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Charles Moore - 2002.10.16 - Tip Jar

Clash of Civilizations

From Ralph Phelan

I think there's a lot of wisdom and insight in what you wrote. To put that in perspective, I'm a lifelong atheist.

It takes a peculiar sort of blindness to think all religions and ideologies are the same. Did Nazism and Communism have no effect on the societies of Germany and Russia? Ideologies are not content-free. Human nature is the same all over - it's differences in ideology that make some places much nicer to live than others. So criticising an ideology is not "dehumanizing" the people who hold it. On the contrary - it's paying them the respect of assuming that they have the same capabilities as anyone else and that any problems they're having spring solely from some poisonous ideas they need to get rid of.

I don't much care about where Christianity was four hundred years ago or where Islam might be four hundred years from now. I'm concerned about the world I live in now, the world that children I care about will live in in the foreseeable future, and how currently active belief systems affect that world.

As an atheist, my primary concern with religion is whether it results in people who make good neighbors and who are capable of building good civilizations. My definition of "good" happens to include freedom, democracy, civility, stable and loving personal relationships, reward for talent and effort, and mercy towards the helpless innocent.

My reading of history is that for a monotheistic religion, Christianity is remarkably compatible with the above. I think your correspondent who called it a "Semitic religion" underestimates the influence of Saint Patrick and the extent to which the mediaeval diaspora of Irish monks made Christianity a truly Western European product.

Many polytheistic religions also seem to work out well. Greek and Roman paganism was, of course, compatible with the invention of democracy and the first practical republic. Hinduism seems to be adapting to democracy and modernism just fine - India has done a remarkable job of going from a basket case to a technological power with a flawed but functional democracy in the past half-century. Aside from the bum rap it got in the 1930s, when it was temporarily hijacked by political extremists, Shinto has proven itself compatible with the same sort of transformation in the time since Commodore Perry's arrival in Edo.

Difficult-to-classify Buddhism and the even-more-difficult-to-classify Confucianism have proven compatible with the rapid construction of good and ever-improving societies in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan.

Modern Judaism seems to be doing well, but it's a poor test case: We just can't know what Israeli society would be like if they weren't surrounded by people who are always trying to kill them.

Fascism didn't make good neighbors, and it died real quickly. Marxism sucks, and it's dying too.

Then there's Islam with its "bloody borders." It's the only major ideology in the world today that combines incompatibility with a "good" society and historical "legs." The Islamic world has scores of autocracies and only one modern almost-democratic state (Turkey). The only branch of Islam that consistently makes decent neighbors are the Sufis, who are the ones who pay the least attention to the Koran. For the rest, Muslims fight with Christians, they fight with Jews, they fight with Hindus, they fight with Buddhists, they fight with Communists in western China....

My one difference of opinion with you is that I don't think the struggle we're in is "Islam vs. Christendom." Islam's intolerance is universal enough that it's going to turn into "Islam vs. everybody."

- Ralph Phelan

P.S. I think you're a bit too pessimistic about the moral state of Anglo-American society. Compared to fifty or a hundred years ago, we seem crass, to be sure. But our movies aren't nearly as violent as some of our society's older entertainments, such as going to executions, bear baiting, etc. And I read in a social history of England that in the 1600s something like a fifth of the population was too poor to marry. Do you think they were all celibate? As morality goes, while we may not be in our best shape ever, neither are we in our worst.

P.P.S. You might be interested (and feel a bit less lonely) if you go and check out fellow Eastern Canadian Damien Penny's website.

Hi Ralph,

Thank you for the interesting and thoughtful response. I know God loves honest atheists (viz: Revelation 3:14-15 ;-) )

Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said, "I love all religions, but I am in love with my own." While I am convinced that Christianity is the unique and exclusive revelation of God in the person of Jesus Christ, who I believe is God, most major religions, if their precepts are followed reasonably closely, make for ordered and livable societies. However, the estate of some members (e.g., women under Islamic law) may not be enviable.

I don't disagree with you on the Islam vs. everybody point, but the tremendous growth of Christianity outside the developed West, often on what Islam regards as its turf, makes the Islam-Christianity dialectic the most volatile one in a global sense.

Philip Jenkins, author of the recently released "The Next Christendom," points out that "in 1900, Africa had just 10 million Christian out of a continental population of 107 million - about 9 percent. Today the Christian total stands at 360 million out of 784 million, or 46 percent." Africa had 16 million Catholics in the early 1950s; it has 120 million today, and is estimated to grow to 228 million by 2025.

Writing in the October 2002 Atlantic Monthly, Jenkins says that in the next 25 years global Christian population will grow to 2.6 billion, larger than any other religious faith by a substantial margin. Pentecostals alone number 400 million and will reach perhaps one billion by 2040, at which point that single Christian denomination will outnumber Buddhists and match the world's Hindu population in size.

