Sunday, March 18, 2007

Maybe chop some onions...

I've had a bit of a religious tone to the blog this week and this posting won't be any different. Still, if I didn't feel it was helpful and interesting to have on then I wouldn't have put it. I met somebody quite learned in religion this evening with whom I've had quite an interesting discussion about religion and his views on secular politics. Here is one bit in particular that I thought quite novel.

Q: There seem to be so many different interpretations of religion, everybody seems to be able to justify what they want to do somehow. How can you tell who is right and wrong?

A: Let's say you have a store full of guns. If you put a peaceful person in there, he'd look at it all as a novelty, leaving the things on the walls and probably use one of the knives to chop an onion or radish for his breakfast with some fool (fava beans) or something like that. If you get somebody in there who is a trouble maker and wishes damage, he'd start using the machete's and guns for all sorts of trouble. He probably wouldn't even need to enter the store to start causing trouble. History is full of men like that.

A: Basically, yes. Some people would justify their violence using sayings and quotes from religion. Technically they may even be right, but these people do not apply or understand the context of such sayings or quotes. That fatally undermines their position. If you look at these people, say..the Wahhabi's who are particularly that way inclined. They seem to take from the same set of "hard line" Islamic thinkers such as Ibn Taymiyah and others, ignoring centuries and thousands of what I would refer to as the Islamic thinkers (Ibn Taymiyah and his ilk are actually the odd ones out who practice radical Islam) whom people would now refer to as "moderate".


OK that's it, I'm tired and going to bed now.

6 comments:

yaman said...

I feel like your question was not answered in full. He established what was wrong (Ibn Taymiyyah, etc) but did not specify what was right. He referred to "understanding the context" as being the appropriate way to determine this. But isn't "understanding the context" precisely what the dispute is about in the first place? One could argue many things about what the context was, and what the proper interpretation of that context should be. But at no point does this reduce to something that is without a doubt the "right" or the "wrong" interpretation. Instead, people will continue to apply their own biases--and will get what they want out of religion. I don't want to say that religion is something that people manipulate (some do), because even those who are genuinely well-intentioned and good-hearted seek out explanations that they desire in religion (still manipulating it, but not dubiously).

What this indicates to me is that a sense of what is right and what is wrong, what is just and what is unjust, exists independently of religion. Those positions can be articulated in a number of different ways, and only one of them is using the language of religion. To me, this dispute of what is right and what is wrong does not concern religion and its texts, but rather the individual and his biases.

Wassim said...

Hi Yaman,
You are indeed correct, but the blame lies entirely on myself. I was too tired and couldn't be bothered late last night to relate our entire discussion and he put it a lot more eloquently and comprehensively than myself. You bring up some interesting points about conceptions of right and wrong being seperate from religion. I've come across that argument before but haven't had time to delve too deep into it. Though I'd imagine some would argue that it is religion which has historically given us this "sense" and the divorcing of the two is problematic.

Western Secularism I feel, does fall on it's face when it tries to strip it's ethical and moral dimensions of the religious thought it originated from, depending in some way, on science to present the best way forward. I know far too little about the subject to make a coherent posting but I'd be interested in what you're thoughts are.

dancing solo said...

No comments, except religions had been disastrous in the modern era of human kind history. It was a necessity at the ancient ages, during the development of humans' brain, but now it is causing more problem than solutions.
The reasons is not clear to me, but I know that no one, and I mean no one is practicing the text in its original way. We practice interpretations and explanations, but the text itself. The reason, because human mind complexity increased over the contents of the texts itself, and religions guards are trying to find new modern logical way to convince their followers, but the only way to do it is to promise power....
I think I make sense, am I ?

nice topic as usual wassim...

Gregor said...

I think yaman made an important point, namely that there is not only the religion, which defines 'right' and 'wrong'. So also in a secular society exists a kind of a moral order. And here one can find a morality, which is quasi-religious (Marxism, Fascism, Rascism and so on). So, I think, the danger is not the Religion as a Religion, but rather a moral order, which force everyone to accept her and furthermore an organisation, which observes the compliance of the moral regulations.

greetz

Wassim said...

Hi Dancing Solo,
If I may, there are some slight corrections I need to make. I'm certainly not a paragon of virtue and religiosity, but there are a couple of things I will have to put forward in it's defence.

Firstly, the worst atrocities of what you refer to as the 'modern' era are actually the product of modernity and secularism. The Holocaust in Germany, Stalin's purges and gulags, the Nuclear attack on Japan in 1945, both World Wars, Colonialism, the Cold War and it's "hot" flashes in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Secondly, I find that the recent Western assault on religion and secularism, I feel, has been mainly targeted against the Islamic religion, and this has been even before the attacks in New York 6 years ago. Religion as you seem to imply is an incredibly vague notion, but the reality is far from such in my opinion, especially when it comes to Islam which I have most experience with and can speak for to some extent.

In terms of "world" religions, these philosophies have been invaluable for people to live what they consider "virtuous" lives. True there is always debate as to who is "truer" in their interpretation, but you even find it in secular ideologies (such as Marxism and Maoism) and that is probably a human rather than religious flaw. Religion has been misused true, just look at the Crusades, the Holocaust or the European colonisation of Latin America to see what has been done in it's worst aspects.

I think these religious "guardians" you refer to do have a challenge of proving these faiths can stand the test of time, I stronlgy disagree that the human mind has become more "complex". Human minds might make things more complicated, but in my opinion Human nature is unchanging, in all it's good and bad aspects. I think properly exercised the worst religion can do is to give power to the person themself through self-control etc, than anything else. Of course that should always be a private thing too.

Wassim said...

Hello Gregor,
Welcome to the discussion. I understand what you are saying, in that the danger is a "universal" explanatory theory or set of values which would stifle all others and force people to conform. I think such a notion is indeed disturbing and there have been many tendencies not just in religion but in secular ideologies too (Marxism, neo-Liberalism). Such a post-modern view of understanding is a tad disconcerting considering it is completely amoral as an ideology. In that sense I find that a set of solid values an individual can live by are indeed valuable if they are correct (up to your own definition of that term!) Certainly my post referred to the Islamic religion as I see it on a personal level rather than any institutionalised form. But yes, the danger per sec is a universal ideology that is used to force people into particular actions rather than being a matter of free choice, something I personally believe wasn't implied by the founders of any of the big world religions. Good point and you've definitely given food for thought! I hope to see you here again.