Charles Moore's Mailbag

The 'Dueling Civilizations' Letters

Charles Moore - 2002.09.16 - Tip Jar

My 9/11 column, Dueling Civilizations: Islam and the West, proved to be quite a letter-generator. I was surprised and pleasantly gratified at the large proportion who got the point I was attempting to express - that Islam and the Christian/post-Christian West are on a collision course, irreconcilably alienated at the most basic level of ethical, moral, principle, and essential worldview - and that many agree with me, although of course plenty did not.

I had not intended to get into another debate about the past sins and shortcomings of Christendom, but inevitably, I guess, the crusades and the Inquisition, et al., were dredged up once again by many as putative refutation of my thesis. No Christian who engages in apologetics is unfamiliar with these arguments, but I marvel at their selectivity, ignorant of the much greater cultural and social good accomplished by Christianity over the centuries - not least that we take too much for granted as Western culture itself, but also the service to the poor and sick, to widows and orphans, the establishment of hospitals, the contribution to education by building and staffing schools and universities, the great music and art that Christian faith inspired and commissioned, to gloss over just the tip of the iceberg.

To focus exclusively on the moral shortcomings of some nominally Christian persons hundreds of years ago who did things that were in gross contradiction of Christian doctrine and principle is indulging in willful ideological blindness.

However, the main intention of my column was, again, that there is little hope for peaceful coexistence with Islam, because Islam, broadly speaking, operates on an entirely different philosophical, ethical, and moral worldview than does the West - Christian or post-Christian. We cannot reason with the Islamic world at large (I acknowledge that there may be extraordinary exceptions), because the mass Islamic culture is disinterested and/or non-cognizant of the application of reason as the West has defined it at least since St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica.

The official boilerplate that's been parroted by most Western leaders since 9/11 is that Islam is a pacific faith whose reputation has been corrupted by a handful of heretics - a politically correct and multiculturally sensitive fairy-tale that ignores the fact that the "handful" numbers hundreds of millions - and on the basis of Islamic principle as laid out in the Koran, they are not heretics:

"Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day . . . until they pay compensation with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued." It promises that "if you are slain or die in the way of Allah, forgiveness and mercy from Allah are far better than all they could amass."

Muhammad says: "Fighting is prescribed upon you. . . . Tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter."

Unhappily, in the liberal, postmodern, multiculturalism-obsessed West, children are indoctrinated from the cradle that one religion is as good as another, blithely ignoring the respective ethical and moral constructs advanced at the doctrinal level. Christian and Jewish clergy scramble anxiously to prove how multiculturally tolerant they are by having interfaith services with imams. Moslem leaders are invited to the White House. George W. Bush signs a Ramadan declaration. California school children are encouraged to role-play at being Moslems.

The National Council for Social Studies recommends a short story titled "My Name is Osama." Calculatedly inciting hatred toward white American boys, the story is about a nasty little boy, "Todd," who taunts an Iraqi immigrant named "Osama." This is ideological folly, brainwashing, and blindness writ large.

In an Atlantic Monthly essay on the topic of suicide bombing, David Brooks notes that:

"Suicide bombers go through indoctrination processes similar to the ones that were used by the leaders of the Jim Jones and Solar Temple cults. The bombers are organized into small cells and given countless hours of intense and intimate spiritual training. They are instructed in the details of jihad, reminded of the need for revenge, and reassured about the rewards they can expect in the afterlife. They are told that their families will be guaranteed a place with God, and that there are also considerable rewards for their families in this life, including cash bonuses of several thousand dollars donated by the government of Iraq, some individual Saudis, and various groups sympathetic to the cause. Finally, the bombers are told that paradise lies just on the other side of the detonator, that death will feel like nothing more than a pinch....

"For many Israelis and Westerners, the strangest aspect of the phenomenon is the televised interview with a bomber's parents after a massacre. These people have just been told that their child has killed himself and others, and yet they seem happy, proud, and - should the opportunity present itself - ready to send another child off to the afterlife.

"Last year the BBC shot a segment about so-called Paradise Camps - summer camps in which children as young as eight are trained in military drills and taught about suicide bombers. Rallies commonly feature children wearing bombers' belts. Fifth- and sixth-graders have studied poems that celebrate the bombers. At Al Najah University, in the West Bank, a student exhibition last September included a re-created scene of the Sbarro pizzeria in Jerusalem after the suicide bombing there last August: 'blood' was splattered everywhere, and mock body parts hung from the ceiling as if blown through the air.

"According to polls, 70 to 80 percent of Palestinians now support it - making the act more popular than Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Fatah, or any of the other groups that sponsor it, and far more popular than the peace process ever was."

How the hell can you reason with people like that? Well, Palestine is a special case, some might argue, where the people have been driven to despair and mass psychosis by more than half a century of Israeli oppression.

Well then, consider this: World Net's Ann Coulter reports that:

"Soon after the terrorist attack, the New York Times chatted with students at the Al Noor School, a private Islamic academy in Brooklyn. None of the students said they had experienced any harassment since Sept. 11. To the contrary, their school had been deluged with support from local Catholic schools, hospitals, state education officials and political leaders. But the love was entirely one-sided. The students stated point-blank that they would not fight for America against a fellow Muslim, denied that Osama bin Laden was behind the attacks, and criticized the United States for always opposing Muslims....

"Though uniformly refusing to believe bin Laden was behind the terrorist attack, the students showed a remarkable lack of curiosity about who was. Students from the Al Noor School were interviewed again a few weeks ago, this time by CBS' '60 Minutes.' The students instantly and enthusiastically agreed with the proposition that a 'Muslim who becomes a suicide bomber goes to Paradise for that action.' 'Definitely,' one student said, calling a female suicide bomber 'very brave.' As to whether suicide bombers would go to Paradise, the students said they earnestly hoped so. 'I mean, they're doing it for a good cause,' one boy explained. 'I pray that they go to Paradise,' another said. Not only that, but one student said, 'I think we'd all probably do the same.'"

Did I mention that this was kids in New York City, probably most of them American citizens, a few miles from Ground Zero?

I rest my case.

On to the letters.

Re: Dueling Civilizations

From: Robert Alpizar

Charles,

Thank you very much for expressing what I have never been able to put into words. I see myself as an amateur writer, almost a wannabe with my hesitation to actually submit things. I've been wanting a way to express just what you've written here but have never had the motivation do to so or have I been able to find the courage to speak out against the general public opinion.

Anyways, thanks for the article.

Robert Alpizar

Hi Robert,

I encourage you to take the leap. Some people may actually agree with you, and you can often learn things from those who don't.

Charles

Hatred and Violence

From Bernard Blander

Dear Charles,

I live in Montreal. On Monday, as I watched television, I witnessed an out-of-control mob at Concordia University thwart the appearance of Israel's former prime minister and, by extension, any rational discourse about the problems in the Middle East - this at a university. The crowd was exhibiting an intensity of hatred and violence that goes against the values of decorum in political debate that I identify with as a Canadian and Westerner. I couldn't believe this was happening in Canada. I was used to seeing scenes like this in foreign countries outside the west.

I found a Canadian young Muslim web site <http://www.youngmuslims.ca> and decided to read it to familiarize myself with their perspectives. I found that much of what you asserted in your essay was corroborated in the theologically informed views and opinions of this Web site, written by young Canadian Muslims. Please read the PDF I've attached and this article from the site: <http://www.youngmuslims.ca/publications/arrow.asp>

I would like to say that I have enjoyed your segues into political discourse on the many Mac oriented web sites you write for. You write with a clarity that is sorely lacking among your mainstream journalism colleagues. Please let me know what you think of the web site and its themes.

Regards,
Bernard

Hi Bernard,

Yes, the sorry display at Concordia was shameful to Canada, but my kids tell me that the fanatical vitriol expressed by the protesters there is not much more extreme than the popular general ethos in the high school and university communities these days. Rampant anti-American, anti-Jewish, anti-Christian boilerplate accepted as unassailable dogma and parroted mechanically.

Thanks for the Website links. They reflect the typical party line, which, like the uniform liberal humanist political correctness nitwittery in what passes for academe these days, is repeated in an endless loop.

Charles

Neuroses Arising from Bad Cultural Programming

From S. Lee

Your articulate and thoughtful article prompted me to reexamine my own religious (read: cultural) foundations.

As the victim of many neuroses arising from bad cultural programming (I was raised Baptist), I can tell you a little about unsustainable worldviews. Having lived for years under the fear of eternal damnation (read: coercion by intimidation), I made the leap to "moral relativism" as the only way to save my sanity. As one of the Fallen and Damned, I still carried scars of guilt for some years afterward. Discovering that all religions have at their center the same fundamental experience led me back to spiritual study after years as an avowed atheist.

I agree with the core assumption in your essay, that culture is the mental program which drives war, genocides, and human activity in general.

But who are the programmers? "Moral relativism" is the brush-aside term used by those so deeply entrenched in their involuntary metaprogramming (cultural map to one's identity) that they miss one vital detail: the individual, the "I" (along with all his the cultural justifications for murder, rape, and bad TV sitcoms), is an illusion.

Both Christians and Muslims are guilty of this, the ultimate error of dualistic programming. What spiritual practice avoids this illusion? The Zen offshoot of Buddhism. Here, "religion" is actually a contradiction in terms if you consider that most religion codifies, condemns, and coerces while Zen is designed to obliterate the need for codification, coercion, and condemnation by bringing about the Death of the Self.

Obviously, if you are one with the Universe, you can't very well kill any part of it.

In your reality-map, this death is the epiphany that comes from communion with the Divine. The Holy Spirit. The seed of all spiritual traditions. Our perversion of spirituality is essentially ignorance of the lesson. It took one of the world's oldest civilizations to strip spiritual practice of deities, cultural baggage, and prophetic mumbo-jumbo. As a planet, we'll get there (not necessarily through Zen) because evolution of ideas tends to favor sustainable, and thus flexible, culturally nonspecific, worldviews.

On a final note: you point out Islam's "dualistic construct" as fundamental to its warlike culture, while your essay's title, "Dueling Cultures," indicates the dualistic bias of our own culture. Reprogramming is in order, all around.

Sincerely,
S. Lee

Hi S. Lee,

I have studied Far Eastern philosophy at some length, and I find much positive in it - ideas that could be an enriching influence on Christian attitudes and practice. I think, for instance, that Chinese Traditional Medicine, with its focus on balancing the life force as a key (or Ch'i ;-) ) to health and wellness makes a lot of sense, never mind Western science's total and supercilious non-cognizance.

