Two exceptionally good posts from two of the brightest bloggers around:
Sigmund, Carl and Alfred’s post Monsters From Within, Monsters From Without goes a long way towards explaining, as he so well puts it,
the origins of widely accepted terror as an acceptable form of political or religious expression
I had posed a question during an email exchange, and here’s part of Siggy’s post to that question (emphasis added):
Radical Islam has assumed the face and costume of militancy and violence, not the face of theology. The gun- and frenzied use of the gun, has become a part of the faith. This of course, is clearly antithetical to Judeo-Christian values, moral and principles (The Church never advocated the butcher and slaughter of all non believers). Democracies do not settle differences with violence- and in large measure, that is why the Islamists reject dealing with us. The Islamists are willing to engage us violently because they believe that secularism abhors conflict- and thus, we are theirs for the taking. They understand they will not have to face equal or violent consequences of their actions. That in itself is one definition of the ‘Clash of Civilizations.’
That is why they oppose a peace deal with Israel, real democracy within the Palestinian Authority, Iraq or anywhere else in the region. In their minds, democracy, freedom and peace means that secularists have asserted their dominion over Islamism. That notion is intolerable- and as many as need be will die preserving the illusion that democracy, freedom and peace are evil and in opposition to Islam. They deliberately define democracy as a religion in opposition to Islam. That is why their opposition to democracy is so fierce. To believe in democracy is to be apostate and thus, deserving of death.
Modernity is also suspect is the Muslim world. We can define modernity as the change brought about by self expression, higher education and modern economies that function efficiently and seamlessly. Ayatollah Khomeini resisted modernity, as do the Saudis, ostensibly for religious reasons. That said, Saudi ideologies are roundly rejected by countries like Morocco, Jordan, Egypt and Syria. They reject modernity because modernity, like secularism, favors democracy.
The rejection of modernity also explains the indifference the Arab world has to education and functioning economies. Failed and dismal Arab world education levels and economies are of little and no concern to Arabs because education and functioning economies represent the reality of a real future. Recognizing and anticipating the future is an integral part of modernity. The future is a reality the Arab world has consciously rejected, by word and deed.
Healthy societies do not naturally reject the future and modernity. Every parent does what they can to address their children’s future and to ensure they the future well prepared. That is how society functions and perpetuates itself. Children are the future and it is incumbent on us to ensure their success. It is also incumbent upon us to do what we can to leave a better world for our children- a concept not at all understood in much of the Arab world, for decades led by dysfunctional political and religious leaders. How this dysfunction operates needs to be understood.
In fact, the Arab world has made clear their intent and desire to return to the past, and not have to face the future. Facing the future means the Arab world would have to be held accountable for their dysfunctional behavior that has made poverty and failure a part of the Arab world reality of today.
On a different but not totally unrelated subject, Francis Porretto ponders the war on Christianity in his post By His Stripes:
Anti-Christians are not uniform in their motivations. Many are hostile to the notion of divinity. Others dislike any assertion of a moral standard higher than that imposed by man-made law. Some merely practice a thoroughgoing skepticism about anything they can’t verify by the direct and immediate report of their senses. And some are consumed by envy at the serenity enjoyed by the majority of Christian adherents, a condition unaffected by variations or fluctuations in their worldly estates. No doubt there are others with other reasons.
But they cannot point to one single thing that the “mythical” Jesus ever said or did that to which a decent man could raise the slightest objection. For to do so, they’d have to take issue with:
- The desirability of spiritual peace and forgiveness of others’ sins;
- Gratitude for the gift of life in a lawful universe and honor to those who are the temporal reason for it;
- The prohibitions against murder, theft, fraud, and covetousness;
- Last but most striking of all, Christ’s denial of the rightness of enforcing religious precepts with temporal force, as exemplified dramatically in His treatment of the adultery of Mary Magdalene.
