Is Islam a violent religion in the same way that it is a patriarchal religion?

In a recent New York Times essay, Robert Wright attempts to complexify the “jihadi intent” narrative for the Times Square bomber, Faisal Shahzad, to which Jerry Coyne dismissively retorts:

It’s social difficulties, mental illness, financial problems, and American depredations in the Middle East—anything but religion.

Anything but religion.  Is Coyne right, or is his view an expression of impatience with bringing nuance and complexity to a discussion of religion and violence (especially Islam and violence)?

There is, afterall, a school of thought out in the world that can be summed up this way: Mohammad was a violent prophet who produced a violent book that nurtures a violent religion. To complexify Islam is to short-circuit the moral energy required to resist it.

Obviously, I’m not of this school. But the draw of it is undeniable and pervasive, not just among New Atheists, but especially on the American right.

Are they right?

Are people like Wright (and myself) distorting this issue by complexifying it?

With regard to Islam and women, for example, though I see nuances, I’m much more open to broader generalizations about Islam as a whole. I simply cannot bring myself to muster resistance to anyone who says that Islam is a patriarchal religion. Indeed, with regard to patriarchy, contemporary Islam is far more patriarchal than, say, most Western versions of contemporary Christianity (and I think that Christianity is very patriarchal). In fact, I would go so far as to characterize Islam, generally, as patriarchy on steroids.

But is Islam an inherently violent religion?

In spite of 21st century jihadism, I think that is a much more debatable proposition.

What say you?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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49 Responses to Is Islam a violent religion in the same way that it is a patriarchal religion?

  1. Gunlord says:

    One of my favorite bloggers made a great post eviscerating Coyne a while ago:

    Are there any Sufis really going around insisting on killing people? That would be interesting to know; if even Sufis were widely belligerent that would pretty much clinch the argument that Islam is intrinsically belligerent. I really would have to see the proof, though; a vague bit of handwaving, with a few rhetorical questions that are probably not based on actual study of the matter, is not a replacement for evidence.

    Read the whole thing, it’s great. I’m not a Muslim (though my parents are, for full disclosure), but the arguments generalizing the entire religion strike me as fairly weak at best.

    • concerned christian says:

      Sufis are always used to whitewash Islam. Sufis have been persecuted by mainline Muslim sects because they are considered heretics. They are a small percentage of the Muslim population, as for what real Muslims do here is a good list of real atrocities committed by true Muslims.
      Note that there are at least 6 attacks or attempted attacks on our soil by radical Muslims under Obama’s administration. It’s interesting that in-spite of what our current administration is doing, we did not escape the radical-Muslims wrath.

      • santitafarella says:


        That’s a pretty intense site you linked to. I’ll look at it (perhaps tomorrow) and share some thought then.


      • It’s a shame if Sufis are that much of a minority, because it’s the most attractive “sect” of Islam, to me.

    • santitafarella says:


      That was a very thoughtful response that you linked to. Thanks for that.

      If you ever write up your thoughts on a blog (or elsewhere) on your experience of being raised by Muslim parents, please link to that.


  2. Paradigm says:

    “But is Islam an inherently violent religion?”

    Almost all terrorism resulting in causalties is perpertrated by muslims. Not by poor, oppressed Christians, Buddists, Hindus or followers of any other religion. Is there another explanation, some other variable that coincides with being a muslim? You tell me.

  3. santitafarella says:


    You said: “Almost all terrorism resulting in causalties is perpertrated by muslims.” This is certainly true from the vantage of our contemporary scene. But, historically, all the faith groups that you mention have engaged in atrocious acts of violence and terror, and gave religious justifications for doing so. We are, in other words, caught in the contingencies of our own time, and this makes Islam (for us) look worse (or more dangerous) than other religions. The reality is this: there are contingent factors at work in our contemporary moment that makes for Islamic terrorist movements. It’s a terrifying contemporary phenomenon—and it may well lead to a nuclear conflagration—but it doesn’t mean that Islam qua Islam is fated, by something in its nature that is different from other religions, to be incapable of peaceful integration with the rest of the world.

    Islam, like all other religions, has texts that, under stress, its adherents can turn to for the justification of violence. But texts don’t have to be read a certain way, and so Islam doesn’t have to be practiced in a certain way.

    Look, for example, at the Westernized Muslim woman who won the Miss USA pageant. She reads the Quran differently from the Taliban. What makes her the fake Muslim and the Taliban authentic?

    Why, in short, have you internalized the Taliban fundamentalist interpretation of the Quran as the “right one”? Do you grant the same deference to Jerry Falwell’s or Pat Robertson’s interpretation of Christianity?

    Why do we let fundamentalists own these ancient texts?


  4. concerned christian says:

    Unfortunately Muhammad was a master manipulator and the message that comes clear through the Quran and Sunna (the words of Muhammad) incite violence to spread Islam, not to mention its emphasis on sex, and the duty of women to satisfy the sexual desires of their husbands, and bear more children to increase the Muslim population. Most of these teachings are available only in Arabic, so those who can read Arabic have a better understanding of what Islam is all about. Many moderate Muslims ignore these teachings and try to develop their own version of Islam, while some are fed up with Islam but are afraid of saying that publicly to avoid harm. The problem is that when Muslims start to follow their religion literally you end up with something similar to the Taliban.

    • santitafarella says:


      Any religion read literally and fanatically brings you to the Taliban. Reductio ad absurdums can start from anyplace (just pick up the Bible or a copy of Marx’s Communist Manifesto for examples). And so are you worried about fundamentalism or the girl who won Miss USA?

      As for Mohammad’s original behavior, do you think it happened in a vacuum—that he was the first to think of such things for advancing his cause? Mohammad was trying to make room for his religion in a world suffused with competition and violence—including violent and authoritarian monotheisms. You write as if you imagine that the world in which Mohammad lived was a nice place till Mohammad got it in his head to write the Quran. If the Quran is a violent book it is because it was written in a brutal era. The question for today is whether people can sensibly make use of the ancient brutal books (for let’s face it: they are all suffused with violence and terror). I wish everyone was like me (and Voltaire and Hume), and had no need of the sacred books at all. But if people are going to have them, can they read them less literally, and foreground the peaceful parts, and explain away metaphorically the icky and irrational bits?


