Wednesday, October 08, 2014

There's A Parable In Here

In a discussion thread I have neither the time, formatting tools, or space to explore a concept thoroughly, which I really wanted to do for this subject, so I'm expanding them here. Carrying on with my previous post's theme, it's amazing the things you learn in a Facebook conversation. Yesterday I stumbled into a conversation in which I learned a few things in a discussion revolving around this bit of commentary:

The commentary was written about this exchange:

I'll point out quickly that when Bill Maher talks about "liberal principles", these are not principles that are exclusive to leftists. Rather they are classically liberal policies to a great extent. While Americans debate about details of abortion and gay marriage; the concepts of women's rights and freedom of religion are pretty much universally held across political lines. Most cases of disagreement between the two major parties in the US are based in their varying emphasis on the points where they have chosen to depart from classical liberalism.

Now, if you've read my last post ("I'm An Anti-Genocidal Bigot") or if you just pay attention to what both Sam Harris and Bill Maher are saying, then you know that this isn't a matter of racism. Nevertheless, rather than employ thought, there are those who cling to the irrational belief that this is racist despite all evidence and logic to the contrary. Or as one wag who I'll name "Facebook Pundit" puts it.
'It's still racist, no matter how much it "logically" makes sense.' 
In other words, it's brain switched off, but don't expect him to stop typing.
"Islam is flawed, in the very same way that Christianity is. They are born of the same base religion, with the same bronze age foolishness and violence built into the system. That's what happens with a rather small and oppressed tribe of people try to justify their existence with the limited understanding they had." (emphasis added)
And the above is what happens when someone completely ignorant of Christianity attempts to make moral equivalence arguments based on inadequate research and a poor understanding of the source material.


When someone tries to apply moral equivalence to the subject of Christianity, they pull out some Old Testament verse.  For example, when one participant pointed out a verse from the Quran:
Quran 5:38 - "As for the thief, both male and female, cut off their hands. It is the reward of their own deeds, an exemplary punishment from Allah. Allah is Mighty, Wise."
Facebook Pundit replied with
Exodus 21:16 - "And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death."
...thus comparing the Islamic penalty for property theft with ancient Israelite penalty for slavers.

I'm sure that the people who use this sort of argument think they're very clever. But they are thwarted by the fact that none of that describes Christianity.

Allow me to briefly illustrate what Christianity is about: Please be a little patient, as this isn't intended to convert you, but to educate you; and it's so very, very simple that you should be able to see immediately why people look so astonishingly ignorant when they get it wrong.
Now one of the experts in the law came and heard them debating. When he saw that Jesus answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is: ‘Listen, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:28-31
Now, that's it. That's Christian morality in a nutshell. 1. Love God. 2. Love your neighbor as you would yourself. That's it. Whether you believe in resurrection or in a Messiah or not, this is the message that Jesus himself preached while living and breathing on Earth; and it's the beginning and the end of the commandments a Christian is required to follow.

If it's not clear enough that none of the Old Testament "horrors" are applicable,
For Christ is the end of the law, with the result that there is righteousness for everyone who believes. - Romans 10:4 
Got it? You'll also find it explained again in Galatians 3:23–25 and Ephesians 2:15. And when Jesus says,
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish these things but to fulfill them." - Matthew 5:17
It means that it's done. Fulfilled. Served its purpose, as opposed to being a mistake or a correction. What it does not mean is that Christians are still bound to Mosaic law.

Jesus himself underscored how simple this is when he said:
It [the kingdom of God] is like a mustard seed that when sown in the ground, even though it is the smallest of all the seeds in the ground— when it is sown, it grows up, becomes the greatest of all garden plants, and grows large branches so that the wild birds can nest in its shade." - Mark 4:31-32 
The very core of Christianity has just about the smallest doctrinal component imaginable for a religion. There is no "bronze age foolishness" in its commandments. There's nothing about hate in it. There's nothing that qualifies the love you should have for your neighbor. There's nothing that limits your "neighbor" to members of your own tribe, or of your own faith; and in fact there are a number of verses that specifically illustrate this point. Now, there are points regarding forgiveness and grace and the divinity of Christ; but right now we're interested in the moral rather than religious aspects, and if you're going to find flaws in the moral structure of Christianity, you'd better find them in those two commandments, because that's all there is. Love God. Love your neighbor. They are the mustard seed. From those two simple commandments, everything else is built. You can't love God and not want to please him. You can't love your neighbor and not aid him. The very word "charity" is from the Latin caritas, or "love". Christians give.