I am happy for you that you have found some peace and solace in the practice of Zen. I think that there is a lot in Zen philosophy that is harmoniously consonant with Christianity. However, not its theological conclusions as to our essentially fallen nature and our ultimate estate.

As St. Peter replied to Christ when the Master asked him if he would leave too: "Where would I go; you have the words of eternal life." I believe that Jesus Christ is God, and that the only way to eternal salvation from the just punishment for my manifold sins and wickedness, as the Prayer Book puts it. If he is not God, then Christianity is a pathetic charade. Like Blaise Pascal, I'm betting my life that Jesus is who He said He is, and that ultimately, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Charles

Hit the Nail on the Head

From Mark Morris

Dear Charles:

Listen...

That was the sound of your hammer hitting about 50 nails on the head. Thank you for putting into words the things I am unable to so eloquently say.

If you don't mind, I would like to have permission to print this out and post it on the cork board at work, with, of course, full credit to you including your email address if you like.

I have called myself Christian all my life, but only in the last few years have I been waking up to what that should mean and the responsibilities that go with it. In short, I have been the lukewarm Christian.

Regardless, thank you for the article, and thank you for Low End Mac.

Mark Morris, M.D.

Hi Mark,

Thanks for the thumbs up! Delighted that I hit a resonant chord as well as all those nails.

Please go ahead and print out the article and post it. Just my name and the Low End Mac URL will be fine.

Charles

True Virtue

From Jonathan Shearman

Dear Mr Moore

If one's "religious affiliation" alone decides salvation, then is a "bad" Christian better than a "good" Moslem? e.g. "Bad" Christian professes faith but is hypocrite, bashes wife, steals, etc. "Good" Moslem lives among hotbed of fundamentalist ratbags but is scrupulous, honest, humble, unviolent, etc. Which do you say is nearer to "God"? It would seem you would favour the first.

While it is essential that we retain a sense of spiritual orientation and moral worth, as soon as this is attached to a particular ideology - whether Christianity or Islam - then you are already engaged in division and conflict. Surely 1,500-odd years of conflict should have taught us that much by now.

I suggest that it's our inability to admit the truth of science while still retaining our sense of the sacred that gives rise to the current crisis in human affairs. For we have divided religious and scientific truth. Truth itself is far larger than any Christian, Moslem, or atheist partisan would have it. It is exactly because our sense of the sacred is bound by religious ideology that we are in such hot water. (Believe me, it'll get hotter.)

If we wish to flee back to some earlier understanding of the human situation, to turn back the clock to pre-scientific times, then this will surely fail, as surely as the existentialist dictum "If god is dead then all is permissible" has failed. Both viewpoints are failures: both "religion" and its opposite, atheism. Both engender conflict and degeneration. Neither comes to grips with Reality.

Surely the point of religious teachings is to inculcate true virtue into our lives. And virtue is something beyond religious ideology. Virtue eschews both fundamentalist violence and immoral self-indulgence. And it is neither intrinsically Christian nor Moslem, although both of them, we would hope, would point towards it. When they don't, perhaps they have failed, or perhaps we have failed to heed them.

So you are really promulgating the problem. You are propagating another ideological battle culminating in more wearying conflict. The problem is not Muslim vs Christian. The problem is true virtue, and its absence, and the inability of individuals to learn it, from either, or any, source.

Jonathan Shearman
Sydney Australia.

Hi Jonathan,

First to address your interesting overture question, in Christian understanding and doctrine, we do not "earn" our way to salvation through personal virtue. For example, Henry VIII was a vile man in most respects, but if he truly repented on his deathbed (he insisted on a priest and the last rites), he would be forgiven and saved.

On the other hand, a genuinely well-intended, generous, "good" individual who died without repentance would evidently not be forgiven and saved. That's an extreme simplification, but it captures the essential dynamic. "For all have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God."

Recently on "Donahue," Phil Donahue posed this question to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr.: Who's more likely to go to heaven - a Nazi or a "good Jew" killed in a concentration camp?

"The gospel is not just for the worst of us; the gospel is for all of us," Mohler replied. "The Scripture tells us the hard truth that all have sinned. That Nazi guard is going to be punished for his sin, and it will be judged as sin. His only hope would be the grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord. The profound truth of the gospel is that the salvation that can come to any person who comes to faith in Christ can come to that Jew who was killed and to that guard who does the killing. That's the radical nature of the gospel."

The Bible says:

"If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

"If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us."

There is no forgiveness without repentance and confession; the vilest of sins will be forgiven through genuine repentance and confession through faith in Christ.

Truth of science? It's a very limited and circumscribed sort of truth. Real science is the noble search for truth, and what's true is what really is, and as a Christian I believe that everything that is and the order of nature was created by God, so I perceive no essential conflict, other than the presumptuous arrogance of scientism - science as religion.

Truth and Virtue both come from God.

Charles

Faulty Math?

From Kevin

Dear Mr. Moore:

I read your pretentious and poorly reasoned article on Low End Mac, including this purported fact: "It was barely more than 300 years ago that the advance of Kara Mustafa's Islamic armies into the West were halted at the gates of Vienna."

Don't let "cognizance of these realities" upset you, but Vienna was under siege in the late 1600s. That's well over 400 years ago.

Yours,
Kevin Cooney

Uh, Mr. Cooney,

A bit of mathematical reality for you: 2002 - 1683 = 319

CM

Wrong Date

A great historical parallel, only it's not true. Jan Sobieski and his men defeated Kara Mustafa at Vienna on September 12, 1683.

Hi John,

You're right. One account I have says the Polish army attacked the Turks at 4:00 AM on the 12th, and ended at 5:30 PM (who had the Rolex?). However, the Siege of Vienna had begun some two weeks earlier than that. I'm still convinced that the date is not coincidental to the events of 9/11/01.

The numerically superior Turks lost about 15,000 men on the field, while the Christian allies lost less then 4,000 killed and wounded.

Perhaps bin Laden was commemorating the last hours that things were looking promising for the Islamic advance.

BTW, trivia note: Hollywood actress Lee Lee Sobieski is reportedly a direct descendent of King Jan Sobieski.

Charles

Islam Is Not a 'Religion of Peace'

From Bill Garrett

Terrific article, Charles. Thanks for speaking out on the issue of Islam. I'm no expert, though I study religion a lot, but I can't find any proof that it's a religion of peace either. I wondered when someone would take that bull by the horns.

By the way, do you have a cite ready to hand for you observation about September 11 and Mustafa's army? I haven't seen a reference to that before.

I couldn't agree with all your positions - I'm basically an agnostic - but I certainly agree with your conclusion. The West is an amenable place for people of (almost) all faiths, and even those of no faith, largely because of the dialog between rationalism and Christianity. There has never been such a dialog in the Islamic world, and probably never will be.

Regards,
Bill Garrett

Hi Bill,

You can find out more about the Siege of Vienna here - http://www.iyp.org/polish/history/vienna.html - or just do a Google search for Jan Sobieski.

As John Cate has informed me, the big battle was actually on the 12th, if you count from the beginning of the Polish counterattack. However the Turks had breached the gates of Vienna on the 11th, which sounds like something that bin Laden would more likely want to commemorate.

Charles

How Can You Explain Religious Intolerance?

From Dmitri Popov

Dear Charles,

I've read your article, Dueling Civilizations: Islam and the West, with a great interest. Since I don't have any academic knowledge of Islam (besides being born and grown up in an Soviet but still Islamic country), I can't argue with your ideas. But I do have a couple of questions, and I'd appreciate it if you could answer them.

If Christianity is what it is, then how can you explain the religious intolerance in the medieval Europe? I mean things like crusades, Spanish conquistadors, inquisition, etc. Don't you think this is the same process Islam is going through today? And if so, would be logical to suggest that this is only a matter of time before Islam will become the religion of tolerance?

Why don't we consider that this is not a religious or cultural clash but ideological? The Christian world did create monsters like fascism and communism, but still we don't identify this two with Christianity. And we don't consider WW II as a war of religions (e.g. orthodox vs. catholic/protestant).

Sorry about my hopeless English.

Best regards,
Dmitri

Hi Dmitri

You raise some challenging points. Throughout Christian history, there has often been a wide disconnect between the moral and ethical principles articulated in the Bible and Church doctrine, and what actually was done in practice.

For example, those Christians who persecuted the Jews were contradicting St. Paul's manifesto in Romans Chapters 9 through 11.

However, while Christianity at the revelatory and doctrinal level is a tolerant religion in terms of rejecting coerced "conversions" and the like (despite manifold failure to honor these principles at various times through history), Islam is not tolerant at the theoretical/doctrinal level, nor in practice in virtually all Islamic states (with Turkey the lone exception, sort of).

Western fascism never claimed to be "Christian" (although Franco's Spain maintained a Catholic piety of sorts). Marxism explicitly rejected Christianity and religion in general as "the opiate of the masses" (I agree that Marxism, humanist existentialism, and the other Western post-Enlightenment philosophies are bastard children of Christian culture and ethics, but in a half-baked and distorted fashion).

Hitler's Nazis were more Teutonic pagans than any sort of nominal Christian. Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, and Protestantism are all Christian, so if WW II in Europe is to be construed a war of religions, it was a civil war.

Your English is a lot better than my nonexistent Russian!

Charles

Valid Observations

Charles,

I must say I was surprised by your article "Dueling Civilizations: Islam and the West." Surprised it was on a technology website and also very well written & intelligently argumented. I am an atheist, so I disagree with much of the religious rhetoric. That doesn't stop me appreciating that you had some very valid observations about American society. Also the points of difference between Islamic & Christian dogmas were interesting, and I'm sure very real to people immersed in them - and hence important to the rest of us since unfortunately both sides have a great deal of power.

I merely wanted to point out that you may be unaware of, ignoring or glossing over, some of your Christian heritage. If you read your history books, I think you will find that Norway was christened by sword & torture. Need I also mention the witch burnings in medieval Europe? What about the Spanish Inquisition? The Crusades? The age-long ostracision of anyone different? I think you will find that Christians have a great deal to be ashamed of, even if you despair that modern Christianity has lost its teeth.