      • concerned christian says:

        While there are some sections in the Hebrew Bible (The Old Testament) that incite violence, there is none in the New Testament. The worst you can get from a Fundamentalist Christian is that he condemns certain behavior, and at some point in the past, banning Alcoholic drinks. Not a single act of violence committed by Christians can be justified through a text in the New Testament. The only verse in Gospel about a sword is the one in Luke 22:36, but no matter how you read this verse it was clarified by Jesus himself when He healed the servant ear (Luke 22:50-50), and said “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52). This is the opposite of what Muhammad has done, he took the sword and he himself killed many non believers and hundreds of Jews. Many bad things are committed by Muslims who are simply following the WWMD model “what would Muhammad do?” Just the latest story is the 49-year-old senator in the Nigerian government who married a 13-year-old girl, to become his fourth wife. He responded to his critics that the Prophet Mohammed married Aisha when she was only nine-years old.

      • santitafarella says:


        Some sections of the Hebrew Bible?!

        And as for the NT, I think you are downplaying the way the text was used throughout history. For example, the passage in Matthew—“his blood be on us and on our children”—was used for literally millenia to justify pogroms and the segregation of Jews into ghettos in Europe. And when Jesus said, “Compel them to come in that my house may be full,” many Christians throughout history took that as a command for forced conversions. Paul said that the state bears the sword for good, and that slavery and the subjugation of women to men were okay by him. And the model for good government was patriarchal monarchy—the divine right of kings (on the model of king David). And I can only say that any history of the Crusades and Reformation show that Christians have not always treated the NT texts as promoting nonviolence. I’d ask you to find out (if you don’t already know) what Martin Luther said was the proper treatment of Jews in Germany, and how he justified his cruelty with the Bible. Ditto for John Calvin. Just because contemporary Christianity has undergone historic shifts in interpretation towards the reading of the Bible (and how the NT relates to the Old), it does not follow that Christians in another era might not return to the old style of reading these texts, and justify violence with them (as has been done in the past). What makes you think that contemporary Christians are immune to the forms of violence that many Muslim clerics overseas preach? The rationalities are precisely the same as those that appealed to Christians in the past, and only the historical pressures and circumstances have changed. I argue that the very same transformation of interpretation is possible for the way Muslims read the Quran—and precisely for the same reason (because the Quran is no different from the Bible in its level of violence or its rationales for violence).


      • santitafarella says:


        One more thing: I think that fundamentalist and Evangelical Christians are terrified by Islam and the Quran for a very good reason: when they see these phenomena played out in the contemporary world they are seeing themselves, as it were, reflected in a medieval mirror. In other words, the community of Muslims in some parts of the world more closely look and think like Christian communities of a millenium ago than their own American congregations do today. It is the discomfort of an old recognition that American fundamentalists would like to not look at too closely.


  5. Paradigm says:

    The historical argument is very dubious. How does it apply on the current situation? Would you use in a political debate between, say Republicans and Democrats? Does not make sense.

    “The reality is this: there are contingent factors at work in our contemporary moment that makes for Islamic terrorist movements.”

    And which factors would that be, apart from Islam itself? You have yet to answer that. Me, I think the major factor is the religion and how it’s practised. Most Muslims are fundamentalists, and that is what leads to terrorism. I don’t internalize it the fundamentalist interpretation, I merely acknowledge it as the most common.

    • santitafarella says:


      I’ll try to answer your question directly: the people currently living in traditional Islamic societies are doing a poor job shifting to the capitalist, feminist, postmodern, education-driven, and internet-linked 21st century. The factors underlying this are failed and corrupt governments, profound poverty, fear, lack of education, histories of colonialism, and other forms of outside exploitation and humiliation. They were also isolated from the West for too long, so the change is too abrupt. Authoritarian traditional religion answers to the needs and traumas of their existence at a level that is barely comprehensible to Westerners like you and I. Politicized fundamentalist Islam is the vehicle for their rage and self-assertion against the outside forces of the world that they think have abused them (physically, psychologically, culturally).

      Look at the Tea Party movement, and the conspiracy theories on the internet, and fundamentalist Christianity in the United States as an analog. Even in the best of historical times, in terms of material affluence, people in this country still give themselves over to outrage, irrationality, and fundamentalist madness by the millions. You would think that the United States would be full of people as contented as Hindu cows, but it is not. And if Americans can experience the capitalist global economy with fear and outrage, imagine what it must be like to live in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan.

      Human beings are an unhappy and blighted herd. How sad and pathetic and tragic we are. That’s not going away because Islam goes away. You are giving fundamentalist Islam qua fundamentalist Islam too much credit and power. You imagine that if you could unplug that religion that all would be hunky-dory. It wouldn’t be. And as an ideology, fundamentalist Islam is intellectually bankrupt, and is really in its death-throws. Its violence is a symptom of its weakness, not its strength.

      Unfortunately, the world may well be headed for an increasingly zero-sum game (with peak oil), and we may not be able to grow the global economy fast enough, and so reduce human unhappiness quick enough, to avoid ever greater swings of people into the camps of fundamentalism, authoritarian politics, and paranoia.

      I’m raising small children and I fear for their future. This is not because of Islam—which is a sideshow—but because humanity as a whole is an irrational, hungry, and angry species that breaks into coalitional sects for purposes of solidarity and violence when resources start running low.

      When Christians—or any other group of people—drop into Depression Era poverty, and scapegoats are available—or easy answers are offered for coalitional action—they jump at the chance to display their rage in some form of war, terrorism, irrationality, or genocide.

      That’s what scares me in a world coming up against limits and scarcity. Let’s hope some very smart scientists at our universities figure out how to solve global humanity’s environmental, poverty, and energy problems before a group of outraged underground men—Islamicist or otherwise—get their hands on a nuclear weapon and use it for an act of terrorism.


