Friday, December 24, 2004

"Culture of Death"

There's some guy filling in for Sean Hannity on Hannity's radio show. Dunno the guy's name. I came in at the very tail end of the show and I don't know how the conversation started, but he was having some utterly insane discussions with callers. I'll see what I can remember.

The difference between them [Muslims] and us [Christians] is that they
worship death and we worship a baby.

Well, let's see. Christians made THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, a film about a guy getting graphically tortured and then executed by crucifixion, one of the biggest money makers of all time.

Muslims worship an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, immanent god. Christians worship an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, immanent god. Muslims believe Jesus was one of the greatest of all the prophets and will return at the end of time to lead the forces of good in battle against the forces of evil (yes, Jesus does this, not Muhammed, according to Islamic eschatological tradition). Christians believe Jesus was the greatest of all prophets and will return to lead the forces of good in battle against the forces of evil. Some Muslims have interpreted their holy book to command holy war against unbelievers, while mainstream Islam rejects such interpretations. Some Christians have interpreted their holy book to command holy war against unbelievers, while mainstream Christianity rejects such interpretations.

The difference between Islam and Christianity is like the difference between Coke and Pepsi. They're slightly different from each other, but they're far more alike than same. To those outside the traditions of Abraham (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), Muslims and Christians castigating each other is kind of like someone who drinks water watching Coke and Pepsi drinkers act like they're totally different from each other. They both drink caramel-colored, sugary, carbonated soda beverages, and yet the claim that they have nothing in common! The difference between Muslims and Christians is little more than the difference between drinking Coke and drinking Pepsi.

Caller: God wanted 9/11 to happen--
Host: What?
Caller: Well, God could have stopped 9/11 if he wanted to, so He must have
wanted it to happen, you know, to bring us back to Him--
Host: That's a very dangerous idea. God didn't make robots. He didn't want
9/11 to happen.

Let's go over my free will argument one more time. God controls everything. Moreover, he controls the preconditions for everything. 9/11 could not have happened if God did not create this particular world, in this particular universe, with these particular physical laws, populated by these particular people at this particular time, etc., etc. If God didn't want 9/11 to happen, he could have changed any number of things to make sure it didn't. There's no way out of this, theists. There is nothing outside the purview of your God and so there is no way, whatsoever, that you can deny his responsibility for every single thing that happens.

Muslims live in a culture of death, where if you blow yourself up you get to go
to Heaven and have seventy-five virgins.

No. Muslims live in a culture of oppression, where they have seen the immense power of the West used to take away their resources, prop up unjust governments, and act in its own self interest without regard to the well being of the native Muslim population. Does this justify blowing up the USS Cole or flying planes into the World Trade Center? No. Is this "blaming America first?" No. Taking responsibility for what you have done is not blame. The US and Britain have, in large part, created this situation through ruthless, exploitative policies in the Middle East. Failing to recognize this in order to avoid "blaming America first" merely ensures that the problem will not get solved.

Let me say it again: Muslim extremists do not hate our freedoms. They hate our policies and our hypocrisy.

Muslims no more live in a "culture of death" than do Irish Christians in Northern Ireland, Americans during the American revolution (the Boston Tea Party is a classic act of terrorism), First-century Christians being marched into the collosseum to fight a lion and then die and go to Heaven, or Crusaders marching off to free the Holy Land. Christianity has been used to justify all sorts of terrorism and killing, such as the Inquisition, the Salem witch trials, and the Holocaust, which had its roots in two thousand years of Christian antisemitism.

Muslims are fighting an oppressive power the same way the Zealots (first-century Jewish terrorists) fought against Rome and the same way oppressed peoples have fought throughout all of time against a more powerful enemy. Islam encourages such behavior no more but also no less than Christianity, Judaism, or any other rigid set of beliefs.

The "culture of death" is not a product of Islam. It is a product of oppression. Were places reversed, and America a nation with a majority Islamic population and the Middle East predominantly Christian, we would be hearing about how Christians live in a "culture of death" right now.


At 7:54 PM, Blogger R. Paul Wiegand said...

I suppose I will respond very tangentially, and only to the "Free will" part of the discussion, for no more compelling reason than it is an interesting topic -- and there are arguments to be made on both sides of the question ("Is there free will?") for both theists and non-theists.

