someone else will waffle on it doesn't make my attitude any less universal. I'm not talking about who's actually right. I'm talking about the very core of epistemology, the nature of belief. We believe what we think is true.

So. Islam isn't any more false than Judaism. It's not worse, in the slightest. Islam with its Five Pillars. Judaism with its mitzvahs and its kosher laws. What could be bad about praying five times daily, or reciting a creed, or taking a month of daylight fasting, or giving alms, or making a pilgrimage? What could be bad about trying to please God with your good works, or about preserving your differences by observing a special diet or wearing special garb? Islam and Judaism. They're fine, for made-up religions.

What's that you say? I'm denying the God of the Old Testament? I beg you to consult that dusty Bible that's been sitting in your bookshelf next to the Sidney Sheldon novels. The God of the Old Testament demanded blood sacrifice. Do Jews today sacrifice? No? How then can they be practicing the religion of the Old Testament?

The embarrassing historical reality is that the Romans destroyed Judaism when they destroyed the Temple. There was no lawful means of sacrifice after that. The rabbis invented a remedy, by replacing the Temple with the synagogue, and blood sacrifice with good works. It's a brilliant solution. It's just not lawful. It is wonderfully analogous to another failed Jewish sect -- that of the 17th century Sabbetai Zevi, who declared himself to be the Messiah, but when captured by the Moslems, converted to Islam. The solution of his followers was to invent a theology of duplicity, which need not be discussed here. My point is that rabbinical Judaism is not the religion of the Bible. Observant Jews would certainly contest my conclusion. They are wrong and I am right.

Likewise, Mohammad invented Islam out of his imagination. He plagiarized existing poets, and had some of them executed. He changed doctrine as it suited him, as when he wanted to marry his prepubescent niece. Given, however, that all relgions are false, save one, Islam is as good as any such construction. It spread by conquest? Unity is a good thing. It put unbelievers to the sword? Pagans have vile and bloody practices, worse than anything Islam teaches. It operates under a harsh system of laws? No it doesn't. It has just laws; the fault, as usual, lies in those who have power to abuse the law. It promotes tyranny? No -- traditional scholars and clerics acted in the public square to promote justice and counterbalance tyranny. It's when the Ottomans started to Westernize in the late 1800s, and clerics were driven from public life, that extremism started to spread.

Islam is fine. It had a bloody start, but so did the once-true religion of the Hebrews, under the actual, real God. Those who imagine they are making a good point by condemning the slaughters ordered by God neglect to state that they assume there is no God. If there were a God, he'd have the right to order such slaughters. No good God would do such a thing? Consult the third and fourth sentences in this paragraph. That Islam is bloody is to be expected. Any religion that tries to be a government must at some time be bloody. A point too obvious to need development. Islam is fine.

I mean it. There is no "but," here.

But we're not living in the olden days. This is now, and Islam isn't presenting itself to the world as it once was. Whether old Islam was reasonable because it was surrounded by empires as powerful as itself, or because it had reached a sort of internal maturity -- neither is relevant. Nowadays, Islam is unreasonable. The public moderation promoted by old-time clerics is forgotten. For whatever reason, the equilibrium has been upset, and Islam is again the enemy of the world.

Am I wrong? We have only to listen to the prominent spokesmen for that faith, to determine the truth. We hear a resounding call for jihad. Am I wrong? In the Moslem streets, we see demonstrations not of public piety, as of some Christian or Hindu or Buddhist festival, but of rage and castigation along the Nazi pattern. Am I wrong? What faith uses as its driving impetus the hatred not of some unseen or abstract principle such as evil or sin or the devil, but of an actual group of humans? Well, that would be Islam against the Jews. And against us.

If we are their Satan, then we must be their Satan. I'll be cute here, and remind you that "Satan" simply means "Adversary". It is a fine thing to turn the other cheek. We might even allow ourselves to be stabbed in the back. We do not suffer our children to be so abused. We protect them. Enemies must be faced. That's the problem with islamist Islam today. It's back-stabbing and child-killing.

