Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Fan Club

I balanced all, called all to mind
The years to come seemed waste of breath
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.

I remember a Christian Union meeting. The preacher was a talking about miracles. In her church, they had them all the time. On one occasion, she'd been at the ladies prayer group and prayed for all sick folk in the community, and when she got home, she learned that husband's headache had been healed in that very hour.

She looked up from her notes, and admonished us like a very severe piano teacher.

"Do you think it is possible to be too fanatical a follower of Jesus?"

The students at the meeting seemed reluctant to commit themselves on this point.

"I said, do you think it is possible to be too fanatical about Jesus?"

Slightly more affirmative noise from the floor. No. Probably. Depends.

"No? Well I don't. I don't think it's possible to love Jesus too much, do you? Do you?"

I remember a Bible study group, four or five of us sitting on cushions in someone's college room, drinking mugs of nescafe and eating bourbons and reading from the New International Version (only ever the New International Version) a verse at a time. As we tried to distinguish our Elihus from our Bildads, I let slip that I doubted that Job was a real person; that I wondered whether real people would have made such long, erudite speeches; that I thought that what we were reading was pretty obviously a play. I don't think that any one argued with me or tried to refute me; certainly they didn't accuse me of heresy. It was more embarrassed, as if I'd farted in front of the vicar. I'd broken the rules of the game; said something you just don't say.

Weeks later, someone said: "I heard you didn't believe the Old Testament is the word of God?" I guess he must have known that there were crazy people like me in the world, but he seemed quite intrigued to talk to one face to face.

I learned hedge my theological bets; never voice skepticism out loud, never stray too far from the consensus. Don't argue about secondary issues. Theology can grind down your weaker brothers faith. Sit down, sit down, sit down, sit down, sit down you're rocking the boat.

I remember a prayer meeting. The guitars were swaying more than usual. Someone said "Can I pray for you?" He laid his hands on my head. Several other people joined in. They started to pray inaudibly. The guitarists played another hymn, or more likely, the same hymn for the fifth time. Something was obviously expected of me, but I didn't know what. Some helpful soul tried to prompt me. "Perhaps you are hearing strange words in your head right now?" I wasn't. After the meeting, someone asked me how I felt. I said something involving in the word "blessing" and everyone went away satisfied.

I now understand that they had been trying to induce a shamanistic state called "baptism in the spirit", and that I ought to have either fainted ("slain in the spirit") or vocalised wildly ("speak in tongues"). I am pretty sure that if I had known the rules, I would have improvised some kind of babbling noise and afterwards convinced myself that I had indeed been possessed by the Holy Ghost. In an emotionally charged atmosphere, it's not easy to say "I didn't experience anything, and I don't have the remotest idea what you are talking about."

I remember going to a park, in the spring, with guitars, and sitting in a circle, and singing hymns and reading out of the Bible, and people with kids looking at us with good humored curiosity. I remember thinking about lions and sandals and roman centurions, and hippy Jesus freaks in caftans, and thinking "This feels good. This is the real thing."

And let's be honest, I also remember sitting in a dark room with cheap beer in plastic glasses, watching a bad black and white sci-fi movie and knowing that in some sacramental way, this defined us all us "geeks", and that we would not, for all the world, change places with those "mundanes" who didn't know their DS9 from their B5. All groups do it. You can easily spend all evening at a committee meeting, passing resolutions demanding soft paper in the loos and five minutes more lunch time, and go home believing that your in the vanguard of the proletariat revolution.

I remember visiting the headquarters of some missionary organisation, with tracts and slides shows and copies of the Bible in Chinese. They sent missionaries to live in communities where very obscure languages were spoken, with a view to produce a text of the Bible in the local tongue. Maybe some of you might become the next generation of missionaries, they said. "I don't even speak French", I explained. Oh, but you wouldn't have to. We are talking about languages that practically no-one speaks: you'd have to learn it from the ground up. Two of my friends were very moved by this. For the rest of their time at college, they were going to choose courses that would be useful to them as linguists. When they got their degrees, they were going to become Bible translating missionaries. They felt sure that this was what God was telling them.

Felt sure that this was what God was telling them. And for a second, I pictured myself – sandals, toga, caftan, guitar -- in some exotic village, living in a tent, wrestling alligators and exploring Inca temples by day and translating the Bible by night. A sense of Cosmic Purpose -- well, at any rate, a clear Narrative Structure for my life. What could be more important than bringing God's word to the Lost? But also a sense of escape. Decide today that I will I spend the rest of my life translating the Bible into Oompa-Loompa and I would never again have to worry about the careers center or job applications or revision and finals. A clear Path laid out before me, and one that God approved of.

Honestly, only for a second.

But it makes me wonder. What if we'd been having our Bible studies and prayer meetings and house parties in a some communist state (this was when there was still communism)? Suppose we'd been running the risk of being arrested for our Christian beliefs? Suppose we had had good reason to think of ourselves as outsiders, victim of prejudice, an underclass by virtue of our religion? Keep them yelling their devotion / but add a touch of hate at Rome."

Do you think it is possible to be too fanatical about Jesus? Well, do you?


Chestertonian Rambler said...

Hmm...not sure if you had a point, but definitely worth responding to.

As a Christian, I think it is certainly possible to be too fanatical about what you think Jesus is. I also think that it is a bit of a category error to talk about a Christian life in a way that opposes reason and deliberation to Christianity. Jesus at least was certainly not fanatical enough about Jesus not to wish that his father could take his cup from him.

Of course, the problem with answers to questions like this, is that they must either take the form "I see where the concept of 'being fanatical for Jesus' which I had recieved from my particular Christian tradition is wrong," or they must involve themselves with deep theology, which requires either very similar views or lots and lots of discussion.

Incidentally, I think the word "geeks" translates to "nerds" in the States. As far as I can tell, "geek" is the subset of "nerd" which is particularly skillful with computers. That could be a local Texas thing, though.

Tom R said...

Good point about the long speeches. My own take is that the Biblical accounts are less like a verbatim transcript, or Hansard, than like a "documentary". Everyone knows that a documentary is not a literal depiction; there's a certain amount of artistic licence to give background -- and especially to convey, to the audience, things that the real-life protagonists themselves wouldn't say, because it's too obvious.

Science fiction does this a lot (and usually clumsily) because there's a lot of invented back-story to get across. You don't start a 1950s Cold War thriller by having the British agent tell the West German agent "Your people and mine have fought two bloody wars in the last 40 years, but now we are allies against the Soviets". "Yes. And against their puppets in East Germany. How it grieves my heart to see my country divided". (Change the names and this is nearly word for word the first 5 minutes of the Babylon Five pilot episode.

Porlock Junior said...

Geeks aren't necessarily computer types, at least on the West Coast; they're just weirder, more fanatical about something, whether computers, Star Wars, or whatever, than other nerdish types. At least that's mu understanding of the usage, from the viewpoint of the wrong generation.