      • Santi,

        While I’m very sympathetic to your desire not to demonise a people group, this bit

        “the people currently living in traditional Islamic societies are doing a poor job shifting to the capitalist, feminist, postmodern, education-driven, and internet-linked 21st century.”

        …reminded me that most of the 9/11 New York terrorists were middle class and university educated (from memory).

        I really hope it’s as simple as raising the living standards of a people group.

    • santitafarella says:


      One more thought.

      You said, “The historical argument is very dubious.”

      But if you are not making a metaphysical argument, there are only historical arguments.

      If life (as Darwin taught the West 150 years ago) is contingent, then it is historical. A historical explanation is an adequate explanation.

      By contrast, treating the Quran as an essentialist and self-consistent product dropped on history from some Platonic realm, then acting on history as if in a vacuum, is itself the dubious (and ahistorical) analysis.


    • santitafarella says:


      I suppose an explanation for why some of the educated and middle class might turn to fanatical religious practice and ideology might have to do with the basic unsatisfactoriness of meeting the needs and whims of the “little self.” Western societies are organized around serving the hedonistic “little self” without any organizing “big self” north star to make life meaningful. That is left up to the individual. People often discover the soul poverty of this and turn to traditional religion for solace and community, and a smaller portion of those absorb a violent fundamentalist ideology. It is one of the reaction formations against the feelings of emptiness that accompany random capitalist hedonistic accumulation.

      My argument would be, however, that for all the disatisfactions of a wealthy, hedonistic world, they are better than poverty. When the world gets richer, it will, on balance, become less violent, not more so. At least that’s my bet.


  6. concerned christian says:

    You said that the verse in Matthew ”his blood be on us and on our children”—was used for literally millenia to justify pogroms and the segregation of Jews into ghettos in Europe. However this verse was written by a Jew, Matthew, stating what some Jews said during the trial of Jesus Christ. If you want to link this verse to the persecution of Jews you are making the same false connection that Christians have made in previous generations. All Gospels mentioned that some Jews defended Jesus and some Jews attacked Him. If Church leaders justified their anti-Semitism as a retaliation for the crucifixion of Jesus, they were not following what Jesus Himself taught us about loving everyone even our enemies. The relation between the Jews and the early Church is covered in the book of Acts and in Many of St. Paul letters and you need to go through that in details to see how this relation evolved. Also, I cannot respond to your argument that “Paul said that the state bears the sword for good, and that slavery and the subjugation of women to men were okay by him. And the model for good government was patriarchal monarchy—the divine right of kings (on the model of King David).” Because hundreds of books were dedicated to discuss these issues and if I tried to respond in few sentences I will be extremely superficial and will not be able to cover all the points that need to be made.

    • santitafarella says:


      You are free to insist that earlier Christians misread these NT texts and that you’ve got it all straight, and with the right emphasis. My point is that the texts are malleable to interpretation—as is the Quran—and they have been interpreted very, very differently from the way that you are interpreting them in the present. You think you’ve got it straight. So did they.

      As for anti-semitism in the NT, it is so rife that I can scarce believe you don’t see it. Read the Gospel of John again. Try chapter 8. And saying that Jews wrote the texts so they can’t be antisemitic is to forget that they were read by Gentiles in Greek. To hear a spat among Jews flinging insults at one another, and only digest the views of one side, is to internalize the demonization of Jews who did not accept Jesus. This is exactly what historical Gentile Christians did. And when they came to power they didn’t think of their position as one in which God would have them tolerating other religions. They understood Jews to be “of the synagogue of Satan”, rejecting Jesus, and therefore condemned to marginalization and suffering in this life and hell in the next. That’s how they read the texts. And they would regard your reading as ridiculous and impious.

      The Holocaust, it should be remembered, happened in the heart of Christian Europe, and was the fruit of millenia of stewing NT inspired anti-semitism. Hitler racialized what was already a deep seated religious prejudice.

      Check out this book for more reflections on the NT and antisemitism:


  7. concerned christian says:

    I can use your argument against John 8, to prove that Isiah was antisemitic, (read Isiah 1), Jeremiah (see Chapter 7), and Ezekiel (22 and 23). For Jews, Jesus was a radical rabbi, they have many arguments with Him, but these disagreements cannot be classified as anti-semitic because the two sides of the debate were semitic. One major problem I have with your criticism of Christianity is that you are judging Christians in the middle ages according to twenty-first century standards and Muslims in the twenty-first century using medieval standards.

  8. santitafarella says:


    I’d like to see all fundamentalist religion defanged and intellectually and culturally abandoned—whether in its medieval forms or its ridiculous 21st century manifestations. And I have zero interest in defending Islam. I don’t like patriarchy, authoritarianism, or faith-based religious stupidity, wherever it comes from (or whatever “sacred” book it claims to be based on).

    As for Jews writing the Bible and sassing one another, it must be very comforting to say that Jews criticized Jews, so if I take the position that Judaism is the shadow of the glory of Christianity, I’m not putting down Judaism, I’m just echoing what Jews said about Jews in the first century, and agreeing with one group of Jews against another.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if the effects of supremacist memes and rhetorical put-downs and demonizations were historically benign. Unfortunately, they are not, and have never been.

    As for medieval Christians, why do you think that you have a clearer take on the NT than they did?

    And were medieval Christians right, given what they knew from the NT, to keep slaves, oppress women, try to fight Muslims away from controlling Jerusalem, accept without question the authority of the king, and keep Jews segregated from the Christian community?

    And wouldn’t it have been nice for Jesus to have said: “I don’t like slavery. Leave gay people alone. Don’t ever hurt a Jew. Women are equal to men in all respects. I want all people to go to college. Never believe anything absent evidence. Dialogue with people with civility and walk in their shoes”?

    You know, just to keep things perfectly clear.

