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Apr 02 2014

Fundamentalist Islam is More Rational than Moderate Islam

Last night I disagreed with Ed Brayton about what atheists are not supposed to say and I also mentioned Dan Fincke’s article about not letting fundamentalists define religion. I want to make something real clear: when it comes to Islam, fundamentalism makes much more sense and it’s much more rational than moderate Islam. Now, I wanted to write a long post about why moderate Islam is an inherently failed project, but I guess I will just say this: moderate Islam makes exactly no amount of sense. Zero. Like, if I were a Muslim, I’d totally be a fundamentalist. When I deconverted moderate Islam was not even an option because of how laughable and irrational it was.

Why do I say that? Well, all versions of Islam are irrational, because the premise to all of them is irrational. That premise is that “Quran is the word of Allah and true”. But, let’s imagine that premise is actually true. Now, which of these reasoning skills seem more rational to you:

Logical reason A:

a) Everything in Quran is true.

b) Quran says beat your wife and kill the apostate.

c) Beat your wife and kill the apostate.

Logical Reasoning B:

a) Everything in Quran is true.

b) Quran appears to say beat your wife and kill the apostate, but it doesn’t really mean that.

c) Dont’ beat your wife and kill the apostate.

Doesn’t logical reasoning B sound really motivated by wishful thinking, intellectual cowardice, spinning the words, copping out, and all these things that you would consider irrational in every other thinker? Isn’t line A much cleaner and neater and at least not motivated by political reasons to keep both the religion and the democratic modern values? Don’t you even doubt the honesty of the Line B? I do. They might be lying to themselves or to us, but they’re lying to someone.

Let me bring two examples here that I also used in that reasoning line above. It concerns two of the most controversial Quran verses, that atheists constantly use as example of Quran’s horrific side, and fundamentalist and moderate Muslims clash over it. Take a look at this verse:

Men are in charge of women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth. So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [the husband's] absence what Allah would have them guard. But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance – [first] advise them; [then if they persist], forsake them in bed; and [finally], strike them. But if they obey you [once more], seek no means against them. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted and Grand. (Source)
The whole Surat An-Nissa is like “Misogynist Manifesto”, including gems with rules like women having to inherit less than men, women’s testimony being worth less than men, etc. Now if you’re a white-washer, how do you white-wash this?
Some Muslims claim that there are some hadith that say you should really strike them with a twig so that it doesn’t hurt. Which makes absolutely no sense. Not only being “softly spanked” is still abuse and humiliating, just, that there are also as many hadith to the contrary, and you can be very sure that those “spank them softly” hadith were made up by other white-washers. Or they argue that the word was mistranslated, which seriously wasn’t. And ultimately there’s no way around the fact that this verse very clearly states that women are inferior to men.
Let’s look at another controversial verse, which is from the same atheist gold mine, Surat An-Nissa:
They wish you would disbelieve as they disbelieved so you would be alike. So do not take from among them allies until they emigrate for the cause of Allah . But if they turn away, then seize them and kill them wherever you find them and take not from among them any ally or helper.
I’m also a fan of this verse:
[Remember] when your Lord inspired to the angels, “I am with you, so strengthen those who have believed. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieved, so strike [them] upon the necks and strike from them every fingertip.” (source)
Now how moderate Muslims work around this? I have heard two white-washes: I have heard two moderate ayatollahs saying that an unbeliever, ie a kaafir, is not actually a genuine atheist (or someone who converts to Christianity genuinely), but someone who knows Islam is true, actually is a Muslim at heart, but pretends to be an atheist because s/he’s an enemy of god.
What?
I mean, does that make sense to you? I’m very thankful that these moderate ayatollahs are trying to save my ass – but does that make sense to you? Would you be convinced with this stuff if you were a Muslim? Seriously?
The other explanation is that these non-believers are specific non-believers, those that lived at the time of the prophet. Now these were very asshole apostates because they pretended to become Muslims in the morning and then deconverted in the afternoon and therefore the Allah got pissed and ordered that apostates get killed.
Point is, moderate Islam lies on one claim: that there are two kinds of rules in Islam, the ones that belonged to the jaheliyyah era (pre-Islamic society) and Allah simply didn’t bother to change them and then rules that Allah added himself and those should be considered main rules and obeyed.
Problem is, you really can’t claim that the rules of sharia are historic and not meant as absolute and claim that Quran is absolute and yet subject the rules set specifically by Quran as not absolute and time-based. It also undermines the whole “the life of the prophet is the best interpretation of the Quran that we need to follow”. Seriously, this is a major contradiction here, it makes no sense.
Now let me quote my previous article:

Fundamentalists “pick and choose” what they want to believe just as much as liberals do. Christian fundamentalists claim that they are strictly obedient adherents to literal Bible but that is a dubious claim.

