Dialogue with John: Sacred Texts/Tests

John asks:

If one is not actively trying to convert the other, professing good and evil, pushing revelation, is one having a political conversation? and can politics ever approximate an ideally-disinterested academic discussion, with its ways of mixing disinterested commentary and particular confessional statements?

A political conversation implies interests – so there’s an initial fundamental contradiction between any disinterested search for truth (philosophy) and politics.

I’m attempting to apply insights from a recent reading of ON TYRANNY here:
The exception, or axis of exception, would arise if we presume, along with Kojève/Hegel, that in fact the most fundamental determinations have already been reached, in which case the only remaining question is advancing the realization in time, through politics, of those determinations, on the way to what Kojève defines as the “universal homogeneous state” embodying the “rights of man.” In that sense there would be no essential philosophical argument (or conversion) still to be sought, while any radical critique of the Islamic tradition will simultaneously undermine the Judeo-Christian or any other tradition wherever it contradicts the final, fundamental, unchanging determinations which also equate with a dissolution of the philosophy/politics opposition.

Put differently:  If we’re engaging in a political discussion with reference to Islam (always an Islamism, rather than the whole of Islam), in the interest of conversion, what precisely are we seeking to convert each other to? If it’s not a shared commitment to universal freedoms, then it’s the substitution or superimposition by force of one arbitrary, contingent ideological or pre-philosophical set of interests in place of another – the familiar tyranny in place of the foreign one, two mutually alien creeds, deformed by the struggle until broken in blood and violently readied for the determinedly resisted synthesis.

guilt to be productive needs to be freely accepted as part of one’s understanding of a shared covenant. Does it also have to be freely offered?

Perhaps at some point you can expand on this question and why you see guilt as fundamental conceptually or practically.

And yet, at the end of the day, one has to be able to acknowledge on some level that the Nazi movement was some kind of perversion of the Christian (or Judeo-Christian) tradition. But to be confident in calling it a perversion, I have to have some decided sense of what Christianity (or the Jewish model of nationhood) properly entails. On what grounds might I claim such? Are broad brush strokes only to be allowed or encouraged of charitable interpretations?

On this example, I want to note that there’s probably at least as good an argument – historical, theological, philosophical – for placing Islam within the Judeo-Christian tradition as there is for placing Nazism within it. When we speak of Judeo-Christianity, are we referring to a vast and complex body of often (extremely, pervasively) violently contradictory interpretations, or are we presuming that we have in hand an essence of Judeo-Christian philosophy and ethics? If the latter, then how, after subsuming all of those contradictions, can we possibly exclude an Islamic essence from the same unity on the basis of the same willingness to set aside mountains (mountain ranges, continental shelves, asteroid belts, galaxies…) of inconvenient particulars?

The theoretical unity of the Abrahamic faiths will end up coinciding with the propositions of the universal homogeneous state – and will include “secular humanism” and “liberal democracy.” At some point, we will even discover (or re-uncover) and merely accept the universal dimensions of Nazism, Stalinism, Maoism, and other forbidden ideologies: Currently, we prepare ourselves for the acknowledgment in the ever-lessening shock response to self-consciously provocative satire, bizarre jokes and uncomprehended fads (e.g., human-annihilating zombie and vampire culture, “post-human” science fiction); the outbursts of artists and other societal mavericks (possibly including political bloggers, too); and possibly even the acts of terrorists, whose (an)nihilistic acts are if nothing else ecumenical (they kill everyone without regard for ethnicity, religion, profession, caste), and are offered explicitly on behalf of (another) utopian universalism.

[Y]ou seem to allow for what you reject elsewhere (at least in the domain of political speech): generalization about the nature of Islam “as such”.

I wasn’t advocating generalization about Islam as such, though I was explicitly pointing to a post-Islamist discourse in which “characteristics” of Islam could be usefully invoked. In that sense, we would be indirectly invoking the essence, but I would never claim that we could avoid doing so. When I pet my dog Annie, humanity offers affection to the canine, but, all the same, it’s my dog that’s getting petted, not yours. In some contexts, the abstraction is relevant, in others not. See above discussion for the problems that arise when we climb too high up the ladder of essences.

To be clear, I’ve never advocated that we avoid discussion, at whatever appropriate levels of abstraction, of historical Islam or particular interpretations of Islam, only that we take care about oppressively over-generalizing/collectivizing, especially when the very nature of our political claim against Islamism is its oppressively collectivizing character. (I don’t know how many different ways I can come up with for saying the same thing – I fear I could spend the rest of my life doing so.)

I suppose you recognize that on some level we must be able to talk about an Islam “problem” – the very nature of the Koran as a response to pre-existing forms of monotheism constitutes the problem which Islam generally discusses in terms of the turning away of historical Jews and Christians from the eternal truth of Islam.

Like Judaism, with its impressively “jealous” and frequently genocidal deity? Like Christianity, which, once it had made sufficient use of Judaism during itw own formative period, defined itself with often overwhelming aggression and cruelty towards Judaism (likewise deniers of the “truth” who should have been the first to affirms it), as well as toward, b) heretics, and c) all other competitive (primitive, atheist, etc., etc.) faiths and traditions? The xenophobic, exclusionary impetus is likely an inherent feature of any revolutionary would-be universal ideology.  What the Islamophobes most hate about Islamism is what they forget and actively suppress in their own heritage and operative self-definitions, and now, in the usual pattern, compulsively re-enact. In this sense, Islamophobia is self-hatred.

But just how can we begin to imagine a world in which Islam – and I think the vast majority of Muslims would recognize that Islam has at least some political dimensions – is not politicized, least of all in a country founded as a self-ruling republic with a deep populist impulse…?

Again, I’m not arguing that we pretend that there is no “politicized Islam” to deal with. I am arguing that we should – for good intellectual, moral, and strategic reasons – consistently identify what we are dealing with as “politicized Islam” (by uniform and player number), not “Islam as such.”