    He did say, by the way, and in unmistakable language, don’t accumulate wealth or worldly goods. Curiously, I don’t know any American who professes to be a follower of Jesus who follows any of those sayings.

    How come?


  9. Paradigm says:

    “The factors underlying this are failed and corrupt governments, profound poverty, fear, lack of education, histories of colonialism, and other forms of outside exploitation and humiliation.”

    But these factors are not exclusive to the Muslim countries. All of this can be found in places like India, Africa and Latin America.

    “Human beings are an unhappy and blighted herd. How sad and pathetic and tragic we are. That’s not going away because Islam goes away. You are giving fundamentalist Islam qua fundamentalist Islam too much credit and power. You imagine that if you could unplug that religion that all would be hunky-dory. It wouldn’t be.”

    Of course Islam isn’t the root of all evil, but I imagine a world without it would be more like Bolivia than Pakistan. But unfortunately we can not rid ourselves of it.

    “When Christians—or any other group of people—drop into Depression Era poverty, and scapegoats are available—or easy answers are offered for coalitional action—they jump at the chance to display their rage in some form of war, terrorism, irrationality, or genocide.”

    But Americans are already living in tent-towns and many more have lost most of what they built up during their lifetime. Still they don’t snap. That tells you something about the difference between Christianity and Islam.

    • Gunlord says:

      You’re right, Paradigm, but I would say the examples of Africa and Latin America would prove Santi’s point, not really work against it. There’s been tons of violence and oppression in Bolivia (the Tejada government comes to mind) without the help of Islam. Bolivia may be better than Pakistan nowadays, but it easily could have turned out to be just the same or even worse.

    • santitafarella says:


      If India, Africa, or Latin America were sitting on top of the world’s largest oil reserve—as the Middle East does—we’d notice a lot more things about them and have greater tensions and volatility with people living there.

      And, historically, regional stability and violence have an ebb and flow. In the 1980s, Central America was a scary area to pass through because it was a locus of Cold War tensions (see the movie Salvador for an example of Hollywood’s version of that period—a great movie). Would we call Central America’s turmoil in the 1980s the product of Catholo-fascism or Catholo-Bolshevism? Would it be something inherent in Catholicism that made the region violent, and its people attracted to revolutionary ideologies?

      And how about Sri Lanka (which is where the Tamil innovated the suicide bomber vest)—or the Japanese—who are lovely people, but whose sons during WWII committed acts of suicide terrorism by flying their planes into US ships?

      And please tell me, if Islam is uniquely more violent than other religions, what makes it so? Passages in its book? The number of such passages? The fact that it was on the sidelines when Europe was having its Enlightenment? How, exactly, do you account for Islam’s memetic killing and agression strategy (if you think such a thing is what Islam is)? Why don’t such memes function within the other monotheisms (if you think that they don’t)?


      • concerned christian says:

        It appears that you are drifting more and more into becoming yet another Muslim enabler. Instead of trying to address the many issues you raised, I will focus on the last argument you made, you asked “And please tell me, if Islam is uniquely more violent than other religions, what makes it so? Passages in its book? The number of such passages?” and this is a very good question. Let me tell you I read the Quran in both Arabic and English, and believe me the Arabic copy is even more frightening. So how about if you try to read the Quran with the same critical approach you applied to the Bible and tell us what you found there. If you manage to get through that you may want to try to read whatever exists in English about the Sunnah. You will be shocked to see the amount of violence and sex that dominates Islamic “Holly Books”.

      • santitafarella says:


        I respect your concern and the fact that you’ve made a real effort to read the whole Quran, not just in English translation. That it troubles you to the degree that it does suggests that you think it is far, far more violent and hostile than the Bible on many levels. I, for one, can hardly imagine how that could be the case, especially since so much of the Quran is a derivative rehashing of the Bible. The unique parts must be really, really something.

        Nevertheless, I did get a full edition of the Quran recently (given out free by Muslims at UCLA during the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books). I’ll have another look and give you my impression of how it compares with the Bible (in terms of violence advocacy) anon.

        I must say that I’ve never had the patience to read the Quran cover to cover. I’ve read parts here and there and then stop. It’s like asking me to read the Book of Mormon. I just don’t find books that are not very artistically novel, and derivative of other books, very interesting. It’s like asking me to read the flat, lifeless, and inane prose of Sarah Palin’s biography. And the whole monotheism thing—the blatant authoritarian father projection—seems just so, well, deluded (sorry for the nod to Richard Dawkins). As a humanist, I see a fatherless planet at the edge of a typical galaxy consisting of a contingently thrown together tribe of recently evolved human brothers and sisters.

        Wouldn’t it be nice to have somebody big and strong at the wheel, and who could just tell you, via a book he’d written, what to do and who is in and who is out?

        Not me. I’ll keep my own freedom and counsel, thank you very much.

        And people believe in what Blake called the “Nobodaddy” because it is comforting to do so, not because there’s really any good reasons to think that such a being is there.

        At least that’s my opinion.


  10. Roger Salyer says:

    Perhaps the impression of Islam that it is not a peaceful religion goes back to its original history. Perhaps it has something to do with Mohammed’s conquest of Arabia. Or that the sway that Islam has over all the Middle East, over Asia Minor, and for a time over Andalusia and the Balkans, is due to later conquests by The Prophet’s successors.

    In contrast, Christianity’s establishment in the Roman Empire by the apostles was accomplished by personal conversion, and only confirmed centuries later by the Emperor’s own conversion and subsequent laws. Not until the forced conversions of Germans and Slavs in the early Middle Ages, and then the forced conversions of Native America in the 1500s, do we see open prosletysation by might with Christianity.

    Of course, many have argued with varying degrees of success, that the conquests of Mohammed et al. were really defensive actions, to prevent attacks by ill-wishers outside Dar al Islam. However, I really think that this is really more of a question of what constitutes imposition? Mohammed had a “right” to Mecca so no one should be allowed to take it back. The Caliph had a right to Arabia, so the Byzantine Empire must go, etc…

    Quite seriously I think some of the difference in treatment between Christianity and Islam is that Christianity is seen at root to involve a change of heart in Man, and Islam’s meaning has generally been interpreted at root as establishing justice (God’s justice).

