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May 27, 2003

Converting the Mahometan?

This NY TIMES article about Evangelicals contemplating the conversion of Muslims is interesting. As an atheist from a Muslim background I think that a collision between these two fundamentalisms is all for the good if it damages both. Additionally my personal experience with many Evangelicals is that they are intellectually not sophisticated and their understanding of which ever "Enemy" they have in their sight at the moment is usually shallow (speaking as an atheist, I've been involved in with discussions with theists who barely understand where I'm coming from, but tend to parrot back talking points learned in church when the pastor was preaching to the choir) [1]. Though the article makes clear there is some nuance among Evangelicals in their attitudes toward Islam, the "foot-soldiers" are generally much more blunt and rough-hewn in their conception of the opposition than the theologians, and this lack of genuine clarity (the preconception with stereotypes) will make attempts to convert Muslims pretty futile in my opinion. On a final note, this sort of hubristic attitude toward unbelievers is exactly what I saw in mosques in the United States as a child, though Muslims are very sensitive about Christian missions targeting them, even in the United States, unlike the Hindus and Jews that have been similarly focused upon, they as a proslyetizing faith are being a bit disingenious when they argue for pluralism of belief.

Randall Parker comments on this article over @ Para Pundit.

Update: Reason puts the situation in perspective.

[1] I heard on NPR a few years back a writer who had studied the Christians of the Near East recount how southern Evangelicals who visit the Holy Land sometimes are surprised about the presence of indigenous Arab believers. One of his contacts, a Christian of Armenian extraction who worked as a waiter, always bristled when American Evangelicals with heavy southern accents asked him when he had "converted to Christianity" when they saw the cross he wore. For those not in the know, Armenians like to assert that they were the nation that first accepted Christianity as the state religion, not Rome.

Posted by razib at 12:55 AM

Ignorance is a prop for fundamentalism and education brings questioning lessens attachment to dogma so the thing both groups of fundamentalists should do is educate themselves about their opposites and maybe someday with luck they'll both become less dogmatic. In my experience not all evangelicals are fundamentalists but all fundamentalists are evangelical as well as kind of stupid and unworldly.

Posted by: Ward at May 27, 2003 12:44 PM

As a paleocon, I'm a bit bothered by religious fundies myself. They seem to harm the cause of conservatism far more than they help. They have hopped on the anti-Islamic bandwagon, and I assume its because they're clueless about what's really going on in the world and need a scapegoat. On the other hand it wouldn't be happening if the neocons weren't fomenting it. The neocons seem to think that making the world safe for Israel is the patriotic duty of all Americans.

Anti-Islamicism wasn't permissible up until recently due to the strictures of PC, but that's changing due to the efforts of the neocons. Personally I don't know much about Islam, but what I see of it I generally don't like. Joe Sobran said something like "to a non-Muslim Islam is what Islam does". I don't think that that is *entirely* fair. I do think the intentions of Islam's founders should have *something* to do with how we regard it, just as we should attempt to discern the intentions of the writers of the constitution when trying to interpret the thing, and it's likely that Sobran would agree with *that*. However there is the murky question of who its founders were. Muhammed was illiterate so of course he could not have written the Quran, and Islam isn't based strictly on the Quran anyway as there are other additional scriptures called Hadiths and the authors of those should be considered among the Islam's founders.

A while back a fellow attempted to convert me to Islam by mailing me Islamic literature. What did the literature resemble? It resembled those "for dummies" books that you see all over the bookstore. It began with some badly-flawed (but simple) logical arguments in order to justify the faith. The idea was to present Islam as purely logical. Then it went on to describe an ideal Islamic society governed by Islamic law. Anyway none of this stuff is what I would want in a religion. To me a religion should give the aspirant some hope that he can conquer time, the great devourer, and no longer be subject to old age disease and death. I doubt that Muhammed or his associates had any great spiritual insights.

Posted by: Sporon at May 27, 2003 04:33 PM

Of course religion is partly a socio-biological emergent so we should expect primitive and violent peoples to have primitive and violent religions. When we judge religions we end up indirectly judging nations and races, which is partly why religion is such a touchy subject in this PC day and age.

