Monday, June 19, 2017

Fundamentalism's Pantomime Villains

Haha! David Ashley does an excellent job of playing a pantomime baddie

I've recently had another encounter on Facebook that's worth recording and should be set against my two recent Facebook related postings: Viz: The flat earth new age conspiracy theorists and a fundamentalist's response to the London Bridge terrorist atrocity. Particularly relevant is the latter post as it concerned an American fundamentalist's rage over the UK treatment of Muslims - this fundamentalist blamed the UK as a whole for the recent Islamic terrorist attacks and therefore felt justified in showing no sympathy whatever; it would seem that nothing less than a draconian clamp down on  Muslims, as a class, would satisfy this person.

I think its safe to say that Christian fundamentalists, as do all fundamentalists,  have a strong sense of an us vs them identity and this is linked to the belief that those beyond the pale habitually habour malign motives and are therefore fully worthy of the kind fundamentalist ire and censorship such as we see, for example, coming from Ken Ham.  As wiki says fundamentalists in general have: 

....a strong sense of the importance of maintaining ingroup and outgroup distinctions, leading to an emphasis on purity and the desire to return to a previous ideal from which advocates believe members have strayed. Rejection of diversity of opinion as applied to these established "fundamentals" and their accepted interpretation within the group is often the result of this tendency.

It is easy to imagine how, if plausible scriptural warrant can be constructed, this attitude to outsiders readily translates into legitimizing the killing of "outgroupers". Fortunately, as I have said before, even Christian fundamentalists are hard put to it to find chapter and verse in the New Testament justifying the homicide of outgroupers*. However, the fact is Islam does have both Koranic texts and traditions which are easily interpreted as justification for carrying out a holy war upon infidels. In the book "The World's Religions" the Editor Sir Norman Anderson wrote the chapter on Islam and in a section entitled "Jihad" he writes (My emphasis):

One more religious duty (other than the Five Pillars) deserves notice: the duty of Jihad or Holy War. It is incumbent in general on all Muslims who are adult, male and free to answer any legally valid summons to war against the infidels; and he who dies in a Jihad is a martyr and assured of paradise. The Jihad, with the fanatical courage it evokes, has been by no means been limited to the  inception of Islam and its possible relevance for the future can scarcely be ignored. The matter is greatly complicated, however, by the question as to when such a summons can be regarded as legally valid. From the earliest times Muslims have divided the world into Dar al-Islam, where Islam reigns supreme, and Dar al-Harb (the Abode of War), where the rule of Islam should be extended, if necessary by war. Polytheists were given the option of conversion or death, while the People of the Book (Jews or Christians) were given the additional alternative of submission and tribute.  Of recent years the question has arisen, however, as to whether a country which has once been Dar al-Islam but has subsequently fallen under a non-Muslim government is to be regarded as having lapsed into Dar al-Harb. The majority view seems to be that Jihad may be proclaimed only by that lawful Caliph - or, presumably, by the Mahdi whom even Sunni Muslims expect; that it is lawful only in Dar al-Harb; that a once Muslim country does not lapse into Dar al-Harb as soon as it passes into the hands of infidels, but only “when all or most of the injunctions of Islam disappear therefrom”; and that it is in all cases essential that there should be “a possibility of victory for the army of Islam”. 

But in spite of all that  ...and here is the big "but" is very unwise if Christians, motivated by a indulgent desire to secure the moral high-ground, try to hold Muslims to these belligerent interpretations and traditions as if that is how a true Muslim should behave! No! Rather, Christians must encourage peaceable Muslims who wish to re-interpret their texts and traditions in less bellicose terms. In any case there is no reason for Christians to feel smug on this point:  After all, the history of Christianity in the West is littered with bad interpretations of the Bible: Leaving aside the excesses of the Middle ages we only need look at contemporary times with its surfeit of spiritual pathologies found among some Christians: Viz: anti-science doctrines (young earthism, geocentrism, flat earth etc), anti-modern medicine doctrines, fideism, gnosticism, conspiracy theorism, authoritarianism, and worst of all cultic sectarianism.  All the Christians who subscribe to such ideas will make loud claims to them being based on their "plain reading" of the Bible. There is a hankering among them for an easily read unambiguous literalism. This means that they find it hard to accept that the Bible is a book which in God's sovereign purpose clearly reflects the philosophy and world view of the writers and this must be factored in when interpreting the Bible. Needless to say, for the fundamentalists who seek epistemic short cuts to certainty this nuanced approach to the Bible is far too slippery and yields too ambiguous results for them to feel comfortable with it.