    As such, MY question is, is Liberalism a religion of peace? Or does it not wage war ceaselessly to defend its justice? Its claimed rights of dominance over the whole world and over all humans? That’s what I would like to ask of some of the New York Times’ commentators.

    By the way Santi, was your original question meant to suggest a linkage between violence and patriarchy? Was that its actual purpose?

    • santitafarella says:


      I agree with you that Englightenment liberalism functions as an expansive and totalist ideology, and I’m not at all ashamed to claim that tradition as my own. But contained within the concept of Enlightenment liberalism is the embrace of civic diversity and a religiously neutral public square. I realize that such a vision inhibits other forms of totalism, but the one thing that E. liberalism cannot tolerate is the violent intolerant. That means, for example, protecting gay people from lynch mobs gathered from other totalist communities. It also means using police power to protect cartoonists from Muslim fundamentalist fanatics.

      I hope my children grow up in an increasingly global secular commons, with religion—and irreligion—practiced in peaceful private communities that tolerate other private communities without necessarily approving of one another’s practices. That model is envisioned in the U.S. Bill of Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I wish for these two documents a long and expansive life into the 21st century and beyond, and I think we’ll get there.

      To my mind, that is a positive collective human vision worth working for.


      • Roger Salyer says:

        I respectfully dissent. You do not shame easily. I do not believe that it is a positive collective human vision. For one thing, I would say that it is not a collective vision; it is an individualist vision.

        At any rate, this is the problem: Your totalist liberal society will not tolerate the illiberal. In this, your society acts as all the other illiberal ones do. Yet, those others do not purport to base themselves on tolerance itself, as the liberal one does. That is, the liberal society has a vision of the good, and it is intolerant of others who conflict with this vision. The fallacy then is in viewing the good as equal treatment, yet not treating as equal others who do not accept this as the good. Don’t you see the illogic here?

        As you would protect homosexuals from force, would you protect me from having my goods dispossessed when I refuse to hire, refuse to treat with, a homosexual? If, as you say, you wish to tolerate religious private communities, then you can only do so by respecting their right to exclude certain others. Cannot I secede from your “rights” society? If not, then you respect not religious “private communities.” I for one do not wish to respect the individual solely because he is of the species homo sapiens., and I am teaching my children (who live in this 21st Century) accordingly.

        Incidentally, why could not the police power be used to protect the “Muslim fundamentalist fanatics” from the cartoonists? For lampooning these fanatics by lampooning their religion? Surely this is not as serious as physical violence, but it cannot be considered a non-injury.

  11. Roger Salyer says:

    “And were medieval Christians right, given what they knew from the NT, to keep slaves, oppress women, try to fight Muslims away from controlling Jerusalem, accept without question the authority of the king, and keep Jews segregated from the Christian community?”

    Answer: Yes.

    “And wouldn’t it have been nice for Jesus to have said: ‘I don’t like slavery. Leave gay people alone. Don’t ever hurt a Jew. Women are equal to men in all respects. I want all people to go to college. Never believe anything absent evidence. Dialogue with people with civility and walk in their shoes’?”

    It would NOT have been “nice” for Him so to say.

    Anyway, He did not. That tells me something, even if it doesn’t tell you anything.

    • santitafarella says:


      Your hard (and stupid) Mussolini-like jut-jawing is tiresome. You’re glad that Jesus never prohibited slavery or hurting Jews, and you are glad he didn’t make it clear to treat women and gay people with equality?


      Do you regard yourself as a racist, an anti-semite, a misogenist, and anti-gay? What is your model of the ideal community? John Calvin’s Geneva writ large? The South prior to the Civil War? What is this reactionary horse you imagine that you are riding—and where do you think it is taking you as a human being? Why are you so nostalgic for historic evils?

      In terms of your imaginative life, is there a novelist or poet that inspires you? I’m just curious. Is there an artist—old or recent—that you swoon to?


      • Roger Salyer says:

        Yes, really.


        Do you regard yourself as a humanist, an agnostic, an egalitarian, a relativist, a misanthrope? Really? What neo-Platonic anti-human fantasy are you living in?

        If you eat me up in debate, you would have more brains in your belly than would be in your head.

        No, certainly not John Calvin’s Geneva, with its Manichaean doctrine of total human depravity, and its mindless Islamic-like worship of things written on a page. True, the Old South was indeed quite closer to the good. But if you couldn’t tell, I am much more an admirer of Medieval Catholic Europe.

        I desire a human community.

        I am not nostalgic for historic evils… because they are not evils. What duty does one man have to “tolerate” (i.e., regard with equal treatment) another man? To not hold him as a slave (That is, in slavery, to tolerate him just enough so as to hold him as a slave, rather than just kill him as a competitor and a threat)? To not exclude a homosexual?

        “It is within the human atmosphere that men find meaning, from formally within or without of themselves. It is within this human atmosphere that men take this meaning as their own persons, producing both their own identities and a radical diversity in their individual beings.
        Human atmosphere is made up of corporations. A human incorporation embodies one or more of the following three messages or interests for the man: His society, his position in that society, and the reason or purpose for that society. Most incorporations overlap one or more of these three interests, and overlap other incorporations.
        That which makes men human—as opposed to merely animals with a unique set of talents for survival and gratification—is identical with that which causes humans to be distinguished one from another. The man trying to lead his life fully human is the man who seeks, and thereby finds, his meaning in that meaning placed before him. It is within this human atmosphere, rather than within simple nature itself, that Man finds his greatest opportunity to establish differentiation.”

        Ah… collectivism. Contra Rousseau, the man outside of society is not a man. He is a receptacle at one extreme, and a phantom at another.

        To be perfectly honest, I can imagine a situation in which I would treat a Chinese homosexual Communist with equal regard. But it would be the situation—the human society—that controlled. Not the mere fact that the other is simply a homo sapiens. Like any other of my relationships.