Fanatical? So: Jesus Geeks? Don't ask me.

The introduction of "geek" into English-language usage is credited to Joy Gresham's first husband. Just thought someone might be interested.

Dotan Dimet said...

I'm on to you...
This is a parable leading into an in-depth analysis of "Batman Begins", right? Like that football-fan anthropology thing for "Revenge of the Sith".

Andrew Rilstone said...

You hand in your ticket
And you go watch the geek
Who immediately walks up to you
When he hears you speak
And says, "How does it feel
To be such a freak?"
And you say, "Impossible"
As he hands you a bone

Cambridge: a person, especially a man, who is boring and not fashionable

Oxford: 1:an unfashionable or socially inept person. 2 an obsessive enthusiast.

Websters: 1 : a carnival performer often billed as a wild man whose act usually includes biting the head off a live chicken or snake 2 : a person often of an intellectual bent who is disapproved of

Roget: Eccentric -- beatnik, case, character, coot, crackpot, creep, customer, fly ball, freak, fruitcake, geek, gonzo, goof ball, heretic, hippie, kook, loner, looney tunes, maverick, nonconformist, nut, nutcake, odd person, oddball, oddity, original, queer duck, rare bird, screwball, three-dollar bill, weirdo, whacko, wombat, zombie

Roget: Authority -- auger, bookworm, brain, cereb, cognoscenti, egghead, expert, grind, grub, guru, intellectual, ivory dome, learned man, maestro, maven, pencil geek, philosopher, prof, savant, scholar, solon, spider, teach, thinker, tool

Online Etymological Dictionary: "sideshow freak," 1916, U.S. carnival and circus slang, perhaps a variant of geck "a fool, dupe, simpleton" (1515), apparently from Low Ger. geck, from an imitative verb found in North Sea Gmc. and Scand. meaning "to croak, cackle," and also "to mock, cheat." The modern form and the popular use with ref. to circus sideshow "wild men" is from 1946, in William Lindsay Gresham's novel "Nightmare Alley" (made into a film in 1947 starring Tyrone Power

One who spends his lunch-time reading dictionaries on the internet.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Would you, by similar extention, define the Perfect Jew as somebody who genuinely wants to kill every single man, woman, and child in London, burn it to the ground, and salt the earth, in accordance with the principles laid out in Deuteronomy?


Not that I disagree with the jist of your argument, but what are you talking about? The closest injunction to the one you describe is the order to destroy Amalek, but I don't see how London comes into the picture.

And while we're on the subject, Charles, what Jewish reformation?

Andrew, your description of the study group discussing Job reminded me, once again, to be grateful for mandatory Bible classes in Israeli schools. You get rid of the Mickey Mouse stuff - the stories, the wars, taking the whole thing literally - in grade school and move on to more interesting things. Junior high classes cover the prophets. Job is studied in high school (not very deeply, I'm afraid, as there isn't enough time), along with the laws, source theory, and a return to the creation story. Throughout, the Bible is treated as what it is - a remarkable document, encompassing literature, poetry, history, propaganda, law, theology, metaphor and myth. But always, a human creation.

With the exception of basic math and a bit of calculus, I don't think anything I learned in 12 years of public education was more useful than those Bible classes.

Chestertonian Rambler said...

I feel like a plagarist, here, but...

OED "fanatic"

1. a. Of an action or speech: Such as might result from possession by a deity or demon; frantic, furious. Of a person: Frenzied, mad. Obs.

2. Of persons, their actions, attributes, etc.: Characterized, influenced, or prompted by excessive and mistaken enthusiasm, esp. in religious matters.

B. n.
1. A mad person. In later use: A religious maniac. Obs.

2. a. A fanatic person; a visionary; an unreasoning enthusiast. Applied in the latter half of the 17th c. to Nonconformists as a hostile epithet.

b. A fanatical devotee of.

So, at least according to the OED, being a fanatic is a bad thing pretty much by definition. Unless the Union teacher was a huge fan of archaisms, and was referring to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Mike Taylor said...

I very much like Dann Hemmens's observation:

You're defining "fantaticism" differently for two different faiths. You're defining fantaical Islam as "wanting to kill everybody who isn't a Muslim" (even though, according to a lot of prominent Muslim scholars, there's bugger all to support that in the Koran) and defining fantatical Christianity as "a deep and abiding love of Jesus Christ."

And there, folks, we have the answer to the original Christian Union preacher's question (if anyone remembers back as far as Andrew's actual article): is it possible to be too fanatical a Christian? I guess pretty much every Christian would agree that, no, in the "deep and abiding love of Jesus Christ" sense, it's not possible. But that isn't really what people mean when they talk about "fanatical Christians". They mean people who are fanatical about a church, or a denomination, or a specific issue (pacifism, abortion, vegetarianism, what have you) rather than about the person.

Anyway: none of this excuses Andrew from the monstrous abdication of responsibility that is if total failure to post a deep, penetrating and insightful summary/review of the recently ended Doctor Who.

Andrew Rilstone said...

((The trouble is, my opinions on the end of "Doctor Who" would pretty much repeat what I had already said: looked gorgeous; Chris and Billy brilliant; plot holes big enough to drive a stardestroyer through; too much deus-ex-machina; and RTD really ought to grow up and get over the lavotary jokes. My plan is to wait til the boxed set comes out, and then see about watching the whole thing again and doing a critique in detail. Meanwhile, I am watching Billy Hartnell from the beginning, in order, including the episodes that don't exist. I will doubtless have somethign to say about this in due course...)

Chestertonian Rambler said...

Could we please replace the word "fanatical" with "devoted" or even "extreme?"

The difference is that, the way I see it, the very word fanatical seems to imply a sort of blindness or recklessness. I haven't ever heard the term used for, say, a scientist who devotes his entire life to the pursuit of his research.

Basically, if you serve a cause effectively, you are devoted. If you serve a cause stupidly (though with apparent earnestness) you are fanatical. At least that seems to be the use outside this particular discussion.

(This Message Brought to you by the C. S. Lewis Society to Limit Verbacide.)

Abigail Nussbaum said...

The trouble is, my opinions on the end of "Doctor Who" would pretty much repeat what I had already said: looked gorgeous; Chris and Billy brilliant; plot holes big enough to drive a stardestroyer through; too much deus-ex-machina; and RTD really ought to grow up and get over the lavotary jokes. My plan is to wait til the boxed set comes out, and then see about watching the whole thing again and doing a critique in detail.

Oh, that's just not fair. I've got a whole response to the deus ex machina thing all worked out in my head and I've been waiting for you to talk about it forever.