Now, let me get back to this latest Facebook encounter. I'm a member of a Facebook discussion group and the subject under discussion was Islamic terrorism; understandably enough in the light of recent events in the UK. I made a comment trying to express briefly some of the things I've mentioned above; in particular that Christians like myself aren't really in position to be overly morally smug towards Muslims. Below is my initial comment which was made in response to someone I shall refer to as "Bert Board". Unfortunately I've lost Bert's initial comment which proposed that Islamic terrorism has its roots in the Koran and explains why I replied with the following comment:

Timothy V Reeves Christian fundamentalism is also implicit in the Bible (Young Earth, flat earth, tribal religion etc) but it very much depends on the prior concepts one brings to the Bible and scripture in general (the latter includes the Koran) in order to interpret it. e.g. whether or not one sees it as "once for all complete" (= fundamentalism) or part of a developing revelation. This matter actually links to "Aumann's" theorem which requires common priors. The "priors" are organically rooted in a huge hinterland of concept networking.

Well, I can see now that that statement is far too cryptic and entails too much background work for it to be really illuminating. But far worse it has all the cues which are likely to trigger the ire of any anti-Muslim Christian fundamentalist whose black vs white outgroup vs ingroup social paradigm is at stake. As it turned out "Bert Board" replied, but so brief was the encounter that I was left unsure whether or not he was arguing from a fundamentalist base. Interestingly he appeared to be taking the line I've already mentioned, namely that Muslim's are supposed to acquiesce to being cast into the role of behaving belligerently to infidels; i.e. as a class Muslims are the villain of the piece . In order to prove his point Bert tried to employ a toy town rendition of logic which uses the old trick of attempting to force the opposing interlocutor to choose between two options of a false dichotomy. Here  are Bert's comments:

Bert Board: Islam is a religion... Christianity is not a religion (Christ is the most anti-religious figure ever, so Christianity is NOT tribal).... (now figure out the priors for that one Timothy!).

When you refer to Christian fundamentalism... all you mean is for one to take the Bible seriously... (by the way the Bible does not maintain that the earth is flat...the Bible refers to the earth as round... it also refers to the Sun's orbit; which in fact the Sun does do every 27,000 years around the centre of our galaxy).

I love pantomime villains: Just looking 
at this guy gets me in stitches!
And looked at scientifically there is not much really wrong theoretically with Young Earth, i.e. Young Universe, etc.... Relativity suggests that the universe can be both 6 days old AND 14 billion years old...

(Notice that in my post I have responded to each of your issues, i.e. Young Earth, flat earth, tribal religion, so, we should therefore now concentrate on terrorism being implicit in Islam....otherwise you are simply semantic goal-post shifting).

Bert Board:  OK Timothy let's examine "fundamentalist priors" to reveal yours...

Doing this is simple and will eventually link to the concept of "Terrorism".

In order to do this we first consider 2 fundamental propositional priors:

1/ A just god cannot forgive unjust behaviour.
2/ An unjust god can forgive unjust behaviour.

Which proposition characterises the Christian prior and the Islamic prior?

Let me say straight away I usually avoid discussing with fundamentalists unless there is obviously something to be gained by doing so. As I saw little of any use emerging from this particular discussion I unleashed my answer to Gish Gallop: Viz Cognitive Carpet Bombing: This strategy involves using so many web links on the subject that the fundamentalist is unwilling to handle them; they are more likely to just go away, sullenly sulking about my heretical error. But more productively it also acts as a way of reviewing and recapitulating my own work, so really I must admit it's rather self-indulgent. In this particular case here's how I responded:

Timothy V Reeves That’s just superficial, simplistic and silly, as I hope will become clear to you in the fullness of time. Human minds don’t work using that kind of toy-town imperative logic with its simple class connections. Viz: “A then !B” and “!A then B”. Actual cognitive class connections look more like the first Venn diagram you can see in the paper I’ve linked to below (Except  that they are much more complicated and have fuzzy boundaries):

We need to take into account that natural language is less notational in operation than it is connotational. I’ve attempted the beginnings of a theory of connotation here:

Your toy town logic leads nowhere: Until you define terms like “just” your “logic” is a dead-end. If you do attempt to define it you will quickly find that you have pitched yourself into the complex world of human cognitive association.

Timothy V Reeves: But let’s start at the beginning.