Well, my reaction to this is this: they’re still truer followers than the moderates. Like, if we had some grade for “How much do you really follow the religion you claim to follow” fundamentalists get D and moderates get F. Maybe that’s because Christianity has become much more moderate overall, maybe the last true Christian was Torquemada and all of the future Christians are false Christians who are just somewhat closer or farther from the “not Christian” end of the spectrum. Maybe there never even was a True Christian, because no one ever followed all those weird rules in Leviticus, maybe True Christian is a logical impossibility because of all the contradictions in the Bible…

Nevertheless, it’s legitimate to call people on their inner contradictions, and it’s legitimate when to cry bullshit when a moderate Muslims makes absurd claims such as “But if you look at Quran or the Prophet’s life you will see that Islam is not against equality for women” or “when Quran says apostates must be killed it actually means…”

I can logically prove and with a variety of evidence that Quran is a sexist book and it says kill apostates. I am happy that there are moderate Muslims who distance themselves from this stuff, but I still want to call them out on it because we need to teach our children that truth matters and that you still call out what you deem is wrong even if that wrong is less harmful or actually completely harmless.

And it’s not like that this is always against the religion. Like, I agree that Islam really doesn’t support FGM, as there is no verse or hadith or anything in the tradition to suggest it.

Maybe Christian fundamentalists pick and choose a lot. But fundamentalist Muslims pick and choose MUCH MUCH less than moderate Muslims. They are like a handful of verses that sound humane, most of which are completely stripped of that in the context, and they keep repeating those verses, like Surat An-Nissa (my favorite surat) begins with
O mankind, fear your Lord, who created you from one soul and created from it its mate and dispersed from both of them many men and women. And fear Allah , through whom you ask one another, and the wombs. Indeed Allah is ever, over you, an Observer.
Yeah this single verse says that you’re all the same in the eyes of god, but then it goes on to state very plainly that you’re supposed to follow Allah and Allah has made man superior to woman whose rights are half of his and can be beaten. The moderate Muslims quote the shit out of this single verse while attempting to ignore other verses, especially when it comes to non-Muslims. Or there’s one verse that says “It’s not mandatory to believe in a religion.” They quote the shit out of that too. Let’s take a look at it in context:
He knows what is [presently] before them and what will be after them, and they encompass not a thing of His knowledge except for what He wills. His Kursi extends over the heavens and the earth, and their preservation tires Him not. And He is the Most High, the Most Great. [verse 255]
There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong. So whoever disbelieves in Taghut and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold with no break in it. And Allah is Hearing and Knowing. [verse 256]
Allah is the ally of those who believe. He brings them out from darknesses into the light. And those who disbelieve – their allies are Taghut. They take them out of the light into darknesses. Those are the companions of the Fire; they will abide eternally therein. [verse 257] (Source)
This is no democratic “all are free to choose” situation. The verse simply states that people have free will, nothing more than that. There is ultimately no tolerance for them because they are condemned to fire.
Now, a commenter objected to my assertion. I’m going to quote him/her here:

That’s very much an assumption about what the text is, what it’s for, and what it means to “follow” it. Suppose that I follow the holy text of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Is it necessary to believe that the albatross was a literal bird? What am I supposed to make of the thousand thousand slimy things that lived on (and so did I)? The holy writ does verily call them “slimy things with legs,” so of course it’s rankest heresy to visualize them as worms or fish–but must I believe they actually “did crawl with legs upon the slimy sea”? Did they walk on water? Or are they like water striders: small enough not to break the surface tension? And in what way is the sea “slimy”? Was there a layer of foam or oil floating on its surface?

Fundamentalists of course assume that the Rime is literal: the mariner was an actual man; that the crews’ souls really did pass him by like the whizz of his cross bow; and then they really groaned, they stirred, they all uprose; etc., etc. To a fundamentalist Rimatarian, your goodness is measured by how literally you take the text. You cite a background in Iran, surrounded by fundamentalism, so it’s no surprise that you implicitly assume that this measure is self-evidently right. Liberal muslims are bad muslims; reformed Jews are bad Jews; liberal Christians are bad Christians; etc. They themselves would disagree with not only your assessment, but with the standard by which you’re measuring them to reach that assessment.

