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The Not So Obvious 17 August 2006

Posted by ABD in ABD, Philosophy, Politics.

Picking on VARANGALI (as I like to do from time to time), I would suggest that it is not so obvious that the world’s religions should or even can cooperate with each other. In the “larger struggle for man’s soul”, who else are the contenders but the great ideas and beliefs that demand our commitment?

Perhaps we can reframe the terms of analysis here. At one level, we have largely political struggles for resources and influence. As VARANGALI points out, the religious overtones to these conflicts are often misleading. It is at this level of analysis that the “clash of civilizations” thesis can be dangerously misleading–not only because it gets the facts wrong, but because it can act as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Conflicts become crusades, and wisps of the imagination turn into vengeful, crushing forces.

It is exactly this kind of impact, however, that points to another level of analysis: how we choose to look at the “facts on the ground” is itself a war of ideas. The crudest example of this is war propaganda. Here we find competing answers to questions such as “Who started this war?”, “Why are we fighting?” and “Have we won yet?” Just one step up from this are the “hearts and minds” campaigns that are being conducted with more or less finesse from lecterns, television studios and the keyboards of armchair activists. Here we find competing answers to questions such as “Who is the enemy?” and “Where do we go from here?”

And beyond the reach of these soundbytes lie the more intractable questions that mankind has always struggled with. Questions like “What is freedom?” and “When is violence justified?” cannot be settled except by reference to more general beliefs about what is valuable and how to pursue it. This is where philosophies and religions come in. They offer systematic responses to a range of questions and problems, fitting everything into a larger picture. Insofar as they offer competing approaches to life, however it can be argued that compromise between them is impossible. (You cannot see something simultaneously from two points of view, and you cannot walk down two paths at the same time.)

When political conflicts entail a clash of ideas, they go much deeper than liberating countries or flushing out terrorists. They remind us that we are faced with a choice between competing understandings of the world. This is as true of the difference between liberals and conservatives within America (witness the domestic paralysis over President Bush’s leadership) as it is of the difference between atheists and believers or of that between Christians, Jews and Muslims.

To end on a more hopeful note: just because compromise between competing ideas is unfeasible does not mean that the men and women who hold these ideas cannot live together. This does not mean that you and I have to agree with each other, that you have to win me over to your side, or even that we should celebrate our differences. Invariably, these stances require a dilution of commitment to our particular traditions or beliefs. The true meaning of toleration is rather the recognition that irreconcilable differences exist between us, and yet we must coexist.



1. The Turk - 17 August 2006

Yes, I think in quran or hadis. there is line saying “believe what you believe and i believe what believe and let it remain at that. Allah(swt) is the final judge.” I will never be convinced Allah(swt) begat Isaiah(PBUH) as his son. Nor will my collegue Don ever accept that Isiah(PBUH) was not Allah’s Divine child.

We must agree to disagree. To give on non-threartening example: Ghostwriting. ABD finds it distateful concept. He can not understand that someone else can take ideas and thoughts from a personX and mold them into sentances full of meaning and accept a price for it. I on the on other hand, a (slight) dsylexic who has trouble spelling the word, love the idea. Someone can take my thoughts and ideas and express better than I ever could for simple price of cash. To me its paying a contractor to build the house of my dreams and to ABD I think is losing moral intergity when taking cash for words written and credit not recived.

We agree to disagree and I tease him on it at times. But, our disagreements not make any less of friends.

2. VARANGALI - 17 August 2006

Tolerance should be the byword, not cooperation, when major world religions meet. And the war of ideas is a more fundamental conflict than the poitically motivated struggles that it shapes. But cooperation need not mean a dilution of belief; it need not mean that Jesus (as) is simultaneously both a prophet and divine.

The United States and Soviet Union were very different regimes based on very different indeologies, yet they cooperated in the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II. They did not fight side-by-side, shared little intelligence, and in no way acknowledged any truth or justice in the other’s philosophy. Given tolerance, two parties can cooperate against a common enemy without diluting their own belief systems.

We’re losing relatively few brothers and sisters to Christianity, and empty pews do not result from soaring attendance at the temple. All the major faiths are in conflict with what Muhammad Asad describes as “soulless materialism.” And, as he suggests, we must reach down into the depths of each of our respective faiths to find the strength and vigor to rein in this ever-hungry beast. As with Nazi Germany, this requires a show of strength on the Eastern and Western front. This is no clash of ideas, there is no compromise here – this is cooperation, albeit silent.