Non-theists have it easy, to some extent. We can disagree, but our arguments can be more grounded in "comfortable" metaphysical and epistimological questions, as well as basic appeals to the physical structure of the Universe. That is, if all things result from the effects of complex interactions from a previous state of the Universe, from stellar and planetary bodies to atomic mechanations going on in our bodies (and brains, in particular), we cannot have free will because our actions are prescribed by nature. Rather, free will is a sensation, not a "freedom": the strange artifact of being semi-conscious of our cognitive processes; it is an illusion. (Buddhists will agree, but for different reasons.)

Even quatum theory doesn't get us out of this one: results may not be prescribed, but they are still indeterminate ... alas, though probabilistic, the physical universe seems to admit no free will.

The counter argument is more complex, and I will not go into it in detail since I mainly wanted to talk about the next topic (theism and free will). It suffices to say that the argument centers around the semantics of the term, and what the difference between the perception of a thing and the existence of a thing is from the perspective of the perceiver. That is: if we believe we have free will, we do simply by virtue of the fact that we define it based on our perceived capabilities. We admit that the universe allows no free will in the finest sense of the word, but we suggest that the term "Free Will" as we use it gains utility only when it refers to our observations of the cognitive process itself, etc.

One way or another, it is not much more than a fun mental exercise for us.

For theists, the issue far more complicated. Mired in the issues you raise, it brings with it a tension between helping to explain away the evil in the world as the fault of a fallen humanity, while encroaching on the authority of the Ultimate. That is, how can God be truly all powerful, if we poor and pitiful humans can muck up the works so easily by just yielding to the basic temptations with which we were presumably made? Not all theologians fall in the same camp, as you probably are aware.

There's an interesting set of letters between Martin Luther and Erasamus in the early 16th century worth referencing (Erasumas[1524]: "Dialogue on Free Will", Luther[1525]: "The Bondage of Will"). Here Erasumas defends the Catholic church against Luther's attack on its authority by pointing out that for God to be considered "just", we must have a choice at some point. Otherwise, by what criterion are we to be judged? Luther counters by suggesting that our will is bound to biblical revelation about the salvation of God, we are granted salvation by the grace of God "through Faith", but we are not capable of earning that grace, etc. yada, yada.

What a tricky mess! I don't envy Christians, in particular, this debacle. If one believes in God, surely one MUST accept the existence of freedom of will. If not, how can there be true justice, not just for us but for God, as well? If we ultimately cannot choose, we must place God square and center as the source of ALL evil, both in the natural world (whatever that means), as well as the hearts of men. But, if there is free will, how is there true salvation and what is the real authority of God over my fate? If I must choose, I am the ultimate arbiter of my fate, not God. Even if God makes it easy on me, he still leaves it in my hands ... thus I am able to use my (presumably) God-given faculties to reason my way straight to hell. It must be frustrating. Are we saved by an evil and powerful God, or are we left dangling out there by a benevolent but impotent one?

My point is this: maybe we should cut thesists some slack on the free will question. I mean, they have picked the harder row to hoe: theism is usually far more complicated than non-theism. I'll ding theists on unreasonably complicating their understanding of the universe with something incomprehensible (trying to explain the unexplained with the unexplainable), but I'll let them slide when their complications lead them into epistomological and metaphysical quandries ... that's just kicking them when their down, man.

I am sure, had I my thoughts collected, I could put all this together in a more organized, meaningful way, but I thought I'd break in with a little segue on free will.

Not that it's relevant, but touching on this subject is a great quote from Percy Bysshe Shelley, which I find to be the non-theist reflection of the biblical "created in the image of God" notion:
"There is no attribute of God which is not
either borrowed from the passions and powers
of the human mind, or which is not a negation."
By which he means, there is no property we associate with God that is unrelated to us in some way ... we see God as just like us, or exactly opposite us, etc. I mention this here since I know many Christians find the "in the image" passage to be a statement about the existence of free will. If we look at the physical universe and come to the conclusion that there can be no free will, and we can agree that the biblical passage refers explicitly to free will, then theists and non-theists may agree after all: there is no free will, man was granted the free will God had, thus God has no free will. Reduce "God" to "Nature" and we aren't that far appart! 8^)

Okay, enough reductionism for one day.


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