You know, it's only because of you that I watched the show in the first place. You ought to to be a little more diligent about providing me with a forum to discuss it. :-)

To bring this, ever so slightly, back on topic, I agree with Louise when she says that from the non-Christian perspective, it is certainly possible for Christians to be too fanatical about Jesus without resorting to burnings and inquisitions. Which is a problem because, as American Ronin points out, if you truly believe that everyone who doesn't believe in Jesus is damned, it's impossible to try too hard to save their souls. For a true believer, there really is no such thing as religious pluralism.

Which leads me, once again, to be grateful for the fact that Judaism is a) not particularly concerned with the afterlife and b) anti-missionary.

Unknown said...

Andrew, I wish you'd start watching Battlestar Galactica or something so I'd occasionally have more than a tangential familiarity with what you're writing about.


Geeks aren't necessarily computer types, at least on the West Coast; they're just weirder, more fanatical about something, whether computers, Star Wars, or whatever, than other nerdish types. At least that's mu understanding of the usage, from the viewpoint of the wrong generation.

Essentially correct. Geekdom (coastally and in online fora, anyway) is cultural, and involves a deep and thoughtful involvement in things that most normal people don't care about and a tremendous command of [obscure] facts. There is also a tendency towards "fandom" overlap, such that geeks of my generation all know Picard from Sisko and are at least semi-fluent in netspeak, even if what they're really geeky about is Linux or anime. (I imagine it was always like this, but more so since The Internet.)

There is a growing understanding, among my peer group at least, that geekdom, while it may in some cases lead to insularity or derive from loneliness, does not necessarily equate to social ineptitude. Sometimes it is nearly invisible until a room full of perfectly normal-looking people suddenly, with no obvious prompting, recite a Homestar Runner cartoon in unison.

Unknown said...

And a brief response to the actual post (totally free of all Islam references!):

In an emotionally charged atmosphere, it's not easy to say "I didn't experience anything, and I don't have the remotest idea what you are talking about."

This is something I am a little familiar with on a smaller scale--occasionally, living in the liberal bastions that I do, one will be accosted by someone who insists that she is curing one's headache by waving her hands around and demands that one respond accordingly, or be called upon to feel the energies a spiritually charged rock of some sort that is being passed around in martial arts class, or encounter some other suddenly imposed social expectation of someone else's "correct" spiritual response.

I don't know that I have much of a point, except that your description here is very apt, and that I always find your Jesus-related entries to be enlightening reads although/because they relate to something pretty far removed from my own culture.

Chestertonian Rambler said...

I think what I was trying to get at was the difference I see between being fanatical about and devoted to. Star Wars actually forms a good example.

It strikes me as generally a sign of excessive devotion to Star Wars to watch it a million times, to burn copies of the Special Edition and DVD's on sight, etc.

But verbally assaulting someone about the mechanics of a lightsabre isn't a sign of devotion, but a sign of fanaticism. It springs from devotion, but is misguided as well as too extreme. It is fanatical because the mechanics of a lightsabre really don't have anything to do with the purpose of Star Wars, which is mythic entertainment.

Therefore, I would say that fanaticism about Jesus sounds good to those who actually believe in Christianity, but leads in a lot of screwed-up directions. Because you can justify anything that you emotionally decide is a "Jesus thing." "Lord, we bless these whips and hot irons in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit..."

I also believe that devotion to Jesus, properly channeled, is what we are made for. But that seems as much as to say that I am a Christian. And theodicies are long.

Helen Louise said...

Is it possible to be too fanatical for Jesus?

I want to answer both yes and no. I think it's an unfair question. On one hand, 'fanatical' suggests a kind of mindless, blind obsession that's hardly very Christian. On the other hand, if you're doing it for Jesus, how can anyone object?

I don't think it's possible to place too high an importance on Jesus. If we're going to take him seriously about what he says, then we're going to do some fairly radical things. As Paul might say, we'll appear foolish in the eyes of the world. But we'll only appear foolish... we shouldn't actually *be* foolish. And there are a lot of very earnest, very silly Christians in the world. I've occasionally been one of them. 'Fanatics', you might say, mindless followers who grasp hold of anything that seems holy, and end up worshipping a charicature of God rather than genuinely learning, or even wanting to genuinely learn, about the real God.

The trouble is, none of us are perfect. I think we often want God to give us a show, making the Holy Spirit into some kind of stage hypnotist. I do believe God is all powerful but I suspect he's also a lot more complicated than some Charismatics would have us believe. So he does have a plan for our lives, and he does, I think, use speaking in tongues and other oddities as a way of helping us to communicate with him, but I also think that he's a lot more interested in our daily lives than whether we fall over or babble during an emotional meeting. (I've had a similar experience to the one you described, actually. And I've also experienced times when I felt sure God was very very close, and I do speak in tongues.)

I find it interesting that someone extrapolated from you saying that Job is a play to you believing that the OT isn't the Word of God (though it isn't, Jesus is the Word of God!). It's intriguing that there are people who believe that Song of Solomon is an allegory but Job is entirely true. There is certainly a lot of truth in Job. I find his friends annoyingly familiar, and the ending makes a lot of sense in light of God's character. But like you I don't think that it's historical. It could, perhaps, be a dramatisation of an actual event, but written poetically and with some guesswork. This doesn't ruin Job at all for me - I still think it's an amazing book. The Prodigal Son wasn't a 'real person' either, but the story about him is still my favourite parable. It's not true, but it demonstrates truth.

Anyway, sorry about the essay. I really enjoy your blog, particularly these kind of thoughts.

Gavin Burrows said...

Charles Filson said...

Iran's Legislator routinely chants "Death to America, Death to Britain, Death to the Zionists" after passing measures. (According to the Beeb)
Any time there is an Al-Quds Day celebration the same chants are spoken by "hundreds of thousands of Muslims" according to Al Jazeera. I recall the images of Muslims dancing in the street after 9/11.
These are not fringe people. This is the leadership of Islamic Nations and large crouds of Muslims. (hundreds of thousands)… The fringe are the people who reject this behavior. At least according to Al-Arabiya and Al-Jazeera.

The amusing thing here is that in denouncing fundamentalism you’re engaging in fundamentalist thinking yourself! Because you imagine these attitudes to be decreed by the Koran (which I imagine has a lot to say on the subject or America and Britain), it deterministically follows that Muslims are obliged to carry out such decrees.

I don’t imagine it counts for much whether the Koran or the Bible say the things you say. I don’t imagine they’re the neat and coherent instruction manuals imagined by their adherents, for one thing.

Let’s say it was found to say in Deuteronomy that we should smite down London. There’s plently of similar stuff in Deuteronomy about killing witches and the like, after all. Do you imagine that the majority of Christians who have posted to this site would shrug, say “in for a penny…” and start work on the plastic explosives? I may disagree with their professed faith, but I would wager very few of the Christians I know would go and do such a thing. And I’d say much the same thing for the Muslims. I don’t find your mechanistic ‘monkey-see-monkey-do’ model of religion borne out by the religious people I know.