        Santi, you stubbornly refuse to admit that there moral disagreements exist. But they do: Equality as such is not justice; it is injustice. Man has duties. Humans treated as animals is injustice. Members of one’s own community treated as “humans” is injustice. Members of one’s own family treated as “humans” is injustice. Treat your own children equally with other children and see if the former do not view you as acting unjustly. If you do not treat members of your own community better—or at least differently—than other communities, then you will be a petty tyrant. Galatians 3:28 must be understood in the light of 1 Timothy 5:8.

        Isak Dinesen, Flannery O’Connor, Evelyn Waugh, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Dostoevsky, Solzhenitsyn, Sir Walter Scott, G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, St. Thomas More, Donald Davidson, Wendell Berry, Sir David Leen, etc…. As for modern political philosophers, I set my lights by Sir Robert Filmer and Comte Joseph de Maistre.

        I don’t suppose you like Isak Dinesen do you?

  12. Paradigm says:

    “If India, Africa, or Latin America were sitting on top of the world’s largest oil reserve—as the Middle East does—we’d notice a lot more things about them and have greater tensions and volatility with people living there.”

    So now it boils down to oil? That’s a wild theory since Pakistan and Afghanistan have less oil than India and Brazil.

    “Would we call Central America’s turmoil in the 1980s the product of Catholo-fascism or Catholo-Bolshevism? Would it be something inherent in Catholicism that made the region violent, and its people attracted to revolutionary ideologies?”

    No, because Central American Catholics are a rather small minority of all Catholics. And most of them had nothing to do with the violence in the region, whereas a lot of Muslims openly support Islamic terrorism.

    “And how about Sri Lanka (which is where the Tamil innovated the suicide bomber vest)—or the Japanese—who are lovely people, but whose sons during WWII committed acts of suicide terrorism by flying their planes into US ships?”

    Again, does not relate to religion. I’m not disputing that there are conflicts and violence unrelated to religion.

    “And please tell me, if Islam is uniquely more violent than other religions, what makes it so?”

    I don’t know. It’s easier to observe something than to explain it. It could well be the factors you mention – the Quran and lack of Enlightenment.

    • santitafarella says:


      Well, now you’ve hoisted yourself by your own patard. You said in response to what makes Islam uniquely violent: “I don’t know. It’s easier to observe something than to explain it.”

      But that’s exactly my point. The observation is not an argument, it’s data. You see some contemporary Muslims engaging in gross acts of terrorism and fanaticism and have drawn very large conclusions about Islam in general, and its toxicity compared to other religions, from this fact. But you have not offered any coherent reasons for interpreting this phenomenon in this particular way (either historical, theoretical, or metaphysical reasons).


  13. Roger Salyer says:


    I have thought about this overnight.

    Climbing off my reactionary horse, it is not that I desire the return of slavery, etc… Or that I objectively approve of these phenomena. Rather, it is that the basis upon which you condemn them is illegitimate. This is to what I object. You condemn on the basis of the self.

    You wish to live in a world of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” For me, his little ditty is a description of evil. It is a world not worth living in.

    What I desire in a community, is one that I can call my own.

    You may call me stupid, but it is not my intelligence to which you object. It is my values, what I find (feel to be) good and evil, to which you object. I love a good outside of myself, whatever that good may be. You love yourself. With Walt Whitman, you find yourself somehow self-sufficient. Fine. Yet, the problem is that you refuse to allow others to find their meanings in anything but themselves. I could tolerate your community of the self to be in existence. However, you will not tolerate my community to exist. I wish to be part of something greater than me, something transcendent, an organic community. My community would thus exclude within it anything conflicting with this transcendence. And you can’t stand that.

    You no doubt would agree with Professor Nicholas Capaldi, someone who wrongly calls himself conservative, in the following quote, as he searches for “the free and responsible, inner-directed, autonomous individual”:

    “The drive to turn all of society into an enterprise association comes from people who have not made the transition to individuality. There is a whole complicated history behind this, but what is important is to recognize that the most serious problem within modern liberal societies is the presence of failed or incomplete individuals. Either unaware of or lacking faith in their ability to exercise self-discipline, incomplete individuals seek escape into the collective identity of communities insulated from the challenge of opportunity. These are people focused on avoiding failure rather than on achieving success. Incomplete individuals identify themselves by feelings of envy, resentment, self-distrust, victimization, and self-pity—in short, an inferiority complex. Anti-Americanism abroad and lack of faith in American Exceptionalism at home are the clearest manifestations.”

    I am one of those “failed or incomplete individuals,” and I thank God for it.

  14. santitafarella says:


    I like the Capaldi quote. And I do not begrudge your desire to have a transcendent relationship to an objective truth larger than yourself—an ontological mystery. I feel the same draw as well. I completely understand the impulse. It is a human impulse. It’s just one that, as a skeptic, I see little evidence to support belief that the ontological mystery is really there (and not a product of the imagination or wishful thinking). The ontological mystery is just as likely, in my view, to be a problem ameniable to reason as an actual mystery. And, in any case, I don’t know on what basis—short of revelation—one could ever say anything definite about it at this point in our understanding. And obviously I’m skeptical of the books of revelation purporting to know anything about it.

    God, unfortunately, doesn’t appear to be talking.

    So I’m stuck. I can ignore the problem like most New Atheists do, I can go to Nietzsche or Camus for a bit of solidarity about my stuck existential situation, I can retreat into the imagination via Don Quixote, or I can become a passive Stoic reading Schopenhauer and Seneca. There just aren’t many good moves for the stuck existentialist.

    But here is where you and I differ. I think that these ways of dealing with the impasse are as real and human as the transcendental impulse. You think that one is living a less than human life without the transcendental community and belief. I think the doubting life is just another way of being human. We are all engaging in strategems toward the mystery of our existence in ways that work for us, that reduce our anxiety and match our contingent personalities, and the one thing that we all want in this very personal quest is the freedom to choose our own way.