Now there are a boatload of Christians who get this wrong in practice, or over-think it to meaninglessness, but the high and the low of it is that those are people who are getting it wrong. But as for "Christianity" as taught by Christ, you just read it. To the extent that you wish to treat "Christianity" as a monolithic structure, any comparison of Christianity's moral code must focus on these two commandments.


So let's compare this to Islam.  This should be easy, as there is not one word of the Quran that was not given by (or through) Muhammad. And, by the way, do not take my word for anything. Read it yourself. I have. There are numerous translations in print, or you can read it online, though this gets to be tedious. I prefer using an Android app on my phone and tablet. I use this one: [The Holy Quran - English] from "Peace Through Understanding". I don't read Arabic, so I can't gauge the accuracy of the translation, but judging from online parallel translations, they're all pretty close.

Now, when I stated in a discussion that everything in the Quran is current, the comment was met with raised eyebrows by at least one Western liberal, feeling ever-so-much like the polite condescension reserved for those "outside the religion" by one who is himself outside the religion. I see nothing to revise. I didn't make up the claim. Rather I base it on the many Muslim orators who proclaim the perfect nature of the Quran, the last and final revelation of Allah. There is no "Old Testament" in the Quran. There are no discarded or superseded teachings. "There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet"... there has been no one since, and there won't be. I doubt you'd find a single Muslim cleric anywhere in the world who would take exception to the statement, and if you find him I seriously, seriously want to know. To the contrary... I think they'd universally agree that every word of the Quran is current and relevant today, and that the key is understanding.

The word "quran" itself means "recitation". It is the recitation, by Muhammad, of the word of Allah as given to him by the angel Gabriel. Unlike the previous books of Islam -- the Taurat (the Torah of Moses), the Zabur (the Psalms of David), and the Injeel (the Gospel of Jesus) -- the Quran was written within the lifetime of Muhammad and is therefore closest to the source and is incorrupt. That brings us to an interesting point... the "bronze age foolishness" that Facebook Pundit claims of Christianity -- which to Christians are historical and superseded -- is an active and current component of Islam (to the extent that it is preserved). Please direct all claims of them being "bronze age foolishness" to Muslims yourself, as I will not.

Now, these books of Islam are NOT the Torah, Psalms and Gospels as you would find them in the Holy Bible. In practice they no longer exist. They are the lost original, uncorrupted versions of these books as revealed to Moses, David, and Jesus. Muslims care nothing for the Gospel according to Mark... they want the Injili Isa (the Gospel of Jesus. For a comprehensive lesson in how these books relate to Islam I recommend any of numerous lectures by Sheikh Ahmed Deedat. Reserve adequate time to watch one, as he did not hurry. He was, however, a very good speaker; knowledgeable and not at all boring. But do not listen unless you actually want to learn something about Islam). But we do see these components in Islam. Whereas we read in Exodus,
Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe -.Exodus:21:24-25
In the Quran we read
And We ordained for them therein a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, an ear for an ear, a tooth for a tooth, and for wounds is legal retribution. But whoever gives [up his right as] charity, it is an expiation for him. And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed - then it is those who are the wrongdoers. - Quran 5:45
This, again, is scripture. So are commands to behead infidels and amputate the hands of thieves, The wearing of burqas may or may not be there depending on how authorities interpret verses like sura 24 ayat 31.

Though there are some attempts to explain such things in a way compatible with Western mores, you cannot deny that they are indeed there, and they are actively used by some Muslims against those they deem to be their enemies, as well as (in countries where sharia law prevails) against their own citizens. There are also two cases where the Quran prescribes the death penalty. The first is for murder... however, the victim's family are encouraged to accept blood money instead. The second is for "corruption in the land".  Wikipedia reports that it is carried out in Saudi Arabia for murder, rape, false prophecy, blasphemy, armed robbery, repeated drug use, apostasy (that is, leaving Islam), adultery, witchcraft and sorcery. As this second point is wide open to interpretation, it would seem that it could be imposed upon any crime or none at all, depending on who interprets the law. And please note that in countries where sharia law prevails, the law is interpreted quite broadly. It is not uncommon for seventh-century punishments to remain in use in the 21st century.