One question. If you can’t see political reasons for the relative growth of Islamic Fundemntalism, if it’s all just inbuilt there in the Koran, why has there been such a growth in recent years? Muslims finally got round to reading the small print?

Charles Filson goes on to say...

Just like Jerry Falwell does. If you claim that Jerry Falwell is the lunatic fringe, then you have to claim that a huge number of christians are on it.

This is hilarious! So Falwell’s views can’t be extreme because they have so many adherents? (No-one ever supported Hitler, Stalin or Mussolini?) But Islam is extreme, despite being one of the largest (and the fastest-growing) world religions.

So Falwell doesn’t advocate blowing up abortion clinics? Well his tax exempt status would take a bit of a knock if he started, wouldn’t it? He supports legal bars on abortion clinics, which seems to me the next step along. Plus his support for anti-gay discrimination and much of the other stuff that Islam does that’s supposed to be such a big deal whenever rightists think they’re arguing with liberals.

P.S. As Al Jazeera is itself a Muslim station which does not hold with the doctrines that come out of your tarring brush, I find it unlikely they ever said what you ascribe to them here.

Gavin Burrows said...

It seems more and more likely that Charles Filson is a prime example of the type of fanatic discussed on this thread. To wit:

[i] Do you read Al Jazeera? I read it daily on the internet in English and weekly in Arabic for language studies. If you find it strange that they would claim that "hundreds of thousands" of Iranians chanted "Death to America, Death to Britain, Death to the Zionists" in their last Al-Quds day coverage, then I can only conclude that you do not read it. [/i]

As I’ve already made the point that the salient question is why they would chant these things, it should be fairly obvious I don’t deny such a thing. The point is that when ostensibly Christian extremists do such a thing as, for example, invade Iraq or bomb an abortion centre this is nothing to do with Christianity. Whenever a Muslim does anything similar it is supposed to be everything to do with their religion. This is absurd and quickly becoming tedious.

[i] The argument was not that Falwell was not extreme...only that his extreme was commonplace, or at least widely held. If many many Christians did not agree with Falwell, then he would have no audiance… Falwell probably represents a large portion of Christians. [/i]

Making something of a nonsense of your claims above?

[i] Opposing legal abortions is a step toward bombing clinics? I would hope you don't really believe this. Is a ban on carrying hand-guns a step toward bombing gun manufacturers? Is a ban on pollution a step toward bombing auto-makers? Is an indoor smoking ban a step toward murdering smokers? [/i]

You are saying violence is OK providing the State carries it out on our behalf or licenses it out. “First I will ask you to stop living your way of life. Then force you” vs “I will try to force you from the beginning” would be absurd enough but we’re not even talking that. If women are prevented getting abortions by legalistic or monetary means (pricing them too high for average wages etc) what is the net result?

[i] So why can't falwell argue for bombing abortion clinics and keep his audiance, but Mohammad abu Faris can call for Slaughtering and Butchering and not loose his? [/i]

Same argument I already gave. The Mullah from Iran who advocates such a thing risks no penalties. The one in the UK or America may risk prosecution or even deportation, but is probably getting no tax-exempt status to start off with.

[i] Also, where are you getting the idea that Islamic Fundamentalism is growing? Are you suggesting that Islamic Fundamentalism is new? [/i]

Relatively spreaking, yes. How can you have a ‘return to the fundament’ movement at the time of the fundament?

[i] Do you mean to tell me that no state has tried to implement Islamic Law in the past? What do you mean by the Spread of Islamic Fundamentalism? Do you mean that there are more bombings now than prior to 9/11? This is simply not the case. [/i]

Can you see no connection between the growing support for Fundamentalism and the invasions of Serbia, Afghanistan and Iraq? (Though passed by by liberal commentations, the West’s lack of interest in stopping Muslims being massacred in ex-Yugoslavia was a major magnet for the fundamentalists.)

[i] My initial point about Islam was that Koran specifically tells Muslims not to befriend poeple of other faiths. It specifically tells them to kill people of other faiths (or no faith at all). You can't disagree with this. It's there is black and white…
Fanatic Christian Fundamentalists who follow the fundamentals of their faith would find no Fundamental Biblical support for murder. [/i]

So it doesn’t say in the Bible “thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”?

Helen Louise said...


Yes, that's pretty much what I'm saying, but I wouldn't be terribly disappointed if Job really is a real person. Although if we bump into each other in Heaven I'll be terribly embarrassed.

Helen Louise said...


Funny, I was thinking about Heaven just this morning. I don't know. Jesus talks about eternal life, but I've no idea what it'll be like. But yes, I like to think that Heaven at least exists, even if it isn't what a Tom Stoppard character called "the great celestial get-together for an exchange of views".

Andrew, hope you don't mind your blog comments descending into some kind of message board :)

Gavin Burrows said...

I’m not sure how much point there is in replying to Charles Filson’s arguments, which are simultaneously self-referential and self-contradictory. For example, we were originally told the Koran was a kind of Hate Manual whereas the Bible was a Book of Love, and given selective context-less quotes as ‘proof’. Challenged on this position, he has now retreated to the following “Reformation save” position.

…Muslims are easily pulled back to the fundament of the violent verses in the Koran.The only place I can see that we might still disagree is that the Christian Scriptures are less prone to lead one to violence. We had our Torquemada, but we also had a reformation and developed mechanisms to combat violence within the church.

Now it seems the Bible did have the passages in it I and others have been saying all along, but some more liberal-minded folks came along later and re-wrote or re-interpreted it. (We aren’t told which.) The idea that world religions are static bodies of doctrine has now been amended to the idea there may be a ‘Reformation’ every few hundred years.

Surely you are not arguing that there is some defect in the Iranian people themselves that makes them violent are you? It must be a difference in the religion. Mustn't it?

In other words the Iranian people are deep down nice folks who don’t really want to hate, but unfortunately are compelled to by the fact that their religion lacks a ‘Reformation’. (The fact that the Mullahs actually rule Iran, and frequently have to put down popular dissent by brute force seems to escape him. Their police clubs may conceivably carry more weight than some words from the Koran.)

Of course this is still ridiculous! At the risk of repeating myself, religions just like any other form of human activity change and adapt all the time. And they are no more monolithic geographically than they are historically. How many fundamentalist Sufi Muslims have you heard of? Charles seems to be confusing ‘religion’ with ‘job description’ here.

Gavin, Christianity was never given as the reason for the invasion of Iraq. Or can you show me such a reference to this effect?

Are you seriously suggesting that the Church in America played no part in Bush’s election? Most commentators agreed they were the killer app that (finally) pushed him into his slender majority despite being such a screw-up? And ridding the world of Fundamentalism was given as a reason for invading Iraq and Afganistan, despite the fact that Iraq was a secular state and the country had little history of fundamentalism. Now of course they’ve created the very situation they were against.