Yesterday's Islam was fine. It was benevolent, in the almost-great scheme of things. Of all the false religions, it is among the best. But the Islam that allows islamism is vile, just as a Christianity that allows Nazism would be vile. Such a Christianity does not exist. Whether or not it ever did is irrelevant. It isn't our job to protect children who died a hundred years ago. We have duties in the present, and need not be distressed by ancient injustices. Such considerations are appropriate for times of stability and safety. Only if you think that describes the present would a discussion about the respective historical culpabilities of various cultures and races and religions be entirely proper.

Is Islam a death-cult? The question needs to be disambiguated. There is a death cult within contemporary Islam, in the same way that there is a perversion cult within the contemporary West. Which is worse? I don't care. Both need to be opposed. The latter can be countered through cultural influences, through legislation, through persuasion, through righteous example, through compassion and redemption. The former -- with its suicide bombers and hijacked jets and bio-chemical poisons and rogue nukes -- well, we might argue about what to do with all that, but we should agree that these are the deadly threats of a deadly enemy.

I don't suppose I have anything left to say. Old Islam is okay. It created an admirable old-time civilization. It promoted science and scholarship and art and architecture and indoor plumbing. To deny this would be to lie. But things change. Generally we'd like them not to change for the worse. Osama disagrees, and he seems to have gotten his way. Call it round one. The fight goes on. If we'll fight.



Ms.Green said...

This was a great post. Very thoughtful - a very enjoyable read. However, I have to say that my favorite false religion is the Alaskan Athabaskans. Check 'em out. They're a pretty interesting group - they're family oriented, they're conservationists, they're kind to animals. If I didn't have such an aversion to cold weather (and of course if I wasn't already worshipping the true God) I'd probably consider moving to Alaska and checking them out.

Jack H said...

Once upon a time I wrote a book dealing with the very most ancient religions. The Serpent in Babel. Allow me to share here an excerpt, sans endnote numbers -- formating problems. It seems relevant, in a discussion of the truth in false religions.


Chapter One

The Lessons of Eden: the two religions

The evolutionary hypothesis about the development of religion pretends that a primitive belief in ghosts gave rise to faith in animism and fetishism, magical rites and local deities, nature gods, pantheons, and finally to a Supreme Being. But this hypothesis is flat-out falsified by the evidence. Putting aside the propaganda and bias which still and always shows up in textbooks, a competent survey of the actual customs and cultures of tribal peoples reveals that virtually all societies — most notably the most ‘primitive’ — retain a memory of the Supreme Being, without having moved through any ‘evolutionary’ stages. While there is usually a lower tier of unruly spirits which need to be placated, there is always the high god, the sky god, the god of heaven, the god who lives behind the sun or above the treetops. While the theological terms which nomadic peoples use may seem quaint to us, such descriptions have the effect of referring to the God who lives outside the universe.

We do not find an evolution toward monotheism, but rather a degeneration into polytheism. It is precisely the inversion of ‘evolution’ which anthropology reveals. “In proportion as we withdraw from the most primitive peoples and approach the semi-civilized ones, these three elements — magic, ghost worship and nature worship — take deeper root and finally overrun the ancient veneration of the Supreme Being to such a degree as to render it no longer visible.” Simple cultures have the higher concept of God, compared to more ‘developed’ societies. This purer memory attributes to God “the highest essential and moral character, and [is] well calculated to inspire the peoples that acknowledge and honor Him with the high value of active life and solemn moral virtue. Heaven is His dwelling place; in early times He was usually on earth among men, but went away from them on account of a sin of theirs. Thus He is a person in heaven.”

The post-Flood patriarchs were clearly monotheistic. For example, among the many rich finds recovered from the pre-dynastic tombs of Ur (which date very near the time of Abraham, by my reconstruction of ancient Babylonian history), no cultic objects have been identified. Several centuries later, in the 1700's BC, there were social sanctions in place against idolatry (Job 31:26-28): “If I beheld the sun, when it shined, or the moon walking in brightness; and my heart hath been secretly enticed, and my mouth hath kissed my hand; this also were an iniquity to be punished by the judge.” The debased cultic religions — centered around ghosts and totems and orgies and magic — certainly became the most prominent spiritual force in the ancient cultures, but they were not the sole force. Behind the demons of the pantheons, with their rivalries and blood lust, pockets of true, ethical monotheists manifestly survived.

