Archive for July 11th, 2012

Knowledge With Understanding

Recently, I posted about author Tom Holland, and his NPR interview where he claimed that any Muslim should be able to understand how he, as a non-Muslim, could try to make historical sense of the Koran, since he wasn’t bound by Muslim doctrine.  Given the alarming level of violence directed by some Muslims (usually overseas) towards both Muslims and non-Muslims over the issue of blasphemy (for Muslims) or “slander” (for non-Muslims), I thought at the time, and still think, it represents the kind of self-delusion that one only finds with a high degree of education.

But the subject appears to be in the air, as they say, and Peter Berger at the American Interest has penned a more thoughtful andcontemplative piece about the role that historical scholarship, as applied to the Koran, might play in advancing the cause of Islamic reformers, and in undermining the more radical elements that are gaining ascendancy in the Muslim world.

The Society for Biblical Literature, “the largest professional association concerned with Biblical and related studies; it is now strongly committed to a theologically neutral methodology of modern historical scholarship,” is getting ready to add the Koran to its portfolio of religious texts that it studies.

In its self-description the SBL says that it is “devoted to the critical investigation of the Bible”. A co-director of the consultation says that it would, among other things, seek to approach the Koran in the context in which the text arose, “as an historical, literary and religious text.” “Critical”, “context”, “historical” – these are words, used in connection with the Koran, that could get you killed in many parts of the Muslim world. But let me leave aside for the moment the question of the likelihood that such an approach could get a hearing among traditional Muslims. Rather I will ask a different question:  Given the core affirmations of Islamic faith, is this approach religiously plausible for believing Muslims? It goes without saying that only Muslims can decide what they can or cannot believe; a non-Muslim can be a historian of Islam, he cannot be an Islamic theologian. However, a sympathetic outsider can ask a question that does not presuppose belief: Are there intellectual resources for such an approach within the Muslim tradition?

A short answer to this question is yes. This answer, though, needs to be explicated.

Berger then goes on to describe a Muslim school of thought that, while maintaining the divinity of the Koran, nevertheless leaves room open for its allegorical interpretation in places. Muslim reformers evidently often cite this school of thought and its methodology in support of their efforts to “reconcile Islam with pluralism, democracy and modern thought.”  It’s Berger’s contention that rationalist investigation into the Koran’s origin and development might not merely be left alone, as Holland hopes, but might actually inform such Islamic speculation.  How these discoveries would be integrated into Muslim thought would have to be left to Muslim theologians, of course.

If such ideas have a chance to work, they do here in the US, where most Muslims are far from radicalized, came here to get away from radicalization and its discontents, and where there is perhaps the most active effort to reconcile Islam with democracy and an officially secular society.  While Berger would probably deny that he’s underestimating the resistance that such ideas would meet in the Islamic world, I think he is, even here in the United States.  Both evangelical Christianity and Orthodox Judaism are testaments (so to speak) to the ability of serious faith to simultaneously absorb and ignore historical scholarly scrutiny of their texts.

And then, there’s the outright hostility of the clergy.  Here’s Imam Ibrahim Kazerooni, in a speech to a mosque in Dearborn.  Kazerooni is an odd duck, and I’ve written about him before.  An Iraqi Shia, he left Iraq as a teenager to study in an Iranian madrassah in Qom. He is totally in the tank for the Iranian mullahs, having “given over,” as they say, a speech by Ayatollah Mezbah Yazdi, Ahmedinejad’s spiritual advisor, on the 21st anniversary of the Iranian Revolution, at a mosque in London.

Also, note that at the beginning of his talk, at about 9:00 of the first clip, he obliquely praises the then-recent news of Hebollah’s ascendance to the leadership of the Lebanese government.  So to go by external appearances is to deceive oneself about the nature of the man.

But here in Denver, he tries to portray himself as ecumenical, willing to work across religious lines for understanding between faiths.  He’s had some success, at one point heading St. John’s Episcopal’s Abrahamic Initiative.

Kazerooni is also a doctoral student at the University of Denver’s Iliff School of Theology, and quite clearly recognizes the threat that academic examination of Islamic tradition poses to orthodox Muslim belief. Beginning at around 1:50 of the clip below, he begins a long peroration, exhorting young Muslims to enter the academy, not to learn academic techniques, but to prevent and forestall their use as they relate to Islam:

So it’s not as though American Muslim clerisy is unaware of the threat to their authority and to traditional beliefs posed by academia.

Still, Berger’s is an interesting thought, and one that indicates a great deal more understanding of how Muslims view the world and their book than Holland’s naive assertions.

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Adolescence Just Keeps Getting Longer

Two posts getting some attention today.  First, this from Derek Thompson at the Atlantic:

And then this, from Taylor Cotter over at the Huffington Post:

I suppose that I’m grateful that I can make all my car payments and start saving for retirement while most of my friends are living at home and working part-time jobs — but I often find myself lamenting the fact that I’m not living at home and not working a part-time job. From my perspective, these are just some of the life-changing, character-building experiences that I may never have.

Now, it’s easy to laugh at Taylor, and Lord knows, I have.  Oh, the struggles of not starving, not having to live at home.  The horrors of being able to go out for drinks and read a book from time to time.  The sheer insipidness of knowing that your rent is paid and there’s food on the table.  Really, who wants to live like that?

But at a more serious level, the fact that she seriously thinks that she’s missing out on something by not spending mandatory time in her parents’ basement or her old room, shows that that may slowly be turning into the norm.  It slows down adulthood, accumulation of both social and financial capital, and becomes harder and harder to reverse.  Subsidizing the trend by putting 25-year-olds with masters degrees on their parents’ health insurance only aggravates the problem.