Just how can the problems you recognize – “valid and inevitable responses getting channeled into counterproductive pathways” – be mediated productively by those with the kinds of bona fides you seem to desire?

A theme to be developed – or are you pointing to a systematic conceptual flaw?

As we seek to inflect the valid and inevitable response, do we not have to defer more to the kind of polarized world in which we now live?

Does “defer” mean “give in,” or does it mean “be aware of”? Either way, can the “polarized world” be an objective fact, or is it merely a perception?

You do seem to want to hold us to high standards by which a liberal society functions, to demand observance of a shared covenant for protecting the other’s freedom, a covenant which should produce in us a high degree of guilt that we may sustain our responsibilities.

and

What would you say to the hypothesis that the only way we are going to get a renewal of shared covenants by which civil society can evolve and mediate present tensions is if we all learn to affirm a good deal of guilt and that this must entail all of us, including Muslims, better seeing and recognizing (our) victims and the potential for victimization in the very founding revelation and forms of our religious and political faiths? If one allows for some such hypothesis, one must then return to the question of what kind of politics will be more likely to produce it in a (populist) constitutional democracy like the USA. I am not convinced that your seeming ode to the era of liberal experts centering public discussion has still the means to create new iconic persons and memorable events that will redefine civil society and make personal what ultimately must become personal.

I’m not convinced that “guilt” has to be the Big Enforcer. Why not “enlightened self-interest” or “non-zero sum” negotiation? I’m not sure where I composed an ode to liberal expertise. As for “iconic persons and memorable events,” I doubt that it’s within any individual’s means to set about creating them, or to know for sure who or what creates them or would more likely or more quickly bring them forward. Isn’t the agency collective, if it’s an agency at all, operating in historical and culturally evolutionary time?  If it is political, then it would be politics stepping beyond politics to re-define the terms of politics. That’s either a double bind, a paradox, a logical fallacy, or an operation that would take place at the extreme limit of (current) politics, at maximum instability and reversibility – liberal universalism instantaneously reverting to reactionary parochialism. That danger may be unavoidable, but negotiating it, if possible at all, would call for thinking and action at a “very high standard.”

Scruton does refer to the situation in the UK and the problem of Islamism but it’s unfair to write him off because he seeks some general application for an understanding of core Islamic concepts like the waqf.

Not writing him off – just not feeling ready to discuss his work usefully.

Whatever the diversity in the ways of being an Islamic society, it’s surely the case that one can identify much which is generally characteristic of Muslim-dominated societies, in comparison to others.

Possibly, but, where lacking a radical and comprehensive re-examination of the general characteristics of non-Muslim dominated societies, very highly likely to be a merely contingent and ideological attempt to advance particular interests.

And surely it is important to note and discuss these things, politically and otherwise.

Maybe – not proved – but dangerous to the precise extent it’s important. At the same time, to presume the urgency of the discussion also seems to presume our unreadiness for it.

I presume that the larger discussion, our discussion in particular, may well be completely pointless – not political – though that wouldn’t be a reason against pursuing it, in the absence of something better to do.  It may be that a firmer basis for going forward is to resist the imposition of bad objectives on our political and intellectual lives – that the perversion of free inquiry is a much greater danger to us than, for example, any aspect of Islamism that could possibly be effectively addressed by a direct intellectual assault on its perceived manifestations.

Can you in any way begin to imagine what this [universalized, absorbed] Sharia (sacred) law would look like?

Sure. I can imagine that it would be absorbed into the Kojevian universal homogeneous state through the same synthesizing, simultaneously ambiguating and clarifying, self-interested and mystical re-articulation of text/context that has been performed repeatedly and ever more pervasively in regard to the sacred texts (and tests) of every other faith, including especially the Abrahamic faiths.

How will it get around the problem that Islam, I think we can generalize, does not have an easy time thinking of itself as a historically-unfolding revelation?

Similarly to the manner in which the other faith traditions have been progressively compelled to confront/synthesize their own historicity.

As far as I am aware no school of fiqh allows for continual reinterpretation of its classical jurisprudence. Rather Islamic law evolves not so much by secularization – representing the old sacred in some distinctively new dress – but rather through the “Islamization” of new knowledge, through attempts to maintain the sacred forms of the original revelation and its classical interpretations. Or is this just another false generalization – but how could you prove it if so (what measure of sameness or difference could convince me? must you not offer also a politicized faith?)

The particular tends to disprove the false generalization: The lack of a central Islamic authority that you point to in other contexts (representation) and that others point to in relation to other difficulties (every Tom, Dick, and Osama firing off a fatwa), would mean that Islamic practice would be on one level highly vulnerable to self-interested re-generation. The actual lives of actual Muslims in non-Sharia societies or from within Sharia societies interacting with non-Sharia societies already requires one trillion compromises every day – whatever Imam #35711 chooses to say about any of them today or tomorrow. For that matter, the actual lives of Mohammed and of every other figure deemed worthy of emulation, as well as their sayings and writings, will also always and inevitably be comprised of and recapitulate such compromises.

Totalitarian Sharia is just as impractical – that is, impossible – as every other totalizing ideology, which is why committed totalitarians sooner or later always destroy themselves. Totalitarianism can be tried, but it never comes into existence, and collapses as the dawning awareness of its impossibility becomes inescapable to all but a psychopathic remnant:  The “child grows up and becomes just another adult” (the Nazi turns his attention to the surer solaces and rewards of larceny).

The universal homogeneous state has also been associated with totalitarianism, but totalitarianism as attempted has been another set of exercises in naive literalism-fundamentalism, annihilating violence being the by-product of the energetic effort to realize the absurd and impossible direct and remainderless conformation of text to context.


