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Many Faiths, Some Truths

The Dalai Lama laments religious intolerance in today's New York Times, seeking a "mutual understanding" among faiths. The theme is neither novel nor controversial, though perhaps always in need of retelling.

But the devil's in the details. The Dalai Lama notes "vigorous signs of [intolerance's] virulence":

In Europe, there are intense debates about newcomers wearing veils or wanting to erect minarets and episodes of violence against Muslim immigrants. Radical atheists issue blanket condemnations of those who hold to religious beliefs. In the Middle East, the flames of war are fanned by hatred of those who adhere to a different faith.

He then indentifies "compassion" as a "common ground" among faiths which can bring "harmony" to humanity.

Again, the broad theme is obvious to Western audiences. But are faiths truly equivalent in their offenses of intolerance and prioritization of compassion? Invoking 9/11, the Dalai Lama chastises "those who paint Islam as a militant faith" and "blindly follow the lead of some in the news media and let the violent acts of a few individuals define an entire religion."

While laboring upon the deficiencies of other faiths (to the exclusion of seeking similarities) would prove counter-productive, a simple-minded aversion to reality is equally inadvisable. Muhammad was a military general of many battles. His relics in Istanbul include his sword, shield, armor, horse barding, throne and a letter informing an infidel king that the impending slaughter of his tribe was owed to his refusal to convert.

Surely there is compassion in Islam, but the Dalai Lama reinvents history and insults the intellect by scolding those who recognize militant aspects at the core of Islam which differentiate the faith from other world religions. 

Categories > Religion

Discussions - 14 Comments

Funny to read that on a blog so replete with those asserting America to be a Christian nation and ever eager to engage in this or that combat, battle, and war (at least from a blogger's safe distance), and quietly unopposed to the blatant evangelical proselytizing in our military...

(see here:
http://www.harpers.org/archive/2009/05/0082488 )

If I was to engage in as simplistic and ignorant assessment of Christianity as that all-too-typical assessment of Islam by certain conservatives, I'd offer this from Matthew:

"Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household."

But I also know that there are many Christians who interpret their religion to be properly understood as inherently peaceful - just as many Muslims interpret theirs similarly.

Still, the Holy Warriors - regardless of their particular faith - are always chafing for a fight.

Craig,
That passage of Matthew is about evangelizing; it begins: "And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease." and tells them to take nothing with them, certainly not swords, and go minister to people. The sword Jesus is talking about isn't made of metal. Go read the whole section of Matthew and see the context. You really haven't got a clue.

I've seen relatively little of the "Christian Nation" and "warhawk" combo under the auspices of NLT, but it does exist. BTW: Romans 13:1 might be a better place to look, if you want to see precisely why Christian warhawks are, to a certain extent (for I am sure other passages could be looked at), hypocritical.

However, I think these "eager" bloodthirsty types you describe simply believe in classical deterrence.

Subsequent events bear out Kate's point. Christians sought converts by persuasion and endured martyrdom rather than fight back against violent persecution. Not until the Crusades did they do so, when Muslims desecrated the Holy Land and Popes provided (weak) leadership. Whenever the church held governmental power, contrary to the Lord's injunctions, it had the potential for violence. Of course, that has always characterized Islam.

In New World Order Intolearnce will not be tolearted.

Or, "The truly tolerant would tolerate the intolerant."

Therefore, bigotry is perfectly acceptable.

Um ... wait ... that doesn't quite work, does it?

The Dali Lama is a mere mortal, subject to the same temptation for attention and fame as the next.

There is great confusion about what constitutes a "Christian." The key point is this: Just because someone says they are a follower of Christ, it does not necessarily mean they are.

Here's what Jesus says: "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34-35)

Many people wave the "Christian" banner around and do all sorts of thing out of selfish deceit. Just because they hold the banner does not mean they abide by its meaning.

The Crusaders? The Spanish Inquisition? Hardly models of disciples of Christ Jesus. Mere men, pursuing their mortal desires. Nothing more.

Kate, you missed this part of my comment:

"If I was to engage in as simplistic and ignorant assessment of Christianity as that all-too-typical assessment of Islam by certain conservatives, I'd offer this from Matthew..."

IF.

I was making reference to the casual self-ordained experts on Islam (or whatever the topic of the day might be, for that matter), who treat religion with all the sophistication of high school sports: My Team, and al the Others. A couple Mark Steyn articles and suddenly they understand the true nature of Islam.

I like Don in AZ's approach to his fellow Christians - he knows them when he sees them. (No True Scotsman, anyone?)

True enough about self-made "experts" weighing in on the structure and merits of Islam, or any other religion for that matter.

One thing is hard to deny -- whereas prominent leaders of other religious denounce specific acts of violence as they occur, that seems not to occur with Islam.

(For example, the only "Christians" who applaud an abortion doctor killing are the very far fringe elements. Far greater Christian voices cry out against the act.)