    The dilemma is this: how do we have such fundamental disagreements and still enjoy the obvious collective benefits of global human interaction (from free trade to the exchange of ideas and techniques of production)?

    It seems to me that your view of the world necessarily requires a rejection of something very human, going back archetypally to the Phoenecians: free trade and exchange between diverse peoples. Jesus seems to have this straight in a way that you do not. He said, “Render to Ceasar the things that are Ceasar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” In other words, Jesus recognized that you could function under the rules of two different communities: the faith community to which you have voluntary association, and the secular and diverse “trade” and “commerce” community to which you may have to pay taxes and interact with people not to your liking (but with the understanding that trade is a benefit to humankind).

    By your logic, I think that you are driven into isolation—in terms of both trade and the exchange of ideas with very different people from yourself—because you want your totalist community to extend beyond voluntary association. (Or, at minimum, you want your voluntary associational group given normative and priveleged status.)

    But here’s the issue: the world is becoming smaller via the Internet and global trade. Even as we strive to retain our islands of sectarian community, the waters of globalism are rising. You and I are talking, afterall, via the Internet. And Pakistanis may have sewn your child’s baseball. The global commons is becoming larger. The peculiar and archaic languages of past times—when people were less in contact—feel beseiged (as well they should).

    The reality is this: half of humanity lives in cities now, and cities are secular spaces sharing global cultural sensibilities. A teen living in Tokyo and one living in Berlin or New Delhi share a lot more commonalities than a Calvinist and a Catholic shared living in the northeast part of the United States 190 years ago. The Phoenicians, not the culturally walled-off Hebrews, are slowly and steadily winning the world and directing human history.

    You may not like it, but your kids will go to college in a city, and there they will meet the Phoenicians with their dazzling objects of trade, and to win those objects they’ll have to learn how to move, not just in the culture you brought them up in, but in the multicultural and secular world as well.


    • Roger Salyer says:

      Let me back up. Do you honestly believe that slavery is evil per se? Really? Over the thousands of years of human history, all the way to 3000 B.C. and beyond, do you think that slavery is nonetheless evil per se? I grant that certain human phenomena may become obsolete—through a physical and moral evolution—and thus it may be wrong to continue a practice after its appropriateness wears out; but that’s not the same thing as condemning it as evil per se. How do you think the human civilisation from which you can criticise slavery, got build up to this point, except via slavery? Except via one man bending another man to his will?

      It’s kind of like saying that it’s too bad that we have to kill other life for food in order for us to survive. But we do. [Though I can foresee where Peter Singer and the chlorophyll human project can come together in a late 21st Century crusade.]

      Oh, and how about the righteousness of feminism? Do you think the high pregnancy rate of women down through the ages, and their lives in general in the gender rolled societies of the past, comport with what the feminist vision of the liberated woman is? One suspects that many of the women who had six, seven, ten, twelve children did so without it being entirely a function of their fully, self-empowered wills. Certainly I suspect it. Yet, without that birth rate of the past, guess what? The species would have simply died out.

      I think that the point of your Liberalism is to say that it would have been Just for Man to have died out in caves millennia ago.

      I wish to admit that there is such a thing as progress. And the true questions being, when to progress, and with what end in mind? What other end, other than a transcendent “known” end?

      We have the luxury of progress. Kantian ethics simply won’t work in the dimensions in which so many Liberals use them, because we are not infinite, omniscient, omnipotent beings who lack for nothing.

      My children may grow up in a world of Phoenicians, but I don’t want them to lose themselves in doing so. If the Phoenician world is so grand, I don’t think that it should find it necessary to forcibly destroy all the sectarian Hebrew societies to prosper. If it does, then this liberal Phoenician world is allying itself with conquerors, from Woodrow “world safe for democracy” Wilson to Dick “creative destruction” Cheney. And I think that is a strange alliance for the liberated man to be in.

  15. santitafarella says:


    You raise a profound and interesting question by asking it in the way that you have (is slavery evil etc.).

    Yes, I do think that slavery is an evil. And the high rate of pregnancy that kept women down in the past is also an evil. Anything that causes pain, suffering, or death—or outrages consciousness with limitations—is, to my mind, a form of evil.

    Evil is an outrage of the human imagination, and its limitations in a body.

    With regard to women in child-bearing, I think that the Bible backs me on this: the Genesis 3 story calls women’s pain in childbearing a curse—an evil—as is toil for men in fields. These are existential evils.

    So yes, the very issues of hard labor and pregnancy that you allude to above are both called evils in the Bible, yet you are implying that they are good. I think, with the Bible, that they should be thought of as evil.

    I would call such things existential evils, or perhaps natural evils (like those of confronting an earthquake). They are an outrage to the human imagination and consciousness when it finds itself living within the limitations of a body, or within the limitations of history.

    History and the body are the cross that all of us are on, as human beings. Or to put it in Greek terms: we are Prometheus bound to a rock, and when those outrages of limitation are overcome—Prometheus gets unbound—we should rejoice, and be relieved that we have transcended that aspect of our body or history by techne, reason, justice, or compassion for others (or some combination of these things).

    Thus, it was a combination of evils—existential, natural, and human induced—that made slavery so noxious and evil: the existential necessity of labour to build civilization combined with human cruelty in the bending of a consciousness like its own into submission after conquest in war etc.

    Likewise, the cross of the feminine body—childbirth—has been made a bit tamer today. Thus evil—which is any outrage of the human consciousness and imagination confronting its limitations and suffering—is less now than in previous eras: women can control their fertility, can choose how many children they will have, and take drugs in childbirth.

    It is good that slavery and childbirth pain are no longer seen as necessities in history, and that these evils have been transcended by human actions in history. As a Christian, I would think that you would agree.

    Of course, you may think it is folly to attempt to progressively undo—via improvements on the body and what went on in previous history—what the gods have given us from the beginning (from pain in childbirth to long hours of labor, to war and domination).