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55 comments on “Dialogue with John: Sacred Texts/Tests

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  1. Blind faith is inherently, necessarily wrong. To understand the world, politics, science, psychology, etc., we have to explore, question, and reconsider.
    It seems to have been Jesus who introduced the idea that if we don’t have faith we will go to hell: “He that believeth on him is not condemned; but he that believeth not is condemned already because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18).
    The idea of hell spread from Christianity to Islam and to an extent, to Judaism.
    Marx also expected an era without disagreement, since in his vision of the final stage of communism, the state would wither away, because without class differences, there would be no conflict.
    There is a single element in the faith of Nazism: cleansing the world of Jewish genes. Belief didn’t matter to Hitler, since he killed atheists and Christians of Jewish descent. He didn’t even care that atomic scientists were Jews (or in the case of Enrico Fermi, married to a Jew and therefore Jewish under the Nuremberg laws).
    James Carroll, in his CONSTANTINE’S SWORD, offers a theory about why Christianity, Islam and Marxism are anti-Semitic: all three doctrines are partly descended from Judaism, and so they have to show Judaism is wrong in order to justify their breaking away.
    It is curious that even today, believing Jews and Christians don’t seem to have noticed that there is no hint anywhere in the Bible that the earth might be round.

  2. Yet Carroll really only indicts Christianity, in the same vein as Cornwell,
    Goldenhagen et al. Mohammed or more generally the Caliph’s Sword,
    would be somewhat redundant

  3. @ narciso:

    Too bad. Mohammed’s sword conquered a chunk of the world extending from Spain to Indonesia in order to save the people there from eternal damnation. The Qur’an is inconsistent on the question of Jews, who once lived as dhimmis with a reasonable degree of security, but nowadays only the supersessionist side prevails.

  4. The latest revelation from the trial of Rod Blagoyavich (whose name in SerboCroation means “boring goy”) is that Governor Blago felt that 0bama was “hen pecked” or, more crudely put, “pw”. This, I think is far more important than abstract discussions about faith and politics. Reality is far more important than any theories I think – what really happens between people counts far more than what somebody dreams up with a piece of paper and a pen.

    I am not at all surprised that 0bama is hen pecked. I think it’s not just Michelle. I think that other woman, Valerie Jarrett, is very manipulative and sneaky, and also has a lot of sway over the man. This is a guy who always has to prove himself to at least two dames who do not impress me as having a clue about what this nation means to most of us.

    They are very bitter women. You can see it in their eyes, in their furtive glances. 0bama, himself, does not look people in the eyes. He lives in a world of abstractions, and the reality he brings is something very dangerous because it is so widely separated from our values.

  5. It reveals that in the end he may play at being a revolutionary leader, but he’s a machine politician from one of the most sordid apparati in the country. Now my neck of the woods, gets a bad rap for patterns
    that happen South of the border, but a little acknowledgement that
    some of this was imported from Midwestern political machines, is always left out of the picture

  6. @ George Jochnowitz:
    The inconsistencies in the Koran in re the Jews are relatively easily explained by the circumstances and objectives of Mohammed and his nascent movement at the time (Mecca vs Medina, seeking allies/making war). Similar patterns on relating to other faiths obtain in the Old Testament, in the Gospels and other books of the New Testament and in the whole history of interfaith conflict, dialogue, and doctrinal adjustment. The developments occur unevenly, always too slowly for some and too fast for others, are subject to reversal, and produce losers as well as winners. We’re not always in a good position to determine who is really prevailing.

  7. @ CK MacLeod:

    We may not be in a good position to determine who is prevailing, but we can see who has prevailed. During the last half century, Christianity has significantly modified its opposition to Judaism. During the same period, Islam has done the opposite.

  8. @ George Jochnowitz:

    Well, George, the Christians have killed a hell of a lot more Jews than the Moslems, and if the Moslems don’t change into friends of the Jews for another 500 years, they’ll still be well ahead of the Christians’ timetable, won’t they?

  9. @ George Jochnowitz:
    There you go again. Most of “Islam” has had other things on its mind: Like gathering enough firewood and clean water to make it through the day, for example. Over that same period, political Islam or Islamism – the noisiest part of the “Islamic world” – has defined itself around a widely embattled post-colonial process of self-organization and in many places economic and military self-defense. That doesn’t mean that Arabs were “in the right,” specifically when they combined to attack Israel, or that Islamists were in the right in any particular acts of terrorism or oppression, but it does suggest that a different set of interests have generally governed relationship to religion. Where Islamic nations have sought allies, in particular allies against the revolutionary Islamists themselves, we see different kinds of negotiations with or suppression of intolerant and belligerent doctrinal elements. Thus, for example, Sistani’s quietist form of Shia develops in a multi-denominational and internationalized context – serving multiple simultaneous purposes: reduction of conflict vs. Saddam and successors, separation from aggressive revolutionary non-Arab Shia, availability for tactical alignment with foreigners, Western and Sunni. Sistani seems to be a very brave man, as far as I can tell – it’s not an insult to him to note that non-quietism in Baathist Iraq would almost certainly have gotten him killed.

    There’s no inherent reason why, over the long term, the same needs and interests – and related modes of interpretation – that have led to pragmatic adjustments in Western doctrines can’t lead to parallel adjustments in Islamic ones: “All men by nature believe they love those things by which they believe they are benefited.” (Xenophon, quoted in ON TYRANNY). But it’s a lot to ask of someone to confess that he’s cynically revising his “deepest” spiritual beliefs because there’s something in it for him.

  10. As opposed to the Baqr (SCIRI) and Sadrist(Da’wa) schools, the late Musa Sadr , the founder of Amal, seemed to have a similar attitude, to
    Sistani, had he lived, instead of been murdered by Quaddafi, likely
    Hezbollah would not have developed the same way, as a catspaw
    of the Iranian Guard.