In a speech at the University of Chicago, Bob McNamara (ex Sec. of Defense) said: "a society can reach a point at which additional military expenditure no longer provides additional security." My understanding of that is that the aforementioned society would instead have to think long and hard about how it had managed to make so many enemies for itself. These things, strangely, don't happen on their own...

I also think trying to view the global tension as merely two religions at odds with each other is a gross oversimplification. But that's a whole new debate. Unfortunately I have some work I really must be getting on with! regards, Magnus

PS - I've seen you sometimes post replies on Low End Mac. I suppose I cannot literally stop you doing this, but I would prefer if you mailed and asked me! (and certainly leave out my mail address!)

PPS - Thanks for your many good articles on WallStreets. Mine just keeps going & going!

Hi Jan,

Yes, I have read that King Magnus Olafsson (c. 1000 AD) encouraged Christian "conversions" by putting live adders down resister's throats.

Original sin, you know. Even people who claim to be Christian, or who really are Christian, are still sinners, and their fallen nature continues to incline them to moral failure.

Arguing over which group committed the worst atrocities throughout history this futile. It completely misses the point, the point of Christianity at least. The Christian good news is that Christ came to rescue us from the eternal consequences of our sinful behavior.

As St. Paul put it:

"For I delight in God's law after the inward man, but I see a different law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity under the law of sin which is in my members.

"What a wretched man I am! Who will deliver me out of the body of this death?

"I thank God through Jesus Christ, our Lord. So then I of myself with the mind, indeed serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin."

Charles

The Battle of Lepanto

From: Joseph Ballo

Just a footnote to your splendid essay on the relationship between Islam and Christianity. I wonder how many people have noted that the date of the battle of Lepanto and the date of the opening of the campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan are both the same, October 7th. Is it perhaps too much to hope that study of history is alive and well in the Pentagon. As for the basic premise of your essay, I can only paraphrase the character "Agent Smith" in the movie Matrix, "Islam is a disease."

Brute Sanity

From Chris Smolyk

A quote I ran across in the excellent India Unbound by Gurcharan Das....

Reformer has the idea that change can be achieved by brute sanity.
- George Bernard Shaw

To me, this quote applies, in the sense that it is real important to know when reasonable, rational approaches are simple not the right ones . . . as seems to be one of the points in your own excellent article.

chriss

Your Article

From: John Stirling Walker

Dear Mr. Moore,

I'm writing after reading your article on Islam and the West at Low End Mac. One year after the attacks, yours is the first expression of thought regarding the matter that accords precisely with my own in almost every detail.

I was in New York in the days before the attack, flying out the night of the tenth, and had been driving around the twin towers with a colleague the day before that, discussing precisely the question of America's influence in the world in its negative moral-cultural dimension.

I thought I would send you a poem I wrote about the attacks*, which I was invited to read for a reading at a poets' conference in Switzerland last November. My second poem on the events is being premiered, as set to music by my composer partner David Conte (a professor of composition at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music), as part of St. Bartholomew's summer music festival in Manhattan this Sunday the fifteenth; I was asked to write another one because the festival's music director felt that the first was not appropriate for a memorial to the deceased...

Best regards and thanks for your article,

John Stirling Walker

* The poem has been removed at the author's request.

Alternate Moralities

From Owen Strawn

Charles,

I think you are wrong when you talk about the moral rottenness in Western culture. You either ignore or deny the possibility of moralities other than traditional Christian morality. I understand where you are coming from, but I am insulted nonetheless.

Owen Strawn

Hi Owen,

My intent was not to insult anyone, but everyone is free to draw his own inference.

I believe that morality is absolute - that is, it reflects the created order. Things that are in accord with that created order are objectively moral. Things that are dissonant with that created order are objectively immoral. I'm sure that devout Muslims would agree with me on that point.

The challenge is to perceive and interpret that created order and then apply it to our behavior. I believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, and His revelation of the created moral order (viz: The Ten Commandments).

There can certainly be subjective moral constructs that are dissonant with the Judeo-Christian revelation, but when you have two contradictory truth-claims, they can't both be objectively true.

Jesus said: "I AM The Truth."

I believe Him and believe in Him. Moral constructs that contradict the Biblical standard are false. To affirm anything else makes profession of Christian faith a charade.

Charles

Thanks You!

From Fred Bauman

I just wanted to drop a line of thanks for the first truly thoughtful and correct article to tackle Christian/Islamic relations.

I also appreciate the conviction to be doing more as a child of God.

God Bless,
Fred Bauman

Thanks for the kind words.

Charles

Religion Has No Scientific Basis

From RIMD

I assume for some personal reason you felt compelled to write this piece. I was wondering if you realized the latent intolerance you have expressed for non-Christians and "the disciples of Marx and Freud" which again come out as any non-Christians. I only write to express my concern that while you and most people wish for peace, this form of personal expression carries with it the risk of creating even larger divides between people who hold mystical belief systems.

While you no doubt believe Christ is the the Son of God, the one True God, there is no scientific (in the most empirical sense) basis for such a claim. We could argue for centuries and fight blood wars about it, but interestingly enough we can both prove there is such a thing as a SCSI disk drive.

I came to LEM to hear about Macs. I strongly believe in the necessity of free speech, and I wish you to do nothing to inhibit it. Say what you will, but please realize that there are some of us who think Jesus and Allah and all the other gods are fantasies. (This is where you pity and pray for us.) People are people, but fanatical ideologies - be they Christian or Muslim or Capitalistic or some diet or exercise program - all have one thing in common: They are fanatical, in the realm of the fanatic who needs only the flames of passion to send him on a path of action.

In my personal opinion, your views, while wrapped in fancy words and carefully using quotes, was clearly pro-Christian, anti-Islam (almost anti all non-Christians). That attitude is based, IMHO, in your ignorance and is similar to what whites have written about blacks (notable whites such as Charles Darwin) for centuries. Put away your fear for a moment and look in the mirror.

Take Care,
RIMD

Hi RIMD,

You appear to be of a mind that expression of disagreement ipso facto implies "intolerance" - a notion that regrettably seems to be gaining traction in our distempered era.

I'm not anti-anybody, as individuals. I am, however, unabashedly pro-Christian.

How to address a social ethic of religious pluralism is a particular problem for serious Christians, because the essence of Christian belief is that Jesus Christ was not only a great moral teacher and prophet, but that He was and is God, the Creator of the Universe incarnate; that His revelation of God's nature to humanity in His person was unique; and that His personal blood sacrifice on the cross provided the only solution for the human dilemma of original sin, and the sole way to eternal salvation of the human soul.

These are the claims of Jesus himself, as recorded in the New Testament, outside of which we know little about Him at all. Consequently, to propose that other religions, in the areas where they contradict Christian doctrine and teaching, could be "equally true," renders the Christian gospel nonsensical. Either Jesus Christ rose literally from the dead on the third day after His crucifixion, or He didn't. If He did, He's God; end of argument. If He didn't, then Christianity isnonsensical and a complete charade and waste of time.

Christianity's universal truth claims and insistence that Jesus is the only way to salvation, tend to invite allegations of arrogance and intolerance. Some individual Christians can indeed be arrogant and intolerant, which doesn't commend them. However, the accusations do not hold up in a general sense.

For one thing, Christian faith is predicated on free will. It is impossible to coerce or bamboozle someone into being a genuine Christian. Consequently, it is no accident or coincidence that the modern social ethic of religious freedom was developed in Christian societies. Even a cursory study of the status of religious (and indeed civil) freedom in the world today, will reveal that it exists as a practical reality almost exclusively in nations that have a strong Christian tradition.

A 1998-99 survey of political rights and civil liberties around the world by Freedom House, a Washington-based NGO founded in 1941 by Eleanor Roosevelt, found that of the 88 countries rated as "free," "79 [90 percent] are majority Christian by tradition or belief."

The point of Christian evangelism, properly understood, is not to win an argument or to coerce others to "be like us," but rather to share with them what we sincerely believe to be the ultimate truth of life and universe, and the salvation of their eternal souls.

I can't prove to you using Bacon's scientific method that God exists. However, you can't prove He doesn't. Your position is no less based on faith than mine.

Charles

Enjoyed Your Article

From Robert Tweedy

I have very much enjoyed your article posted today on LEM.

May I respectfully recommend a book called The Clash of Civilizations by Samuel P. Huntington. While Mr Huntington seems to be committed to the view that God does not interfere in human affairs, he makes a compelling case for the same viewpoint you have taken in your article.

Robert Tweedy

The 'Dark Side' of Islam

From Bob Nobis

I just read your article "Dueling Civilizations: Islam and the West" and found it to be quite interesting.

I travel quite extensively in Southeast Asia, including predominantly Muslim countries like Indonesia and Malaysia. I have seen glimpses of the "dark side" of Islam you describe in your article.

I was wondering if you could suggest any reading material that might help me better understand Islam and the Muslim thought process, especially as it applies to non-Muslims.

Best regards,
Bob Nobis

Hi Bob,

The book Robert Tweedy recommends just above sounds like a good one.

Charles

'Headed for a Bad Ending'

From Pete Ottman

Charles,

I enjoyed reading your insights into the issue of Islam and the West.

I do find that I'm not nearly as negative as you about the status and outlook for Western society. As I read, I kept thinking of how every generation seems to think the world has gone to pot and that the end-times are approaching. Sure, we have many social problems in the West, which are magnified by many factors, but they hardly seem to trumpet the fall of the society. I look at the difference in the rights allowed (how does one word this?) to groups that 150 years ago were not allowed those rights - to own land, to vote, to not be forced into slavery, etc. - and think in many ways things have improved for many. On the downside, we have a society showing unbelievable amounts of sex and violence and "immoral" behavior on TV and movies. Is that a trade off for the gains? Is it acceptable?

I've been thinking about such things as of late and have come to the conclusion that there is no simple answer. This is a clash of religions and cultures that seems headed for a bad ending as long as the West is dependent on crude oil and is bound to Israel. While I contend Christianity was a violent religion in its past, in the last few hundred years that has changed with the strengthening of the nation-state/democracy, which has pushed religion to the side. I would guess you think is part of the problem.