Many creatures of darkness live in our accumulated cultural consciousness. Some are historically well attested: the great mass murderers of the Twentieth Century, for example. Others, such as Attila and Ghengis Khan, are more remote, with more uncertainty attached to their deeds. A few villainous names survive in the epics of deep antiquity, but their stories are most uncertain of all. None of these are worshipped; they’re held up to the young of today to illustrate what horrors are possible to Man. Even evil figures whose actual lives are entirely uncertain present useful profiles in human depravity; we reflect upon them because we can sense that the stories attached to their names are things men might really have done — that no degree of malice is inherently beyond us.
Go read ’em. You’ll be smarter when you’re done.
I tried using the comments section but it wouldn’t load.
In this post you quote Francis Porretto, ending with “Last but most
striking of all, Christ’s denial of the rightness of enforcing
religious precepts with temporal force, as exemplified dramatically in
His treatment of the adultery of Mary Magdalene.”
I probably should be replying to Mr. Porretto, but I’d like to point
out that I think he has conflated a couple of New Testament stories,
and perhaps even thinks that Mary Magdalene is the reformed prostitute
of legend. Mary Magdalene in the New Testament is a woman from whom
Jesus cast out evil spirits; but in Christian preaching over the
centuries, she was conflated with other New Testament figures of the
same name or no known name.
It looks like he’s referring to the story of the woman taken in
adultery that is included in some (but not all) of the manuscripts of
John, beginning of ch. 8.
This is a very problematic story; I do not think that it means what
people usually think it means. Looking at it with Jewish eyes, there
are just too many missing pieces for it to be about the immediate
stoning of an adulteress by an angry mob.
If she was caught “in the very act” then the man involved was also
taken, but in this story, he’s missing. In Jewish law, both parties
were liable for the death penalty in adultery, and the act must have
been witnessed (which is what is claimed here). So where is the man?
Secondly, as we also know from the story of Christ’s Passion, the Jews
could not sentence someone to death without Roman approval in those
In addition, we are not told that the woman and her lover were ever
brought to trial — admittedly, we don’t know exactly how a Jewish
court in Jesus’ day would have handled an adultery case such as this,
but certainly by the late Roman period, Jewish law made it very
difficult for a death penalty to be handed out, and there were many
formal procedures, the calling of witnesses, etc. that had to take
place before a sentence could be handed down. None of this is present
in this story; we have rather the idea that a mob was ready to stone
the woman (but not her unknown partner). Execution by stoning
following a court sentence was a formal ritual. According to Jewish
law, the person bringing the accusation had to cast the first
stone — the implication being that if an unjust accusation was being
made, the one who initiated the execution was himself liable to at
least a heavenly judgment because an unjust execution meant the
accuser was committing murder himself. Cleary Jesus is drawing on this
strong Jewish tradition, but changes it to “let he who is without sin
cast the first stone.”
So what gives?
It may be that Jesus was once again being tested on his teaching. One
suggestion is that this story is referring back to his teaching that
marriage was permanent, with no divorce. A woman “caught in the very
act” could well mean simply that she was divorced according to Jewish
law and was in the process of getting remarried. If so, this story
does not make that clear at all. In Jewish circles in late Roman
times, there was a great debate about divorce; should it be easy to
divorce, or difficult? The rabbinical schools of Hillel and Shammai
took different sides on this issue.
Or perhaps the story has to do with Jewish versus Roman law — should
she be executed according to Jewish law without Roman approval?
Once more Jesus neatly sidestepped the question, and I cannot help
wondering what exactly he’s referring to when he says “go and sin no
I hope you’ll forgive me for ranting a bit. This is one of the
biblical stories that is too often used to paint a harsh and
unforgiving portrait of the “Jews.” Like “an eye for an eye…” used
in the sense of meaning a call for vengeance, even though vengeance is
specifically forbidden in the Bible.
I’m emailing Francis on these very interesting points
Update 2 Francis replies in the comments section