Sunday, July 7, 2013

"Contemporary Progressive" Religion

A new edition of some of the hadiths, the sayings of Muhammed, has been published in Turkey, intended for the use of "today's average Turk." Apparently the publication is causing some hoopla.

I don't know a lot about contemporary Islam, and I don't know how common such efforts are to edit core Islamic texts "for 21st-century Muslims." This effort in Turkey reminds me of what is advocated by many present-day Christian and Jewish theologians: efforts to make their religions "contemporary and progressive." I'm using quotation marks because I don't think there is any such thing as progressive 21st century religion. There are intelligent progressive people who are religious. And there are plenty of dimwitted atheists too, just look at the readers' comments in HP Religion. But even the dimwitted atheists are right about religion being make-believe (you don't have to be brilliant to see that), and an intelligent and well-informed religious believer, no matter how intelligent he or she may be on other subjects, is living in a world of make-believe whenever he or she talks about religion. He or she may be extremely well-informed about the names, dates and places of early Christianity, whereas a maddening number of atheist numbskulls insist on talking about such things without having first obtained a clue, claiming, for example, that Constantine re-wrote the Bible (there no evidence he ever even read it) at the Council of Nicea along with the Pope (the Pope wasn't there) in the year 400. (The Council of Nicea took place in 325, and Constantine died in 337.) But when it comes to the actual faith, suddenly the dopey atheist and the learned believer switch places: the atheist points out obvious things such as that it is absurd to build one's life around ancient or modern - religious texts, and the believer says ridiculous things such as "God's plan for us[...]" or "The timeless wisdom of these holy books[...]"

"We don't live in the 20th century anymore," said Mehmet Ozafsar, who oversaw this new publication, which involved more than 100 scholars in all, referring approvingly to the new edition of Mohammad's sayings. Of course not: a contemporary, cultured, enlightened Muslim lives simultaneously in the 21st and 7th centuries, just the same way that a contemporary, cultured, enlightened Christian lives simultaneously in the 21st and 1st century, and a contemporary, cultured, enlightened practicing Jew lives at one and the same time in today's world and in some various eras BC.

"We needed a new work with Islamic beliefs in the perspective of today's culture," Ozafsar went on. What they needed, I think, was some help in blurring the differences between today and 1400 years ago. I believe that theology consists more and more in the effort to help people fight off the impulse to think about certain things. The sad simple fact is that progress is made, and that while people of earlier ages may now and then have said something which we today still can find beautiful, or sometimes even wise, we cannot accept wholesale any worldview from centuries ago expressed in a form amounting to more than a couple of pages of prose, because any dimwit living today will have come to conclusions surpassing some of the conclusions of the wisest sage from then. Hume and Mohammed and Ezra are not to be despised for this mundane fact of life, any more than a 14th-century horse breeder would be mocked because any moped would beat any of his horses in a races of more than 2 miles.

What any atheist has grocked that any believer has not is that any text written in a time when it had not yet occurred to anyone anywhere that the institution of slavery might be wrong, not that this or that individual slave here and there had merited being freed but that the entire institution was wrong, along with institutions of misogyny and tribalism and superstition, IS NOT TO BE USED AS A GUIDE TO LIFE, AS ONE'S LIFE'S CENTRAL TEXT. That we can do better now. That religious believers misuse the term "superstition," that "religion" is synonymous with it, and does not refer, as the religious believer maintains, only to religions which conflict with his or her own.

As an amateur historian, naturally I'm interested in ancient texts -- and the more ancient the texts are, in every written culture I've encountered yet, the more religious they are -- and naturally I think it's great when other people study them too. As I hinted above, I wish many atheists would either become much more familiar with certain people, places and things from long ago OR FOR THE LOVE OF SHIVA STOP PRATTLING ON ABOUT THEM ALL THE LIVE-LONG DAY AS IF THEY SUPPOSED THEY HAD A CLUE. And as I said, many believers do study ancient texts relevant to their religions. Now if they could only drop the blinkers which make them pick a certain range of texts and study them with no critical faculties and declare that they are "holy" and/or "imbued with timeless wisdom." Timeless wisdom? I'd say there is no such thing. Hundreds of millions of years ago our ancestors were worms, tens of millions of years ago they were rodents, thousands of years ago every war was a total war and lasted until everyone on one side was dead or enslaved, hundreds of years ago the notion that women were as intelligent as men was not yet very widespread -- among men. Starting to see a pattern here? Good! Don't yet see how religion belongs back in the past with those other things? Keep thinking. Please. Because it's really not yet as if the human race were burdened with an overabundance of good sense.

No comments:

Post a Comment