Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Wittenberg Door

Several months ago an old friend and his Moslem wife came to visit, and we spent the next few hours talking about modern religion and the precarious state of moderate Moslems in America. She fumed furiously over what she called “the Wahhabi Whack-Jobs” causing all the trouble, and complained bitterly that the media have consistently ignored the moderate Moslems. The moderates, she said, have written endless letters to newspapers, magazines, TV and radio stations, have held public rallies and marched in the streets to denounce the Jihadis, and none of the media have bothered to notice.

“Keep at it,” I said, reminding her of how long it took the Civil Rights movement, or the Peace movement, to get themselves noticed. Persistence – and growing numbers – will eventually get the media’s attention.

The persistence would be there, she promised, and the numbers would grow – but what American moderate Moslems need is a clear statement of what modern Islam needs to be. “What we really need,” she said, “Is the Moslem equivalent of the Reformation.”

That takes some knowledge of history to understand. Islam was invented, officially, in 610 AD. This means that Islam is some six centuries younger than Christianity. Think: what was Christianity like 600 years ago?

It was nothing you’d want to live with today: holy wars, Inquisitions, witch-burnings, wholesale slaughter of heretics, unquestioned racism, sexism and religious bigotry, religious imperialism, and frantic suppression of such dangerous “modern” inventions as telescopes and the printing press. In short, it was very much like modern radical Islam.

There were early hints of revolt, the Diggers, the Ranters and the Albigenses being the better-known examples. All of them were ruthlessly suppressed, though their ideas – and sometimes a few of their adherents – managed to survive. Eventually the revolt against the static church reached open rebellion, in England with Henry VIII and in Germany when Martin Luther nailed his “95 Theses” to the Wittenberg church door. Subsequently, Christianity experienced the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Enlightenment and emerged as we know it today, with only a few reactionaries – like the Westboro Baptist Church – still trying to live in the Middle Ages.

Islam never completed that journey and never went through the Reformation, let alone the Renaissance or the Enlightenment. Following the historical timeline, though, it’s ripe for one.

Already there’s a historical precursor. In 19th century Persia a nobleman named Baha’u’llah founded the Baha’i faith, which includes ideas remarkably similar to those of the Ranters, Diggers and Albigenses. Of course the Bahais were then persecuted by the orthodox Moslems, who still regard them as “apostates” to this day.

Already there are articles on moderate Moslem websites, calling for a Moslem Reformation and sketching out tentative principles.

I sincerely wish them luck, because the moderate Muslims absolutely must separate themselves from the vicious Wahhabis and the whole Jihadist movement. They can do it safely here in America, as Henry VIII did in England and Martin Luther in Germany, without bringing howling armies of Jihadis down on their heads – at least no more than any other Americans.

And it must happen soon, for the Jihadis are pushing hard for a world-wide religious war in which the moderates may well be caught in the crossfire. Seeing how the Jihadis have stepped up their war on all the non-Moslems in the world, I’d say the moderate Moslems have no more than five years to declare the Moslem Reformation and show themselves clearly opposed to the Jihadis.

Either that or all become Bahais.


TJIC said...

I certainly agree with your point that Christianity (and Christians) have matured over the past 600 years.

...but I'm not sure that a Reformation is the right thing. The Reformation was actually a Fundamentalist movement that was aiming to get rid of modern innovations and get back to a more literalist reading.

Martin Luther was an adovcate of witch trials and burning, and human rights abuses were far worse during the schism and in Protestant areas (not at all to white wash some of the horrific stuff that happened in Catholic areas).

The problem I see with hoping that Islam liberalizes is that the foundational texts seem pretty uncompromising. Christianity was founded by a craftsmen, fishermen, and other peaceful folks. Jesus lived his life as a teacher and died as a victim.

Mohammed, on the other hand, was a tribal war leader, and the culture of tribal war leaders is larded throughout the Koran and other Muslim foundational writings.

It's easy for Christianity to give up witch burning because the "suffer not" clause is in the Old Testament, the translation is suspect, and Christians are not bound by it because of the New Covenant. Finally, there's no historical record of early Christians killing witches.

Contrast that with the idea of Muslims giving up Holy War. Not only is the Koran very clear that Holy War is an actively good thing, but Muhammed himself engaged in it!

It would be NICE if Islam reformed, but I don't understand how it can do that while being true to itself.

Brian Dunbar said...

It would be NICE if Islam reformed, but I don't understand how it can do that while being true to itself.

People are flexible. I suspect that if they want to reform their faith, they can.

I'm taken with Leslie's notion of America being the haven of the Muslim Reformers.

I think America - with freedom of religion - can give these guys the space they need to adapt. They don't have to raise a militia and fight to survive. They can live under a rule of law and thrive.

Look: we've got these guys even in Wisconsin. Putting down roots, paying taxes. They're citizens. Our neighbors.

And they get the same protection we all have. Some guy wants to come over here and slaughter heretics he's got to get through me first.

I wonder where their Canterbury will be.

Ori Pomerantz said...

Mohammed, on the other hand, was a tribal war leader, and the culture of tribal war leaders is larded throughout the Koran and other Muslim foundational writings.