  11. @ CK MacLeod:

    Yes, there are good Muslims today. There certainly were good Germans during World War II, and most of the people who died in the carpet bombings of Hamburg and Dresden were not monsters. Today, Germany is one of the two least anti-Israel countries in
    Europe.
    In the meantime, by their fruits ye shall know them.
    According to Gordon Chang, North Korea is at it again. North Korea, like Iran, has faith.
    http://www.forbes.com/2010/06/23/north-korea-asia-nuclear-opinions-columnists-gordon-g-chang.html?boxes=opinionschannellatest

  12. George Jochnowitz wrote:
    It seems to have been Jesus who introduced the idea that if we don’t have faith we will go to hell: “He that believeth on him is not condemned; but he that believeth not is condemned already because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18).

    George,According to the Jesus Seminar,JC absolutely never said the above quote. In fact,about 75% of the quotes that have been ATTRIBUTED to him were UNLIKELY to have been his,the above quote,again according to the Jesus Seminar,was determined not to be said by JC.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_Seminar

  13. @ Rex Caruthers:

    The words attributed to Jesus in the Gospels came from somebody. Whether they were said by one person or many, they reflect a single tone and a single viewpoint. The person or persons who said these wrods has been loved as Jesus for two millennia. That has to be the meaning of the name “Jesus.”

  14. Honestly are we going to take the word, of the Jesus Seminar, the kind of deconstructionist circle jerk, that’s got us in this mess in the first place

  15. George,your response is irrational. Here’s why:

    (1)The words attributed to Jesus in the Gospels came from somebody.

    (1)*If Jesus was a REAL person,only his actual words are relevant. JC isn’t to blame for all the mistaken ideas that people believed about him

    (2) Whether they were said by one person or many, they reflect a single tone and a single viewpoint.

    (2)*Again,only the words/Deeds of the real historical JC are relevant,all the rest is a made up fantasy. Besides,there has never been a single tone/viewpoint for Christianity. Bottom Line,JC is not responsible for the religion based on his name. That was made up after his death.

    (3) The person or persons who said these wrods has been loved as Jesus for two millennia. That has to be the meaning of the name “Jesus.”

    (3)*again,you are confusing a made up fantasy with a historical existence. Jesus was a real person,the Jesus of the New Testament was mainly a made up person. Again.,it’s not JC’s fault that people have loved a fairy story about JC for Two Millenia,not his fault.

  16. narciso wrote:
    Honestly are we going to take the word, of the Jesus Seminar, the kind of deconstructionist circle jerk, that’s got us in this mess in the first place

    Then read Thomas Jefferson’s thoughts on JC,or try Stephen’s Mitchell’s The Gospel According to Jesus Christ. Both Jefferson & Mitchell come to very similiar conclusions as the Seminar.
    Mitchell is one of the most repected Translators on the Planet,so tell him about the Circle Jerk.

  17. This is partly what I meant about a critique of Islam simultaneously undermining other religions. We’ve operated in this country under the time- and battle-tested assumption that religious disputes should be mixed with politics as little as possible. The worry was that otherwise you end up with roving armies under the command of fanatics destroying churches and the people in them for the dastardly crime of using the wrong furniture while celebrating the God of Love.

    On the other hand, if we decide to take the critique further – to the end – nothing requires us to view the faith tradition as overthrown just because its sacred texts, or hallowed interpretations of sacred texts, can be shown to be collectively produced artifacts. If Christianity is seen as “done” by Christians rather than ordained by the historical figure Jesus, that doesn’t necessarily make it any less “divine.” It may not even interfere with most of the magic. Likewise for the other faiths.

  18. The reverse is true, CK, we deconstruct Christianity, we even give credence to the sort of rotgut that Dan Brown shells out, as faction,
    yet we seem all to willing to take Islam as gospel, because it is the other

  19. CKM/ If Christianity is seen as “done” by Christians rather than ordained by the historical figure Jesus, that doesn’t necessarily make it any less “divine.”

    You’re missing something here,the historical JC didn’t ordain anything anymore than Lao-Tzu,or Buddah ordained anything. “ORDAINING” is a result of a need for sense of importance by those who feel impotent. What you call divine,I’m calling pathological,and has nothing to do with JC,and has everything to do with a pretend JC.

  20. Rex,

    If the real Jesus never said anything about hell, then he is a nobody. The religion that loves Jesu and worships him as both God and the Son of God has been an extraordinarily powerful force in world history. Despite its sects and variety, Christianity is consistent about damnation and about salvation through faith. That is its driving force.

    Technology two millennia ago was less developed than it is today, and so we can’t watch Jesus on Youtube. But we certainly do know what Christianity is and has been.

    For most of the history of Christianity, Christians considered eternal damnation both just and merciful. What makes people wonder about who the real Jesus was and what he really said is their realization that there is something morally wrong with the idea of everlasting punishment.

    Today, there are Christians and Marxists who are questioning their beliefs. But there aren’t people who are willing to think bad thoughts about Jesus Marx and Karl Christ. Is there anyone (not counting me) who has attributed the actions of Pol Pot or of the Kim Dynasty to the words of Marx? No. Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and the Kims were merely monsters. Their cruelty was not connected to any doctrine, says everybody–including anti-Marxists.

    Perhaps the reason for the strength of Islam in an age of doubt is the fact that doctrine has never been successfully divorced from the words of Mohammed. Somebody needs to say that he was misquoted, or that the words he uttered during his epileptic fits were not evidence of anything he believed, but just the result of illness.

  21. “If the real Jesus never said anything about hell, then he is a nobody.”

    That is closer to the truth than the Fantasies created about Jesus.*
    *Please read The Man That Died by DH Lawrence or The Last Temptation of Christ(Not the Movie)by Kazanzakis for a rerendering of the JC story.

    “The religion that loves Jesu and worships him as both God and the Son of God has been an extraordinarily powerful force in world history. Despite its sects and variety, Christianity is consistent about damnation and about salvation through faith. That is its driving force.”

    That is 100% true George except that it has nothing to do with the Real Jesus,Christianity was made up by many others begtinning with Saul/Paul,who had their own agenda. BTW,Jesus knew this better than everyone which is the meaning of his prediction that he would be betrayed by his disciples,the ultimate betrayl was the founding of a CHURCH. This was also the meaning of the Turning Down of the Temptations by Satan,The real JC wanted nothing to do with power and ordainment.