And let's be fair here: if you believe, as Muslims do, that these are punishments prescribed by God then there is no need to explain them away. As I'd mentioned in my previous post the "very best argument" (according to a sheik who was present) about why Muslim beliefs were "not radical" took this very approach, which was, (paraphrased from memory) "This is not radical because all Muslims believe punishment, if it is decreed by Allah, is the very best possible punishment." I was very surprised to find that this argument had been removed from I do recognize, though, that while it may be a very good argument among Muslims, it's not politically convenient in the presence of kafir.

Separating the moral component of Islam from the religious component is not possible. "Islam" itself means "submission"... if Allah decrees a punishment, it must be the best possible, and you do it, regardless of how you might otherwise personally feel about it. I ponder over Islam's reputation as "a religion of peace", and marvel to see a man as learned and logical as Sheikh Ahmed Deedat decry the Islamic nations' inability to drive the Jews into to the sea despite having attempted many times to do it (in 1948, 1956, 1967, and 1973). Either peace is a limited concept in Islam, or Christians aren't the only ones who can "do it wrong".

Now, if you're a classically liberal American who believes in true freedom of religion (which includes the freedom not to worship if you so choose), equal treatment for women, and free expression; and if you are capable of acknowledging that a Christian will not maim and cripple you for infractions of the law; then you might be able to draw some conclusions as to whether you believe sharia law as practiced is morally equivalent to "love your neighbor as yourself." Then again, you might not...


Please note: Christians and Muslims alike are famously evangelical. There is nothing racist about either religion, as both seek to embrace all races equally. Of course, in the case of non-Muslims alone, Facebook Pundit would call this "erasure", and declare it to be racist.
"His [Sam Harris'] blatant racism hidden under his criticism of Islam. Too many times I have heard him write on Islam and, disguised under the terms academia, paint with the same brush a religion that stretches from Morroco [sic] to Indonesia. And before you say a thing about Islam not being a race, I must say this: it is not his criticism of Islam that, but the fact that he erases a number of ethnic and racial groups to speak on the matter. Erasure means broad stereotypes applied to a wide range."
Pundit digs down deep under layers of what Sam Harris did say to infer what he did not. And when I say "infer" I mean that poor Pundit wants a racist so badly he'll invent one. This doesn't even get the concept of cultural erasure right. Erasure doesn't mean the application of broad stereotypes; it's the literal erasing of a culture. Whereas stereotypes may misrepresent a group whose culture is otherwise untouched, erasure is permanent, in that not even the descendants of the erased culture are aware of their lost heritage. Rather, this is a smoke-and-mirrors attempt to salvage a lost argument. When criticising a religion that crosses racial boundaries, and your criticism is of the religion; then it is perfectly reasonable and proper to limit your criticism to the religion. If you're not criticising someone's race, then race is irrelevant, and need not be mentioned. Facebook Pundit mistakenly takes obvious non-racist comments, then flails at pseudo-intellectual liberal labels in an attempt to make Harris say what Pundit wants him to say.

Also, it completely ignores the actual cultural erasure that is practiced by the very people that Sam Harris is criticising! Please remember that these are the aggressive jihadists who espouse violence as a path to dominance; who in no way display the behavior one would expect of a disciple of peace. Note this Newsweek story:

Please note the qualifier "(especially anything about elections or democracy)". Also note:
Students will instead learn all about "belonging to Islam," and how to "denounce infidelity and infidels."  
Teachers will also be barred from using the phrase "Syrian Arab Republic," the official name of the country of Syria. They must instead refer to the territory as the Islamic State.
This is EXACTLY what erasure looks like, and this same thing will happen everywhere the Islamic State (ISIS) is allowed to expand. And their intention to expand is clear. Already they have threatened to attack the US. It may not be tomorrow, but it will come, and we have made ourselves increasingly unprepared.
But in several telephone conversations with a Reuters reporter over the past few months, Islamic State fighters had indicated that their leader, Iraqi Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, had several surprises in store for the West.
"They hinted that attacks on American interests or even U.S. soil were possible through sleeper cells in Europe and the United States.
"The West are idiots and fools. They think we are waiting for them to give us visas to go and attack them or that we will attack with our beards or even Islamic outfits," said one.