I think that Ed is right: informing them that they’re substandard Christians, Muslims or Jews is not going to help deconvert them. It’s only going to lead to an argument in which you tell them what they do, or should, believe. And it’s incredibly arrogant–on the order of born-again GW Bush telling the Muslim world what is or isn’t “true Islam.” (As opposed to allying himself with more moderate Muslim factions, which can be done respectfully.)

This is my first problem: How can rules be symbolic? OK, a moderate Christian might claim that Adam and Eve and other Bible stories are not “literal”. OK. I accept that. But Quran never tells stories, it sometimes alludes to them, always in passing, never narrating from beginning to middle to end. How can the parts I quoted can be symbolic? Of what? Where is the symbol? These are clear assertive sentences.

My second problem: Even if it doesn’t help deconvert them, it’s still… you know… true.

But, I end this post here. From this part onward the politics of the matter is touched, and I think that warrants a separate post. Tune in later, there is a part 2 to this.

31 comments

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  1. 1
    colnago80

    What make you believe that the Hebrew and Christian bibles are any better. They are full of atrocities and fundamentalist Christians and Jews who take these volumes literally are just as deranged as their fundamentalist Muslim counterparts. You only need read the stuff that Brayton posts every day about nutcase Christians like Bryan Fisher et all.

    The fact is that religion is the root of all evil and that, relatively speaking, more people have been murdered over religion then any other cause, at least prior to the 20th Century. Clearly Frankenberger, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, et al were not motivated by religion as we understand it, although, as Martin Gardner argued, Dialectical Materialism is a religion in the sense that it makes claims based on no evidence. More people died in the Thirty Years War in Central Europe, as a fraction of the total population then died in WW1 or WW2 as a fraction of the total population. It was fortunate that Tilly, Gustavus Adolphus, and von Wallenstein didn’t have access to 20th century weapons or Central Europe would have been depopulated.

  2. 2
    colnago80

    By the way, the current events in Syria are rapidly turning into a religious war between Shiites and Sunnis, which is threatening to spread to Lebanon and Iraq.

  3. 3
    chrislawson

    Kaveh,

    I would say that fundamentalist Islam is more *logical* than moderate Islam but less *rational*. It’s easy to create logical systems and stick to them. That doesn’t make them rational. And yes, I think anyone who reads ancient books exhorting violence and cruelty and thinks they should be followed to the strict literal letter is being way more irrational than someone who picks out a few of the non-bloodthirsty parts to adhere to and rejects the worst parts.

  4. 4
    Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc

    It’s the same with any belief system. The fundies usually have a far more coherent belief system. The moderates are far nice to be around as a general rule, though!

  5. 5
    lancifer

    I have always had more intellectual respect for religious fundamentalists than for so called religious “moderates”.

    If you think that the revelations of your holy book are only allegorical approximations of basic truths, that you are free to discern for yourself, why exactly do you claim to be a follower of the religion that is based upon them?

    Arguing with these moderates can be even more exasperating than arguing with fundamentalists. The fundamentalist is tied to a set of literal premises and when cornered ultimately must concede that they have no rational basis for their beliefs.

    The moderate, on the other hand, is not tied to the literal tenets of the holy writings. They will abandon ideas and revelations that are inconvenient or indefensible. They have freed themselves of any intellectual rigor and have allowed themselves the luxury of interpreting away anything that makes them uncomfortable or is intellectually vulnerable.

    Ultimately these people retreat into an amorphous and irrational “something” belief that cannot be defended because it cannot be defined.

    I call them the “something” people because they believe in “something” but cannot tell you exactly what it is, because if they did have to state concrete ideas then they would be forced to defend them, thus defeating the whole “something” strategy.

    These people often claim to be “spiritual but not religious”. Intellectual cowards are what they are.

  6. 6
    doublereed

    I would say Fundamentalism is less logical based on actual empirical knowledge of what we know about the world. Moderate Islam makes far more sense given that we live in reality. It’s hard not to deny the competence and independence of women when plenty of women are competent and independent. The difference is which you put more stock in.

    I don’t know how much Iranians read the Quran. I can tell you that most Christians really don’t read it, and Conservative and Reform Jews practically make games out of disagreeing with the bible all over the place.

    But assuming you don’t really care about what the Quran says other having your identity be ‘Muslim’ (which has important social consequences of course), it’s not hard to see why people would disregard literal forms of the Quran for real-world empirical knowledge.

