Reason and religion, more reasonably



My previous post was pretty vitriolic for me; for a moment there, I even thought I’d trolled my own blog! So a brief clarification:

I thought about toning some stuff down or explaining myself better, but the post has been public for several hours, and commented on. But I do need to explain that the more provocative expressions are there because they are provocative. Being American, I believe everyone has the right to say or write provocative things, as long as they don’t advocate immediate violence, and that anyone truly offended can respond verbally or simply ignore the provocation.

Even if you believe that either Mohammed, or Jesus, or Moses, or Krishna, are waiting personally for you up in the Great Beyond, remember that they are for the rest of us including those of other religions) simply ideas – we do not recognize them as sacred persons, and they are owed no greater respect than other ideas.

Ideally, we should respect all differing ideas, excepting those obviously causing needless harm (like Nazism, ISIS, homo-phobia, witch-hunting, etc.).

But respect for the ideas of others demands respect in return.

The image I drew from Jerry Coyne’s blog was posted because apparently it was banned from Facebook as offensive. This in itself justifies its exposure. It could have used a different picture as background, it could have been more precisely worded. None the less, the Muslims who seem to want to silence any criticism of their religion or their prophet, don’t quite seem to get what it means to live in a democracy with a diversified population. If they want to keep their own culture intact, they must allow others their cultures, however offensive. That’s also true for fundamentalist Christians and Jews and whatever.

In America women can walk around face uncovered, legs uncovered, private parts barely covered by a thong, if they want to – the law says they have the right to enjoy that as their culture. If that offends you, avert your eyes. If you get angry about it, see a psychologist, its your problem, not theirs.

If they want to engage in sexual conduct with a multitude of men – or women, or marry any man – or woman, that should be their privilege – they will live with the consequences, you won’t. If you are so enraged that other people find happiness in a way your faith condemns, that you simply cannot tolerate living with it – then leave. What makes you think we think you or your god are all that important to us?

The Amish are strict, conservative Christians. So strict, they have long lived in small communities isolated from the modern world. When a member of the community violates their codes of conduct, they are kicked out completely. But the Amish don’t proselytize, and they don’t engage in public rants condemning outsiders, and they neither threaten nor perform violence. That should be the model for the religious who cannot live with the rest of the world.

The bombings in Oklahoma City and Boston are models of nutcase attempts to blow up a world the perpetrators could not understand and refused to live with. Two of them died in these attempts. If you feel tempted to such a model, why not just kill yourself right now and spare the rest of us the anguish. I’m sure your god will forgive the suicide; I’m not so sure he will forgive the murder you may be contemplating.

People you’ve never met, whom you don’t know, and who never did you any harm. They are just different. And If you can’t live with that, that’s your problem. Many of us live with it quite well, we even enjoy it, we think everyone should be different. That’s a part of our faith, and it should be respected.

The image above (source of original picture uncertain) was posted so that there would be no doubt that for me, this is not an ethnic issue. Nor is it a spiritual one, though fanatics think it so.  It’s a problem of people living in difficult circumstances in a particular time and place – real people, not models or saints.  Fallible people and the vulnerable people they seek to convert, oppress, hurt, destroy.  People who need to learn to live with others – because they will, in any event.  The modern world isn’t going away, it’s just getting, well, more modern.

Religious violence of any kind is not to be tolerated in this world any more.  It is too diverse, too pluralistic, over-populated and interconnected.  The Middle Ages are over – no bombing will ever bring them back.

Finally, it is fair to ask whether I exempt my fellow Buddhists from such criticism. I most emphatically do not. Recently for instance, Buddhist tribalists in Southeast Asia have been stirring the pot, assaulting Muslims. I don’t deny they are Buddhists of some sect, but I insist that they are thugs, and if their interpretation of Buddhism is a motive for such acts, then it is a wretched interpretation, and should be denounced and squashed.

However, my own identification as a Buddhist is with a philosophy and a practice arising from the Four Noble Truths. The Buddha was no god, and I refuse anything supernatural. If it can be shown that the Four Noble Truths justify any sectarian tribalism or violence, then I would stop being a Buddhist. I’ll have no truck with any philosophy, religion, or ideology that separates us and then sets us at each other’s throats.

But there’s another lesson to be learned here, a point I was making when I remarked that Muslims, to come to peace with the modern world, ought to re-interpret the Qu’ran metaphorically and at least loosen the laws they live by, and adopt an attitude to those much different to themselves. This remark applies to those of any religion.

Find the spirit in your sacred text, not its letter; follow the heart’s caring and concern for others, not self-righteous contempt and temptation to rage; allow the possibility – just that, the possibility – that you have not got final insight into the nature of reality.

Or, as I said in the previous post: Otherwise, there will only be blood for blood, to the end of time – which may be a long way aways.


11 thoughts on “Reason and religion, more reasonably

  1. it will be long before the Muslim reads his holy book in the way you suggest because there is the issue of hadiths that come with this book. It is like it has a manual for interpretation and the closer to the prophet or so it is believed, the greater the authority of the author.