The West has grown up a bit in some ways, as evidenced by gains in human rights and the like, but is still childish. It is inflicted with the disease that is mass media where everything is entertainment, it has taken up the belief that being politically correct is more important than critical thought, it is ruled by politicians (US) that see only as far as the next poll and on a good day the next election, and those so-called leaders support regimes that oppress their peoples because those regimes offer stability. That puts us at odds with people that might actually like the freedoms enjoyed in the West, regardless their religion. Then again, perhaps they would still hate the West. (By the west I don't mean just the US but Western society. The US is just the poster child for that society.)

Anyway, as usual you've made me think. Thanks,

Pete Ottman

Hi Pete,

You summarized one of the central operative dilemmas in the last two sentences of your third paragraph. Most of us can find lots of comfortable things to like about living in liberal society. But have they been worth the cost?

At what point does the exercise of freedom become license > licentiousness > depravity? The answer, IMHO, it that there can be no real freedom without accountability to God.

Christianity has always acknowledged the moral free agency of individuals - the inherent capacity (and indeed obligation) to make moral choices between virtue and vice; good and evil; but in full cognizance that there will be unpleasant consequences attached to willful moral failure. Liberals dislike that concept, contending that freedom of choice itself is the essential virtue, and that the moral adequacy of behavior resulting from voluntary choices is a matter of moral indifference. That stance is, of course, nonsensical and selectively inconsistent, since there are plenty of behaviors liberals regard as morally inadequate - making judgments about other people's sex lives, for example - but also a wide variety of more consensually agreed upon moral shortcomings like murdering, raping, etc.

The rationalistic workaround has been the proposition that wrong moral choices (as defined by liberals) do not stem from free will or failure to honour external moral standards, but rather are caused by faulty social or familial environmental factors or even genetic predisposition, and thus the individual is not truly morally culpable, but just needs education and rehabilitation.

Thus, the liberal version of freedom isn't actually freedom at all, but an odd mixture of libertinism combined with determinism. As P. J. O'Rourke has observed, "That liberals aren't enamored of real freedom may have something to do with responsibility - that cumbersome backpack which all free men have to lug on life's aerobic nature hike. The second item in the liberal creed, after self-righteousness, is unaccountability. Liberals have invented college majors - psychology, sociology, women's studies - to prove that nothing is anybody fault. No one is fond of taking responsibility for his actions, but consider how much you'd have to hate free will to come up with a political platform that advocates killing unborn babies but not convicted murderers."

Freedom without accountability is bogus and is merely a camouflaged form of slavery to, say, supposed genetic determination or a culture of disordered sexuality.

On his visit to Poland last month, Pope John Paul II denounced "the noisy propaganda of liberalism, of freedom without truth or responsibility," and affirmed that "the Church cannot fail to proclaim the one fool - proof philosophy of freedom, which is the truth of Jesus Christ."

You made me think too. Thanks.

Charles

Islam & Christianity: Time Is the Difference

From Bradley Price

Dear Mr. Moore,

Only a quick note, I must retire for the evening.

Your article comparing Islam and Christianity, while interesting, presents truly a contrast between the pre- and postmodern point of view - both pre-rational. Historically, Christians have been perfectly capable of using their mythic beliefs to intimidate, overrun, and, yes, kill others in order to see their view of the world prevail (the Crusades, the colonization of the Americas, mythic foundations of Nazism, countless European wars, etc.). The difference here is primarily one of culture and time, with Christianity as you experience it being very different from what you would have seen 100, 200, or 300 years ago. What Christ said, what Mohammed said, makes little real difference. All religions have been shaped and reshaped by the political institutions and events of their time and place.

In a twisted knot of coincidence, fate, and determination, the Christian West has had the opportunity to rise above it's own mythology and reconstruct itself in a different light. While remnants are still about in fundamentalist sects, the violence that pervaded the Crusades is now unthinkable. But it was not Christianity itself that changed that point of view, but a broad evolution of the Christian cultures via technology, education, and economic revolutions. These revolutions were largely successful because they moved Christian cultures out of the realm of mythic reality to mythic symbolism, freeing populations from fundamentalist thinking that capped innovation and enterprise, even though the Church vigorously opposed them. Revolutions that for many reasons, few of them dogmatic, the lands of Islam have missed.

You are correct in saying that communication with these groups is difficult, if not impossible. The cultural gap is wide, and the level at which the respective mythologies are understood very different. But to write off 1 billion people as beyond hope is to give way to the worst instincts of man and his spirit. It reveals that some in Christianity can indeed be as self righteous as those they despise, a path that will certainly not lead to a better situation for either party.

I am neither Muslim, Christian, or Jew. But I find it all fascinating, and nowadays just a little depressing.

Kind Regards,
Bradley Price

Hi Bradley,

I refer to myself unapologetically as philosophically pre-modern.

Pre-modern people understood that without God there is no objective authority on which to ground knowledge. Bona fide moral values rest on creative causation in which things have intrinsic meaning and order. Without a concept of absolute truth, there can be no moral order - no definitive right and wrong. When anything anyone says could be the truth, truth is eclipsed and you get disorder, confusion, and despair.

The rise of modernism about 300 years ago brought with it the insupportable notion that a base for knowledge could be established solely on human rationality. Facts were substituted for truth as the basic knowledge-paradigm. God became optional (at best) where knowledge was concerned - or so the moderns thought. Facts were considered self-sufficient, without reference to any causative purpose behind them.

For a while this system appeared to work well enough in a social sense. Factual knowledge grew rapidly through application of Francis Bacon's scientific method, and democracy appeared to flourish and thrive in lockstep with increasing productivity and prosperity. However, by dispensing with divine authority and purpose, the moderns removed the foundation for real knowledge. Social order now depended to an ever greater extent upon the accumulated moral capital of the pre-modern age. By mid-20th Century that momentum had run down and the moral nest-egg was pretty well spent.

Consequently, we have generations of postmodern nihilists, who, like pre-moderns, recognize that without God there can be no knowledge. But since postmoderns also suppose that the moderns long since killed God, they despair that knowledge, purpose, values, objective good, right or wrong are possible. Theirs is a chaotic world drained of meaning and purpose - theirs the torment of existential dread, alienation, and anticipated annihilation of the soul. With no God to rebel against, these postmoderns have turned, with poetic irony, against the modernist, humanist rationality that engendered their dilemma. They instinctively recognize the spiritual and philosophical bankruptcy of moral relativism, but have been brainwashed into believing there is no alternative.

I don't despise Muslims, and I haven't written anyone off as hopeless. Ultimately, their eternal estate is between them and God.

However, what I believe to be God's unique revelation in the Bible and the Holy Tradition of the Church teaches that outside of faith in Christ there is no salvation. Whether the salvific net, so to speak, is broader than that seems to imply is not for me to say. I rather hope than it is, but I wouldn't personally want to gamble on it.

Jesus said: "Believe and be baptized, and you will be saved," and "no one cometh to the Father but by me," and "I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life."

I believe.

Charles

Decadence of the West

From Gerald Wilson

Dear Charles,

Although I was brought up in a Christian household (Presbyterian, which is about as basic as it comes in the UK), I do not actively practice that faith. It would be truer to describe me as a "Liberal Humanist with Buddhist Leanings," if you get my drift.

Nevertheless, I hold great regard for the fundamental ethical framework of Christianity, and I share your dismay about the decadence of the West. Being Liberal does not require one necessarily to be Decadent, but rather to recognize that freedom only comes at the price of responsibility. Like many of my colleagues, I have recognized for some years that there is a grassroots schism between the strictly intolerant principles of Islam and the looser principles of tolerance, developed from the Judeo-Christian tradition, which steer the West, albeit erratically.

So I salute you for having the guts to say what others dare not say. I expect you will get plenty of flak. Despite that, I share your pessimistic view that the schism is irreparable. I greatly fear that, unless Islam changes enough to banish forever the notion of "infidel", the next Great War will be between Islam and All-The-Rest and - worse - it must be a fight to the death.

Best wishes,
Gerald W Wilson

Hi Gerald,

See my comments to Pete Ottman above.

I agree that Islam and the West are on a collision course. Biblical prophecy predicts a great battle to end all battles in the Middle East. One has to be very careful with speculative interpretation, but these days the pieces of the puzzle seem to be falling into place.

Charles

We Must Live Together

From Mike Jackson

Mr. Moore:

I very much appreciated your Dueling Civilizations piece, and, if directed towards the born once Christians that make up the fabric of our workaday world, I think it should be a must read.

However, having been interested in the Muslim faith for many years in my joy in comparing religions, I think you have missed the mark on a couple of issues.

First, it is possible for the Muslim faith to coexist in Western societies that value freedom of religion and expression. Muslims are not required to convert Christians by the sword any more than they are expected to convert Jews, as they are both people "of the book."

Second, radical interpretations of the Koran are tempered by the Traditions of the Prophet and Koranic interpretations of the Muslim Saints. It has been often been made in comparison the similarities between the radical Christian sects such as the KKK and the Political Islamists who want to run (spank?) the world today. The strict interpretation of Jihad as a concept of action and direction is as misguided as a Christian taking literally Jesus' second coming with the sword, or the hymn 'Onward Christian Soldiers' as a directive and not an anthem. The Prophet left no directives as to how his 'raps' (and that's pretty much what his Suras, or recitations are) were to be used after his death or even if they were to be written.

Jihad, as interpreted by the majority of practicing Muslims, is war to subjugate the errant portions of our souls that are ever tempted by Iblis (The Devil).

If literal interpretations of religion inhibit our progress as moral creatures who must live together on this ever shrinking planet then they are best done away with.

- Mike Jackson

Hi Mike,

But what if some of the literal interpretations are true?

Anyway, while of course many Muslims coexist peacefully in Western democracies where they are a minority, when Islam gets hold of the reins of state it is usually another matter entirely. Try holding a Christian church service in Saudi Arabia and see how quickly the sword comes out.

As Don Feder notes in a September 11 column:

"Every day, the World Trade Center massacre is reenacted on a smaller scale somewhere in the Third World - Jewish women and children are burned alive in a bus on the West Bank, a missionary is beheaded in the Philippines, gunmen shoot up a church in Pakistan (deliberately firing into the prostrate bodies of women trying to shield their children), ancient monasteries and convents are destroyed in Kosovo, a woman is sentenced to death for adultery in Nigeria, Hindus are murdered in the Kashmir, a nun is found beheaded in Baghdad - and the beat goes on.

"Genocide in the Sudan, ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, religious persecution in Saudi Arabia, calls for another holocaust in mosques from Mecca to Gaza, the imposition of Islamic law in Nigeria, forced conversions in Indonesia, synagogues burned in France, Jews attacked across Europe - these are everyday events, as the Third World and much of the First slowly turns Islamic green.