  7. 7
    jesse

    To me this gets into an argument though, that doesn’t make a lot of sense. If you are saying that fundamentalists are more logically consistent then OK, one can make that case. But what about places where a religious text contradicts itself? The Bible is one example. Part I has hundreds of dietary rues. Part II obviates them. Which one is it then? There are two accounts of Genesis and two genealogies for Jesus. which one?

    The Qu’ran — I haven’t read it all the way through — probably isn’t perfectly self consistent either, because if it were then there could be no disagreement between Sunni and Shiite (fundamentalists), correct?

    BTW in Jewish tradition, there’s a long history of finding “work arounds” for the modern world. For instance, the prohibition on lighting fires on the Sabbath (it connotes work) can be worked around for cooking with induction stoves, I think. Some commentators say electricity counts as fire (the spark) but a good condenser switch would take care of that and a few Rabbis have said it should be ok I think. But at least for Jews there is a lively tradition of arguing about the Torah, and that’s one reason there’s really no such thing as a Jewish fundamentalist in the way it exists for Christians. (Being an oppressed minority and spread over a wide area for a long time has a lot to do with it too — an Algerian Jew has much more in common culturally with Palestinians than with Ashkenazis in Israel).

  8. 8
    doublereed

    @7 jesse

    Generally the Ultra-Orthodox (like the Hasidic) are the Fundamentalist Jews. They always seem pretty similar to Muslims, I find, just with Rabbinical Law instead of Sharia Law. Same coverings of the women, same iconoclastic attitudes toward art, and same hatred for anyone unlike them. Like there are areas in Israel where secular jews shouldn’t go because they’ll get attacked by the crazy fundamentalists.

    They’re also the main ones that do the silly workarounds. The bizarre ways that they can inconvenience themselves while following blatantly arbitrary rules? These is social signals for class, imo. Ultimately silly.

    The main reason you don’t hear as much about Fundamentalist Jews is that most American Jews aren’t Orthodox (and ones that are tend to be Modern Orthodox), and many of the crazy American Jews made migrations to Israel.

    1. 8.1
      jesse

      Well, speaking as a Jewish-descended person who lives in the city where 1 in 6 of everyone is… :-)

      There’s certainly a lot of similarities between Judaism and Islam, more than either group will often admit to. And we’ve had incidents here where the Orthodox have gotten into snits with people and even attacked folks in their neighborhoods — there was one incident with a woman who was biking or some such weirdness. But a a general rule they have to get along with everybody else around here because they share a city with 6 million other people.

      I’ll say this: in an American context, the more restrictive Jewish sects are generally not noticed as much because they are a) white and b) the head coverings for women are usually wigs, so nobody sees it. I don’t know if you live in NY, we have a few Orthodox communities scattered here and there, kind of like the Amish-lite.

      Anyhow, I said they aren’t fundamentalists in the same way that Christians are because the origins and histories of “fundamentalism” in Jewish culture are rather different and there really isn’t a tradition of Biblical literalism, even for the Orthodox.

      That said. I am usually reluctant to describe people’s religious practices as silly, or stupid, or anything else like that. Why? Because I have been around too many people who were persecuted for practicing their religions, and for whom it was not only a source of identity but a means of survival. Before you ever call someone’s religious leanings silly I suggest you try that in front of a Lakota or Diné or Chukchi. There’s just a huge honking big difference between the people who society privileges and those it does not. That will differ a lot from country to country and even places within the US. (Try being a Jew in Idaho or Alabama).

      Back to Orthodox: there’s also a sect of Orthodox who don’t think Israel should exist. And you’re right that the more right-wing Zionists are the ones who self select to go to Israel, a rather different demographic than previously. (I am old enough to remember when it was kibbutzim socialists). So here’s a certain amount of self-selection here.

      1. doublereed

        I’m Jewish as well. (Yes, I’m an Atheist, but both Orthodox Jews and Anti-Semites would call me Jewish, and they’re the ones that actually care)

        I’m sorry, but I’ve seen far too much where people have had silly, stupid religious beliefs and used them to hate, denigrate, and insult others. To feel superior to people. To use modern technology while rejecting modern decency to even their own family. Religion actively destroys families. Even today you’ll see religious families disown their sons and daughters for marrying the wrong person. I’m sorry, but you won’t see me treat religion with respect.

        Saying that harmless religious practices are silly (like not eating milk and meat, or even having a second kitchen to separate milk and meat) is just saying what I think honestly. And I prefer “silly” because it’s light-hearted and utterly diminishing, which is the context that I prefer religion to be in. If they want to get angry and offended at me, fine, but at least I’m speaking honestly.