Rather, with Islam quite the opposite appears to take place -- prominent leaders of Islam tend to be the ones that encourage the acts of violence.

Now, one may argue those "prominent leaders" of Islam are not really expressing the heart and soul of the religion. If so, then I would think we would hear offsetting voices. Not the exiled secular Muslim, but noteworthy Muslim clerics.

If that is taking place, then I would surely like to know about it.

I don't claim to be an expert in Islam, but I find it hard to accept it as a "religion of peace" in this day and age when the overwhelming observable evidence seems to suggest otherwise.

Arab lovers like you should be locked up. Everything I needed to know about Islam I learned on 9/11.

In defense of Hal Holst everything you need to know about X is learned in a context, and no one really cared to know much about islam until then.

Also to pick a side you don't need to read 160,000 pages on Keegan. In other words you can reach judgments quickly. In fact most human beings do. And in a post not too long ago I thought you were more or less right when you said that most folks aren't open to changing sides. I think this is because folks would rather persuade than be persuaded. In any case both these observations are Lockeian.

I was going to post this on Locke and the rousseau/hume french/scottish enlightenment thread. I was going to do this because I disagreed with the view that in Locke wisdom doesn't rule or that in society men are roughly equal in intelligence. In point of fact I think that for Locke men are much more equal in a state of nature, and it is in society which is based on property(and the wisdom of production/ten fold cultivated vs. noncultivated), man is loses out on equality. That is man is equal in the state of nature because brawn/force and intelligence/cunning ballance each other out and everyman must sleep(Hobbes). The more developed the society the more intelligence and judgment matters and the higher the premium on this factor the less equal man is.

Equality is a huge drive, because man has never been more unequal than he is today. Locke's nation of Consent, not far of from America is based on the abolition of Force and the product of private property and even more importantly intellectual property deriving from the fruits of the mind. Locke's design as it has unfolded has resulted in the commodification of everything. Everything has a price and every man a net worth. In the state of nature and in early societies the commodified worth of one man wasn't several million to 1 as it is today if you compare Warren Buffet and the poor who live on less than a dollar a day.

To really grasp Locke it isn't enough to read the first or second treatises, and frankly I don't understand the first. The Key to Locke is really the essay concerning human understanding.

Locke says I think correctly that the limits of knowledge are great. In terms of fiting it to this post he argues that neither knowledge nor faith demand the use of force against persons who differ intellectually or religiously. Where reason can supply an answer to a question, there are rational methods to resolve a dispute, thus no need to quarrel. Where faith alone is the way to answer it, no methods of reason can be persuasive. Hence there is no justification for using force.

So much of what we think is knowledge is really in Locke a species of faith. Descartes fails in part because the species of knowledge that can be built on solid foundation is very slim and is limited to mathmatics. Certainly as much as we may like to try we can't base politics on this foundation or any foundation that is not seeped in judgement, history and uncertainty.

Judgment is the act of putting ideas together in the mind, or separating them in the mind, when their agreement or disagreement is not perceived to be certain but only presumed to be so.

If you are getting Locke from me, you are getting an impure source, but the same holds true at every stage and by degrees when you get news from CNN or the time from a stranger in a subway.

Faith is a form of reason because reason itself or certainty in knowledge is very narrow, and as a practical consideration reason must operate more broadly...thus reason must take on the imperfect foundations, and no ammount of meditation cartesian or otherwise can save you.

99% of knowledge is really assent, but if you assent to a lower figure that is based upon judgement. To assent to an idea is to receive it as true. Now, there are degrees of assent, just as there are degrees of probability that our judgments are right. Faith ends up being a special type of assent.

Because so little of what we know is really on as firm a ground as the rationalist would think, consent or the freedom to be governed by ones own assent and ones own knowledge is imperative.

Most knowledge is at bottom based upon Coherence: which is the agreement of something with what we do know, with our observation and experience.(my charge against McCain's pick of Palin, not that it was inauthentic but that it was incoherent.)

Coherence is very important because it also colors the second main way according to Locke(my version) that we form assent or gain knowledge.

Which is the testimony/credibility of others.
This involves a careful weighing of the number of witnesses against their realiability, credibility(or self-interest) ballanced against contrary testimony.

Because Locke wants to remain a christian he tends to be much more charitable towards testimony even about the miraculous, while Hume who is altogether similar phases out the miraculous as violating coherence. But because Hume does so only on imperfect grounds of coherence he isn't a full blown atheist just an agnostic.

In fact Hume might say following Locke that because testimony is so important for getting knowledge that man gravitates towards believing what others believe in part out of coherence, because while both coherence and testimony are seperate they operate on every level. that is for Hume there is a peer pressure in cohering to the testimony of others, accepting it as true and passing it along.