"And still our leaders, from President Bush on down, insist on peddling the absurdity that Islam is a religion of peace - a creed of kindness and benevolence tragically and inexplicably corrupted by fanatics....

"Of 22 conflicts in the Third World, 20 involve Moslems versus someone else. Coincidence? In his brilliant book, Clash of Cultures and the Remaking of World Order, Samuel Huntington speaks of Islam's 'bloody borders.'

"There is no Methodist Jihad, no Hasidic holy warriors, no Southern Baptist suicide bombers, no Mormon elders preaching the annihilation of members of other faiths.

"Islam is a warrior religion - the perfect vessel for fanatics, the violence-prone, the envious and haters of all stripes. This is one reason why Islam is making so many converts among the peaceable denizens of our prison system.

"Still, much of the West is addicted to a fairy-tale version of Islam. Christian and Jewish clergy fall all over themselves to have interfaith services with imams. Representatives of Moslem groups are invited to the White House. The president signs a Ramadan declaration. In California, public schools ask children to role-play at being Moslems. Our universities take carefully selected verses from the Koran and present them as the essence of the faith. All that's needed is a Moslem character on Sesame Street. Look - it's the Jihad Monster!"

Moving along, personally, I don't believe that moral progress is possible in an evolutionary sense. I don't accept that people are intrinsically more moral today than they were 2000 or 5000 years ago.

Cultures have evolved, and we are more concerned with the rights of the individual in this culture than in most that have preceded us. However, our sexual morality, for instance, is a train wreck.

IMHO, moral progress means becoming more consonant with God's moral law revealed in Holy Scripture, and in His revelation of Himself in the person of Jesus Christ.

Charles

All Religions Are Basically Intolerant

From Al Shep

Mr. Moore,

You are maybe correct in your interpretations of Islam, but are fundamentally incorrect in your interpretations of people. You also forget that Jesus never abandoned the teaching of the Old Testament and its sometimes less than forgiving tenets.

The Klan and the Crusades are examples of the Christians not being so Christian.

To say all who follow the teachings of the Christ practice his teachings the same way and/or emphasize the same aspects of those teachings is a flawed assertion. The same way it is a fundamentally flawed assertion about Islam.

And lastly, it can be argued that all religions are basically intolerant. Look at the fate of Jews throughout history, or any peoples in a place with different beliefs than their own. Again, the Crusades, Klan, and the current push for Christianity to be recognized as the religion of the USA.

Hope you have a good day and a great life.

~al

Hi Al,

Jesus unequivocally affirmed the Law of God as revealed in the Ten Commandments. His message was that our inevitable failure to keep the absolute Law of God could be forgiven through genuine repentance and belief in him as the atoning sacrifice for our just punishment for out sins.

The Klan I have no use for. Some of them may be professing Christians, but the hate they advocate is profoundly unChristian. However, the Crusades are a more complex matter.

T. S. Eliot observed: "Among [the Crusaders] were a few good men, Many who were evil, And most who were neither, Like all men in all places."

There were eight major crusades to the East, beginning with the First Crusade pronounced in 1096 by Urban II to aid Christians in the Holy Land who were increasingly beleaguered by the Seljuk Turks, with the objective of putting Jerusalem under Christian control and securing safe passage routes for Christians making pilgrimages to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The Crusades nominally ended when the last crusader stronghold in the Middle East, Acre, fell to the Mamelukes in 1291.

Perhaps the greatest irony is that while the West "lost" the Eastern Crusades in terms of geographical territory, during the 195 year series of campaigns it gained a vast amount of intellectual and philosophical territory - ideas that the Western knights encountered in the Holy Land that were novel to western thought.

Greek classic philosophy was reintroduced to Europe largely as a result of the Crusades. St. Thomas Aquinas drew heavily on the work of Muslim classical philosophers Avicenna and Averroes in formulating what would from the foundation of Western modern thought. Aquinas might have had second thoughts had he known what modernism would wreak, but that European Christian civilization become the universal global culture that today's Islamic fundamentalists revile, is attributable in no small measure to the Crusades as a conduit to Europe for medieval Islamic scholarship.

Charles

The 11th and Your Article

From David Getzin

You must be receiving much impassioned mail of late in response to your well-reasoned article "Dueling Civilizations." I hope that the breath of what I can say will lend light rather than heat to the topics you discussed.

I have to say that I was saddened to read your article. The ideas you put forth (many of which I agree with, the West being Christian-based, currently losing its form that once held it together etc...)

However, I do take issue with much of what you said, which hinges on a pessimism and possible misunderstandings that sorrow my heart to be read.

Before I respond to your ideas, I feel I should make a short disclosure to my stand on things. Many would call me an Odd Duck. I am an American, born and raised of long since blended English, German, and Irish descent. The short answer to my religious question is that I am a Buddhist Methodist. Politically I would be called a socialist green, but oddly enough Pat Buchannan makes a lot of sense to me when he isn't bad-mouthing his usual groups of people. I am not a fan of much that is politically correct. PC is like a new decorum that allows us to hide from the glares of life while appearing to be above it all.

Firstly, what immediately struck me was your headlined quote, "A failure of Western reality perception is the notion that Islam can be reasoned with." It could be said with the same weight of verity that it is a failure of Saudi reality perception that the United States can be reasoned with. You could even replace Saudi with "Iranain Reformist" if you like. Both of these nations have in the past years (Iran before 9-11, and the Saudi's after) attempted to "open dialogue" with the west. Both calls for open dialogue have been rejected by the US, first Iran by Clinton, and then S. Arabia by the Bush administration. For reference to the pre-9-11 Iranian attempts, CNN's Christianne Amonpour did an interview with Iranian President Mohammad Khatami a while back.

Take a look at the sweeping generalization of this statement:

Diplomacy and reason never work with Islam.

The above would be very hard to argue as holding true. Islam is very very large to begin with, and so is history. Currently, much reason and diplomacy on the part of parts of Islam is failing to work with the USA.

Also this from your article:

The Western liberal obsession with "dialogue" has always been futile in confrontation with Islamic intransigence and self-righteousness.

Noting the above stated failed attempts at diplomacy with the U.S. on the behalf of Islamic nations, it seems that what you call a "liberal obsession with 'dialogue'" hardly consists of a monopoly. Islam is also a religion that prizes reason and logic, much in the same way that Judaism does. All through the middle east there are Universities of Islamic Jurisprudence. Now, some of the institutions are very reactionary , and some are not. It should be noted that reason can lead to violence as well as peace. However, engaging Islam in reasonable dialogue is not something that is foreign to them. As we are also Humans capable of Reason - such dialogs should offer a common currency of information between us.

Now, as to your assertion that, "There is no religious freedom in Islamic culture." - it is simply false, and I hope that you would be heartened by such a claim rather than offended. Historically Islamic states have been far more tolerant than Christian Nations.

You wrote:

For all our faults and moral failures, the West is still, thanks to residual Christianity, a better place to live than Islamic nations. We have much to atone for, but cultural suicide and capitulation to Islam is not the answer

I agree that we have many faults and moral failures. I also agree that the west is a better place to live than most Islamic nations. However, I believe that such is not because of any "residual Christianity." Even inherent in your description, residual Christianity is in a fairly sorry state. Much of it is politically and morally impotent, and what American Christianity does wield influence (the right-leaning Christian Coalition) is a reactionary and fundamentalist force, that when adjusted for small cultural differences , holds positions strikingly similar to those of her sister movements in the Middle-East.

The reasons we are better off comes in two main ways, a sound and beautiful Constitution (being sadly dismantled for scrap in the war on terror), and an economic prosperity that while often built by stepping on the backs of others, (first slavery, and immigrant labour, and now on the same overseas.) keeps us fiscally relatively well off.

If you have read this far through my long-wrought prose, I congratulate you for your patience and honourably true attachment to the productively open exchange of ideas.

I suppose that the main thrust of my patter is this: We do not have to fight them. When since the 11th have we encountered Islamic aggression? By and large the USA has been the aggressor, before and after the 11th. Our aggression, not, as Bush would have it, our "freedoms" or our religion is what "makes them hate us" - it is our naked and clothed violence in the region of the Mideast that provoked the horrid attacks. If you love a terrorist in word, deed and prayer, he loses his power, even his reason to exist, then he becomes not a terrorist, but another human - swimming the same struggles that we do. We can work with them. We don't have to work against them.

But, our government does not seem to hold that Christian belief. We are told that it is in our best interests to continue killing. Here is where I share your sadness and pessimism. - thank God we live in a democracy and may, if we are loud enough, be heard, if not by Bush, then by the terrorists themselves when as Christians we say we love them, carrying our actions, pure and close to our hearts.

~aom-llama-hum-kam-aom~

with love,
David Getzin

Hi David,

Thanks for your comments, and I appreciate your reasoned and irenic approach.

I've addressed some of the points you raise in answers to other correspondents above, so I will try to not repeat myself too much. I continue to contend that religious freedom is largely nonexistent in the Islamic world. In some Islamic states there is grudging semi-tolerance, but Christians and other non-Islamic religionists are beleaguered and certainly not permitted to actively proselytize.

Are you seriously suggesting that because there have been no successful terrorist attacks on America in the past year (save, of course, for the anthrax assaults, and what about the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Karachi back in June?) that the threat of Islamic aggression is no longer significant? I think that has something to do with the extraordinary security measures that have been put in place, and the fact that al Quaeda has been taking a bad pounding from the US for the past 12 months.

What about Saddam's aggression against Kuwait in 1990 and his gassing and poisoning of Kurdish Iraqi citizens? What about the US Embassy bombings? What about the U.S.S. Cole? What about the hundreds of thousands of Christians and other religionists in Islamic states who are being actively persecuted, many tortured and killed? What about the grannies and babies killed by Palestinian suicide bombers? Just a few examples.

I think we need to work against these activities.

Charles

'Our Hands Are Drenched in Arab Blood'

From K. Resche

Dear Charles:

I reacted with horror reading the first few paragraphs of your article . . . I've always enjoyed your articles, but this being Sept. 11, I'd had enough war mongering propaganda, lies, sanctimonious self-righteousness, and stupidity.