  22. I think a good deal of the problem with the Church, really began when it had to assert governmental authority in the Dark Ages, that made
    it vulnerable to these sorts of problems, typical of political systems

  23. George Jochnowitz wrote:
    Rex,
    If the real JC wanted nothing to do with power and ordainment, then he wanted to be a nobody

    YES,George,you’re beginning to understand the difference between what was created using myth,lie,and a sliver of truth,to build a monster church,and the true historical reality of a great religious figure. Also see Dostoyevsky’s “Grand Inquisitor” from Brothers Karamazov. JC understood along with a very few other religious geniuses like Buddah and LaoTzu that “All is Vanity”. But you can’t build a great church based on power,wealth,and coercion on that premise,can you?

  24. he wanted to be a nobody

    That’s not exactly right either,he knew that that was reality,it was not necesarily what he wanted. Ultimately,we are all nobodies,and He was only interested in Ultimate things. Not much of a message to build a Universal Church on,that’s why his message had to be changed.

  25. I’m not convinced, Rex, that much of anything attributed to the historical figure Jesus was all that much different from anything that countless other itinerant apocalyptic Jewish preachers of his day were saying, or that statements like the prediction of betrayal, if said at all, amounted to more than random statements typical of “prophet types,” endowed with meaning by re-contextualization. That doesn’t necessarily make the Christian tradition any less valid, however, though it obviously makes cultish aspects of Christian worship harder for a skeptic to accept.

    George’s simplification of Christianity is a typical outsider’s reduction. The discourse of salvation/damnation is merely one leading item on the Christian menu – kind of like the Big Mac at McDonald’s, important, hard to imagine McDonald’s without it, but far from the whole franchise.

    We could perform a similar operation on Judaism – define it as from the beginning to the present day a discourse meant to serve the Jews, but under shifting conceptions of Jewish interests, that among other things gradually discovered the uses of monotheism – and that might be all we needed to say about Judaism if we didn’t care about what the Jews thought.

    The same can be said for Muhammad (switched spelling here for no good reason) to a large extent, even though the Koran can mostly be considered his words as recorded by true contemporaries, though with edits, interpolations, dubious translations, etc., even before you get to the usual tactical selection of verses to support one or another agenda. The Hadiths are even more subject to dispute, and the later development of Muslim doctrine is rather obviously political, sometimes serving conquest, sometimes serving the peaceful administration of empire, sometimes serving self-defense, often serving the interests of whatever existing power structure (or its opponents on the rise), and sometimes even serving the open-minded search for truth under a presumption of universal brotherhood and mutual tolerance and an implicit understanding that the Koran and the entire tradition must be re-adjusted for changing times and understandings.

  26. George,a view of the Crucufixion:

    Crucufixion #1 was a mythologized event to set JC up as a future risen God rather than the simple execution of a man/criminal.

    Crucufixion #2 was the destruction of a real man’s life replacing the facts of that life with the specific Mythos in order to establish the “Church”.

  27. Except the crucifixion did happen, it appears in the accounts of Tacitus and Josephus, the historians of that era. for a good deal of the first centuries it was certainly an outlaw sect, now one might argue that Constantine’s idenitification with it, was the first mistake

  28. narciso wrote:

    The reverse is true, CK, we deconstruct Christianity, we even give credence to the sort of rotgut that Dan Brown shells out, as faction,
    yet we seem all to willing to take Islam as gospel, because it is the other

    That’s pretty startling, narc.

    Who in hell here is willing “to take Islam as gospel” ?

  29. @ Rex Caruthers:
    Robert Wright (THE EVOLUTION OF GOD – currently under “reading”) takes the view, in short, that the plain meaning of the crucifixion was inverted after the fact by clever religious entrepreneurs – but the point (and Wright’s point) is that even that reductive view of the tradition doesn’t mean that that the existential symbolism is invalid on its own terms, and didn’t catch on for a good reason. Even your atheistic view takes that as a given, while covering it over with hostility to the Church and its supposed false pretenses. Even the view that the historical J was just the lottery winner from among a large cohort of competitors leaves much open to further question: What need was the cohort of Jesus-like prophets serving at the time of the Roman occupation of Israel? What do the known events say about the limits of Earthly power, and the human capacity to re-configure life and death symbolically? Maybe that’s as much the message of the Christian revelation as any – that it is within our power to master our destinies. In that sense, Christianity is one central origin, perhaps the most important one, of modern atheism – and many of its opponents recognized just such a threat in it: the annihilation of the ancient gods in favor of a false/merely human god, as the end of the ancient world’s understanding of the divine.

  30. I meant that metaphorically, Frog, how was the crucifixion, inverted, it was a check against a challenge to Roman authority, but not a political
    one, hence the dismissal by factions such as the Sicari

  31. @ narciso:
    The plain meaning of the crucifixion is that the prophet failed and that his political quest and bona fides (from the perspective of the ancient world, which wanted proof of divine favor) died with him. The inverted meaning is that the miserable humiliation and death of the prophet was intended right from the get-go. Similar operations occur throughout the Old Testament, where one or another immense setback to the Israelites is interpreted not as a failure for their all-powerful warrior god, but as proof of his even greater power: The older understanding was that if your god was powerful, he’d bring you victory. The newer understanding was that if your god was really, really powerful, he could control the other guy’s god, too, and use him to punish you through the other guy’s victory over you – an interpretation that has the further appeal of suggesting that, contrary to appearances, your true authentic god is still primarily concerned with you and your progress.