3. talib - 18 August 2006

the conflict of ideas in these times and for some ways into the past has hardly been about ‘is Jesus divine?’ or ‘is the Bible true?’. as you mention Varangali, materialism, or the liberal secularism from which it naturally emerges, is winning the most converts today. but i highly doubt that Judaism or Christianity or Hinduism have anything to offer in curbing or answering this ever increasing movement to the ‘soulless’ no matter how ‘deep down they reach’. naturally, as a muslim, the most superficial reason, or perhaps the most deep, is that i believe those faiths to be false and thus have no confidence in their ability to uplift man. a non-muslim might come to the same conclusion by recognizing where liberal secularism was born and where it flourished. it is widely considered that the success of european secularism necessarily relied on the downfall of the judeo-christian faith. if judaism and christianity failed then, why would they succeed now? the success of the enlightenment with its notion that all that is to be known is known through reason killed christianity and judaism and is now, slightly delayed, doing the same in other places with other religions (despite post-modernistic realizations). when i say ‘killed’, i mean that these religions have transitioned from understanding their tradition as a picture of reality to the understanding that their tradition only provides a metaphorical notion of the past and present world, a notion that can be and often has been reinterpreted to fit with the ‘reality’ that is in vogue, and today that reality is a humanistic materialism.

with muslims this has not been the case alhamdulillah. our Qur’an is still the word of God. our Shari’a is still the law of God. the Prophet peace upon him is still one to be followed and imitated from prayer to washing oneself. and this is where the main conflict of ideas lies between the muslims and the rest of the world. hate to be the pessimist, but things don’t look good for us in this struggle. as the Prophet salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam foresaw, we will be following the Jews and Christians, straight into the lizard hole.

and to comment on ABD’s assertion that people with conflicting world views can live together and work together without compromising those views, the muslims’ presence throughout europe and america testifies to this. the muslims in these secular societies have integrated and benefited those societies quite well alhamdulillah (some places better than others) without necessarily assimilating. i think this is a credit to Islam itself. more telling is the fact that secular societies have not been able to integrate with non-secular societies without making it their mission to supercede the latter’s tradition and save the heathens from their superstition. secularism is the least tolerant of all world views.

4. ABD - 20 August 2006

thoughtful comments all around.

The Turk: agreed, except to point out one more thing: having persistent differences doesn’t mean, of course, that both people are right. so it is perfectly plausible that i am right about the ghost writing debate and you’re just mistaken or stubborn :)

VARANGALI: thanks for the clarification. i think you’re right on the money. and, at least in the sense you describe, the cooperation need not be silent. serious muslims should be reaching out to serious christians and jews to identify a common stance against “soulless materialism”. easier said than done, of course.

talib: i fundamentally agree with your intuitions, but i have a question. if christianity and judaism’s failure to resist secularism is due to inherent flaws that islam doesn’t share, why then would you be afraid that muslims will follow their predecessors “straight into the lizard hole”?

5. The Turk - 21 August 2006

to abd: switch that last comment around. I’m right and you are you’re just mistaken or stubborn ;)

on talib: He is right that Islam has not gone in the secular route of Judaism or Christianity. There is no Reform Judaism or New England Liberal Episcopalism in Islam. However what Dr. Jou meant is that muslims being human like everyone else succumb to hedonstic pleasures that life offers if you have cash. Look at Saudi Princes. King Fahd before he became Kind was consumate playboy on the French Rivera.

6. talib - 30 August 2006

what i mention regarding lizards is a reality as is Islam’s flawlessness. as believers, we can all agree here.

the inherent flaw with the christianity and judaism of the past which fell prey to secularism, is that these faiths were not from God. we would be hard pressed to find a connection between the catholicism of the later middle ages and the teachings of Jesus peace upon him. or the judaism of the same period with the teachings of Moses peace be upon him.

Islam, on the other hand, is, and has been promised preservation until the Last Day by Him who ordained it for His creation as objective inquiry confirms up to the present. and though the majority of the muslims, through their own fault will leave the sunnah and follow the christians and the jews to whatever depths as this hadith describes, Islam will not share the fate of those religions which were not divine in the first place.

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