Friday, July 27, 2007

The Problem With Theocracy

Theocracy has become a popular idea as a proper form of government. It is easy to see its appeal. What better ruler could their possible be than one who is all-powerful, all wise, and totally good. Unfortunately the ruler in question is a terrible communicator. We don’t even know for certain that He exists. His will is a thing we must discern from Scriptures, which are inconsistent with each other both internally and externally. When He does speak to individuals He does it in a way that makes it impossible for others to know if He has actually spoken to the person in question.

For these reasons, and I suspect others can be added to this list, Theocracy in practice is a terrible form of government. Claims to understanding God’s will are subject to misuse in order to support the agenda and power grabbing of particular individuals and groups. Oppression of those who disagree with the holders of absolute power becomes the norm. God becomes a brute responsible for all sorts of evil. Like it or not, and there are clearly those among the believers who don’t like it, temporal government can’t be a solution to the problem of evil.

At this point it is appropriate to quote the parable of the wheat and weeds. As told by Matthew it reads as follows

“ The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep an enemies came and sowed weeds among the wheat and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field.? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until t he harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind t hem in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”
(Matthew 13:24-30 NRSV)

The point of this parable for theocrats should be obvious. The wheat represents good people and the weeds represents bad people. The householder is God; and advocates of theocracy are the slaves. The idea behind theocracy is the use of the power of the state to reward good people and punish bad people. But you can’t use the power of the state to punish bad people without the risk of things getting out of control. When it gets out of control good people will be harmed. So the lesson of this parable is the impossibility of creating perfection on earth. Certainly perfection on earth can’t be accomplished by use of the police power of the state. So much for theocracy in practice.

The above should serve as a warning for Christian theocrats. And since Jesus is a very important prophet for Muslims, it should serve as a warning for Muslims as well.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Are We Winning the War on Terror?

Reports tell us Al-Qaida is stronger than ever. Six years ago Al-Qaida in Iraq did not exist. So much for the success of the War on Terror.

There are two ways of fighting the so-called War on Terror. One is the way of Elephant like Strength through Force. The Army invades and occupies. The residents of the occupied country accept their fate. They live in peace with the conquering army because they know they can do nothing to defeat it. Shock and Awe brings peace to all.

The other is the way of Lilly Livered Yellow Bellied Feminized Surrender Monkeys. This relies on police work to find the terrorists before they strike. Increased security decreases the opportunity for them to strike. Dialogue with those among the terrorists co-religionists who would live in peace even if they disagree with us on other important things decreases the number of potential terrorists. When we do invade a country we stay until the job is done instead of moving most of our strength off to invade another country.

We re beginning to see which method really works. At the very least we see which method does not. So much for the way of the Elephant. Strength Through Force is clearly not working.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Moderation in Religion Part 2

Yesterday we saw unquestioning faith was necessary for strong belief. But unquestioning faith is dangerous. By faith we can move mountains. And by faith we can bring down skyscrapers. With hijacked planes. Skyscrapers with people in them. This is not the kind of thing we should encourage. Alas we can’t discourage it by weakening the faith of those who do it.

We say we want moderation in religion. But we want moderation in religion as a means to an end. What we want is an end to the truly evil things people do in the name of religion. We think we can do this by convincing people to question their religious beliefs. But people aren’t going to willingly question their most fundamental religious beliefs. In any case their beliefs aren’t the problem. It’s the things they do that are the problem. What we want is for them to see the things they do as the truly evil things they are.

Religion gives people the highest possible ends. With the highest possible ends comes rationalization for the lowest possible means. Means so evil they would otherwise be seen for what they are can be rationalized because the act is being done for the service of good. Here the ends truly justify the means. This is what makes religious fanatics the danger they are. A religious fanatic sees the ends as so holy righteous and just that the evilness of the means no longer matters.

Dealing with religious fanaticism means getting the religious fanatic to see the evilness of the means makes the ends evil as well. Some means are so evil they can’t be used regardless of the consequences of not using them. Moderation in religion means recognizing that the ends don’t always justify the means. The religious moderate is a person who realizes some prices are simply to high to be paid. Moderation in religion does not mean questioning one’s religious truths. Moderation in religion means accepting that not everyone will accept your truth claims and that there are limits as to what can be done to change their minds.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Moderation in Religion Part 1

The search for the moderate Muslim continues. As noted Saturday not everyone is interest in finding the moderate Muslim. For some people the existence of moderate Muslims would interfere with their goals. Those who work in the visual media find the angry Muslim far more interesting. He, after all, shows emotion. The moderate Muslim is just a talking head. But the primary difficulty facing the search for the moderate Muslim is the whole question of moderation in religion.

