Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Inherent Weakness

The Other Islam: Scholarly, Written with a Sharp Pen written by Sandro Magister recounts of a lecture delivered by a female scholar from the faculty of human and social sciences at the University of Tunisia. The lecture touched on a core issue of today's Islamic problem: fundamentalism. Not quite a few have said that this strain of thought within Islam has, indeed, grown as an ideology that is slowly taking a permanent hold within some of its believers. Now this lecture tries to link this fundamentalism to orthodoxy that seems to feed strength to the former. In effect, the relationship between the two should be that the latter is transformed inherently, effecting a change to the former, which is primarily the breeding nexus of terrorism. Since September 11, the world has been so conscious of this term, which has since become a political byword, sometimes being used to advance a political agenda, which oftentimes aggravates an already precarious situation. Does, indeed, orthodoxy lend itself up to this deviant strain of thought among those who fervently believe in a religion such as Islam? Do other parallel religions in the world, which at its very core also proclaims its orthodoxy of its belief, could be rendered the same danger?

I had thought of these questions, since it has been a marked criteria even within Christianity. Orthodoxy has been a constant battleground of so many saints and martyrs in the Catholic Church and the Eastern Churches. How can I not forget Athanasius, who comes to my mind whenever a monolithic example is recalled as to total adherence to faith even within the dangerous lines of defense?

Latifa Lakhdar's fundamental thesis is something positive in light of the present state of her religion: "Islam, just as the optimists say, can be the foundation of a Muslim mindset that is modern, enlightened, and liberal." In her view, there should be a dissociation of the mystifying element engulfing the relationship between Muslim orthodoxy and fundamentalism. In my view, if this has been rendered open, not as a closed system and an elevated thought beyond the grasp of the now and here, an access of rational inquiry can penetrate it and reasonably separate them into categories and proper perspectives.

As the lecturer points out heavily, orthodoxy can be the parent for the evolution of fundamentalism. However, this relationship of cause and effect is not exclusive in the sense that the latter is a necessary effect of the former as its cause. But a more important question points to the issue of identity, which could render the faith of Muslim religion threatened. At the outset, the question of change is well within the possibilities, but what is that change that is needed? And if this would be, would it not be a great paradigm shift for every Muslim believer; something that calls for a total change of perspective. For what is brought before the altar of sacrifice is something that is at the core of what is being a Muslim. How would the world could be changed in the mind of a Muslim if he were to believe that the holy book of Koran is not a handwritten document of Allah, but had been composed by men, who had been gripped with the charisma to write, which could be said to have been under the influence of a deity. What compounds the problem is the idea of a finished theology from the time of Hegira. The Quran could not be interpreted as anything but literalist without inciting public scandal for Muslim adherents.

It could not be anything less than to ask pork not eggs from hogs. However, there are many ramifications attached to a kind of revolution that the author dreams. If we may speak of a sclerotic and obtunded growth of speculative theology in Islam, then this is special vocation for those who see in their religion the source of sinister that corrupts of what they believe is the essence of their faith. But how can it be fostered within a milieu that has so long been captured under the politics of Islamic umas and bureaucrats?

One could ask if the golden age of Islam could again flourish from the Iberian peninsula to the fringes of Southeast Asia? The 9th to the 12th centuries saw the dialogue between Islamic faith and Aristotelian philosophy, and from this encounter is borne the names of Avicenna and Averroes. These names are just some of the Islamic thinkers whose minds had been fostered within a special Islamic city of Cordoba, a city known for its patronage to scholarship. However, one author had said that it became possible because of its possibility within a political figure whose interests were focused on cultivating scholarship. Here it cannot be mistakenly pointed out that the rapprochement between secular knowledge and the ideas of faith gave birth to a flowering civilization that had an impact on every level of Muslim life. This radiating energy did not confine to a locus somewhere south of Spain but spread throughout the Arabic-speaking peoples.

But could we not ask if the turn of European events into what it has become today is the model of every development for others? Should we graft what we believe as positive of European history to nations under Islam? Is there any justification that such pattern is the ideal one over other patterns of history? Or should we not also ask that somehow there is something which Islam can fundamentally teach those under the western influence by reining in some unbridled consequences of modernity? Or else, we might as well speak of the passivity of the west into looking oneself again to see what had become of it.

There could not be even a question that the project of humanism did not dispel the contribution of Christianity in the cultural growth of nations. Certainly, some of the popes of the sixteenth century and onwards have been close patrons of humanistic ideas. The growth of these ideas in fairly homogenized population is one thing that clearly points the uniqueness of western history. The dialecticism of the historical reality between the faith and the development of reason through science had never brought a nihilism and total negation of this dual relationship. Thus, we can conclude that somehow the rationalistic approach of a St. Thomas Aquinas did not at the basic level foster an annihilistic force in the side of faith, enough to destroy what reason has been for former. Hence, this epoch in the history of theology prepares the humanism of the later times, giving fertile ground for the rise to scientific revolution of the 18th century and of our own time. Therefore, it is enough to cast a look on this era to explain out any doubts of the role of the church in the growth of science.