So was Moses. We Jews had to be taught to be good neighbors. The Romans were really effective teachers.

Anonymous said...

You want the Wahhabi Muslims to change their religious beliefs. But, why should they?

What will happen if they don't change? Will you threaten to kill them if they don't conform to your moral or legal codes? Isn't that what you're upset about them doing?

What makes you so sure that their way is wrong? If religious beliefs aren't worth fighting over, why are you willing to use violence to oppose them?

The protestant reformation didn't bring any ideas that hadn't been around since the very beginning of Christianity. Once the Protestants rejected the Church as the source moral and legal authority, they needed something new to replace it. That came in the enlightenment with the idea that logic and reason... that science could give answers about morality and the nature of legal authority.

Islam can't adopt enlightenment ideals since it restricts the ability of God to intervene in this world. Results become the result of worldly causes and not necessarily the will of God.

Prof. Godel Fishbreath, Otter said...

I wonder where their Canterbury will be.
Oh, wow.
I do not think they will get the work done by the time that Leslie's time table is through.
The Christian reformation took decades, if not centuries.
Even if they do not have that time, they will have to do something.

Brian Dunbar said...

The Christian reformation took decades, if not centuries

I read sci-fi. I'm used to thinking long-term.

Ori Pomerantz said...

Doragoon: What will happen if they don't change? Will you threaten to kill them if they don't conform to your moral or legal codes?

Ori: Isn't this how law enforcement normally works? If people don't conform to our legal code, we fine them, make them do community service, put them in jail, or execute them.

Leslie Fish said...

Hi, TJ. Well, the key part of the word is "reform". Yes, the original Koran and Hadith are pretty uncompromising, but then, so are several passages in the Bible. It will take a dedicated conference to determine what parts of the texts to keep and what to throw out, and of course the fundamentalist Jihadis will deny any change, just as fundamentalist Christians do today (although, IIRC, only the Jehovah's Witnesses keep even the injunction about not touching pork!). The Bahais have the advantage there, with their belief in "successive revelations". Still, such a weeding-out can be done -- and it really must be done if Islam is to survive in the US.

Hi, Ori. Heheheh. 'Twas not only the Romans who clobbered the Jews enough to make them reconsider their original imperialism. The Babylonians hauled them off to Babylon for several centuries, and Alexander the Great taught them some tough lessons about manners long before the Romans came and sent half of them running off to Europe, where they wandered for the next 19 centuries. The Jews had an unusually tough culture to survive all that, but indeed they did learn! Note how many Conservative and Reform Jews there are these days.

Hi, Dora. No indeed, the Wahhabis certainly don't want to change; they want to conquer the world, and we can't let them. We're going to have to kill them all. It's that simple. Wars of extermination are not the kind of war that Americans want to fight, but I don't see that we have any choice. It's not because they "don't conform to our moral or legal codes"; it's because they've consistently revealed themselves to be a clear and present danger to everyone else in the world. The moderates have got to separate themselves clearly from the Jihadis, or be gunned down with the mad dogs.

On the other hand, there's an easy way to separate the sheep from the goats, as our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq have learned; present the Jihadis with a bait they can't resist, and then shoot them when they come to take it. This is how the US troops, in the past 10 years, have killed something like 150,000 Jihadis while losing only 4000 of their own. The very fanaticism that the Jihadis can't give up provides their greatest weakness.

--Leslie <;)))><

Ori Pomerantz said...

The Babylonians, AFAIK, caused the Jews to become less tolerant. According to the books of Ezra and Nehemia the low status Jews who stayed in Judea were more tolerant than the stuck-up returnees.

According to Josephus, the Jews accepted Alexander. The Maccabees fought the Seleucid Greeks, but that was generations later. Also, the Maccabees won. Winning does not make you less imperialistic.

BTW, there are many Reform and Conservative Jews now, but there might not be in a couple of generations. It's still an open question whether we Heterodox Jews are viable or not.

Leslie Fish said...

Hi, Ori. As I see it shaping up, the coming war will be between religious fascists on one side and the moderates -- of all creeds -- on the other. Recently a group of Haredic Jews in NYC did something incredibly stupid by setting up a public display stoutly denying evolution; this put them squarely in the same camp with the Fundie Christians -- and the similarities between the Fundie Christians and the Jihadi Muslims is becoming more obvious every day. When the dust of the coming war settles, heterodox anything may be all that remain.

--Leslie <;)))><

Ori Pomerantz said...

When the dust of the coming war settles, heterodox anything may be all that remain.

Considering the difference in birth rates, my bet is on the orthodox winning. Having lived in Texas since 1998, I much prefer the US version to the middle eastern one.

KateGladstone said...

Leslie — Oh, Jehovah's Witnesses eat pork, all right! See ... However, there are some Christisn sects that do indeed keep at least some of the kosher rules including the no-pork one: a couple of these are the Seventh-Day Adventists and the Ethiopian Coptic Church.

KateGladstone said...

" Note how many Conservative and Reform Jews there are these days."
If you want to list heterodox Judaisms, why didn't you also mention the Reconstructionists, the Jewish Renewal, and the Secular Humanist Judaism denomination?