xPrae: How I defeated you so soundly (part 2: Understanding another religion)

Inter-faith dialogues, despite their pretty name, should be a case of pitting infallible and mutually exclusive ideas against each other: God says this vs God says that. It’s not, and that’s a good thing. Anyone who has watched an interfaith discussion in a university, on the TV or listened to one on the radio will know the discussion actually centres around central core ideas of peace, love, equality and justice. My interlocutor, xPrae, in the earlier debate wanted to focus on these elements of Christianity, and defended that by way of modern-Western-Christian-consensus. Such favour was not extended to Islam and Muslims, despite the fact that Muslims in the US (the home of my interlocutor) and the UK (my home) are clearly peaceful. Else, let’s be honest, we’d be dead. Modern-Western-Muslim-consensus on the nature of Islam was not xPrae’s criteria for evaluating Islam.

Whatever the cause of this disparity is, it is important. It colours our discussions of other religions which, in turn, affects foreign policy and politics. I linked a video that highlighted this problem; that although xPrae wanted to define Christianity in terms of a modern-Western-Christian consensus, people were not allowing the same favour to extend to Islam. Although that comment got some atheist support, it saw only a very poor response from my xPrae. The video shows a small TV crew reading passages from the Bible to people on the street, except the Bible had a cover on it to make it look like the Koran. The passages were intentionally selected to be provocative. I am sure Christians will rush to the defense of each passage, trying to put it into some socio-economic or religious context and justify the horror. They are welcome to do that, because not only do I find defending such horrors to be completely contrary to the Christian thesis of absolute morality and a good God, but because that was not my point. My point was that such support of the passages was not forthcoming when the listeners thought the passage was from the Koran: then it received unfiltered criticism.

xPrae’s response was to wholly abandon the modern-Western-Christian-consensus and appeal instead to what I called, somewhat sardonically, the ‘obvious’ truth of Christianity. I do not mean to suggest xPrae thought Christianity was obviously true, but that the moral message was obviously clear and that the provocative passages that had been read could obviously be ignored: there was a true way to understand the Bible. I don’t see that the Bible has a clear message or set of messages and I certainly do not see a way my interlocutor could evaluate his ‘obvious‘ interpretations and other’s interpretation in wholly Biblical terms to decide which is closest to the true meaning, if such a thing existed.

Our dialogue with and about Muslims at large, and extremists specifically, is coloured by this bias.

I argue that modern-Western-religious-consensus on the nature of religion is more nuanced and interesting than xPrae initially supposed. I argue that the consensus, firstly, doesn’t exist and, secondly, if it did exist, would be a good thing, and, thirdly, is very far from purely religious.

I argue that the consensus doesn’t exist, even within a given religion, because there is so much variation from its followers. Remember: we’re discussing consensus here, not the content. Within Christianity there are people who espouse the ethic of universal love and acceptance. But there are also people who picket funerals, advocate the murder of Muslims, hate homosexuals and want to suppress the role of women and transgender people and who murder prostitutes thinking God commanded it of them. It would be a mistake to assume all these people are on the fringes of Christianity; John Zande named a prominent Christian―Jerry Falwell―who has close ties with members of the Republican party as an example of someone inciting hatred. There are even people on both sides of the ambiguity of what it means to ‘apologise for the Inquisitions’: there’s those who offer apologies and renounce it, and there are those who offer apologetics to explain why it was the divine thing. There is no consensus. (I also argue that it is a Humanised Catholic Church that apologised for the Inquisition. I come to that later.)

However, themes of tolerance and love can be picked out of the haze. These are the ideas xPrae also managed to untangle from the haze, but managed to do so without the ambiguity I see. The ideas were also applied only to Christianity. But, if we run with them now, we can assume these form the basis of that consensus. Although cherry-picked from opinions at large, I am willing to play devil’s advocate and accept that without too much scrutiny for the sake of this discussion (that’s the true meaning of devil’s advocate). If true, it’s a good thing.

However, it’s not strictly religious. Using only the books themselves, we are not really able to tell whose views are more ‘right’. The homophobes do seem to have explicit passages in defence of their views. Yet, the support for embracing homosexuals is implicit in the words of Jesus. But Jesus came not to change one jot or tittle of the old law and I’m not sure the Bible explains how to weigh up implicit and explicit imperatives. This leaves believers with the question of how to cut through this knot. I argue they use the blade of Humanism. I’m sure there are discussions in pulpits and arguments in homes and the Enlightenment has been bashing free enquiry and criticism over religion for hundreds of years. Through this, societies―overwhelmingly, the developed ones―have created a framework or a lens through which they read their books and accept or reject passages. (It is the moderate Islam of Turkey that gives me hope for its economic prosperity, because that is a symptom of a freely enquiring culture.) That framework is not offered in the books themselves, but developed through a method much more at home under a name like “Humanism” over “Religion”.

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53 thoughts on “xPrae: How I defeated you so soundly (part 2: Understanding another religion)”

        1. Perhaps John has nothing left to say for reasons other than the superiority of your argument. Take, for example, that you are attempting to establish relative metrics (Christian wars Vs Islamic wars) in a topic that was absolute in nature (can a group upend society? Yes or no).
          Perhaps you were, in fact, presenting idiotic rebuttals, to which John may well believe reason will no longer affect.
          I find that focussing on an insult instead of actually sticking to an argument is the sign of a person who has actually run out of defence.