Firstly I’m a Christian on the edge of evangelical Christianity.  This means that I agree with this statement of yours:

QUOTE Christianity is not a religion (Christ is the most anti-religious figure ever, so Christianity is NOT tribal). UNQUOTE

But…and here’s the big but….only if practiced rightly. For me the word “Fundamentalism” has all the connotations of an aberrant religious caricature of Christianity. Straightaway I can rule out this statement of yours:

QUOTE When you refer to Christian fundamentalism... all you mean is for one to take the Bible seriously UNQUOTE

No! Take an evangelical Christian like scientist Denis Alexander. He takes the Bible very seriously but does not, in my books, classify as a “fundamentalist”. (The same applies to the scientists of the Christian Faraday institute). For more about Denis Alexander see here:

Timothy V Reeves: Fundamentalism is 2 parts attitude to 1 part doctrine. This means that biblical literalism isn’t sufficient to qualify one as fundie. A case in point is young earthist Paul Nelson. Paul Nelson gets a mention by evangelical broadcaster Hank Hanegraaff here:

Now contrast that with the highly partisan sectarian exclusivism and didactic authoritarianism of fundamentalist theme park manager Ken Ham:

…not to mention his ex-business partner John Mackay:

Timothy V Reeves: Bert writes:

QUOTE By the way the Bible does not maintain that the earth is flat...the Bible refers to the earth as round... it also refers to the Sun's orbit; which in fact the Sun does do every 27,000 years around the centre of our galaxy) UNQUOTE

Remember, natural language is connotational and therefore when we read the Bible we do well to bear in mind what the language we are reading connoted to the people of the time.  As one of my missionary friends says “Meaning = text + context” where “context” is the culture in which the text is embedded.  Even in our own language “orbit” has a variety of connotations let alone going back a few thousand years to a pre-industrial, pre- scientific culture. See here:

Please tell me that you’re not tapping into this kind of literalist junk theology:

If you are a fundamentalist Bert (and I hope to God you’re not) then take up your flat earth argument with other fundies who will disagree with you, not with me: I don’t get involved in inter-fundamentalist arguments. Here’s a taster for the sort of thing you are likely to encounter:

Timothy V Reeves: Bert writes:

QUOTE And looked at scientifically there is not much really wrong theoretically with Young Earth, i.e. Young Universe, etc.... Relativity suggests that the universe can be both 6 days old AND 14 billion years old... UNQUOTE

You wouldn’t be referring to Jason Lisle’s “Last Thursdayist” cosmology by any chance? See here:

Even worse is fundamentalist astronomer John Byle. See here:

I’ll hand it to fundamentalist Russ Humphreys; when he came up with his gravitational field theory of cosmology he at least committed himself to a scientific program. He failed of course and so back came the “Last Thursdayist” fundamentalists!

Timothy V Reeves: Bert writes:

QUOTE Notice that in my post I have responded to each of your issues, i.e. Young Earth, flat earth, tribal religion, so, we should therefore now concentrate on terrorism being implicit in Islam....otherwise you are simply semantic goal-post shifting. UNQUOTE

Fundamentalists of all kinds are alienated cultural vandals and there is a commonality between Islamic fundamentalism and Christian fundamentalism. I have a field of research before me that involves probing into the fundamentalist psyche whether it be so-called Christian or Islamic. So tough luck Bert, if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen.


Summing up
After a comment promising he would get back to me it seems that the heat in the Kitchen was too great for Bert and he took my advice: He deleted his account (or made it invisible) and took all my comments, which were added as a reply to his comments, into oblivion - or so he might have thought; it's standard practice with me to get copies of the discussions I'm involved with straight away.

I'm well used to dealing with fundamentalist anti-science which we've all seen before - yawn! (although to be fair in such a brief contact I wasn't sure whether Bert was simply acting as devil's advocate for Christian fundamentalists). But what was really notable in this particular case is the use of the anti-Muslim line which is determined to cast Muslims into the pantomime bad guy, whether they are that way inclined or not, by drawing attention to traditions and texts which to the literal minded are easily interpreted as injunctions to achieve religious goals by force. I have noted this idiot approach to Muslims before: See the reference to a Jeremiah J Johnson here. But why try and push all Muslims into such a role when the majority who have lives in the West are likely to want peace and prosperity. A far more discerning, intelligent, nuanced and civilized concept of human villainy is needed. Reality is more complex and intractable than our caricatures and models render it. 

* But some Christian fundamentalists are not far from highly bellicose thinking. See the two Christian fundamentalist pastors I mention in this post.  Also, I remember long ago listening to a Christian fundamentalist who, on the basis of Old Testament references, was advocating the return of the death penalty. 

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