  9. 9
    lancifer

    @7 jesse,

    The fundies have no choice but to equivocate when their magic book contradicts itself. So they have to make up kludgie work-arounds, like claiming that some or other translation is not contradictory, or saying that “God can do anything” therefor a contradiction is OK.

    That just means they have less of these logical errors than do the, all-over-the-place, moderates.

    1. 9.1
      jesse

      referencing some other folks here, that’s sort of the problem I am having with the whole argument of whether fundamentalists of any stripe are “truer” followers than “moderates.” (The definitions can get awfully slippery).

      My issue is that views of religion like that are fundamentally ahistorical. Religious texts don’t pop out of nowhere, nor do their followers. Fundamentalism as we know it today — either the Christian or Muslim variety — are basically modern phenomena. They aren’t connected to what people believed centuries ago any more than modern political structures are monarchies in the way of Henry VIII.

      Given that, talking about whether fundamentalists are better at following a text while ignoring how these movements appeared seems to me no more than asking whether angels can dance on pinheads. You also have to define what following the text means. A literal interpretation? Well, OK but that would mean that many Biblical prescriptions are not physically possible anymore. (Try finding a bullock or a Jewish temple to sacrifice in).

      Are there logical errors in religion? Of course! But sometimes I think that misses the point. Democracy isn’t a terribly logical system either, a lot of the time. We have all kinds of kludgy work-arounds in it, because humans don’t march in lockstep and we don’t read minds, so we have things like majority rules and courts and all that stuff to account for that. The system is as logical as people can make it, but most political systems are not very much so unless it’s some kind of dictatorship where everyone has a role prescribed from birth and we could somehow determine what that should be.

      I mean, human secular laws have all kinds of contradictions, which is why we have courts to begin with, to resolve them. But you wouldn’t argue that I am a better US citizen because I follow the laws more closely, or a “truer” American. The argument ceases to make sense pretty fast unless you throw in a lot of historical data and context to flesh out what you are asserting.

      That’s the issue that arises with Mousevi’s piece here, but even with all that, the sense I get is that he’s approaching it from a different place.

      1. Kaveh Mousavi

        The main difference is that we acknowledge that the human laws are flawed and relative and historic. Religious moderate Muslims CLAIM that their text is flawless and absolute, and then they treat it like any other human text. Or, they claim it’s historic, but at the same time absolute. The fundamentalists don’t have this inconsistency.

        And of course following some of them is impossible, and some other posters talked about contradictions. That doesn’t refute my point. It’s a matter of degrees, not absolutes. True, fundamentalists have 80 inconsistencies, but moderates have 8000. I never said fundamentalists are completely logical and void of inconsistencies.

  10. 10
    exi5tentialist

    Meaning. Real meaning. Real understanding. That is the preserve of the living. Printed words may reside in an artifact. But they contain no meaning. They need living people to project meaning onto them. Hence it doesn’t matter what is printed in the Quran or Bible, whether in ancient arabic or modern translation. It’s the message in the living mind of the living person that matters.

    Islam is not defined by the Quran. It’s defined by living muslims. They can make whatever they want of it. A fundamentalist or a moderate must have living reasons for their living assertions. A text from the 7th century? Bah!

    This concentration on the significance of words in an ancient book is very religious. I think atheists should give it up.

    1. 10.1
      John Morales

      [semi-OT]

      exi5tentialist, you spout incoherent vacuity in the guise of deepitudes.

      Hence it doesn’t matter what is printed in the Quran or Bible, whether in ancient arabic or modern translation. [...] It’s the message in the living mind of the living person that matters.

      You seriously deny that the message taken from what is printed in the living mind is affected by what is printed?

      Islam is not defined by the Quran. It’s defined by living muslims.

      Do you imagine no living Muslim defines Islam as that which is defined by the Quran? ;)

      This concentration on the significance of words in an ancient book is very religious. I think atheists should give it up.

      That you imagine religiosity requires goddism is rather amusing.

      1. exi5tentialist

        [Not OT at all. Right at the centre of T, if you must know.]

        What shapes some printed symbols take is utterly irrelevant to the living mind, yes.

        Living muslims say they define islam by the quran. It’s just they’re all wrong. They define islam by their living experience. Doesn’t everybody?

        How do you work out that I imagine religiosity requires goddism? I don’t.