The problem of moderate religion is one of proving religious truth. In the intellectual world in which we live truth requires proof and proof requires fact. All facts come from evidence perceivable by our senses. So in the intellectual world in which we live you cannot say you have truth if you do not have material evidence. Since there is no conclusive material evidence for even the existence of God the faithful are in deep intellectual trouble. The religious claim to have truth but they do not have facts. Nor does there seem any way they can get the necessary facts.

All religion has an emotional component. That component is necessary in order to overcome the difficulty described above. The faithful believe in things for which there are no evidence. Therefore their faith must transcend reason and take them to a world where they can reason from first principles, which are not based on factual evidence. Since the first principles of any particular religion cannot be proven false they cannot be proven true. Since these principles cannot be proven true emotion must be used in order to convince oneself these principles are true even though there is no proof of their truth. And the stronger that emotion is the more devout one is going to be.

Here is the problem with moderation in religion, as it is commonly understood. Moderate religion is less fervent than intense religion. To the truly faithful the moderately religious seem weak. Religious moderates are perceived as not having as much faith as the devout. And since emotion is the primary means by which a religion defends itself from its enemies moderation in religion can even be seen as apostasy from the religion in question. So the fervent in religion, the very people religious moderates are trying to reach, have every reason to reject moderation in religion.

This is why the search for the moderate Muslim is so difficult. Immoderate religion markets much better than moderate religion. This is true for all religions not just Islam. Immoderate religion sells because fervency strengthens faith and moderation weakens faith. And faith is what makes a religion strong. Faith is what makes a religion popular. Unfortunately faith is also what can make a religion dangerous.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Why They Hate Us, Muslim View

That the hard right is in deep trouble is obvious. They can’t run on their record. Their record is one of failure such as Americans before today would not believe was possible. They started a war we cannot win but cannot end. It sucks the wealth of the nation into it with no end in sight. They refuse to put their own wealth or the lives of their children at risk by calling for a draft and higher taxes even as they claim this is a life and death struggle against an implacable enemy. Their economic policy, based on the idea greed is the greatest of all virtues, has left the nation in debt both individually and collectively. Their foreign policy has left the nation hated in foreign lands as never before. These failures spell their doom and they know it.

Meaning the hard right is reduced to its last hope for success. Fear. Fear, in order to be an effective motivator, must have an object. There must be something to cause fear. This something must be an effective motivator People must be so afraid of the object of fear they will leave go of their senses and do things they would not otherwise do. In this case fear must motivate people to vote for the incompetents responsible for the state of affairs listed above. This is going to take some doing.

So the hard right is busy promoting Islamophobia, fear of Islam. It is easy to see the basis for this fear. Yes most all acts of terrorism since September 11, 2001 have been caused by Muslims acting in what they claim is the name of Islam. This does not mean Islam causes terrorism. Nor does it mean all Muslims are terrorists. This does not mean we can’t talk to Muslims, even so-called Islamists. Islam is a very complex religion. Great understanding is needed. But the hard right is not interested in understanding. It is interested in something else.

We know this because any time anyone has a kind word to say for Islam or Muslims the hard right goes into attack mode. People who have kind words to say to Muslims or Islam, people who are trying to understand the complexity of the situation, are labeled dupes and traitors. They are naive and must be ignored. Only people who understand that all Muslims are a threat should be listened to. Unless you believe Islam is evil and must be destroyed you are a part of the problem and not a part of the solution. At least not in the eyes of the hard right.

This attitude could lead to a war no one wants; a war of genocide against all Muslims. This may not be the hard right’s intent. Still they are doing things which increase the possibility of this happening. They are opposing those who would avoid it. But of course if such a war were to come to pass we would need leaders to lead us in the fight. And the leaders of the hard right would then offer themselves. This they wouldn’t mind in the least. So while we can’t prove the purpose of Islamophobia is to keep the hard right in power we can’t disprove this claim either.