We are all living in the same reality. All is one and all that, so the best of religions should be universal to the extent that any sentient being that understands one of them and practices its precepts should benefit. On the other hand we should fully expect that large parts of the world would not be attracted to such a religion all, because truth is not necessarily simple and appealing. Animals have no interest in religion at all.

No single religion could really draw the whole world into its fold because of the inate differences of temperment and intelligence in the world. Any religion that attempts to become fully universal would have to be sluttish or become sluttish, putting universality ahead of its doctrines.

Posted by: Sporon at May 27, 2003 05:53 PM

I've got another anecdote. I once attended a talk by a muslim speaker. I could barely make out a word he said due to his high falsetto voice and thick accent. He went on forever about doctrinal differences between CHristianity (or was it Judaism?) and Islam. I don't think that any of this stuff would be interesting except to a fundies (of either religion), and I understood that in his previous talk, his main theme was the ideal Islamic society. They're completely obssessed by this idea. If I remember correctly this guy was supposed to have been some kind of "scholar". We are living in interesting times.

Posted by: Sporon at May 27, 2003 06:18 PM

Some unusual observations on religion and what it can do for you. I never thought of a religion having to become "sluttish" in order to appeal to a wide variety of folks. Yes, could be, now you mention it. However, a true believer would say the sun shines on all, and never compromises its integrity, nor can it ever be touched. And then, do not underestimate potential human plasticity. Looking at Gauls and Avars, circa 200 A.D. you would never have put them together with obscure mystical beliefs of Jewish levantine origins. Speculation is not even necessary--religions have already crossed so many boundaries even before instant communication and rapid travel. Fundamentalism is another sort of animal and it is a virus that breeds in religions with alacrity if it is not controlled. As for eternal life (on earth, I presume you mean) and freedom from old age--enterprising researchers are energetically marketing that in various little jars, and from what I hear, some of them aren't half bad.

Posted by: MaryClaire at May 27, 2003 08:10 PM

MaryClaire wrote:

As for eternal life (on earth, I presume you mean) and freedom from old age--enterprising researchers are energetically marketing that in various little jars, and from what I hear, some of them aren't half bad.

I was thinking more in Buddhistic terms but I was trying to refrain from endorsing any one religion, having no fixed view on the subject. The Buddha is sometimes described as being the "conqueror of sickness, old age, and death". Wether he succeeded or not, I think it's a worthy aim for religion.

From The Life of the Shakyamuni Buddha:

Weighing his duties to his family and humanity as whole, he abandoned his worldly possessions and chose the quest for the Truth.

* The Seeker of Truth

After his chariot left the boundary of the kingdom, the prince told his charioteer Chandaka that he was leaving. He also told his charioteer to tell the king that, "I will return one day as the conqueror of sickness, old-age, and death."

Posted by: Sporon at May 27, 2003 08:49 PM

That is interesting -- I knew Buddha said he would return, but that particular claim, I did not know.

Posted by: MaryClaire at May 28, 2003 05:39 AM

This the same Buddha that died from eating tainted pork?

Posted by: martin at May 28, 2003 07:02 AM

Really? Well, those dietary laws mostly came later.

Posted by: MaryClaire at May 28, 2003 09:23 AM

Sporan says:

To me a religion should give the aspirant some hope that he can conquer time, the great devourer, and no longer be subject to old age disease and death.

Well, old age will be conquered by science and we (at least those of us still alive when this point is reached) will be able to become young again. Engineered Negligible Senescence is achievable in the next 30 years if we try really hard to achieve it. At that point we will still face death from accidents, war, and murder. But technological innovations and wise policies can reduce our risks from those as well.

In my view Islam is a threat that increases the risk of premature death by war and acts of terrorism.

Posted by: Randall Parker at May 28, 2003 06:15 PM

Religious violence is not related to primitiveness. The brutal religious wars of Northern Europe ca. 1500-1636 were fought by highly-advanced, highly-educated people (though not exclusively by them).

Posted by: zizka at May 29, 2003 03:41 PM

to follow-up on zizka-the "primitive" societies rarely engage in major sectarian violence, though they have a propensity to burn "witches." but massed religious/ideological faction is a feature of the world-religions and their socities-especially, but not limited to, abrahamic faiths.

Posted by: razib at May 29, 2003 04:45 PM