    • I fear you’re right. But unless Islam goes through some reformation or Enlightenment, societies Islam-dominant societies are just going to go through one convulsion after another, since even the fundamentalist sects can’t agree among themselves.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Just a stupid question from an outsider who does not have much knowledge of the Kuran or the hadiths: if god made the prophet absolutely infallible, then everything the prophet said thereafter would have to be regarded as a revelation from god because the prophet would have access to information from god by his mind or his mouth having been made infallible. Then why did not ALL of these sayings make it into the Kuran? If, on the other hand, the prophet was not infallible outside those prophecies that were included into the Kuran, if he continued to be a human being who just received word from an angel, how can such sayings outside the Kuran (or even the sayings of people near to him, people who where not prophets at all) be uncritically taken as truths? If the prophet could err, outside the Kuran, then what he said about it could not have any authority in prescribing how to interpret it (except that, in Medina and the empire that grew out of it, he had acqired political and military power and thus authority). It would just be the opinion of this particular fallible human beeing. So this tradition of hadiths as a “manual for interpretation” does not seem really logical to me, it might even be viewed as blasphemic. On the other hand, the fact that the hadiths are used as a basis for interpretation, that such a tradition emerged, shows that the Kuran itself DOES require interpretation, i.e. it can be interpreted in different ways (and there are actually different interpretations of it). I would then like to remind people who believe to have been created by this god to consider that they have been created with intelligent minds and with mouths to talk and ears to listen, i.e. with the ability of discussion, as well as with an ability to feel empathy. If they believe that these abilities are gifts from god they should use them to interpret the Kuran themselves, disregarding authority, and abstaining from violence.

      Liked by 2 people

      • your question isn’t stupid Nannus.
        The problem with the Muslims, at least those I have interacted with, is their subservience to authority. So instead of applying themselves to interpreting the Koran, they would defer to their imams and hadiths. There is little or no room for common sense and there in lies the problem


      • “Islam”, as far as I know, means something like “subjugation”. The structure of this religion was authoritarian from the start, partially maybe because of the patriarchal culture it has arisen from, partially from the fact that its founder became a political and military leader, so it was connected with power right from the beginning.
        There where other interpretations, especially in medieval times. There has long been a current of mysticism, and there was a philosophical current as well, with several different schools of thought. But these came under attack by people like Al-Ghazali and the fundamentalists gained the upper hand, maybe assisted by the economic decline of the islamic states following the shift of trade routes. Both the mysitc and the philosophical currents are being atacked now by fundamentalists, e.g. in the destrucction of the graves of the mystics and in the extremely tragic burning of books in Timbuktu.
        However, here in Germany, I also see a trend towards secularization among muslims. The muslims here are split. There are those who are traditionalists of different kinds (sometimes combined with Turkish nationalism) and there are people who have modernized and partially secularized their understanding of the religion. Last year, I was on a turkish marriage party with several hundred guests, about half of them women. Only three old ladies had their hads covered (I think these had been on the Hadj). The rest of them had open hair. I think most of them would describe themselves as muslims but this is a secularized version of the religion. My estimate is that here it is maybe 50/50 among the muslims. In the big turkish cities it might be the same, although currently, the government is trying to convert the state into a nationalist, undemocratic and religiously more conservative state. But those muslims I am personally in contact with, both friends and work colleagues, are comparatively modern-minded people. Those who want sharia are a minority, most people understand that sharia and the German constitution are absolutely incompatible. There are also modern-minded islamic intellectuals here. But the fundamentalists are there as well and some of them are dangerous.
        Anyway, those thoughts about the hadiths are just my two cent’s worth of contribution to the very necessary Islamic enlightenment.


      • In your two cents worth you have raised many important issues and one being the fight between the philosophical school and the fundamental school.
        I have come to the conclusion that in the battle for followers, the fundamentalist will always win against the philosopher because he is almost always ready to apply violence to subdue, the philosopher hardly ever resorts to violence


      • That is true, wherever they are in controll. In Europe, they are not. They will still apply violence, in the form of terrorism, but I expect them to remain a small minority, even among the muslims here.
        In the end, the problem might often be economical. For example, I have fears that there will be a rise of fundamentalism soon in Tadjikistan and some other central Asian countries. The Ukraine crisis has resulted in economic sactions against Russia, resulting in inflation there. As a result, many migrant workers from those countries, who had been working in Russia cannot afford the price level there again and are going home. They are coming home to stop at nothing. So you have a lot of angry young man who don’t know what to do. It will be easy for the fundamentalist to convince them that the West was responsible for their problems. They could also offer them an economic future by employing them into some kind of army. The state, at the same time, is destabilized because the workers abroad had provided the main source of money for the economy. That is a formula for unrest, civil war and the next state being talibanized.
        What I mean is that this is a problem that arises out of poverty.


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