Now, this is the uniqueness of Christianity over against Islam. In Islamic history, there was a spontaneous appeal to the ideas of Aristotle and western philosophical thought early on but was later destroyed by itself, thereby receding Islam itself into the problem of the Will and anchoring its theology to it as its loci of departure over and against Christianity itself. This author could even begin to suspect that what happened to Protestantism in its stance against every Catholic teaching is as true as well as what became of Islam in its attitude toward Christianity following its beginning in the 7th century. It is highly probable that though there was a limited scholarly exchange and access between these two religions there was an endemic idea of one over the other that had been piled up over centuries of battles and wars.

Though at times the papacy has been construed as an impediment in history, that might seem to pose less of an importance in the influence the popes had had in the dialogue of reason and faith. For sure as early as the first century of Christianity, there had been questions raised already on the place of rationalism-intellectualism in the life of faith in Christ. Paul of Tarsus though had an evident reservations of pure rationalism over and against the new-found religion, he too was not imprisoned from the sphere of understanding man's gift from God as totally limited only to his response to the grace he is given. For indeed hovering the mind of Paul was the enduring consciousness of the Genesis' account of God's endowment to man that which was seen as good in itself. Hence, from early on, an idea has already been considered that opens to possibilities of dialogue and rapprochement. The second and third centuries also came with a number of apologists to the faith, e.g. Justin Martyr and Ignatius of Antioch, and theologians, e.g. Alexander of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, and others, who did not avoid in their corpus basically the encounter of a Greek-pagan thought with the unique salvific history of Christ. For such universality of salvation as its essence and nature is extended to every man and woman of every age, and that this catholic understanding of the redemption of Christ must not appear as totally annihilating and destructive to what is fundamentally positive in humanity that is in need of saving grace. The dialectics between grace and nature found early investigations within a religion which has grown itself in an advanced civilization with ideas and thoughts teeming with positive contributions to humanity. Though Christianity developed and grew in a hostile Roman empire, it was not deaf also to the transcendental questions that the temporal event of Christ has been wrought. Thus, the early Christians had to defend the religion and its relationship to a paganistic social framework as well as to propose this religion as a unique option in a large empire amassed with different religions, thoughts, ideas, and persuasions. In one end then, Christianity grew to a large extent from the persuasion of the mind more than the use of force. The latter ages just merely picked up from what their predecessors in faith had opened.

It is particularly in this area that the popes of Rome has had a tremendous impact on the fostering of this engagement of reason and faith. The institutionality of the nature of papacy based upon the Matthean promise of perpetual foundation of the ekklesia gave impetus to any human investigations of reality that indeed will have impact on faith. Though there have been a debasing tendencies in the history of renaissance popes, the contribution of the successors of Peter can never be overlooked. It is enough to look back on the growth of humanism in the 16th century as fostered principally by the absolute ruler of the papal states. Thus, this is a factor which Islam can gleam upon. The cohesive factor of a centerpoint is indeed more essential that the centripetal forces in the vicissitudes of human history. And this too is uniquely Christianity's own great accomplishment.

Now this singularity of encounter of faith and reason in Christian history is more than unique in the annals of religions. The Jewish concept as a Chosen People has secluded itself to itself that anyone from outside should either live socially by the rules stemming from the Mosaic Law or convert to the religion of the Patriarchs. The Judaic religion lived with a unique identity among the great civilizations of the east existing on a promise that is in itself a life-force. Hence, the particularity of this religion was punctured through the advent of the redeemer, thus, opening it up to the world under the new command of making all disciples under the trinitarian formula. Therefore, the relationship of Judaism and Christianity cannot be more than evident as given in a consistent thread and progressive unfolding of revelation. And in this development, it has to engage the world at least and baptize it to the fount of the saving waters of Christ.

Islam came after the events of Christ obviously, and in this at least borne a general idea of what constitutes Christianity by and large. And the events of the incessant encounter of Christianity and rationalism did not find itself within the confines of a Christianizing Roman Empire. The Nicean event, for me, became at least a marker that baptizes an outside concept, making it a handmaid of use to explain mysteries of revelation, toward a dogmatization of the divinity of Christ. The history of dogma in part can explain the essential antagonistic attitude of Mohammed toward what he usually calls the Trinitarians. Hence, the isolated Arabian saw a Christian religion before him wrapping itself in a western ideas that is essentially rational. It is my great interest indeed that perhaps the Muslim prophet contributed early on on the general attitude of antipathy towards rational investigations of faith.

July 07, 2007 in Religion Permalink