I had to react strongly to your first few paragraphs . . . after all, you fail to observe exactly whom is suffering the death, destruction, and displacement . . . namely, Arabs at our hands or at the hands of our clients.

I liked the article nonetheless; at least your main thesis isn't another example of hysterical mob baiting. It is actually rare these days to read a journalist who devotes more than 10% of his brain and education to this topic . . . so scared are they all of stepping out from beyond what is allowed.

Nonetheless, you fail to consider if Islam in this age "would" be disposed to fruitful intercourse with the West . . . if we would be so generous as to not bankroll dictators and despots, to exploit their every fault and weakness, but allow their own political, social, and cultural evolution to proceed with respect and non interference beyond the normal. If we would not overwhelmingly arm a nation of refugee's to kill, murder, and displace one of the integral nations . . . a colonial enterprise by a client state that considers the inhabitants as less than human . . . whose religion considers them less than "dogs," and engages in peace negotiations purely as a propaganda exercise and another tool of provocation and humiliation.

Our hands are drenched in Arab blood. We support a regime that is in no way less committed to a genocide than the Nazi party . . . while we call Arafat a "Hitler"....

I do not think that as an excuse, or a passive protest of innocence can be achieved by constructing interpretations based on Christianity, Religious, or Social history. This is nothing but a red herring, the "big, big" lie . . . so big, so grandiloquent . . . we can do little but acquiesce.

Much of the points you make should be correct; it's just too bad they do not take into account just how bad things really are or how beyond that point things have fallen . . . this is far beyond a clash of civilizations . . . any westerner who takes refuge in the comfort of the shared values of the "west" to describe this situation may find comfort, not truth. The values of the Christian "west" have always respected empirical truth . . . at least in statecraft . . . but for the Anglo-American west, that is no longer and necessity, if not a hindrance.

I'm not entirely sure if the values of the "West" or the Christian nations of Western Europe are the same as the values of Anglo-America of the 21st century, other than the little ethnic bits preserved for the middle class.

As for quotations from the Koran . . . lets try juxtrapositioning quotations from the Torah . . . or even more blood chilling . . . the various mishnah's of the Talmud that refers directly to the position of the heretic in the Godly world.

Exactly whom's scriptures are scriptures of sword and blood? I will tell you something, Mr. Moore . . . you're correct in your assessment of imperialism in the Koran . . . if we are to hold people to the ancient scriptures they keep . . . far more explicit than the Torah . . . but it is also far more explicit regarding the honour of a man than the psychopathic deity who appears in the Old Testament . . . the lying, the backstabbing and deceit, all commanded and sanction by God . . . (incidentally the same God) . . . where honour upon Men seems little more than vanity in the eyes of G-d.

To imply your own religion is less interesting in terms of the death dealt to the another's community is little less than pure ignorance.

Any who critiques the Muslim world by their ancient scriptures and who does not critique the West and it's Israeli clients by theirs . . . is a propagandist and a liar . . . it's as simple as that.

You all seem to forget one of the essential things about fairness and justice . . . that it applies to both sides equally.

Blood chilling scriptures aside . . . men are men everywhere and will not resort to the extremes of the ancient scriptures without the temptation of despoiling another's birthright or the provocations of a struggle for national survival . . . Islam is in a battle for it's very survival, peaceful, temperate, modern or the opposite, any tactic that will yield results is tried as a civilization will try anything, any cost to survive. This is just part of it's nature . . . like any organism.

It is terrible when a subject is so dispiriting that even a excellent journalist such as yourself can not deal truthfully with it. That you must resort to quotations from your minister (what the hell would he know about it? Are you saying you believe in magic now?).

"Clash of Civilizations" for sure . . . but don't look to Islam . . . Look to the "West" or Anglo-American society and Israel. It is our intentions that obviously need studying, not Islam. There posture is defensive, notwithstanding so many farcical fingers pointed at their medieval scriptures . . . (do we not have our own thousand years old scripture to blame?).

Enough red herrings Mr. Moore.

Surely the west has enough base propagandist without sullying your own honour and reputation.

Sincerely
K. Resche

Hi K. Resche,

As God said to Job out of the whirlwind:

"Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?

"Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me.

"Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding."

God is God; we are us. It is absurd for us to critique Him.

I note from your email address that you're writing from Canada, and you seem to be going with the flow.

As Andrew Coyne noted in the National Post last week, "An avalanche of polls released this week reveal Canadians are still the same fearful hypocrites they always were."

Coyne cites a Globe and Mail reporting that 84% of Canadians, in a poll commissioned by that newspaper, think the United States "bears at least some responsibility" for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, "because of its policies and actions." A further 75% told the same poll that Canada had done either "enough" or "too much" to support the United States in the war on terrorism to date.

As Coyne further observes:

"So: Sorry about the thousands of dead - though you did ask for it. Just don't expect us to help you defend yourselves. Or us, for that matter: 79% of Canadians told a National Post poll they expect the United States to protect us if we ever do come under attack.

"Truly was it written: With great impotence comes great irresponsibility."

It is to despair. At times like these, I'm ashamed to be Canadian.

As for your references to Israel, you seem to harbor the notion that the Palestinian cause is morally superior. Hogwash!

In that conflict, the Israelis represent the side of civilization, order, and the rule of law; the Palestinians terrorism, mayhem, and warlordism. Civilized people do not institutionalize strapping high explosive nail bombs to teenagers and having them suicidally detonate in crowds of children.

Since 1948, the Palestinian Arabs have been a militarily conquered people, but they have been treated much more fairly than Jewish minorities in any Islamic theocracy you can name. Arab citizens of Israel can vote in real democratic elections (which are also exceedingly thin on the ground in Islamic states) and stand for election themselves and sit in the Knesset if elected. They can work and prosper economically within the Israeli economy. They can practice their religion without interference. If they are unhappy with these conditions, they are also free to emigrate.

The argument is often heard that all the Palestinians want is a self-governing homeland with secure borders. The Israeli government has accommodated these aspirations to a degree that would be unheard of in response to similar demands from Jewish minorities in any Islamic country.

However, even if Palestinians were granted full political autonomy and military control of the West Bank and Gaza, anyone who believes they would be satisfied with that and stand down their terrorist campaign against the Israeli "occupation" of greater Palestine, is dreaming in Technicolor. The stated objective of the Palestinian terrorist group, Hamas, is to build an Islamic republic in all of Palestine, including what is now Israel. The other major Palestinian terrorist organization, Hizballah, which has nine seats in the Lebanese parliament, has called for a pan-Islamic jihad against Israel and the West.

If there is a workable proposal for "compromise" in Palestine, I have yet to hear it. The nature of this conflict is that one side or the other must prevail I'm rooting for the side of civilization, democracy, and the rule of law.

Charles

Christianity, Judaism, and Islam Are All Fanatic Religions

From Andrew Main

Charles,

I didn't have/take time to respond to your recent essay on the related subject of religious indoctrination in tax-supported schools (I'm agin' it, whether Christian or "secular humanist" - see below), but this time I can't resist.

I'm sorry, but your somewhat labored attempt to portray Christianity as a religion of "tolerance" rings as hollow as the "Islam is a religion of peace" campaign you (rightly) deride. I don't know enough about Islam to evaluate in detail your (certainly biased) portrayal of its character, but in all your essay sounds to me mostly like the pot calling the kettle black.

As you yourself say,

"The essential claims of Islam are fundamentally in conflict with the essential claims of Christianity. Both religions claim exclusive, universal, moral sovereignty." [emphasis added]

Exactly, and this is why I have no use for either of them. I class both Islam and Christianity together with Judaism as the "Semitic Religions:" Born of the fanatic, belligerent, absolutist, imperial, life-is-cheap tribal culture of the ancient desert Middle East, all three provide in their scriptures and teachings ample justification for hatred and cruelty toward anyone outside the tribe, and overwhelming historical example of acting on that justification. All three are also what I call human-chauvinist, their attitude toward the world we live in and on and all other living beings absolutely lacking in any kind of consideration, much less sympathy.

"By contrast, there is no imprimatur in the Christian message for oppression of, much less slaughtering, unbelievers."

If that is true (which I doubt - but I'm not enough of a scholar of Christianity to explore the point), then the vast majority of "Christians" in the last 2000 years must have been something else. If that's your argument - that out of several billion professed Christians, only a few dozen really are Christian-you should make it clearly. H. G. Wells did have a point: "Christianity is a great idea; too bad nobody's tried it yet." Meanwhile, I can only go on what the world has actually seen of Christianity as a socio-political-historical force. Didn't your own Teacher say, "By their fruits ye shall know them"? Hundreds of millions imprisoned, tortured, enslaved, oppressed, immolated, slaughtered, forced to convert not only from "pagan" ancient ways but - even more savagely - between various Christian sects. All, of course, "for their own good."

It is really only in the last century or so, as Western Christianity has been sapped, as you describe, of much of its former vigor, that the idea of tolerance has made much headway in Christian teaching (outside of a few oddball sects like the Quakers and . . . well, I can't think of any other Christian sect that maintains any humility in its attitude toward the rest of the world). For the first ca. 1800 years of Christian history, "live-and-let-live" Christians were about as rare as "peaceful" Muslims have been in the first 1300 years of their tradition.

And, as the recent flap over the prayer-in-school issue shows, should Christianity regain any of that lost vigor, we can be sure it would also return to its former habits. (The solution to that particular problem, of course, is to separate school - as well as church - from the state, and let each family educate its children as they see fit. Since there is no such thing as education without indoctrination, there is no way that education supported by taxes - i.e. involuntary, coerced contributions from all citizens - can avoid displeasing some while teaching the "values" that others approve. Curious that this is the one point on which the Christian "conservatives" and secular humanist "liberals" - for whom I have no more use than you do - are agreed: in total opposition to such a separation. Both share exactly the same addiction to power and dream of minding everyone else's business.)

As Tom Jefferson wrote, "...that to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical...." ( http://www.nv.cc.va.us/home/nvsageh/Hist121/Part2/VaStatRelFree.htm).

I've known some pretty good Christians, but that Christian claim of exclusivity is always there, whether foreground or background. They simply can't let it go; it's too basic to the entire belief system. Which means that to be Christian is, sooner or later, one way or another, without fail, to be at war with the rest of the world. I'm not interested in any such war. While I will agree that any person of sincere spiritual intent must exert considerable effort, I see the legitimate aim of that effort as the perfection of one's own character and behavior, not the coercion of others, or the remaking of the world by force in one's own image-which I believe to be impossible in any case. (Not just unlikely, but literally and absolutely impossible.)