As far as Afghanistan goes, you do know that it was the seat of Islamic Fundamentalism don't you? It was lead by the Taliban. Islamic Fundamentalism was already there. The invasion of Afghanistan did not create fundamentalism there, or elsewhere.

Yes, but the invasion fed fundamentalist propaganda elsewhere!!! (And the Western-backed Northern Alliance was equally fundamentalist, a fact normally glossed over. Their differences with the Taliban were ethnic and factional, not religious.)

Serbia was invaded to stop genocide. You were aware, weren't you, that Muslims were being killed in Serbia and the invasion by Nato forces was largely to protect Muslims?

And the massacre of Sebrenica was an example of this? Again this is ridiculous! Serbia was first contained then invaded by a Western Europe that saw it as a Soviet-style state, and the breakaway states as more likely to look West and deal with them. (Largely borne out by what happened.) Far more talk was made of ethnic Kosovans than ethnic Muslims, who scarcely got a look-in in the media. The West’s refusal to protect Muslims in Sebrenica and elsewhere, despite having invaded the country, was a major recruiting sergeant for the fundamentalists. (Coupled with their absolute lack of intervention over Chechnya.)

Which brings us to when you said that Islamic Fundamentalism is new becasue How can you have a ‘return to the fundament’ movement at the time of the fundament?. (By new then, I assume you mean it is the Fundament or being 1400 years old, is that right?)
But yet you also claimed that Fundamentalism was growing due to political pressure. If it is in the Fundament, then it is the same as it has been.

Charles presumably is also one of these people who believes the past had big ‘Ye Olde…’ signs over everything. Fundamentalism (of whatever stripe) is a movement based on a back-to-basics rhetoric, but to actually go back 1400 years is quite obviously impossible. It’s a sheath for a political programme!

…why has Islam not had a reformation? Younger? Less developed part of the world? more illiteracy amoung Arabs? I don't know. Any ideas?

Well if it’s all down to what’s written in the Koran, “illiteracy among Arabs” would seem to be a positive advantage, surely! This would seem a fitting place to leave Charles’ lack of knowledge behind and embark on a genuine discussion on the nature of Islam and how it differs from Christianity. All I’ll say for now is that excessive povery, often draconian rule and constant Western intervention have fed to make the Middle East a tinderbox for fundamentalism.

Charles seems to me a classic case of becoming what you hate. The more he rails against these enmity-ridden fanatics, the more I see a mirror between him and them, able only to see conflict in difference. He seems built to demonstrate the old saw about there being enough religion to make hate, but not enough for love.

Andrew Rilstone said...

I am suppressing this terrible urge to say "Yes, but did Princess Leia ever know her mother?"

Gavin Burrows said...

First Charles Filson tells us:

My comments regarding the reformation are not that the reformation changed the Christian texts, or that mechanisms were build to supercede the Christian Texts. The reformation established the primacy of the Text over the church head.

…then a few short sentences later…

I do not hate Muslims. I recognize a few simple facts. Their scripture was not written for today.

So are we supposed to believe the Bible was written for today? And what sense are we supposed to make of your earlier complaint that Islam lacks a Reformation, when we’re now told such a thing is about going back to “the primacy of the Text” (i.e the fundament) and that in the Koran’s case this means going back to a killing handbook, because…

A fanatical adherence to the text of the Koran will demand violence on the part of a Muslim in the worst case.

And Gavin, you claimed that Islam is in the time of the Fundament. So there cannot be a back to basics movement.

No, I said the opposite. If anyone else found my comments on this hard to follow I’ll try to rephrase. But I tend to think it’s just Charles.

Find me a quote from the Christian Scriptures where Jesus or any of the authors advocate violence.

Several have already been posted on this board. I posted the “shall not suffer a witch to live” one myself, which I suggest might draw the teeth from your “challenge”.

Find the mitigating 'context' that you refer to in the Koran that will alter the meaning of the verses I posted.

Well that’s irrelevent. The point isn’t what is written down in the Koran or the Bible. The point is what the people who define themselves as Muslim or Christian draw from those traditions, at least here in the UK where I’m likely to run into them. Andrew’s blog, for example, seems somewhat light on entries entitled Top Twenty Tips to Frag Them Witches and heavier on entries entitled Fifteen Continuity Lapses to Be Found in Revenge Of the Sith But Who Cares Coz It’s Crap Anyway. Perhaps a very, very scathing review of the re-runs of Bewitched on DVD is forthcoming containing such proclamations but I’ll wait to see it. I can’t see why Muslims are supposed to be so different, and most of the Muslims here I run into or read about simply aren’t. (For example a lot of the Muslims demonised by the tabloids as advocating terrorism have actually said things like “maybe the Palestinians do have a bit of a time of it”.)

…let’s ring-fence this one! Let’s talk about the majority of Muslims who live in the Western world, i.e. the Muslims we are likely to have the most in common with. Life in Afghanistan, I would contend, is slightly different to life in Sussex. Without this ring-fence I half-expect Charles to go back into his Iranian baying demon hordes rhetoric, even after giving up on it after being challenged on it in my previous post.

The central thing you’re being challenged on is your narrow, functionalist definition of the way religion works. While forming numbered lists of challenges back to me full of things already answered, you are consistently ignoring this central point.

…your arguments amount to name calling and ignorant statements which serve only to confuse the issue.

By our words are we truly known.

Andrew Rilstone said...

"Thou shall not suffer a witch to live." Is not from the Christian Scriptures. It is from the Hebrew Scriptures.

Not all Christians agree with this exegesis.

e.g UCCF (Christian Union) doctrinal basis:

"The Bible, as originally given, is the inspired and infallible Word of God. It is the supreme authority in all matters of belief and behaviour"

e.g Article VI of the Church of England

"Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the holy Scripture we do understand those Canonical Books of the Old and New Testament of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church."

and article VII

"The Old Testament is not contrary to the New: for in both the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to Mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and Man, being both God and Man. Wherefor ther are not to be heard, which feign that the old Fathers did look only for transitory promises."

Catholic Catechism " The Old Testament is an indispensable part of Sacred Scripture. Its books are divinely inspired and retain a permanent value, for the Old Covenant has never been revoked."

I don't have Mr Calvin to hand, but I seem to think he believed in "scripture alone" not "the New Testament alone."

There aren't any specific injunctions to go to war in the New Testement; but it has always seemed to me to be odd to keep on talking about "the sword of the spirit" and "the armour of god" if Jesus was so straightforwardly pacifist.

"Then he said unto them, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip; and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one....And they said Lord, behold, here are two sword. And he said unto them, It is enough."

Gavin Burrows said...

First Charles Filson tells us:
I assert that in Christianity this is not as dangerous (though still knotty) becuase Jesus was a pacifist. A fanatical adherance to Christianity will lead to a degree of pacifism.

Later we get:
I agree that Jesus was not an out and out pacifist. He was probably an essene, which would speak to the contrary, but the Jesus that survies in scripture with the one exception of the verse you quote is definately a pacifist.