        1. John Morales

          [meta]

          exi5tentialist:

          [Not OT at all. Right at the centre of T, if you must know.]

          I know your opinion about this, but leaving aside its merit, it doesn’t directly relate to the relative degree of congruence between adherents’ ostensible beliefs and their actual beliefs, that being the specific topic of this post.

          What shapes some printed symbols take is utterly irrelevant to the living mind, yes.

          Then there should be no correlation between those shapes and the perceived message they engender — but observation indicates that there is.

          (When you need to deny reality to make a point, that point is worse than vacuous)

          Living muslims say they define islam by the quran. It’s just they’re all wrong. They define islam by their living experience.

          <snicker>

          Either you are calling them liars, or that is their living experience.

          (Are you calling them liars?)

          How do you work out that I imagine religiosity requires goddism? I don’t.

          On the basis of your claimed belief that atheists should cease to be religious by virtue of paying attention to the significance of the scriptures upon which goddists claim to base their beliefs.

          1. exi5tentialist

            All I’m saying is that I would urge atheists not to replicate religious habits by arguing “what scripture really says”. This is exactly what this topic is about as far as I can see and is the mistaken basis of Kaveh Mousavi’s article. I haven’t argued at all that religiosity requires goddism, you can be religious without believing in god. I can’t even figure out the contortion by which I am supposed to have said the opposite – could you explain that logic again because I just see your response as an argument that is not very logical.

            And this is probably too short an exchange for us to do justice to the whole subject of how we construe reality but I would say that I see 7th century reality as being fundamentally a different thing from 21st century reality. It is a habit of our time to construe both realities as being the same thing based on our supreme confidence in our reading of written material. It’s not really that unusual to question that, is it? I just do it more than most, I think .

            And no, I am not calling muslims liars, I’m just saying a lot of them have got it wrong and I think they define islam by their own living experience, not by the reproduction of an old book. Ultimately, observation is entirely subjective, as is life.

          2. Kaveh Mousavi

            I don’t think you’re wrong, now that you’ve stopped being poetic and are actually making your point, but I don’t think the point that you raise matters much. “Most Muslims base Islam on their living experience”. True. But they CLAIM to base it on a text. So, they can be held accountable to that claim. When they are hold accountable to that claim, you will see fundamentalists are more logically consistent and their claim is a bit truer.

            Muslims are SUPPOSED to follow a text, based on their own claims. Now, if they follow their living experience rather than the text, then I can call them lousy Muslims.

            So, basically, you think you’re refuting me, but I think you’re providing evidence.

          3. John Morales

            Fair enough.

  11. 11
    exi5tentialist

    I don’t think you’re wrong, now that you’ve stopped being poetic and are actually making your point

    Oi ! …my poetickness started a conversation, don’t knock it.

    , but I don’t think the point that you raise matters much.

    gee thanks

    “Most Muslims base Islam on their living experience”. True.

    True

    But they CLAIM to base it on a text. So, they can be held accountable to that claim.

    So far, so good. If they’re up for a discussion.

    When they are hold accountable to that claim, you will see fundamentalists are more logically consistent and their claim is a bit truer.

    No, I don’t see that at all.

    Muslims are SUPPOSED to follow a text, based on their own claims. Now, if they follow their living experience rather than the text

    and that is the whole point. Who’s to say what the text says? You seem to be saying that you have a better grasp of true islam than a moderate muslim, because you can read a 1300 year old text better and more consistently than they can, and on that basis…

    , then I can call them lousy Muslims.

    So please tell me if I’ve got you wrong. Your position is that you’ve read the Quran, you know what it says, and moderate muslims who take no notice of the offending bits of it are being irrational hypocrites, while fundamentalist muslims who stick to the letter of scripture are being true, authentic, logical, rational muslims because they’re faithfully following their text, relatively or absolutely depending on how well or how badly they do it, and even though you abhor those doctrines, you at least respect them for not departing from the message in the text.

    In response, I say I don’t believe any living human being can be remotely confident about the meaning of a text written 1300 years ago. No muslim, atheist, rationalist, anthropologist, historian, scientist or anyone else can have any confidence whatsoever about what it means, and I say that with due deference to each of those great disciplines. It’s just too long ago for meaning to carry across the centuries like BBC Radio 4 across the airwaves. And Radio 4 is pretty indecipherable too.

    The basis of your argument is not possible, and never will be possible, since meaning resides only in consciousness, and consciousness can only reside in a living brain. The past does not exist, we must construe it. And because we construe it, it is undeniably our construction, and for that we are the ones who are accountable.