Of course I would prefer to live in the United States rather than in, say, Saudi Arabia; but that is not really a "religious" comparison. For a valid comparison on those grounds, try, say, medieval Spain and its Inquisition. Or 17th-century England, where George Fox (founder of the Quaker community) was imprisoned for decades in a tiny stone cell, forced to sit in a puddle of water, badgered and tortured, for the crime of dissenting from the Established Church.

While the founders of the American Republic may have been Christian in one sense or another in their personal lives, their revolution was against the long tradition of spiritual tyranny in Christian Europe. No doubt they would have liked the similar Islamic tradition even less; but the real contrast is between Christianity/Islam on the one hand, and the individualist, fiercely independent culture of northwestern Europe, transplanted by Anglo-Saxon colonists to the New World, on the other.

To whatever extent Christianity may be more "tolerant" than Islam, this is due not to its basically Semitic nature, but to the admixture of classical Greek and later Western European culture, which were, like Indo-European culture in general, relatively tolerant and pluralistic in the spiritual realm. In classical Greece, as in Rome, Celtic/Germanic Europe, and Aryan India, spirituality has traditionally been seen as an individual concern, and up to each person to figure out for himself.

Rome before Constantine had a state church, but it was mostly a ceremonial matter, and individual citizens were free to worship what, whom, or how they wished, so long as they didn't hassle anyone else. It was the Christian takeover of Rome that brought religious fascism to the West.

In truth, of the three present major world religions, only one is really culturally related to "white" western Europeans, and that is (what the West calls) Buddhism, whose founder spoke an Indo-European language (a vernacular form of Sanskrit) related to our own (while Hebrew and Arabic, both of the Semitic family, are not) and preached a gospel based entirely on individual freedom, personal responsibility, and reason, requiring neither blind belief, mob submersion, nor mindless fanaticism, and counseling compassion and kindness for all beings. Human nature being what it is, there have of course been bigoted and violent individual Buddhists, but there has never been a Buddhist Crusade or Jihad, nor is there any justification in the Buddha's teaching for regarding a non-Buddhist as an "unbeliever" or "infidel" to be converted by force or slaughtered "for his own good."

Of course, given its radical differences from the Semitic religions, a case could be made that Buddhism is not a religion at all. However, for a large portion of humanity, it serves the same needs and purposes as do Islam and Christianity in their spheres, and serves them at least as well. And doesn't bother or persecute anyone else.

I'm not out to offend or hurt anyone's feelings, but since you brought it up, the simple truth is that "tolerance" is no more part of core Christian teaching than - as you point out - "peace" is integral to Islam. Give it another six centuries (the age difference between the two), and Islam in decline might be as enervated and "peaceful" as present-day Christianity is "tolerant."

The real contest of world views, as always, is between "behave yourself" and "behave others." The Christian-Islamic conflict is only about who gets to behave everyone. Sorry, but count me out. You're welcome to maintain your own religious/cultural beliefs and lifestyle, but you have no right, any more than does the Arab (or other) Muslim, to force them on me or anyone else.

Sincerely,
Andrew Main

PS: And just BTW, I am equally underwhelmed by the story we've been relentlessly told about who really perpetrated/created the events of 9/11, and why. Sure, and Oswald was a lone nut, and Roosevelt was surprised by Pearl Harbor. None of the "official stories" really stand up under examination. If you want to know the truth, first ask "Cui bono?" Who benefited?

Hi Andrew,

You cover a lot of ground here. I don't want to replow what I've gone over in other replies, but I'll make a few brief comments.

It's always easy to focus on the moral failures, some of them quite spectacular, of various people and cultures throughout history that have called themselves Christian. A quote somewhat similar to the one you attribute to H. G. Wells, but I think in this case from G. K. Chesterton, goes something like, "It's not so much that Christianity has been tried and failed; but that it has so rarely been tried at all."

Nevertheless, through all its faults and failures, Christianity has been the principal engine affirming human dignity, compassion, and the worth of each individual in the eyes of God.

I noted to someone above the Freedom House survey of political rights and civil liberties that found of the 88 countries rated as "free," "79 [90 percent] are majority Christian by tradition or belief."

But it goes beyond that. It was the Christian Church(es) that built the great universities of Europe and North America; that built and operated hospitals and orphanages, that promoted literacy. Christianity has been the great emancipator of women. The way that Jesus addressed and treated women, as recorded in the New Testament, was extremely radical in the context of the time.

The fact that you would rather live in America than, say Saudi Arabia, isn't coincidence. There is a reason our culture is superior - its Christian heritage. The things that are good in our culture are Christian things.

I'm no fan of the Enlightenment, but even it - and all the unfortunate post-Enlightenment philosophical notions - could never have developed outside a Christian cultural context. I'm not saying that there have never been good ideas from outside Christian-based culture. There have. For example, St. Thomas Aquinas leaned heavily on the work of Islamic Aristotelian philosophers in formulating what became the philosophical framework of modern Christianity. I also find much to admire in the philosophies of the Far East.

But in the end it comes down to what's the truth. Jesus said that He, personally, constituted The Truth. One can accept or reject that. You'll find no imprimatur for coercion in the Creeds and doctrines of the Church. However, if I and all the Christian saints and scholars and mystics of the past 2000 years are actually right in believing the claims of Christ and the Tradition once handed to the Apostles, then the ultimate estate of those who choose to reject the Gospel is dire. However, it's up to each individual.

John Bunyan wrote: "Then I saw that there was a way to Hell, even from the gates of Heaven."

Or as John Milton put it in Paradise Lost:

"Farewell happy fields where joy for ever dwells: Hail
horrors hail Infernal world and thou profoundest Hell
Receive thy new possessor: one who brings
a mind not to be changed by place or time.
The mind is its own place; and in it self
Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of
Heav'n."

Hell's inmates are not imprisoned by God. Its gates are locked on the inside. God's love is everywhere, even in hell, and He rejects no one who comes to Him in earnest repentance. But we possess the terrible/wonderful gift of free will, and our eternal destiny hinges on our power to accept or reject divine love, which is embodied in Jesus' completed work of atonement through His death and resurrection. God honours our sovereign freedom, and will not force forgiveness on those who don't want to be forgiven.

Charles

An Open Letter to Mr. Charles W. Moore

From Timothy Virkkala

Greetings, Mr. Moore.

I read your Low End Mac article and have more than a few comments. But first, if you are interested, you might consider my most recent article on the subject under consideration, "dueling civilizations":

<http://www.laissezfairebooks.com/index.cfm?eid=516>

I agree with you that current "politically correct" attitudes about Islam are incorrect. I believe they are, well, deceitful - usually a result of self-deception, as you imply, but sometimes noble lies, and sometimes not so noble: politic chicanery.

When I read a history of the Arab world a few years ago, one quotation stuck with me, a quotation from the legendary accounts of the last words of "the great Prophet:" "Do not cease fighting until all proclaim that God is God." It, and the evidence you provide, shows the belligerent origin of Islamic civilization.

I was disappointed, however, that you did not emphasize how peaceful the Caliphate was, how better it treated its nonconforming subjects compared to the governments of Christendom of the day. If I had lived after the Roman Empire, but before the Renaissance, the only place I would likely have been safe to write my philosophy and share my opinions with my friends would have been in the Islamic empire under the Caliphate. I would have been executed, and my writings burned, had I lived in Christian Europe.

And this gives me pause. Does it give you pause?

I addressed the nature of Islamic tolerance briefly in my column. I could have gone on. Though it is true that Islam is a fighting religion and intolerant at the core, Moslems once had (and today, in some places, do have) a kind of tolerance. They accommodate differences, sometimes almost liberally. But they do so only after they have gained sovereignty. Hegemony is, for them, a proof of the efficacy of their religion. Thankfully, what germs there have been of this in Christianity have been mostly bred out.

And here is where your picture of our civilization strikes me as very partisan and highly unreliable.

One of your most insistent points is that Western civilization is "essentially Christian-based" (I've read this in your writings before) . . . but corrupted by the influences of two of the traditional three modern devils in modern evangelical Christian ideological demonology: Freud and Marx - you've left out Darwin. Of the three devils, Darwin is the only one I'd care to defend. But your idea that our liberal civilization - based on a rule of law and a fair amount of individual liberty - rests mostly on Christianity strikes me as wildly inaccurate.

Here are just a few points that counterbalance your mostly unsubstantiated assertions:

1. Christianity did not start out as a family values religion with a fine, upstanding civilian-based ethics. In its early days, under the influence of a self-conscious Messiah-figure (Yeshua) and an eschatological cultist (Paul), it preached against sex, against wealth, and for some kind of revolutionary utopianism (precisely what is vague in the extent accounts). The early Christians used classic cult techniques (especially severing familial relationships: Jesus is quite clear on this) to spread their ideas. As such, Christianity is no source for Western civilization. Instead, Christianity itself became civilized as it progressed.

2. Many of the good things we think of in Western civilization could be found easily in the writings of Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, the Stoics, and others. The Roman Empire, though fantastically corrupt, had a few good elements, too, mostly remainders from the Republic. One such idea was a notion of law that Europeans, much later, after long internecine warfare, attempted to revive when trying to concoct peaceful solutions caused by religious dispute.

3. The major source for Christian peacefulness (which you rightly note) is almost certainly the fear of reprisal by the Roman Empire. Christians quickly disassociated themselves from the Jewish rebels and from "the Jewish problem" in general, by a whole grab bag of gambits, including the stressing of a few politic notions such as "render unto Caesar," etc. This led, from what I can tell, to a great deal of revision of the message of their central figure, Yeshua. The gospel stories changed (this is pretty obvious, especially if you read the non-canonical accounts) and we are left with horribly unreliable stories of the founding period of Christian movement. Did Yeshua preach peace or war? Using the remaining documents you could argue either way, or both. Are these contradictions fatal to sense, or can they be reconciled? Since the gospels don't even agree on what happened on the day of Yeshua's execution, I not unreasonably conclude that the contradictions remain true contradictions, not "apparent" ones that "prayerful" interpretation might find reasonable conciliations. Given the ambiguities and contradictions, it should be no surprise that the growth of Christianity went along with a great deal of violence.