Are all Muslims threats? Of course not. But the threats are overwhelmingly Muslim. The Reuters source knows what he's talking about. The West is filled with idiots and fools who cannot make these connections.

For some bizarre reason many American liberals are incapable of thinking a specific thought... that one thought which results when a reasonable mind ponders a culture that tramples on your ideals in their own country while promising to do the same in yours. It's this failure of American Liberalism that Bill Maher is complaining about, and it's this same failure that I've seen firsthand. It is a gaping mental wound that is self-inflicted through astonishing levels of political correctness that make the answers to simple problems literally unthinkable.


I have a parable, in the form of a test, that I think is completely applicable. The question is put to you:
"You're in a room full of snakes, and I mean full of them: the floor is covered. You're not familiar with the species. Five percent of them are poisonous, but you can't tell them apart. The door is on the far side of the room.  So what's the reasonable, rational person to do?"

Now when I posed the first version of this "problem" I truly thought it was a no-brainer, and would merely serve as a rhetorical question to illustrate the rational approach. I was completely shocked to discover how immensely difficult this question must be. So I asked it of someone else who knew I had been discussing Islam. Similar results! Rather than simply answer it they attempt to "pull a Jim Kirk" and change the Universe. Or they question the simplicity of the parable. They want to know how they found themselves in such a situation. They ask about things that aren't in the test. They hope they can just ignore making a decision. They know the answer, but they will not go there. And while I don't intend to make a study of it, I conclude that this is purely because they know it's a parable, given in the context of a discussion of Islam.
For the record: The reasonable approach is to treat all of the snakes as if they're poisonous until you can establish a method of identifying them and either eliminate the poisonous ones or avoid them and thus safely reach the door.
This is anything but difficult. When I put the same problem to someone without Islamic context, they had no problem immediately giving the correct answer. The number of snakes may only be 5%, but the chance of being bitten are significantly greater if those snakes are aggressive; and the penalty for getting it wrong is death. Likewise, when we are talking about Islamic jihadists, the threat of attack is not a function of their population, but of their aggression. We saw that in New York. We saw it in Fort Hood, We've seen it in Boston, and London, and elsewhere around the world. We have experience with groups like Al Qaeda who threaten to attack, and then follow through. And we now have experience with groups like ISIS who likewise threaten to attack and are putting themselves in positions of power so that they may. It is quite frankly suicidal to assume that they will not, or that their distance from us will shield us when we have done everything we can as a country to undermine our own security, from porous borders to the adoption of mental blind spots such as are tested by my parable.

I draw the conclusion (which I'm sure my test-takers will protest) that moral equivalence may lead to potentially fatal indecision.

As many people have pointed out, Americans are so deathly afraid of being labeled "racist" that it borders on a phobia of its own. I've looked in vain for a word for it, but we could seriously use one. It has grown to such proportion that it is no longer applied to race, and bizarre, wild leaps of logic are required to make racists of those who are not. Leaps such as assuming that "Muslim" is a code-word for "Arab". And, I have to say, the fear of this label is much closer to a real phobia than "Islamophobia" itself. A phobia is an irrational fear. Nobody shouts down a coulrophobe on behalf of clowns. But PC phobias aren't phobias, they're euphemisms for deliberate hatred. "Homophobia" isn't fear of gays, but hatred of them, and Islamophobia could not be portrayed as despicable if the fear of an attack by jihadists were truly irrational.  Irrational fears are medical conditions; rational fears are justified; and PC "phobias" are weapons of mass delusion of which I suspect a growing number of Americans are fed up.

I'm going to end this with a qualification that I had to give elsewhere. If I were talking about "all Muslims", then my parable would obviously have involved a "room full of poisonous snakes" and not a mere 5%. I do, however, expect that the same people who blindly misinterpret Bill Maher and Sam Harris will also misinterpret me, and claim that this is a "racist" discussion despite its apathy toward race. As I said... irrational.

PS: Sam Harris has now published his own "post mortem of the encounter. It's definitely worth the read [Can Liberalism Be Saved From Itself?]

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