All of his arguments are here. The Koran is nothing but a handbook of hate, the Bible nothing but a handbook of love. Well, when I say the Bible, not the Old Testament obviously, I mean the New Testament… well everything in the New Testament apart from that one quote. But apart from the hypocaust and the roads, what have the Romans ever done for us?

(The Old Testament tending to be packaged up with the New being some longstanding misunderstanding over at the book-binders’ place? And what about “Think not I come to bring peace on earth. I bring not peace but a sword.”??? Driving the moneylenders out the temple?)

…but all of this to-and-froing merely obscures his inability to reply to the central point that it’s absurd to see the Bible or the Koran as handbooks in the first place!!! Smarter religious folks of whatever stripe recognise this openly. But I’d contend even the fundamentalist types don’t literally apply this literalism, but play the game of selective quotes and interpretations to suit their own agendas.

Earlier on I said Charles was confusing ‘religion’ with ‘job description’. But even that doesn’t cover it. At work, don’t we tend to regard direct instructions as subject to interpretation and procedures as guidelines?

Charles, I believe I’ve put this central point clearly enough. (Certainly, I’ve had to put it often enough.) Anytime you feel like answering it, go ahead. But if you really can’t see what I’m on about here, please don’t assume that I’m not on about anything.

In the meantime, I have better things to do, quite frankly. The whole thing’s been like trying to persuade someone red isn’t green then slowly realised their whole argument was “why can’t you be colourblind like me?”

Ironically, had he put his arguments in a more nuanced and mitigated way I’d have conceded he had a degree of validity! In perhaps his most valid point, Islam does tend to be more concerned with outward acts of devotion than Christianity. The Koran was written over a much shorter time and is more instructional than parable-like (parabolic?). It’s less like another Bible and more like a great big Deuteronomy blown up to Bible-size.

The reasons for this at the time are clear enough. Mohammed needed to unite a vast and disparate piece of territory, which included a lot of nomadic tribes. Getting people looking the same way at the same times of day probably made sense.

Mohammed was also a military figure as much as a religious one, but this can be overstated. Islam was from the beginning an ‘open’ religion, like Christianity, more keen on conversion than slaughter. At the time this was unusual and most religions were an example of regional or ethnic identity.

Islam’s lack of formal separation between religion and politics seems to me less important, as what’s missing in form is often there in content. (As already mentioned, the Church is one of Bush’s main power bases.)

So overall there are certain tendencies that make Islam more fertile ground for fundamentalists than Christianity. However, I don’t have the deterministic notion that there’s an innate push from Islam to fundamentalism and from fundamentalism to suicide bombings or other acts of terror. (There’s also lots of counter-tendencies such as Sufism.)

But at most this can only provide the kindling, not the spark for the fire. For the spark I think we need to look to current political events. While I certainly don’t agree with the conclusions the recent suicide bombers came to, it seems to me more likely they went there from seeing stuff on the news rather than suddenly coming across the small print in the Koran. As numerous people have pointed out the ‘war on terror’ is in many ways the war of two fundamentalisms – Bush’s vs Bin Laden’s.

Gavin Burrows said...

Paul Brown said...
Someone who follows a religion can follow a "core" of that religion without necessarily agreeing with the entirety of that religion's holy texts (which are often self contradictory - more on this later).


The fundamentalist viewpoint is not only applicable to religions, but to any emotive standpoint such as government / politics, education and even fiction.

Agreed. I confess I used to argue against Christianity on the basis of all the bad things done in it’s name, until I realised the same was true of lots of ideas I held to. You haven’t dismissed an idea until you’ve engaged with it’s best proponents, any more than an army defeats an enemy army by just taking on the guys in the sick tent.

The internet is filled with Star Wars fundamentalists who denounce the three new films as heresy and those who try to justify the whole together, even the parts that disagree.

Well this corner of it. On I’ve heard the issue comes up less.

The difference for the fundamentalist, to my mind, is that he / she cannot ignore any of their religion, even parts that seem to contradict each other.

While this may be true of fundamentalism at an individual level, when it reaches a political level (such as the regime in Iran) I tend to see it in more Machiavellian terms. “You must agree, it’s in Scripture” while taking a somewhat selective approach to what’s in Scripture. The theoretically fundamentalist (albeit of a different brand) Saudi regime doesn’t seem to worry about strictures against usury and giving to the poor very much. In it’s early days ‘Al Quaida’ (which didn’t have that name then) brought this up, but their definition of giving to the poor was giving to… ahem… them.

One thing that does strike me, though, is that in five years or more of online discussion I have yet to see anyone say, "I'm sorry, I was wrong" or "actually, you're right - that is a good point" or in fact back down from any of the positions that they held at the outset - and by anyone I include myself as guilty as any other. Does the anonimty of online arguing encourage us all to be too fanatical about our own viewpoints and unwilling to open our minds to new ideas?

Good question. I did start to feel a familiar weary resignation over the Charles Forster debacle. I’ve launched into many such ‘debates’ only to realise there’s little point, as they were debates in name only. Then again you could argue real-life peer groups tend to be more self-selective, as like minds are drawn to like.

I don’t think I’ve ever done a 180 degree switch from internet debate, but part of the point of debating is surely to revise and sharpen your arguments rather than suddenly reject them. As people point out weak points you can a) shout the same points ever-louder, b) abandon them or c) refine them in some way. It’s like sparring. Plus a good argument can be like a good walk, you can enjoy the journey as well as the destination.

But good question. I guess the old saw about not posting what you wouldn’t say in person applies.

Gavin Burrows said...