  32. Crucifixion was a Roman method of execution for at least four centuries. Every crucifixion was equally horrible.
    Religions typically teach that although God created the world, He doesn’t have the power simply to forgive sin. Punishment has to go somewhere. In Christianity, the punishment went to God Himself, since Jesus was both God and the Son of God. He also was totally human, so that He could die; and totally divine, so that He would be resurrected.
    Had there not been a crucifixion, according to Christian doctrine, everyone would have had to go to hell. Salvation is possible only if you believe that Christ died for your sins. Christians should be grateful to Judas; had it not been for Judas, all Christians would be damned, just like everybody else.
    http://www.jochnowitz.net/Essays/GospelOfJudas.html

  33. George/”He doesn’t have the power simply to forgive sin. Punishment has to go somewhere. In Christianity, the punishment went to God Himself, since Jesus was both God and the Son of God.”

    George,You are very knowledgable in your areas,and I’ve learned a lot from you,but many of your opinions on Christianity are not very accurate like most of #35.

    So here’s one for you:
    http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Columnists/Article.aspx?id=179322

  34. Rex,

    In John 1:29, we read, “Behold the lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.” This is echoed in the Agnus Dei, part of the Mass or Eucharist service of the Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, and Lutheran Churches.

    Believing in the Trinity includes the belief that Jesus is simultaneously human and divine:
    http://www.carm.org/questions/about-god/gods-nature-changed-jesus-being-divine-and-human

    The only datum about Jesus, other than what we know from the Gospels, tells us that he was crucified. We don’t know what he said, one way or the other. If we feel that we KNOW Jesus was absolutely good, a doctrine that descends from dogma, and if we have decided that eternal damnation can’t really be good, then we have to assume that he did not say the words attributed to him. But if we don’t have the faintest idea what he said, since none of it is independently attested, why should we be interested in him at all?

    On the other hand, we should be very interested indeed in the words that gave us a force as historically significant as Christianity.

    As of this moment, there is no movement within Islam that denies that the words of Mohammed were said by him.

  35. George Jochnowitz wrote:

    As of this moment, there is no movement within Islam that denies that the words of Mohammed were said by him.

    Muhammad does not occupy the identical place within Islam that Jesus occupies within Christianity.

    In any event, what significant movement “within” Christianity denies Jesus, denies the importance of the example of the life of Jesus – historical or mythical – or denies the importance of interpreting the words attributed to him? Why should we expect there to be a movement within Islam denying Muhammad in any of those senses? It’s like asking why there aren’t more Laker fans who root against the Lakers, or why there aren’t more American patriots who hate America.

  36. (1)In John 1:29, we read, “Behold the lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.” This is echoed in the Agnus Dei, part of the Mass or Eucharist service of the Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, and Lutheran Churches.

    (1)*John was a mystic writing about 70 years after JC died,having no personal experience with him. He wrote his opinions. The Four Churches you mention have a lot in common.

    (2)Believing in the Trinity includes the belief that Jesus is simultaneously human and divine

    (2)*Many Christians are not Trinitarian(Unitarians),and belief in the Trinty is not essential to the Christian Faith.

    (3)”— then we have to assume that he did not say the words attributed to him.”
    (3)*That why I referred you to the Jesus Seminar,they have spent 25 years in researching attribution,and have come to the conclusion that very little from the Gospels was actually said by J. John is the most flagrant,with practically nothing that he quotes,being actuall said by J.

    (4) “But if we don’t have the faintest idea what he said, since none of it is independently attested, why should we be interested in him at all?”

    (4)*Ditto Lao-tzu,Buddah

    (5)On the other hand, we should be very interested indeed in the words that gave us a force as historically significant as Christianity.

    (5)*The essential message of JC is like Buddah/Laotzu,it undercuts the appearance of historical significance replacing it with a more powerful message. The message of the”CHURCH” is the message of Ozimandias by Shelly.

    (6)As of this moment, there is no movement within Islam that denies that the words of Mohammed were said by him.

    (6)* In addition to the work of the Jesus Seminar,the great Translator,Stephen Mitchell wrote,”The Gospel according to Jesus Christ”,most of what the New Testement attributed to JC was eliminated by Mitchell.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Mitchell_(translator)

  37. @ CK MacLeod:

    All American patriots root against the Lakers, and Sarah Palin’s not speaking out on this issue goes pretty far in proving that she’s out to destroy this country-

    (and then I woke up and realized I had been turned into an anti-Fox commentator, but one imbued with all the wit and wisdom that the real Fox Force has attained.)

  38. Colin,

    There is a lot I might say in response to this post. Considerations of time and the risk of going off in many directions and losing any kind of coherent conversation means I am for now just going to address your opening remarks. We’ll see how things look when I next have a moment to return to this.

    CK:

    the only remaining question is advancing the realization in time, through politics, of those determinations, on the way to what Kojève defines as the “universal homogeneous state” embodying the “rights of man.” In that sense there would be no essential philosophical argument (or conversion) still to be sought

    -well, leaving aside that few people are converted by philosophical arguments in any rigorous sense – as opposed to the revelatory power of events and the signs that attend them – even if we have reached a point in history where the liberal state as protector of human rights has now no serious competitors among those enamored of philosophical thinking, we are still forevermore stuck with the need of protecting this liberal regime from the many and great resentments it itself produces (to the extent it gives us freedom it gives us many pesky differences unjustified by any sacred order). These resentments tend to erode the freedom by which human rights are at once recognized and lived. It is curious that you would make this argument in an age when claims of “hate speech” are widely made to stifle free expression, when claims to group rights and privileges erode individual choice, opportunity, and property rights, when the leading forces in the economy seek rents and protection from emerging competition, when the US has practically bankrupted itself to privilege today’s consumers at the expense of the freedom of future generations, when the “rights of man” are claimed by people who want to destroy the freedom of men that we may be returned to some more totalitarian order.

    In short, what we still need to do is convert people to the faith, and not just reason, that will lead them, in those somewhat rare moments when we can make a difference, to take a stand in defense of freedom even when all kinds of short-term interests encourage many of us to just worship the empire and its ideology of “progress”, hope and change, and just get our share of the dole.