I'm not lonely, but I will check out Mr. Penny's Website.


Dueling civilizations

From Grant Streng

Mr. Moore,

I just finished reading your latest article on Islam and skimming about half of the attached letters.

Great article, and some pretty well thought out letters. I thought I might share some of my views on Muslims with you.

I've noticed an interesting pattern amongst almost all the proponents of Islam in the news media of late; a justification of the self declared evils of the Muslim faith by comparing it to the hypocrisy within Christian history and present. A comparison of two unrelated things: theological doctrine and social aberrance. There is a difference between a church and it's doctrine. I cannot think of a single theological group thoughout history that hasn't acted in the name of their faith whilst the very act was contrary to the doctrine that the group subscribes themselves to.

Hold people accountable for what they do and not the religion which they profess. Unless, like with the Muslims, their doctrine condones what they do. It's important to recognize that religion is not a a guise for evil. Call it what it is. Don't fear being "politically incorrect".

The United States of America, aside from being created from Christianity's moral ethics, is based on agency (the ability to choose for one's self) which, in and of itself, is a key principle of Christianity. As you know, Mr. Moore, Muslims in the most fundamental terms of their faith would rob you and I of our agency because we choose not to subscribe to their doctrine. We are infidels. They would have us acted upon and not free to act for ourselves.

"Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself." - Lehi

Lehi is not saying, "ye who are righteous give the wicked their consequence of death and captivity" No. What he is saying is that when one follows the teachings of Jesus one becomes free through his atonement. When we choose wickedness we give up our agency unto condemnation and spiritual death. God is the judge, and we are free to choose.

Grant Streng

Hi Grant,

Yes, free will is the cornerstone of the whole Judeo-Christian concept. Without it, we would be robots, or at best just clever animals operating on natural instinct. With it, we become accountable for our actions, and of course capable of sin as well as capable of love and virtue. As you say, we are free to choose.


September 17 used to be Constitution Day

From Timothy Virkkala

...but in 1952 it was changed to "Citizenship Day."

More in line with the original memorial, tomorrow, on the 17th, a delegation of historians will present to Congress a petition signed by over 1,250 of their professional colleagues reminding members of Congress of their sworn duty to debate and vote on the Bush Administration's proposed war with Iraq.

"We, the undersigned American historians," the petition (authored by UCLA historians Joyce Appleby and Ellen Carol DuBois) begins, "urge our members of Congress to assume their Constitutional responsibility to debate and vote on whether or not to declare war on Iraq. We do so because Americans deserve to hear their representatives deliberate about a possible war, lest such a momentous course of action be undertaken by the president alone after a public airing filled with rumors, leaks, and speculations.

"We ask our senators and representatives to do this because Congress has not asserted its authority to declare war for over half a century, leaving the president solely in control of war powers to the detriment of our democracy and in clear violation of the Constitution. We believe it is particularly urgent that Congress reassert its authority at this time since an attack on Iraq, if made, would be an American initiative. Since there was no discussion of Iraq during the 2000 presidential campaign, the election of George Bush cannot be claimed as a mandate for an attack. Only a debate by Americans' elected representatives can engage the public in a serious consideration of the costs, risks, and wisdom of such a war."

As David Theroux of the Independent Institute (from whom I adapted the above) reminds us, "Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution specifies that it is Congress, not the president, which has the power to declare war."

Of course, Congress long ago abdicated this responsibility. To our detriment.

Now that we are lurching toward what may very well become an endless war with nation after nation of Muslims - a war wherein every one of our successes would almost certainly breed more terrorism against us - Congress's Constitutional duty surely should be exercised again.

The historians do not add a proviso that if I were a Congressman I would surely tack on to any debate on war: If the current president pushes us into an undeclared war, he should immediately be impeached and tried for the high crime of acting in disregard for his oath of office, for committing American lives and risking American security by extra-Constitutional warfare.

Good citizens might consider reading the Constitution tomorrow, especially as it relates to war powers.

And they would do well to go out of their way to write their representatives, demanding a return to the original idea of checks and balances. And why not add a stick to that demand? Say that if your representative does not move for a formal and critical debate on the issue, then you will support any major contender in the next election that would oppose your representative. Perhaps with that threat your representative might take you seriously. And if hundreds, or better yet, thousands making similar demands, a responsible, Constitutional debate might actually take place.

The terrible business of a war should never be left up to the executive branch alone.

timothy v.

Hi Timothy,

I support the forcible removal of Saddam Hussein as a last resort, but thanks for sharing your thoughts.


Re: Dueling Civilizations: Islam and the West

From Dmitri Popov

Hi Charles,

I must admit that your arguments sound very convincing. I really admire your almost renaissance knowledge - from PowerBooks to Islam - and I'm an avid reader of your columns at Low End Mac and MacOpinion. Thank you for your great articles!


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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 and a columnist at If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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