Friday, September 10, 2004

Islam doesn’t need a Reformation, but an Enlightenment:

Sandefur beat me to the punch in commenting on this spot on post by Jason at Positive Liberty. Here is the money passage:

It is a common platitude that Islam needs a Reformation, a Martin Luther to modernize and shake things up a bit. Whenever you hear this platitude, you may rest assured that the speaker is wholly ignorant of history. Reformation is probably the last thing that Islam needs--and a Reformation in Islam is certainly the last thing that we need.

In 1500, Christianity lay unconsidered and rather lightly upon the shoulders of Europe. It was gaudy, more than a little superstitious, perhaps a bit mildewed at the edges--but above all, the Christianity of 1500 was not nearly so violent as it had been in earlier times.

The great medieval heresies had almost all been extinguished; the Crusades were but a memory. Significant tensions still existed between Christianity and Islam, but inside Christendom, religious warfare was looking more and more like a thing of the past. Across the Catholic Church, a wide variety of different religious practices and doctrines actually flourished, beneath the radar of the establishment.

But by 1550, all of Europe was in an uproar. The intellectual apparatus of the Reformation was substantially intact, and all of the major arguments had appeared on the scene in some form. Ecclesiastical courts, both Catholic and Reformed, subjected every practice, every doctrine, to the most exacting scrutiny, resorting quite often to fire and the sword. Whatever good the Reformation may have done to Europe's souls, it extracted an astonishing price in blood.

Religious warfare had returned with a vengeance; killing for God suddenly made perfect sense once more, and well over a century would pass before that urge subsided. The Reformation was a ghastly atrocity from start to finish, full of fanaticism and cruelty.

Arguably, Osama bin Laden is the Martin Luther of Islam. But what Islam needs instead... is a Voltaire.

It needs science, skepticism, satire, and subversion. It needs a militant tolerance, one that is determined to stamp out fanaticism wherever it may lie. It needs someone to ridicule the foibles of Saudi high society--and to link them, mercilessly, to the cruelties of the Taliban.

And behind this Voltaire, Islam needs exposure to a society were tolerance is de rigeur, where being a citizen of the world comes before all else--and where the people, sometimes within living memory, have seen the ultimate consequences of intolerance.