    It is just the nature of the beast that everything I say about our present corruption is contestible, that the proof of the need for such a conversion, whereby we chuck one paradigm of orderly conduct and shout “let’s roll”, is not to be found in a complete philosophy of history, or in any set of (once justifiably established) assumptions about the liberal order, but in our experiences and intuitions about the course of events and of corrosive forces that mitigate against any renewal of faith in the untold possibilities that real freedom might hold but that can never be demonstrated in advance and so are always discounted by those who favor rent seeking and risk control over productivity. (Adam K has taught me much about this though I perhaps formulate things in ways he might object…)

    The conversion we need or seek in others is not to one or another metaphysics, but to an understanding of events that will never be experienced in the same way twice, howevermuch we all have come to agree on the basic requirements of a liberal society.
    Philosophically, it’s fine to bitch about Pamela Geller. But if we find ourselves in a place and time when every (of many) public representations of Islam is coming from Islamists who insist that they are being orthodox Muslims – a not entirely implausible claim – then one has to wonder if the rightful fear that the West’s successful habit of keeping formal, discrete “religion” out of “politics” can really avoid a politicized questioning of “Islam” for its lack of certain distinctions, and instead simply sustain a critique of “Islamists” and Islamophobes.

    CK:

    Perhaps at some point you can expand on this question and why you see guilt as fundamental conceptually or practically.

    -Let me first say in response to the preceding discussion here in the comments that what likely made Jesus different from many other itinerant Jewish preachers was that when he was executed for disturbing the peace, his followers did not so much foresake him as just another Jew who went too far. No, the emergence of the Christian religion in the sustained memory of the event can be explained by the overwhelming sense of guilt that must have sustained a need for faith in the resurrection. In other words, to offer an account in the vein of Rene Girard, the guilt was the recognition of a shared truth (about the human need for a sacrificial victim, about the victim’s identity with our understanding of divinity, about a dawning recognition that pagan gods are but mythologized human victims) that had not previously been well understood among Jesus’ followers.

    In general, guilt is fundamental to anti-sacrificial religion because it is a sign that we remember why the scene of victimization is objectionable (to God and man). Guilt becomes a feature of one’s sense of living in covenant with such a God (or his secular, anthropolgical equivalent), as the impetus to recognition of one’s obligations to maintain the shared freedom that allows us to minimize our need for scapegoats/excuses in face of the never-ending corruption of freedom (and the manipulation of guilt) by those who seek a quick and easy sacrificial feast in either a ritual-bound tribe or a big state controlling and redistributing wealth.

    You might be interested in the ongoing discussion by Gil Bailie (in various blog posts over the last months) of Phillip Rieff’s book, Charisma. Rieff argues:

    “In the making of a covenant, guilt is the main mechanism. A covenanted culture cannot exist apart from a sense of guilt, for the most obvious fact of experience is the difficulty it presents in keeping a covenant – more important, the temptations it presents not to keep it.”
    The covenant was the way in which the charismatic quality was verbalized, the contents of which thus penetrate and organize the common life. The covenant may be considered the particular and deliberate expression of moral order through negation and denial. Breaking the covenant becomes an expression of guilt; the covenant itself is a charismatic recognition of the ambivalences felt among the keepers of the covenant. To honor the maker of the covenant, the god-term, is to prefer him and his representatives precisely in their charismatic quality of the self; to respect the covenant more than the self is an articulation of that renunciation of “instinct,” which is not only the essential form of all social organization, but also indicates the essential form of culture.”

    Another way of saying this is that guilt coresponds to a freedom within and to renew a covenant betwen man and God that distinguishes Judeo-Christian religion from those societies bound by a rigid code of ritualized conduct in which one feels honor and shame to the degree one is in sync with the expectations of ritualized norms in a world in which one cannot argue with God and reinterpret with men the meaning and requirements of His revelation. This is an all too short introduction to another question for Colin & Co.: what do you mean by “Abrahamic” faiths, and why do you think Islam is one? Whatever Islam’s use of figures and stories present in the Jewish and Christian Bibles, do we not asume that it is in one’s understnading of the divine that religions are essentially defined? and what is it about the Islamic understanding of Allah that makes it rather more and not less like Judaism and/or Christianity? Isn’t Allah unknowable and completely Other? If so, that is something quite different from the Jewish or Christian divinity.

  39. This is an all too short introduction to another question for Colin & Co.: what do you mean by “Abrahamic” faiths, and why do you think Islam is one?

    Not sure what you’re asking. It’s a conventional usage for referring to the Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, which all trace their lineage to Abraham. There are also good theological and historical justifications for it.

    I know we’re not trying to be totally rigorous here – it’s just a blog thread – but I’d hesitate to define “Allah” simply as “unknowable and completely Other” or to presume very much about what definitions would be absolutely excluded from the other faith traditions.

    These resentments tend to erode the freedom by which human rights are at once recognized and lived. It is curious that you would make this argument in an age when claims of “hate speech” are widely made to stifle free expression, when claims to group rights and privileges erode individual choice, opportunity, and property rights, when the leading forces in the economy seek rents and protection from emerging competition, when the US has practically bankrupted itself to privilege today’s consumers at the expense of the freedom of future generations, when the “rights of man” are claimed by people who want to destroy the freedom of men that we may be returned to some more totalitarian order.

    Way too much ideology packed into that paragraph (and following ones) to take it all piece by piece. I’ll just point out that the statement itself exhibits an apparent contradiction between “group rights” and “individual rights,” yet at the same time proposes totalitarianism as one end of a simple linear opposition with freedom. It seems to me that we already have at least two different axes to plot, and we haven’t even gotten to positive vs. negative rights – or different kinds of groups, or different concepts of the individual…

    But, since you bring up “hate speech,” let’s consider it briefly in the above context. I’m not in favor of Canada’s hate speech codes and how they’ve been implemented, from what I understand of them (i.e., completely as depicted by American conservative defenders of Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant, or by Steyn and Levant themselves, salted with some David Warren), but I strongly suspect that that those who conceived of and support them likely believed that that the codes would protect the freedoms of typical objects of hatred.