If you sit down and ponder what you know and the basis upon which you come to conclusions, you will if honest agree I think that a large majority of your positions are on shaky ground, or oweing to a historical lens(sense of coherence/zeitgeist, i.e. view of Islam post 9/11) and that especially when going broader to think on political questions based on nothing more than often uncritical testimony and the dubious expertise of others.

I think then even on Lockeian grounds one could question just how overwhelming the evidence is that Islam is a religion of violence. In addition with 1 billion muslims, a relevant question is: How broadly can the terrorists speak? Does Miss America give compelling counter testimony?(In truth any label that comprises a billion people stops being specific and really becomes a sample size that yields human nature.)

Craig, you are right. I missed your sensitive "If". I mistook what you are saying as part of what you usually say about Christianity. Your middle paragraph made me laugh as I think I have used the sports team analogy to characterize you on the subjects of both religion and politics.

I do agree with just about everyone in the thread that it becomes difficult to be nuanced about Islam when the expression of that religion we generally encounter in the news is all about the sword and destruction. Who could argue with Richard Reeb and Don in AZ and even Hal Holst and the very last part of what John Lewis said about what we, the world, actually meet in Islam? Even if we read that militant Islam is not the true face of that religion, even if we know and like particular Muslims, Militant Islam is the face of that religion that we see all the time and we cannot ignore. We cannot ignore it because it is militant and violent and makes hazard in the modern world. Experts on Islam are not saying that it is really no threat, but just the opposite. How do we escape that? Wishful thinking about that religion does no good at all.

However, I can read that article by the Dalai Lama as an appeal to Islam to find commonality with other religions through the words of the Koran. Such words are there, about peace and compassion; there are many lovely sentiments in the Koran. He is asking Muslims to recenter their core religious principles on those ideas rather than the ones about world domination. It is very sweet and we can already see its impact on the Muslim world.

John Lewis,

You are making the mistake of the "theoretic politicians" in your claim that men are more equal in the state of nature than in civil society. There are equalities and inequalities in both states, but in any case all men are always equal in their rights and surely not in their condition. Without government, brutes would surely rule, or at least be in service to the clever and unprincipled. Locke taught that the industrious, under the rule of law, would dominate society, and the indolent and lazy would have to find employment in industrious pursuits. Encouraging people to earn their way is hardly unfair. Inequalities in wealth or status are always tempting targets for demagogues, but our fundamental principles must be appealed to in order stymie such "wicked and improper project[s]" (Madison's description) and a well-constructed constituion puts put institutional barriers.

The tyranny of the majority need not be the logical outcome of democratic government.

in order to stymie such "wicked and improper project[s]" (Madison's description) and a well-constructed constituion puts up institutional barriers.

Richard Reeb, I don't disagree with that paragraph,

"Locke taught that the industrious, under the rule of law, would dominate society, and the indolent and lazy would have to find employment in industrious pursuits. Encouraging people to earn their way is hardly unfair. Inequalities in wealth or status are always tempting targets for demagogues, but our fundamental principles must be appealed to in order stymie such "wicked and improper project[s]" (Madison's description) and a well-constructed constitution puts up institutional barriers."

Couldn't say it better myself.

I suppose the charge of "theoretic politician" comes in if I criticize this proposition:

"There are equalities and inequalities in both states, but in any case all men are always equal in their rights and surely not in their condition."

In a state of Nature men have no rights, Thrasymachus is correct and the melian dialogues speak true when they say the strong do as they please and the weak suffer what they must.

It is after all a condition to be a landowner in fee simple or a tennant. The landowner has certain property rights, and the tennant thanks to activist judges has an implied warranty of habilitability that most legistlatures have codified.

That is in a state of civil society man according to his condition and property has certain rights. Men in the abstract are always equal in rights, but men in particulars have different rights according to their conditions.

That is in the state of nature, there will be agreements, but when breaches occur, the only remmedy is violence.

In a state of civil society agreements become contracts, and arbitration which is more reasonable than violence, replaces violent confrontation as the law provides a remmedy.

It is the rule of law, replacing the rule of brute force that that allows great wealth to be unleashed, as the productive can labor in reliance upon receiving the fruits of their labor.

Men are equal in rights under the law in so far as if they are the non-breaching party they will have a remmedy even if the breacher is well connected. That is if the parties are switched but the facts remain identical the outcome should not be different.

If the law actually achieves this equality in rights is debateable, but for the most part it tries.

Of course for Locke even in the State of Nature men having reason can grasp that the rule of the strongest thug is contrary to their interests.

You can't seperate rights from conditions. Conditions falling under two categories: aptitudes, talents, skills, intelligence which for Locke is property in our person, and external material conditions which for Locke is real property, which we mix our conditions of the first type with in order improve our property(and indeed make it our condition, or gain title, even empirically by adverse possession.)

That is when in reliance upon being able to secure the bennefit of the bargain or labor, man sets out to improve a thing he gains a right in it by virtue of this added productivity which includes the right to alienate it, and that such a right to alienate is violated if arbitrary force takes it from him.

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