        2. I dunno, I think you had a point.
          The possibility of a group ‘upending’ society is a binary thing and as soon as you made the point that his religious group falls to the same accusation, he wanted to make it comparative. He’s either an idiot, or he thinks we’re idiots.
          But, he think America is a utopia, so I know where I’d put my money.

        3. Your big-boy words scared him off before he had the chance to define utopia.
          Hopefully he’s just busy and will come back.
          Post the Christian wars anyway… if he wants to make a point of the comparison against Islamic wars, he can do that research himself.
          Do you get what his point was, about a group upending society, that had anything to do with my argument at all?

        4. Nope, I was completely baffled… But I’m guessing he’s of the opinion that Christianity has only ever been a bed of roses for all people. I think we’re dealing here with a general case of American ignorance.

        5. Or a general case of guilt-shifting. It’s akin to a murderer’s defence in court being that someone else killed more people, or that he’s donated to charity since.
          It’s possible he’s alluding to a much more nuanced and sophisticated argument, but I doubt it at the moment.

    1. You understand that my entire point is that a literal interpretation of Christianity leads to the exact same problem, right? It is that you are sitting smugly atop a ‘Christianity’ that is brow-beaten by humanism and that is the sole thing that makes Christianity civilised; that it looks now nothing like its literal interpretation.

        1. You’re going to have to write in full sentences and explain yourself properly. I can’t figure out what you’re talking about.

  1. The United States of America. It is still young in the grand scale, but has reached heights unparalleled by atheism, humanism, communism, or any other worldview, without force being it’s primary reason for expansion.

    1. Okay. How are you defining Utopia? Because America has been in a near perpetual state of war since I was born. And it’s had slavery within the last 200 years.
      As America was founded on religious freedoms by people escaping religious persecution, why isn’t it considered a secular utopia (assuming it can be called a utopia, which I heavily doubt)?

  2. Okay. Let me ask you a question then.
    What are the essences of Christian belief and Islamic belief?
    I know the answer most Imams would give, as in the 5 pillars of Islam. But what is the core of Islamic belief?
    I propose it is found in the translation of the word “Islam” which means “submit”. It is ultimately a command backed by threat. I can support this from the Quran.

    1. Okay. But if I were to argue that Christianity were the submission of moral autonomy to God and Jesus (which I believe it is), you wouldn’t care much what I could support using the Bible. You would care more about the things you believed were the “pillars” of Christianity. You don’t get to judge the religion you like by one set of standards and religions you don’t like by another set of standards. That’s the other thing this post is about.

      You still haven’t explained to me how America can be thought of as a utopia, so I’m really not sure why I’m entertaining your questions when you’re ignoring mine.

        1. I’m not asking for a comparative ‘utopia’. So, can you start with what you actually mean by ‘utopia’?
          But the United Kingdom either matches or exceeds America in all those areas, I’d say. As done France and Germany, so far as I can tell; and Canada and Scandinavia.

        2. According to Islamists, yes.
          It’s not like you never see Christians fighting for political change with defences like “This is a Christian nation!”
          But, please, make your point.

        1. Everyone wants to relocate there? Free stuff? I thought I was the one getting free healthcare from an Indian doctor and romainian nurse.
          Seriously, define utopia.

        2. We can only seek to define utopia in reference to how close we have come to it’s own deffinition, which is perfection in all ways, ideal.
          But nothing man-made can achieve perfection, only come as close as possible. For that, we must look at history.

    1. Firstly, who is ‘we’? Secondly, do you really know the difference?; do most Americans know the difference? Lastly, nice caveat, but I have no idea why people with no religion aren’t in the count there.

        1. Interesting selection bias.
          Interesting switch from humanism to atheism.
          Interesting focus on the importance of their atheism over their actual beliefs. (It’s like blaming The Lord’s Liberation Army on a lack of Islam.)

    2. Here’s the issue with this conversation, as I see it:
      You asked me if there were any example in History of a Humanist utopia. I challenged that history hasn’t recorded any utopia (and would have gone on to challenge it hasn’t recorded any openly humanist societies, either).
      You basically rebutted that America is a utopia. So, I now need to know what a utopia is before I can tell you whether there have been any other utopias (and look into their religiosity or not).
      If America is the benchmark for ‘utopia’, and has been a utopia for 200 years (during slavery, during segregation, while women couldn’t vote) then all of Western Europe is an irreligious utopia, with Enlightenment values.

      So, the ball is now in your court to define a utopia (without the word “perfect”, an inherent part of the actual definition) and we’ll see what we can work out from there.

      You can, of course, keep tip-toeing around every point of this discussion, but people will notice that. Most of the religious readers here won’t give you the benefit of the doubt; they’ll be disappointed you couldn’t do a reasonable job of defending your position.

        1. I don’t know. You’re playing hide the ball with the definition of utopia.
          There might not have been any utopias, ever. I can’t tell because you won’t say what one is.

  3. Perfection in government and rule of law resulting in paradise. In Islam, Muhammad thought that if you get the whole world one the same page, whether by force or otherwise, wars will end. Problem is, then you have a giant police state, beheading will be a regular thing, floggings, hardly utopia. I imagine humanists think something similar so it would also have to be policed and brutal.

    1. Humanists don’t believe that. You can’t get from a valuing of human life and wellbeing to beheadings or brutality.
      So far as I can tell, there has never been a utopia. So… what was your point, again?

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