4. It is traditional in some Protestant circles to ascribe Christian violence to the "extra-Christian" idea of a unity of church and state. An interesting notion, and one that I long held. But there seems to be historical evidence for extensive Christian rioting, particularly of "orthodox" Christians against various "heresies," particularly the Gnostics, without any help or direction from the state. Estimates of the carnage in Christian rioting prior to Constantine's conversion start in the low thousands and reach quite high. (Disagreements on the figures are understandable, given the historical reach; besides, there are many disagreements over how many Jews, heretics and witches were killed in more recent times, all on the basis of Judeo-Christian doctrine. We shouldn't expect agreement on estimates. But on the nature of the events, yes, we should expect agreement.)

5. Many of the niftier communal ideas in early Christianity were prefigured in other Roman Empire movements. I'm not talking about vile things like blood-and-body rituals among Mithraists, which Paul deliberately copied; I'm talking about Epicurean lifestyle, a good example. The Epicurean "cult" was, like early Christianity, also somewhat separatist and had extremely individualistic ideas tied to more communal ideas of friendship and sharing. It is interesting to read Epicurus's few surviving letters and compare them in style to Paul's. There are fascinating similarities, but none of the violence of language in Paul's ravings. Epicurus conforms better than does Paul to most Westerner's ideas of an peaceful sage. Yeshua as well as Paul was amazingly violent in his language. You can see why later Christians did horrendously violent things in his name. And why they so nearly completely destroyed Epicurean writings.

6. Above I used the phrase "bred out" to describe the learning process that Christianity has gone through. Its worst elements grew into full flower during the Dark Ages and then again in the wars of the Protestant Reformation. And these wars - surely, a "failure" by modern standards - became the primary spark that led to Enlightenment political ideology. And the Enlightenment ideas were not particularly Christian. They partially harked back to ancient times (poorly understood, of course) and partially amounted to creative responses to the dangers of what the near-atheist Hobbes called "religious enthusiasm." Though the bulk of English, Scots and American society during the Enlightenment and the liberal-era founding period were Christian, the political ideas were not revivals of a Christian or even Judeo-Christian political ideology as preached in the Bible. It was something very different.

But like nearly every other Christian writer on this subject, you claim for Christianity the honor of the liberal social order, when it was not certainly not a result of Biblical exegesis, and when the actual roots of this order were incredibly complex.

I'm not one of those secularists who, in your words, is "ignorant of religion." I was raised a Christian and have read no small amount of history. Do I want, as you say secularists do want, to do away with religion? Not exactly. I'd like it to whither, as better alternatives to it are found. Do I deny man's essential "spirituality"? Almost never does a Christian ask me what my spiritual notions might be. Christians instead prefer to lash out and say that by denying the existence of a deity I deny an essential element of human nature, etc. etc. Your rhetoric in this regard is predictable and unimpressive.

We do have one surprising area of agreement.

Like you, I admit that there is a great deal of "decadence" in society.

Unlike you, however, I don't ascribe this to any one cause - and certainly not to original sin, which I consider a rather twisted and incoherent interpretation of humanity's psychological and spiritual heritage and reserves.

My preferred way to think about decadence is in terms of the virtues - a notion that precedes (and at its best owes nothing to) Christianity. The language of virtue and vice have regrettably fallen from the vernacular. I do not ascribe this to secularization as such but in part to scientism (the medicalization of ethics has been mostly, though not completely, a waste of intellectual energy), in part to politicization (undue reliance on the state to solve individual problems), and even in part to Christianity (its language of sin and righteousness, and an obsession with modesty-based sexual ethics, undermined the balanced and civilized perspective of virtue and vice).

But how should we counter decadence? Not with hysterical and denunciatory rhetoric. You actually praise modern Moslems for their wholesale revulsion at the West's decadence. Well, I'll leave such revulsion to the adherents of ancient religions. I prefer reason. When I see folly - in myself or others - I'll call it such, and then try to figure reasonable ways of reforming. But revulsion tends to obscure any possibility of dialogue. Relying on the rhetoric of repugnance is often indecorous, and usually self-defeating.

And I certainly won't do what Moslems do most often, and simply take up arms against "decadence." I note that many Christians today wish to do the same. (I can name names. Respected names.)

When to use coercion should be decided on other grounds. Secular grounds. We have at hand principles that reasonably adjudicate such issues. I note that Christians are often a major source, in the West, of violating these principles. And so I do not see a simple division of the world between Islam the quasi-post-Christian West. There are divisions everywhere.

So what about peace? You say, precipitously, and without much sense of fair play, that Westerners exhibit a failure of perception when they think that "Islam can be reasoned with. It is naive and foolhardy to wishfully proceed as if Islam operates on the same sort of foundational moral and philosophical assumptions as we do."

But can you and I reason together? We do not share many assumptions.

And of course, diplomacy is not just about reason unadorned. There is always a sword. And a carrot. And to pretend that Moslems can't be counted on to figure out their advantages is not something I will praise.

The assumption you make in your article is that the Islamic attacks on America came out of the blue, without a pretext, without a context of previous dealings between America and the Near East.

That's simply not so. In my short article, I tried to explain some of why America is so hated in the East. And I could go on.

I will, at some other time.

For now, I simply note that civilization is not simply a matter of which religion you choose. It is, in part, a matter of how we have trained ourselves to react in times of crisis. In part it is simply instinctual, in the right circumstances. (See http://www.laissezfairebooks.com/index.cfm?eid=519&RequestTimeout=500 for more on this.) There's a great deal involved, and we haven't figured out everything yet. Humanity is a work in progress.

Here are two things we do know:

It seems that human beings almost universally want peace.

We also want to coerce.

How do we encourage the former inclination over the latter? All religions, even Islam, have a few good ideas on the subject. But I prefer drawing from more reasonable sources - such as philosophy and science, and even my own sensibility - to relying on religions tied to despicable notions and warped views of reality.

Your article, though interesting, casts a skewed perspective on the present danger. You assumed that West is basically in the right and the East basically in the wrong. Since America is tied, ideologically, to so many good ideas (in the Constitution, in our common law, in many of our traditions) I wish you were right.

But I see a long history of blundering, criminally negligent, and even malign intent and action in America's military interventions in the Islamic world. I was appalled a year ago, after the atrocities committed by terrorists, to see Palestinians dancing with joy in the streets. Still, I quickly realized why this was the case. It was not a sign of their virtue, to be sure. But it was understandable. And it should be forgivable, if they mend their ways. Which, I note, will likely only happen when we mend ours.

"We have much to atone for," you write. But you warn against "capitulating to Islam." I'd be curious what you think we have to atone for. I agree with you that we should never pretend that Moslems are "just like us." But I also insist that our differences do not mean that reason, persuasion, and diplomacy are utterly without effect.

Your suggestion to the contrary is appalling.

Timothy Wirkman Virkkala

Hi Timothy,

You have eloquently stated your case. We agree on a few points - and disagree on many. I stand my ground on the point that Western civilization is a product of Christianity.

Our most fundamental dissonance is probably our respective takes on the Enlightenment. I aspire to be philosophically pre-modern, believing that if there were no God, there could be no truth. I maintain that God is the ground of all truth, and all that is real and not illusion/delusion/wishful thinking.

As you know, but others reading this may not be aware, the so-called philosophical "Enlightenment" of the 17th and 18th Centuries in Europe was an intellectual movement that asserted the sufficiency of human reason, and skepticism with regard to the validity of the traditional authority of the past - including Christian teaching. It also advanced the concepts of nationalism and the secular state in a more systematic way than had ever obtained before.

The objective of Enlightenment philosophers like Voltaire and Rousseau was to create a better centralized state at the expense of local autonomy. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church defines the Enlightenment (die Aufklärung or "clearing") as follows:

"The Aufklärung combines opposition to all supernatural religion and belief in the all-sufficiency of human reason with an ardent desire to promote the happiness of men in this life. . . . Most of its representatives . . . rejected the Christian dogma and were hostile to Catholicism as well as Protestant orthodoxy, which they regarded as powers of spiritual darkness depriving humanity of the use of its rational faculties.

"...Their fundamental belief in the goodness of human nature, which blinded them to the fact of sin, produced an easy optimism and absolute faith of human society once the principles of enlightened reason had been recognized. The spirit of the Aufklärung penetrated deeply into German Protestantism, where it disintegrated faith in the authority of the Bible and encouraged Biblical criticism on the one hand and an emotional 'pietism' on the other."

Post-Enlightenment liberalism combined with 19th and 20th Century existentialism begat modern liberal secular humanism, which British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper concisely summed-up as "the unwarranted assumption that man only needs freedom from ancient restraints in order to realize his inherent perfection." In their book Dialectic of Enlightenment, Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno note that "the Enlightenment has always aimed at liberating men from fear and establishing their sovereignty. Yet the fully enlightened earth radiates disaster triumphant."

The Enlightenment stands in antithesis to Christianity - Orthodox/Catholic or Protestant - on virtually all points: denying the supernatural, affirming the all-sufficiency of human reason, rejecting the fall from grace and original sin, denying Christ's divinity and His Resurrection from the dead, believing in the perfectibility of Man, deconstructing the Bible. All of these Enlightenment/liberal beliefs are aggressively anti-Christian.

One cannot make a coherent synthesis of post-Enlightenment liberalism and real Christianity in full understanding of what they respectively signify. You cannot legitimately say: "I am a Christian, but I believe the Church's teaching is false and the Bible is full of errors."

I am a Christian, and I affirm both the Church's teaching and the Authority of Scripture.

Charles

Go to Charles Moore's Mailbag index.

Join us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter or Google+, or subscribe to our RSS news feed

Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

Links for the Day

Recent Content

About LEM Support Usage Privacy Contact

Custom Search

Follow Low End Mac on Twitter
Join Low End Mac on Facebook

Favorite Sites

MacSurfer
Cult of Mac
Shrine of Apple
MacInTouch
MyAppleMenu
InfoMac
The Mac Observer
Accelerate Your Mac
RetroMacCast
The Vintage Mac Museum
Deal Brothers
DealMac
Mac2Sell
Mac Driver Museum
JAG's House
System 6 Heaven
System 7 Today
the pickle's Low-End Mac FAQ

Affiliates

Amazon.com
The iTunes Store
PC Connection Express
Macgo Blu-ray Player
Parallels Desktop for Mac
eBay

Low End Mac's Amazon.com store

Advertise

Open Link