    In many respects the beginning point of this discussion for me was a firm sense that the opponents of the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” were violating a set of truly fundamental commitments to freedom of conscience and expression, both at ground level in the sense of their attempt to squelch somebody else’s free exercise, and, more dangerously, in committing to the undifferentiated collective pre-judgment of a faith community.

    I don’t know your position on that controversy, or even if you’re familiar with it. When Pamela Geller advocates a cultural center dedicated to “expunging” offensive passages in the Koran, in place of the proposed Islamic cultural center dedicated to interfaith dialogue, we are not, to say the least, in the presence of an absolute libertarian position. Leaving aside the hostile and ignorant doctrinal pseudo-exegesis that this position rests on, Geller is explicitly calling for a ideological attack on Muslims in America. She’s accusing their very doctrine (as she interprets it) of being a form of “hate speech” – well before anyone makes the same accusation, to my mind with much greater justification, against her.

    I’ve already gone on and on about the the “mosque” topic elsewhere, so I’ll leave it for now. I’ll let the discussion of guilt marinate a little longer, or see if you have more to say on it, before I respond.

  40. Yes I’m sure they thought that CK, but that’s not the way it turned out, if there was equal attention to flagrant antisemitic (like the Zundel case)and AntiChristian rhetoric, it has become a preserve of critiques of radical Islam. Warren who’s lived in Lahore, for a time, Steyn and Levant who point out inconvenient truths, in our neighbor
    to the North, Bawer, who is more genuinely concerned with authoritarian trends in the tolerant Scandinavia, Berlinski whose notice this in Turkey and France, among others.

  41. @ narciso:
    As I said, I’m not in favor of the Canadian system as I understand it. My point, which you effectively concede, is that the concept of “hate speech” doesn’t exist on some simple one-dimensional spectrum of more-free/less-free. The critics of hate speech take a similar position regarding invective aimed at groups in society that the the Islamophobes take towards perceived anti-freedom characteristics of Islam. Both believe that at a certain point speech becomes action, in itself and also indirectly, and that, if we oppose the deeds, we need to oppose the words. It’s a familiar example of one kind of freedom supposedly coming into conflict with another. You have a right to consume pornography; you don’t have a right to publicly display it in an effort to intimidate female co-workers.

  42. John I read your Post and #41,I think this is a paraphrase of what you’re saying:

    “On Lake Wobegon “all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking and all the children are above average” says the great American satirist Garrison Keillor in his “Prairie Home Companion” world.”
    “Yes, all of us! We’re Americans. Don’t confuse us with the facts, with reality. We’re the greatest in history, a legend in our own minds. And a rapidly mutating virus is spreading this lethal pandemic far beyond the shores of Lake Wobegon. Yes, folks, the “Lake Wobegon Effect” is hard-wired in America’s brain, an illusion of superiority, a smug arrogance where each knows we are the best, the chosen ones.”
    http://www.marketwatch.com/story/an-invisible-gorilla-is-killing-americas-soul-2010-06-22

  43. Rex, I don’t see what that comment has to do with 41, we have an out of control government, a leviathan that lays waste to everything
    it touches, yet we are supposed to go on out own way, pretending
    it doesn’t exist, like Harvey the invisible rabbit.

  44. narciso wrote:
    Rex, I don’t see what that comment has to do with 41, we have an out of control government, a leviathan that lays waste to everything
    it touches, yet we are supposed to go on out own way, pretending
    it doesn’t exist, like Harvey the invisible rabbit.

    We have an out of control Government because WE the Individual Citizens are out of Control;that’s the place to start. We will continue to pretend until we can’t pretend anymore;and that’s not just us,that’s the history of our Race. Which is why the Concept of Exceptionalism is so annoying,how are we any different than any other large civilization? They all go bankrupt sooner or later;unfortunately,we’re headed that way much sooner than expected.

  45. It’s very rewarding to see my opinions agreed to by the Pundits of Conservative thought. I’ve made a point many times that the way America wins wars is to require a Declaration of War,Constitution Style. Today is the Anniversary of the start of The Korean War,and at NRO/NYPOST,today Arthur Herman makes a point about my point.

    “Korea also set the precedent for formally undeclared wars, from Vietnam to Iraq to Afghanistan, wars that divided more than united public opinion, and for relying on the UN and international coalitions to lend moral support to US military muscle — with steadily diminishing returns over time.”
    http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/the_forever_war_owKrHVEzEU9wlo5uy19eqJ/1

    Thank you Arthur for pointing out the obvious,and we just keep repeating it again & again expecting a different result. That’s is the current definition of—-, (you guys know)

  46. @ Rex Caruthers:
    See there you go reacting to someone else’s ideology (Paul’s or narc’s) with your own.

    We are different from every other “large civilization” because… we’re not the same as any other large civilization. In fact, the underlying confusion over what “we” are – country, civilization, empire, idea, power structure currently headquartered in North America – already introduces an insuperable indeterminacy into any such statement.

    Doesn’t mean that success is guaranteed, or for that matter that the success of the country and the success of the empire are the same thing. For some people it would be, for others the success of the empire would mean the failure of the country, and vice versa, and so on.

    The idea may prove “exceptional” or it may turn out to be contingent on “exceptional” geopolitical advantages, or the anti-exceptional geo-economic situation that obsesses you may defeat both. Or the defeat may be temporary, and the idea and geopolitics may win in the end. Stay tuned for the next exciting scenes.

  47. @ George Jochnowitz:
    The article looks like a good article, and I’ve added the Hudson Center on the future of Islam etc. to our blogroll, but it isn’t “about Islam.” Really, George, that’s like looking at a backgrounder on Baruch Goldstein and saying it’s “about Judaism.”

  48. Maybe if it was a profile of Major Hassan, CK, he is showing how the Salafi presence dominates even in the secularized upper middle class
    which one would think were not ‘poor ignorant, and easy to command’ which is the media template for jihadism

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