    You have allied yourself to the idea of cross-generational transmission of meaning written on the page, the tablet or the rock, an idea which is religious in origin, which is based on a subliminal doctrine of the power of the written word which several theistic religions espouse, which is itself doctrine our era has joyfully re-invented for itself, and which we nevertheless have absolute freedom to discard. Grasp that opportunity with both hands, Kaveh. Before it is too late!

    Or disagree with me if you wish.

    So, basically, you think you’re refuting me, but I think you’re providing evidence.

    I don’t think so.

    1. 11.1
      Kaveh Mousavi

      Now you’re being poetic again. That ability you’re refuting is called literacy.

      1. exi5tentialist

        I’d be interested in your actual counter-arguments though. Textual literacy isn’t the same as historical literacy or philosophical literacy. So what are your thoughts? Or do you just ‘believe’ your interpretation of the written word? It’s there in front of you – so it must be saying what you think it’s saying?

        1. Kaveh Mousavi

          The reason that I’m reluctant is not that I simply disagree with you – I think you quite have a valid point, but I still think you’re wrong in this particular case. It’s very hard to answer you without being simplistic or without a 1000 words blog post.

          In short, this is what I think: you’re right about the fact that reading a historic text requires academic study and historical context which people – the clergy among them – lack. You’re also rigt about the fact that people rarely even read those texts, let alone base their religion on it. In a very subtle way those texts ARE part of the living experience, in that all the laws and customs and traditions are based on them, so the texts, unread and not understood, are still present, and ignoring them helps no one. Even those who have not read the text will encounter you with the text, so dismantling the text is helpful in changing their minds.

          However, all this is not what I’m talking about. The moderate Muslims HAVE read the text, and they ARE basing their arguments on it. Me, moderates, and radicals are all familiar with the historical context too. Ultimately, they are mischaracterizing those texts as essentially democratic and fair and moral, and I find that bullshit. Because although all of history stuff is correct, they’re simply ignoring part of the text, and they’re ignoring the context, and all of these actions can be called out.

          1. exi5tentialist

            Thanks. To me the discussion we’re having is absolutely fundamental to how we approach all religion, I think we’ll continue to disagree, but I think our disagreement leads to two extremely different outcomes – one I like, the other I don’t like at all.

            Actually, I don’t think reading a historic text requires academic study nor historical context. If it’s in your language, you can just read it. If not, settle for a translation. I can read a text from 400 years ago, and construe a story around it. I’m not saying people can’t read it. What I am saying is that the story they construe is theirs – the reader creates it, the reader constructs it in his/her mind. It belongs to the reader; the reader should take responsibility for it.

            Stories include historical context. This is what I mean when I say that we have to construe the past. The past simply does not exist in nature. It’s a construction of consciousness.

            Therefore yes, we can obtain a text artifact from 1400 years ago, yes we can read the words, but no, we cannot say that we have really understood them. And it’s not even a case of getting the right academic context around it. All of those things are just more additions to a constructed story.

            When you say people are mischaracterising old texts – yes, I agree. But then so are you. So am I. Every time your or I read a text at all we mischaracterise it.

            This is important because I think versions of the argument in your article are often used as the basis of blanket islamophobia against all muslims. Fundamentalist muslims get disrespected, rightly and often, for having obnoxious views. Moderate muslims get disrespected for not sticking to what you construe as the “literal truth of the koran”. So either way, if you’re a muslim, there is always going to be a presumption of disrespect against you.

            I don’t like that position. It feels really wrong. I like to respect or disrespect muslims, christians etc for what they actually say and do, not because they are or aren’t conforming to a construction of what islam ought to be based on an atheist’s reading of a 7th century book. I’ll say again, the book has no consciousness, so it can’t actually be the seat of meaning. Consciousness can only exist in the present. It’s whether the muslim in question takes hold of an book and uses it to construe an oppressive idea that I think matters, and then the oppressive muslim should take responsibility for it, it’s really no good blaming the book.

            Moderate muslims have my respect for what they actually do, how they actually live etc. I don’t see how a dead, lifeless text has any bearing on that.

            If a moderate muslim construes the Quran as fair, democratic and moral – that’s fine by me. I’ll of course argue with them (if I get a chance) that their version of Quranic democracy is purely their 21st century construction, that it doesn’t really come from the Quran, it comes from them, because they’re nice people. But I won’t do what you’re arguing I should to, which is to reject their democratic interpretations of the Quran on the basis that you’ve got a better interpretation of their book, that you’ve read it properly, because I don’t think there’s any such thing as reading it properly.

