Thursday, December 28, 2006

Life and Death, East v. West

I went to the funeral service of my best friend's mom, yesterday, and in addition to the funeral being a tragedy (my friend's mom, who I grew up with, died young, after suffering through cancer for years on end), it was a chance for me to go to a Hindu temple and see a service. I have never done that before. I had to take off my shoes before entering the temple and sat down on the floor, and the service was completely in Hindi. There was a great deal of chanting, as well as a fire within the temple, containing some significance. I really don't know the significance. I was struck by my complete ignorance of Hinduism and a religion and culture with a billion adherants. Of course, I likely am one step ahead of the game - I've been now to a Hindu temple, I grew up with an Indian best friend, I regularly eat Indian food and I am familiar with the traditions of an Indian family. (I also happen to find Indian men to be attractive, but, ahem) Granted, I am no expert in Hinduism, in fact I am as far from an expert as one can be. However, from what I do know of the religion, it is one of the most tolerant faiths on the planet - basically, it has no dogma. Hinduism consists of many beliefs, some of which are monotheistic, and some of which even embrace atheism. There's no death to unbelievers, and many people see Hinduism more as a lifestyle and philosophy than even as a religion. Moreover, this faith and way of life has brought the world contributions to which it is not accredited (such as creating Arabic numbers as well as revolutonizing mathematics in general, and making significant contributions to the world of music, shipmaking, and science) and currently exists in a nation, India, which is critical to the future of the world as a powerhouse contributor to the world of science, technology, and culture - as well as to the fight against global jihad. Sadly, Indian history is also rife with oppression - having been invaded multiple times - and yet somehow Indians have kept their culture and identity. And so one is left to wonder - is Western culture necessarily superior to Eastern culture, and ifso, why? Does this have anything to do with Western Judeo-Christian tradition, or is Western culture great despite said tradition? There is no objective answer to these questions, only opinion - as it is hard to measure greatness against each other. And yet here is my opinion nonetheless. To the extent that Western culture is based upon a bedrock of science, it is inseparable from Eastern culture. The very foundations of science itself were very clearly laid in the East. Muslims are incorrectly attributed with inventing modern mathematics and science, but in fact they generally were simply translators of the work of others, and retransmitted it to the world. That is not to say there were not unique contributions of Muslims to the world, but their contributions have absolutely been exaggerated. And yet, we see India still struggling to pick itself out of the Third World (with a booming economy, but still struggling), and the West is clearly leading the world. Why? How? Many would point to the Judeo-Christian spirit as enabling the West to succeed, and that THAT is what should be saved. But what of this Judeo-Christian spirit? The same spirit that brought about the Inquisition, where untold hundreds of thousands were burnt at the stake? The same spirit that contains verses in the bible stating:
Jesus said unto them [the Jews], If God were you Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I myself, but he sent me. Why do ye not understand my speech? Even because ye cannot hear my word. Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not. (John 8:41-45)
Of course, that is Christian-confined New Testemant text - there is also text that is universal across Judaism and Christianity, in the Old Testemant.
If you hear that in one of the towns which Yahweh your God has given you for a home, there are men, scoundrels from your own stock, who have led their fellow-citizens astray, saying, "Let us go and serve other gods," hitherto unknown to you, it is your duty to look into the matter, examine it, and inquire most carefully. If it is proved and confirmed that such a hateful thing has taken place among you, you must put inhabitants of that town to the sword; you must lay it under the curse of destruction--the town and everything in it. You must pile up all its loot in the public square and burn the town and all its loot, offering it all to Yahweh and your God. It is to be a ruin for all time and never rebuilt. (Deuteronomy 13:12-16)
This sort of dogma is not what encourages innovation, science, and progress. This sort of dogma is what encouraged the Middle Ages, ignorance, and persecution. So why is it that the West is worth saving? Simple. The West has had a Protestant Reformation and an Enlightenment, and religion, for all its faults, is left to the background of life, rather than at the very center of life that it currently holds in the Muslim world. In short, it is secularism that has made science, progress, and the Western way of life possible. It is this tradition that is worth saving. Why was India prevented from being an economic powerhouse all these years? I would argue that in India's case, it was the fact that it was conquered by the Muslims, and then the British, and in a colonial state for centuries on end. This is not proof of India's cultural inferiority, or the inferiority of Hinduism. Actually, as mentioned, India is currently booming. So what is it about Western culture that is worth saving? There is a good argument to be made that while many of the elements are certainly found within Judeo-Christian norms, many pillars in this foundation are also found further east, in the science and tolerance of Hinduism and in India. The West that produced Handel's Messiah also produced the Inquisition. The West that produced the ceiling of the Vatican also condemned Galileo as a heretic (and did not recant this condemnation until 1992). Certainly, it cannot be denied that some of the greatest works of art and music were commissioned by the Church. And yet, how many works were burned? How many works were declared heresies? Why is that always ignored, in the glorification of Western culture? How is it that the West currently embraces democracy and freedom? Where in the bible does it speak of democracy? Answer: nowhere. Certainly, there is the famous quote "Give unto Ceasar that which is Ceasar's, give unto God that which is God's," HOWEVER, that is hardly a call for democratic/republican self-rule. It also hardly says "Thou shall not have a religious government." Rather, it says that if there is a non-Christian government, Christians should respect it. (and even this is absent in Islam!) Indeed, the very calls of eternal damnation to those who disobey the letter of the bibical law practically necessitate a Christian government that can act as mommy and daddy for the population, policing the souls of its inhabitants. So why are explicitly Christian governments generally absent from the West? Simple: the years of the Inquisition and Holy Wars have taken their toll, and for the most part, the West learned its lesson, and no longer seeks to impose the 'will of God' via the sword. I am a proponent of Western culture specifically because it was able to overcome its barbarous past, and embrace the values of tolerance and secularism. Such values are what are behind the very foundation of the United States - Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof - and behind the modern advances in science, medicine, technology, and civil liberties. We are more free now than we ever have been, and yet this has less to do with any principles seen in the bible, much more to do with Greek tradition that was rediscovered by the West, as well as Solomonic principles of tolerance and government that are part of Jewish tradition and culture - but in many ways contradict the faith (Solomon allowed idols within the Holy Temple, and even built temples for other faiths!). Lest we forget, the founders of the United States were deists, as were the Enlightenment thinkers who were advocating democracy/republican rule. To sum this up: we are not fighting a war of Christianity v. Islam. That war was fought during the era of the Crusades, and in many ways led to a stalemate. The war being fought in the world right now is one of civilization against barbarism. Make no mistake about it: barbarism is not limited to Islam, however, the Christian world, unlike the Muslim world, underwent a Protestant Reformation, and more importantly, no longer is advocating bibical literalism. This is not a war of Christ v. Muhammad. The Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Daoists, Confuscists, atheists, and even secular Muslims are all in this fight together with Christians. This is a war of reason v. unreason, science v. dogma, progress v. regression. Religion may be motivating many to fight, and yet unless the Christian fundies succeed in recreating a modern Inquisition and religious state in the West, that ship has sailed. This war being fought is a very old war, and the war against Islamofascism (aka barbarism) is but a new front on the age old war of reason versus unreason. Make no mistake about it: many atheists are themselves quite unreasonable. Their hatred for Christianity obscures them to the threat of Islamofascism, and often causes them to aid and abet those who actually wishes to destroy them. (see: Chomsky, Michael Moore, etc) They are the modern useful idiots. But this war against reason is being fought on many fronts. Lest we forget, Pat Buchanan believes Western culture may not be worth saving as it is not religious enough (and admires the Muslims for their religiousity), as does Jimmy Carter. These are deeply religious Christians. Then there are the "Jesus Campers," who seek to replace the Constitution with the bible. All these people are aiding and abeting the war on reason in their own way. In this war on reason, it is clear that the #1 threat are Islamists. However, we cannot confuse this as a new Crusade, even if the religious right and certainly Islamists see it as such. This is rather a fight to save civilization from un-civilivizing effects of barbarism. Period.