This does admittedly sound like a more reasonable and considered Charles Filson.
I wouldn’t, for one thing, argue that most Christians see the New Testament as “trumping” the old. However, the Saducees were already established by Jesus’ time, in effect he was a heretic against them. It seems a little odd that if pacifism was such a major part of his doctrine that he’d use the images and terminology of swords and fighting so much. “I come not to bring peace but a sword” you could read as a metaphor for anything you want, but one fairly likely contendor would seem to be a sword. (Conversely Islamic terms like “Jihad” are often translated hostilely as “war” rather than “struggle”. Not by Charles here, but by many others.) And while you do down the Old Testament you don’t seem to be arguing for the New to be uncoupled from it.
Moreover, I tend to see pacifism as something of a modern notion, a product of the way we have distanced ourselves from violence in our daily lives. Like the way people will happily eat meat but readily admit they could never kill that animal themself. I doubt pacifism was much of a major notion around Jesus’ time and place.
Now Gavin, I am not nor have a I ever been suggesting that all Muslims or all Christians use there works like a handbook… As Paul points out, to the Fanatic the holy work is a handbook.
Well this is the cart+horse question! Does the fanatic come to the holy book, or does the holy book turn the reader into the fanatic? People have found instructions to kill in all sorts of things, including Beatles records (the Manson ‘Family’) and the barking of the neighbour’s dog (Son of Sam). This makes me turn to the second one. While you never said so outright, the logic of some of your earlier posts seemed to be underpinned by the first.
…and this may be as good a point as any to point out there are fundamentalists who are fanatical to the point of being annoying but not quite ready to kill you. I find it as annoying as the next man when the Witnesses come to call, but them whipping out an AK47 on me might take the experience to a whole other level. (Apparantly, David Koresh and the Branch Davidianis were some wacky offshoot of the Witnesses who did take it to another level. But not the parent body.)
Maybe the wikipedia entry on Islamic Fundamentalism will put it better than me…
Groups advocating Islam as a political movement are invariably responding to complex political and historical situations, usually with deep roots in the local environment. For example, the rise of the conservative Jamaat-e-Islami party in Bangladesh would not have been possible without widespread public reaction against the corruption of the secular Awami League government in that country. Unfortunately, this complex local political history is completely lost in the simplistic reductionism of terms like 'Muslim fundamentalism', which simultaneously explains everything and nothing by blaming Islam for being the religion of the majority.
Given the existence of undemocratic and corrupt regimes all over the Muslim world, it is not surprising that for much of the 20th century the dominant form of political dissent in these countries has been revolutionary Marxism rather than Islam as a political movement. However, the end of the Soviet Union and the Cold War largely discredited leftist ideologies and Arab Nationalism there by strengthening Islamic parties. Continuing Western support for the Israeli settlement of the West Bank has also increased the anti-American sentiments which Islamism represents.

On a more theological level, fundamentalism may also be in part a reaction against the fashion of post-modernism and it’s assault on the primacy of the text. (“There is no there there” and all that.) You couldn’t really get a greater insistence on the primacy of the text than Islam. It’s been notable how Muslims tortured by American and British troops have at times protested as much about their Korans being mistreated as their own bodies. (Doubtless the reason the tactic was employed.) Catholicism mixed pagan idolatory with the fetish of the book. Islam gave the fetish of the book the weight of pagan idolatory, concentrated all into one object.
…and on that thorny subjects of fundamentalists not being of the fundament…
Many scholars of religion believe that, contrary to their own message, Islamic fundamentalists are not actually traditionalists. Typically, their message is that returning to the original version of the faith requires abandonment of a variety of traditional practices which they contend are medieval innovations, such as the practice of asking favors from "saints" (awliya). However, scholars of Islam hold that the result is that the fundamentalists are creating innovations; they are creating a form of Islam that never existed in the past.
Like John Major’s England of cricket greens and social deference, their past is at root an imagined one.

Andrew Rilstone said...

Jesus never in any case condones violence of any kind.

"And that servant which knew his Lord's will and prepared not himself neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. And he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes."

"And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money waiting. And when he had made a scourge of small cords he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep and the oxen and poured out the changers money, and overthrew their tables."

This was very much the Pauline doctrine, and I think you would really have to dig to find a Christian church that recognizes the laws of the OT as valid despite the Pauline Doctrine. (until it is time to discuss a man laying with a man.) You wouldn't find too many Chritians that would actually use the word 'trump' but offer them a Lobster Dinner and half-way through point out Leviticus 11: 9-12. You will quicly hear them tell you that Jesus did away wtih the need to follow the law.

I believe the usual line is that the laws of sacrifice and cleanliness were part of the covenant between God and Moses, and do not apply once Jesus introduces the New convenant. Article VII of the church of England: "Although the Law given from God by Moses, as touching Ceremonies and Rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the Civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called Moral." As I said when I was talking about gay clergy, the difficulty comes in establishing which bits are "Moral" and which bits are "ceremonies and rites".

Sure we all say that they don't contradict and Jesus did say that not a Jot or Tiddle would pass away, but then he also explained away Moses' teaching on divorce and then Paul came along and told us we could eat Pork Chops if we wanted to.

It's Jesus who says the food rules don't the gospels, he says things like "what goes into the mouth does not defile a man"; in Acts, he appears in a vision specifically in order to stuff a pork chop down Peter's throat. But you knew that already...

Andrew Rilstone said...

What you are basically saying, is, regardless of the relationship between the Old Testement and the New Testement, the Bible is written by lots of different authors in lots of different styles, and this gives it a degree of exegetical potential, or to use the technical term, wiggle room, that the Koran does not have. Yes?

Gavin Burrows said...

Charles Filson said...
The Essenes were a slightly militant cult. They carried swords and didn't marry and so on. I think that the most truth lies in your statement that pacifism is a modern day creation.

I would suspect in such a time and place there was slightly more people carrying swords, and slightly less people dialling 999 on their mobiles. (Or 911, I don’t know the code for Ancient Judah.)

However, after posting my comments about pacifism I reconsidered. Maybe I was confusing principled Pacifism with reactive pacifism. “I’ve thought about it and all violence is wrong” vs. the sort of logic where four bombs on the tube are violence but thousands of bombs falling on Iraq and Afghanistan aren’t. One I can respect enough to agree to disagree, the other is frankly skewed to the point of autism.

Nevertheless, I persist in thinking there’s some link between the two and they’re a relatively modern creation which comes with the possibility of outsourcing violence. Anyone know anything about early Buddhism and pacifism?

Islam as you have agreed, places their text very highly and as far as I know, has no mechanism for ignoring bits of the text that don't quite work. (Though most I have met in America do anyway.)

This seems fairly telling as I’ve been arguing all along that your argument falls as soon as it hits the empirical level. People don’t respond to religion that way. Even the ones who say they do.

So regarding your cart and horse, I would suggest that the fanatism comes first or there is a predisposition to it.

One of the weaknesses of your earlier arguments seemed to me that you were assuming that people had some innate predisposition towards a religion, then were stuck with it. In the modern Western world at least it seems quite the opposite, it’s become a shopping mall where people buy into whatever seems to be the most saleable one. And ignores all the awkward bits just like they did the parking restrictions on the way into the shopping mall. New Age-ness is this par excellence, a hodgepodge of all sorts of semi-digested religious and spiritual stuff with lots of made up bits sprinkled on top.

Obviously it works differently in fundamentalist states where Islam is The Law. But one of the other weaknesses I found in your argument was a tendency to flit from one to the other.

Andrew Rilstone said...
What you are basically saying, is, regardless of the relationship between the Old Testement and the New Testement, the Bible is written by lots of different authors in lots of different styles, and this gives it a degree of exegetical potential, or to use the technical term, wiggle room, that the Koran does not have. Yes?

If so, I’d agree. But as said ‘wiggle room’ is only about opportunity, and motive always comes first.