          2. Kaveh Mousavi

            I don’t respect Islam in any shape or form, fundamentalist or moderate. However, an individual is more complex than his/her ideology, so I can, like you, “respect moderate Muslims for what they do”, and at the same time I disrespect their Islam. That’s not hard. And as I always say, I think I have more “actual support and sacrifice for moderate Muslims” in my bag that most people do.

        2. Kaveh Mousavi

          AND, this why I call you “poetic” – your stance, while true, is completely cut-off from the real situation as I see it. It’s a true thing but completely useless to my situation and my problems.

          1. exi5tentialist

            I suppose we are each trying to protect what seems most real to us. In any event I do hope you make plenty of progress and things improve.

  12. 12
    exi5tentialist

    I don’t respect Islam in any shape or form, fundamentalist or moderate. However, an individual is more complex than his/her ideology, so I can, like you, “respect moderate Muslims for what they do”, and at the same time I disrespect their Islam. That’s not hard. And as I always say, I think I have more “actual support and sacrifice for moderate Muslims” in my bag that most people do.

    We are philosophically very different. To me, “their islam” is a part of them. It defines them. It’s a part of their being and personality. And they define it. Depending on how they manifest it, I can respect their islam or not, because different muslims have different islams. For me, having a blanket disrespect for islam is very hard.

    I do know that ‘respect the person, not necessarily their idea’ is a popular maxim in the atheist community. But to me, that maxim means colluding with an abstract ideology based on habits of compartmentalisation that are heavily indebted to religious dualism, where you put different concepts in different realms because it frees you up ethically, and I want to get away from all that. For me in my situation, it helps not to collude with faulty philosophies like that, not least because they shoe-horn me into a predominant western islamophobia that I absolutely don’t want to be a part of. For me this is is far from poetic; reading some of the answers I get on atheist forums when I say this kind of thing shows up a whole new slant to the term poetic, believe me, and western islamophobia has many layers of apologetics.

    1. 12.1
      lancifer

      For me in my situation, it helps not to collude with faulty philosophies like that, not least because they shoe-horn me into a predominant western islamophobia that I absolutely don’t want to be a part of.

      You are playing political favorites at the expense of intellectual honesty. Your choice I suppose.

      I prefer to “call a spade a spade” and if that gives the appearance of being a fellow traveler with people that have political philosophies I abhor then so be it. I trust that anyone worth impressing will be able to see the nuances between my position and those that deride followers of Islam for other, less rational, reasons.

  13. 13
    Jeff_onislam

    In a practical sense, moderate Islam doesn’t exist because it is invisible and has no effect on the actions of extremist or fundamentalist Islam. I don’t mean that moderate Islamic believers aren’t good people or don’t matter. They matter as much or as little as I do and are equally as impotent in deterring or thwarting the violence and evil exhibited by extremists. Islam for everyone else is nothing but violence and evil. To me; Islam (“the real one” since the moderate one doesn’t exist) is the manifestation of all Earthly evil….essentially Lucifer incarnate. All they do is hate and kill, year after year, century after century. Hate and kill. Hate and kill. Hate and kill…endlessly, relentlessly, never-ending until the end.
    I’m not asking for an argument. I’m just stating the way I feel which cannot be changed. I’ve seen too much.

  1. 14
    The Politics of Acknowledging Fundamentalist Islam as More Rational » On the Margin of Error

    […] « Fundamentalist Islam is More Rational than Moderate Islam […]

  2. 15
    Non-religion, and the Religious PTSD | Evangelically Atheist

    […] Last night I disagreed with Ed Brayton about what atheists are not supposed to say and I also mentioned Dan Fincke’s article about not letting fundamentalists define religion. I want to make something real clear: when it comes to Islam, fundamentalism makes much more sense and it’s much more rational than moderate Islam. Now, I wanted to write a long post about why moderate Islam is an inherently failed project, but I guess I will just say this: moderate Islam makes exactly no amount of sense. Zero. [Read more] […]

  3. 16
    Spirituality, Religion, Superstition, and Those Without | Evangelically Atheist

    […] if you think that word makes more sense for you. I have already talked about why the claim that fundamentalist Islam is actually the true Islam makes sense. [Read […]

  4. 17
    Fundamentalist Islam is More Rational than Moderate Islam » On the … | Follow the quran

    […] Visit link: Fundamentalist Islam is More Rational than Moderate Islam » On the … […]

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