Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Christian Recon TV:

Or why I believe Islam is compatible with liberal democracy. You can view some of the famous Christian Reconstructionists (RJ Rushdoony, Andrew Sandlin, George Grant, etc.) advocating their theocratic vision of government on this YouTube channel. In their first best world, Old Testament style punishments would be imposed on, among others, adulterers, homosexuals, recalcitrant children, and those who proselytize for the worship of "false gods." They are really not too far off from the Islamic Mullahs.

You often hear forces from the extreme right arguing that Islam is not compatible with liberal democracy, that the version we see coming from Bin Laden et al. represents true Islam, a "demonic" false religion. (Note: President Bush does not take this position and has argued that Islam, properly understood, is a religion of peace, entirely compatible with liberal democratic norms. Indeed, such a premise seems almost necessary to support his Iraqi War project. Many anti-Islamic Christian rightists like Falwell and Robertson, actually support the war in Iraq. You have to wonder why they support trying to bring democracy to Iraq if Islam by its very nature is incompatible with liberal democracy.)

These Christian Reconstructionists, like many of Muslim fundamentalists, are not stupid people; these spokesman are well-educated, well-spoken and quite Biblically literate. They simply differ in their "literal" interpretation of the Bible with those other Protestant fundamentalists who have made their peace with liberal democracy and interpret the Bible to no longer require the execution of homosexuals, adulterers, recalcitrant children, and those who openly worship "false gods."

Watching these folks and their scary arguments and reflecting upon how the Christian Bible and religion still nonetheless became compatible with the liberal democratic order our Founding Fathers gave us makes me believe that the Koran and Islamic religion likewise can be "interpreted" in a way compatible with liberal democracy. (Whether trying to bring liberal democracy by force to Muslim populations unreceptive to its ideals is another issue entirely). And finally, I might add, our key Founders seemed to believe that all world religions, including Islam, taught the same truth as Christianity, were valid ways to God, and provided the moral support that republican governments needed.

1 comment:

Tom Van Dyke said...

Jon, I don't see the evidence that the key Founders understood theology well enough to make an intelligent judgment.

The Old Testament's early parts pertain to the kingdom of Israel, but Israel is then sent into exile for its wickedness. And the New Testament is quite an apolitical book. It's in the development of the post-Biblical tradition that the west makes its progress---Aquinas' concept of the "human person," which translates into our modern conception of human rights, and Luther's concept of Two Kingdoms (on of this earth, one not) are in the same ballpark with the foundations of western secular constitutionalism.

Now, the sources of the Islamic tradition of law (the Qur'an and Hadiths) present their own theological challenges, and more difficult ones. However, it's in the philosophical tradition that follows wherein lies the biggest rub.

The Islamic world was the most successful society on earth during its Golden Age (800-1000 CE or so), and its philosophers like al-Farabi and Ibn Sina, following Plato and Aristotle in particular, hold up quite well even today.

But then al-Ghazali showed up, wrote The Incoherence of the Philosophers, and the whole thing blew up. Ghazali is called the Thomas Aquinas of Islam, but he was anything but. Where Thomas' life project was to reconcile (Greek) reason to faith, it was Ghazali's to exile Plato and Aristotle as threats to Allah.

This is what Pope Ratzinger was talking about a few months back when he almost started a worldwide religious war. All Benedict was suggesting was that reason, as a gift from God, might be put back into the equation.

Oh, and BTW, as a Catholic (and who's more Catholic than the pope, eh?), Benedict was also slamming the (Protestant) Christian Nation types, too, for just the same reason.

The problem(s) I see is that the Christian Nation stuff is either new or a revival of something that never held much sway in the west. In contrast, when Adams and Jefferson, as representatives of the America and perhaps the west as a whole, met with the ambassador from the Barbary pirate states, they were completely mystified that there was a Islamic religious dimension to the war at sea.

I doubt the west can ever engage Islam theologically, so we better brush up on our philosophy, in hopes it makes a comeback in the Muslim world. So far, even the most Enlightened of their number is only up to Hobbes.