Below’s an example of the Islamaphobia that’s been on the rise here since the London bombings. Even on a forum such as this, it probably pays to use considered language. This "backlash" is "exactly what those who promote terrorism want" police say, and I (for once) agree. It has occurred to me that the bombers may have deliberately targeted countries with anti-War populations (Britain and Spain). Currently us “infidel” aren’t behaving according to the script, we’re calling for the troops to be pulled out and saying you can distinguish between different types of Muslim. As the War’s been such a handy recruiting school for Islamic Fundamentalism, they’re hardly likely to want it over. And their whole stance is they’re the only true form of Islam. If even “unbelievers” get to know better the jig’s truly up.
(No idea how you paste URLs in this format, good luck with it!)

Gavin Burrows said...

Charles Filson said:

I totally agree that raining bombs on a country is very violent and generally bad. In Serbia as well as Iraq. I also deplore now and did for 12 years the sanctions that did nothing to hurt the Baathists, but only hurt the people and got really cheap oil for the western countries.

Indeed so. It made me laugh (in a grim way) when the Liberal Democrats and others presented the sanctions as a more humane alternative to invasion. Admittedly they went on for longer, but more people died from the sanctions than the invasion. Given a straight choice between death by swift bombing and slow starvation, I’d choose the first one. (Added to which they never actually stopped the bombing after the 1st Gulf War, just lowered the intensity a bit.)

I was making the point that Christian fanatics, while spooky and strange, were generally not as scary as Muslim fanatics. This statement fits my personal experience. Then I ask why, and the answer that I come up with is the text.

While I’d concede some degree of validity to the first point (now you’ve added the crucial specifier ‘fanatics’), it’s the last one where we disagree.

I do agree with Gavin that Political pressure and nationalism can be the trigger for terrorism, but Muslims seem to use Islam as a justification even when the trigger was nationalistic.

It seems to me you have this sentence back-to-front. This may sound a case of you say to-ma-to I say tor-mar-to, but I think it’s significant. A justification is ultimately a lot of smoke. It’s the trigger that causes the action that creates all the damage. This is why I reached for the cart-and-horse metaphor earlier.

Maybe this comes from the origins of our religions: Islam started with a rapid spread and military conquest. Christians began as a persecuted underclass in a persecuted underclass.

Interestingly, you’re arguing like me here! (Tho’ I’m a little lost. Are we talking Moses or Jesus?) (It’d also be interesting to speculate about how it works when that ‘persecuted minority’ gets the driving seat in the main world power.)

There are Christians, Jews and Muslims who live in Palestine (Non-Israel) who want an independent Palestinian state. The Christians are as oppressed by Israel as the Muslims, yet the Christians do not respond with suicide bombers...or any violence as far as I can tell.

A classic example of what I mean! The oppression is racial and nationalistic. Israelis have first-world lifestyles in the middle of the third world and one of the main reasons for this is near-slave Arab labour. Religion is invoked as a justification, but the desire to own swimming pools is the trigger. Israeli Christians simply do not get treated the same way as Palestinian Christians. (Who there’s too few of to make any kind of fuss, at least not as Christians.)

And what about the Falange? Commonly regarded as carrying out the greatest single massacre in the modern history of the Middle East and they were a Christian Militia.

Kevin said:

One of the things I've been trying to deal with over the past few years is the fact that when Christians achieve positions of great influence (e.g. US president, UK prime minister), they behave like shit-heads.

Again with this? Are there many examples of people achieving positions of great influence and not behaving like shit-heads? Perhaps we should be looking to the nature of power rather than their often-spurious justifications?

…back to Charles Filson …
…not all groups who thought that violence would get what they wanted were Muslim. I wonder, does anybody know if the IRA ever tried to use Christianity to justify their actions? How did they do it?

Well their enemies were Christian so it’s not comparable in that way.

Gavin Burrows said...

Kevin said...

'Absolute power...'. I guess I shouldn't reject it just because it is a cliche.

Things become clich├ęs by being repeated a lot. And they get repeated a lot by…

Actually, I've just been overcome by the inclination to be fair to Mr Blair. It's such a novel sensation that I'll indulge it.

His faith does make a difference. He really cares about Africa, and has expended real political capital to do something about it. He cares about global warming, and is prepared to embarass his allies (at least a little bit) over it. He's acheived some real progress on debt relief (although trade justice was too high a mountain).

Right I've got that out of my system. How is it that this is the same man who lied to us about WMD? Does he have an evil twin?

I’m not going to be so indulgent. After Iraq I don’t find it particularly surprising that Bliar should be looking around for a foreign policy hit. True, that might not be so bad if he was doing what it says on the lid, but of course he isn’t. You paint a man doing what he can, feeling he must knock out debt before moving onto trade justice. In fact he’s used limited motion on debt to arm-twist Africa into even worse “free trade” “agreements”. The only countries which got deft relief had to agree to “opening their markets” by privatising water and other essential services. As a direct consequence the average African is worse off than in the Sixties, in some places considerably worse off. As the Guardian said yesterday, the current ‘famine’ in Niger isn’t to do with lack of food so much as hyping the price of food outside many people’s pockets, and an insistence that food aid is “anti-competitive”.

And of course “debt” was repaid a thousand times over via extortionate interest payments, despotic rulers (Western-tolerated) running off with sockfulls of loot and the rest of it. ‘Foreign aid’ was moneylending to begin with.

Blair’s policies on Africa are no less murderous than over Iraq. This is a good read. (And also gives me another chance to try making a working link in this format. If it doesn’t work paste the text into your browser. Yes I know, that’s so yesterday!)
(You need to then click on the ‘Make the G8 History’ link, which doesn’t seem to have it’s own address for some reason.)

(Admittedly the story over global warming is slightly different.)

Thinking some more about Charles Filson (or quite possibly for the first time), I’d concede he’s not the fanatic he appeared as first off. But this emphasis on the text makes me think he’s not so much a religious thinker as a moralist. It goes like this: We all need to live by moral codes, or chaos will ensue and dead bodies line the streets and get in everyone’s way. Religion is the best means to draw these up and put them in a tidy little book. Shopping around, the NT seems to be the best contendor. If everyone read the NT, it would be best for society with only the real cockeyed Charles Manson types able to read instructions for mass murder into it. The rest of us will feel like murdering that guy who nicked our parking space, then remember what it says in the Tidy Little Book about offing folk being a no-no. The Koran, conversely, is too much of a lucky dip.

Now I’m not a religious type, but I’d venture this seems to me one of the worst applications of religion. You could criticise our legal system till you wore your keyboard down, but at least it admits to being devised by Earthly hands so to some degree provisional, adaptable and improvable. Me, I don’t particularly like Church or State, but all the more reason not to join them together into some Mecha-Godzilla hybrid.

Gavin Burrows said...

Right, I give up! Someone tell me the agreed coding here for an URL or I shall scream and scream and scream until I'm sick.

Gavin Burrows said...

Sorry you were put to so much trouble, Kevin.

(NB I wasn't really going to scream and scream and scream until I was sick, but please don't tell him that!)