Anonymous said...

Interesting post. Islam = barbarism just about sums it up. Who would have a problem with Islam if it wasn't for the adherence to Sharia Law? Who would worry about the threat of Islam if it wasn't for the obligation of Jihad?

Anonymous said...

I think there was quite a bit more to it than just that.

Red Tulips said...

Lexcen: I didn't say Islam is barbarism. I did say that the current incarnation of Islamism is barbarism. However, barbarism also is seen in some aspects of Christianity. Essentially, there is a global war against reason, being fought on many fronts, some more threatening than others. Because of Christianity's reformation, its threat in the war on reason has been largely neutralized, but that is not to say it's nonexistent.

Anonymous said...

I believe that the thing which enabled Judeo-Christian civilization to rise to the current heights is Law. This is the redeeming quality and the difference between, say, Hinduim. The latter is much more advanced philosophically; the roots of our knowledge, science, culture - they all lie in India.

The importance of law and equality before it is what brought cohesion to the West. It created the stability needed for development - and as soon as the yoke of religious oppression was thrown off, on the solid basis of this stability good things could develop. The origins of basic respect for the law are also manifold... but they are rooted in religion.

Chinese and Indian cultures were much, much more deloped than the Western ones. But they lacked this basis, and thus their achievements soon sunk into a swamp of corruption and tribalism. There are other problems, of course - India had it's occupations (especially the devastating Islamic one) and its caste system, China its strong tribal ties and systematized corruption... but it is the absence of equal law which held them back.

Islamic world has a very strong legal system, but it is based on inequality. It is, therefore, unstable and constantly collapses back into barbarism.

The war of civilizations we have right now is one between civilizations striving for equality and a civilization which opposes equality. Progress is a mere consequence of order.

Or well, so thinks the Raccoon at the end of a workday, at least :)