As young Taylor shows, it can become a desirable thing to start off your life that way.  And when you think about it, why stop at 26?  Or 30?  Why not keep going all the way to early retirement.  (Retirement from what? If you have to ask, man, you just don’t get it.)  Well, the Greeks and the Spaniards show why.

Michael Barone likes to say that American has the worst 18-year-olds and the best 30-year-olds.  That’s because the time immediately after college toughens kids up, and teaches them what the real world is like.

God help us when 40 becomes the new 30.

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Daily Glimpse July 11, 2012

Daily Links From Glimpse From a Height

  • The plan to dismantle Egypt’s Great Pyramids.
    Assyrian News Agency, Via Althouse: According to several reports in the Arabic media, prominent Muslim clerics have begun to call for the demolition of Egypt’s Great Pyramids–or, in the words of Saudi Sheikh Ali bin Said al-Rabi’i, those “symbols of paganism,” which Egypt’s Salafi party has long planned to cover with wax. Most recently, Bahrain’s […]
  • New farm bill likely to be a budget and trade disaster
    Leave it to the government to buy high, sell low: Effectively, Price Loss Coverage is a price-based income support program. When the market price for a commodity covered by the program falls below a new and, by historical standards, very high target price level, farmers will almost certainly get a payment for every acre they […]
  • Europe’s Zionist Anti-Semites
    Well, as long as we’re not their biggest complaint… Most went to Israel with a deep-seated conviction that the country — given its presence on the front line in the conflict with Islam, as Strache told SPIEGEL ONLINE last year — deserves greater support from Europe. Most came back with an even deeper mistrust of […]
  • What’s Holding Back The Facebook Mobile App?
    Rethinking the FB mobile app from outside: Yet maybe the problem isn’t just Facebook. (C’mon haters, there’s a lot of great information in Facebook, or we wouldn’t all use it.) Maybe the problem is that Facebook is too worried about being Facebook to rethink its experience on mobiles. Gabi certainly makes a case along those lines. […]
  • Positive Liberties and Legal Guarantees
    From Bleeding Heart Libertarians: I believe both negative liberty and positive liberty, so defined, are morally important. It matters that people are not subject to continued wrongful interference, from each other or from the state. It also matters that people have the effective means to exercise their wills, to do as they please (provided they […]
  • A Plea for Smart, Forward U.S. Military Engagement
    From The Diplomat: Our military posture should thus be tailored in a strategic way that reflects the imperatives of regional threats and respects the interests of partners and allies. In places such as the Korean peninsula, the Straits of Hormuz, or Malacca, a clear, visible U.S. posture is required; in other regions a less visible, over-the-horizon […]
  • What Moves? Culture & Interaction Design
    Seems so intuitive, doesn’t it? The choice of metaphor dictates the proper design for interaction. Similar issues show up in other domains. Consider the standard problem of scrolling the text in a window. Should the scrolling control move the text or the window? This was a religious debate in the early years of display terminals, […]
  • The Birth of Conservative Judaism
    Not a European-pedigreed movement, but largely an American attempt at reinvention: But [Schechter] did not intend to pioneer a movement. Rather, using the model of the United Synagogue in Great Britain, Schechter sought to create what Cohen calls “Americanized traditional Judaism” by training English-speaking, secularly educated rabbis who would preside over synagogues that would pray […]
  • Re-opening the American mind
    Reconsidering Allen Bloom’s book, 30 years later: Liberals are most closely associated with the promotion of this relativist outlook, and they (rightly) took Bloom’s criticisms as being directed at them. But then they – as well as conservatives – concluded that Bloom must be calling for a return to absolute, traditional values. But that’s not […]
  • This is what global cooling really looks like…
    So it turns out that this era is neither the hottest, nor the fastest-warming in the last 2 millennia, after all: h/t Watts Up With That
  • How Europe Can Support the ‘Pivot’
    Will it? The overriding—and heartening—impression I took away from the week’s events was that our European friends are serious people grappling with serious diplomatic and strategic problems. One question came up repeatedly, suggesting it weighs on their minds. How can seafaring countries like France support the U.S. “pivot” to Asia, or the “rebalancing” between oceans, […]
  • New Mercatus Paper on the Costs of Special Interest Politics
    Mercatus introduces a new series of papers on the costs of special interest politics: The financial bailouts of 2008 were but one example in a long list of privileges that governments occasionally bestow upon particular firms or particular industries. At various times and places, these privileges have included (among other things) monopoly status, favorable regulations, […]
  • Lost in LaMancha
    Via Marginal Revolution: Grandiose projects across Spain now sit empty and dying. The New York Times focuses in on Ciudad de la Luz, a mega-movie studio built far from cultural centers that is now foundering. The Daily Mail takes a look at Spain’s “ghost airport,” a billion Euro project that was meant to serve 5 million passengers a year […]
  • Check Out NASA’s Amazing New Panoramic Photo Of Mars
      NASA’s new panoramic picture of Mars: But go to the page to see a phenomenal inline zoom.
  • Where Do Jobs Come From?
    Roger Pielke Jr.: Jobs come from an expansion of economic activity, which is called economic growth. Where does economic growth come from? There are only a finite number of places. Any answer to the question about where jobs come from that does not invoke resources and innovation (but also effort and luck) is incomplete. I’m pretty […]
  • E.P.A. Idiocy in Action: Inventing New Technologies for a Bogus Problem
    From the Captain’s Journal: A pair of new technologies could reduce the cost of capturing carbon dioxide from coal plants and help utilities comply with existing and proposed environmental regulations, including requirements to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Both involve burning coal in the presence of pure oxygen rather than air, which is mostly nitrogen. Major companies […]

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