What can be said of the Old World is true of the New World as well. In the pre-Columbian Americas, from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, from Inca to Eskimo, the same attributes are universally ascribed to the high god or sky-god. “We may safely presume that the concept of sky-god belongs to the most ancient period in the history of religious feeling . . . . [He is] always identical in essential definition. . . .neither the migrations of races nor the diffusion of myths and folk-lore affords the slightest justification of the fact.” The conclusions of ‘normal’ anthropology cannot reasonably account for this phenomenon. But the Bible explains the data superbly, if tersely.

If all mankind diffused from a single region, then it is reasonable to expect that some vestige of the universal culture should be found, even in the most remote regions of human habitation. We would expect all cultures to remember that deemed most important. As it turns out, what is remembered, above all else, is the presence and character of God. We find the evidence for this memory in a universal ‘morpheme’ — a smallest meaningful part of a word.

Now, the earliest written word for ‘God’, in Sumer, stood also for the concepts of glory ("brightness" or "day") and reverence ("king" or "hero"). It came to be read variously as El ("the Almighty"), JH ("the Eternal"), Anu or dingir ("the God of Heaven"), and even Ya-ti ("I am"). Most significantly for our purposes, it was also pronounced as Ti ("the Most High").

In this Ti, we find a universal name for God as He appears in the Bible. We find a form of it in the Hindu generic term for "god", deva, said to derive most directly from the Sanskrit div or shiv ("shine"); Aramaic, the language of Babylon, has the cognate ziv, "brightness or splendor." But deva may also derive from the Aramaic thav (tov, "good") — which itself derives from Ti. In any case, deo or deus, theos and zeus derive from one or the other; the ‘v’ is added in, as demonstrated in the Greek neos and the Latin novus, both meaning ‘new’.

The morpheme /ti/ or /di/ “is present as a complete word in isolating languages like Chinese and inflectional languages like English. It is found as a prefix, suffix, or infix in agglutinative languages like Finnish and Navajo and polysynthetic languages like Algonquin.” In Table 1, I have summarized Fraser's information. Even a cursory look must bring home the correspondences, where we find effectively the same words in Mesopotamia and in the Pacific Islands.

Not only is the lofty concept of "deity", and its very root, common to virtually all tongues, but so is even our familiar word, "God" (see Table 2). We can trace the root of this exact word in the migrations of its morpheme. In all the languages in which it appears, its meaning is everywhere precisely as we would expect.

In our quest for truth, we may hear any number of conflicting stories. The one we choose to believe is that in which we put our faith. Shallow thinkers may scoff at the idea of actually professing faith, but such ridicule may be dismissed as a symptom of adolescence. This is easily proven, when we consider that the alternative to faith is confusion. Do not be deceived: everything we believe is accepted not by knowledge, but by faith. This too is easily proven, with the simple realization that it is only faith which allows us to accept the evidence of our senses, only faith which allows us to accept the conclusions of our reasoning, and ultimately only faith which allows us to distinguish between waking and dreaming.

The point is that, while there certainly are unknowable things, certainly paradoxes, yet there is also truth and sure knowledge. This truth is independent of our agreement: it is true whether we believe it or not. We recognize it by the elegance with which it organizes the evidence, explains the mysteries, and fills in the blanks. If we should happen to stumble upon such a great truth, or have it revealed to us, well, good for us. But it is there, in any case.


.Wilhelm Schmidt, Primitive Revelation, trans. J.J. Baierl (St.Louis: R. Herder, 1939), p. 123; quoted in G.H. Fraser, "The Gentile Names of God," in A Symposium on Creation, Vol. 5, ed. D.W. Patten, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1975), p. 14; dashes replace commas, for clarity.

.Schmidt, p. 125; in Fraser, p. 14. A new paragraph starts after ‘virtue’.

."Sky Gods, Universality and Antiquity," in Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, ed. J. Hastings (NY: Scribner's, 1908-1927), Vol. 11, p. 580; in Fraser, p. 16.

.Fraser, p. 23.


Good, isn't it. The whole of Chapter Two I have already posted, in another place, as "The Heavens
Declare." Well. That's all.