    This is the great question of the relation of Prometheus to Zeus, isn’t it?

    What limitations and evils do you suppose that we should just accept and not seek to overcome?

    When I think of the consciousnesses of, say, women and African Americans and gay people, and how they have been liberated from the bonds of historic evils by progressive improvements, I rejoice in their human flourishing. Indeed, as a white male, I rejoice in my own. Thank goodness I was born in the 20th century in California and not in the 1st century as a slave in the Roman Empire, or in John Calvin’s Geneva in the 16th century.


    • Roger Salyer says:

      Just read your comment.
      Ante-lapsarian theology is heady stuff. But it is very appropriate that Liberalism’s accusers should be faced with it, when a fundamental defence for Liberalism is attempted.
      I do think that the thrust of your characterisation of “evil” would partially satisfy Holy Scripture, as well as Aristotle. Yet, there are two qualifications to be made:

      FIRST, Holy Scripture also facially appears to embody a theological endorsement of “the lesser-of-two-evils” concept. Rather than face obliteration, Adam and Eve are given their lives and trials of this Earth. Holy Scripture provides a way out of justice through sacrifice. The sentence of annihilation is relieved by suffering instead. A lesser of two evils. Or a positive good, given the alternative.
      There are two practical things that may be done with an alien threat: You can kill it. Or you can enslave it. That is the base justification for enslavement. You could just kill him. [The maintenance of slavery over generations—rather than an initial enslavement—is a different question, and it is successfully defended as a question of class, rather than state-of-nature type analyses. We’re not talking about this I don’t think.]
      But of course slavery is an evil from the perspective you present. Yet every damned thing on the planet is pretty much an evil from some perspective. One might say that nothing is perhaps as good as it should be. …But is it better than the alternative, that’s the question?
      Slavery was a good. Slavery is fundamentally, mercy.
      The triumph of the Abolitionist cause was a monumental evil.

      SECOND… more importantly, and to explain the above more adequately… from Scripture, “evil” is more fundamentally characterised as a negation of the “good.” In some sense, the absence of the good. That is, whether from the Book of Genesis, first chapter, or the Gospel according to St. John, first chapter, the “good” has primacy, and it begins with “being,” with an assertive act.
      Progress over “limitations and evils?” “Limitations and evils” with respect to what?
      Do I understand correctly that your definition of evil at gist is an “outrage of a consciousness, a human imagination, faced with the fact of its own limitations?” Hmmm…
      I interpret Professor Richard Rorty as likewise making the absence of pain, or if you like, the absence of evil, to be the only good, good itself. I don’t think that this is a supportable position from Holy Scripture. I am just trying to figure out what kind of support it does have. [The assertive act seems to be the very thing Rorty will not permit, inasmuch as assertions require definitions, boundaries. If you agree with him, perhaps you should revisit the naming of your own blog? No torches for Man, huh?] It seems to eat its own tail to me.
      In any event, I’m not sure where you’ve taken your stand. Would it have been less evil for Man to have died out, than to inflict an “outrage”? Would it have been less evil for higher civilisation not to have evolved, than to inflict an “outrage”?

      Let’s be precise, what I was talking about in regards to women was not the pain of child-bearing. I was talking about the loss of absolute, self-possessory, control over one’s own body. More specifically: That women were forced to have sexual intercourse—out of duties owed male spouses—when they themselves did not wish to, that they were forced to bear children—however painful or painless or flat dangerous the process—when (properly self-empowered) they did not wish to. Yet, Man til fairly recently required a pretty high birth rate just to continue to exist.
      Is the continuation of Man, his continued being, not more important, more “good,” than the liberation of Womyn? Which really translates: Is the former a “good” at all? I think you would say no, but I am not sure.

      I don’t begrudge anyone for being desirous to live in California over Geneva. However, no offence intended, but I don’t think I would say that I find Californians more admirable than Genevans. That is, California doesn’t strike me as the pentacle of human development, Man as the closest to his potential that he has ever attained. Quite the opposite in fact.
      We may disagree on this estimation. However I think you must agree that to say that a Californian’s life is “better” (more full of good or value) than would have been a life in 1560s Geneva or 100s Rome is an utterly warrantless… assertion.

      WHAT can you IMAGINE without an “OUTRAGE”?

      • Roger Salyer says:

        Pinnacle, sorry.

        Long story short: “Why do you call [it] good?”

        When you and I are dead, we will commit no more outrages. Yet, I am sure that TO BE is better than NOT TO BE.

      • santitafarella says:


        The game has to be worth the candle. And if God isn’t talking plainly (and I don’t think that he is), then good and evil resides in the human individual’s consciousness of limitations, the frustration of desires, and unwelcomed suffering.

        California can be the site of Nietzsche’s last man or for an act of will that embraces suffering on its own terms. Surfing or amor fati: you can choose here. That’s what makes California a better place than Geneva or Rome: humans have greater range of motion to choose their form of crucifixion and overcoming (or to decline the cross completely and go to the beach).

        If you screw up your life in California, you own the screw up, and if you get it right, you have the satisfaction of that as well. The impeding is not a stern Calvin going through your underwear drawer. The mind-forged chains that hold you down come from you. In a way, that’s more dreadful.


  16. Paradigm says:

    “But that’s exactly my point. The observation is not an argument, it’s data. You see some contemporary Muslims engaging in gross acts of terrorism and fanaticism and have drawn very large conclusions about Islam in general, and its toxicity compared to other religions, from this fact. But you have not offered any coherent reasons for interpreting this phenomenon in this particular way (either historical, theoretical, or metaphysical reasons).”

    Oh no you don’t! It’s data that Muslims account for most of the lethal terrorism in the world today. But it’s interpretation to note that the same underlying non-religious factors – poverty, natural resources etc – that might otherwise explain the terrorism, are also present in countries of other religions with no terrorism. It is therefore reasonable to assume that Islam is a violent religion. But if you can come up with a better theory I’m all ears : )

  17. santitafarella says:


    I’ll offer one to start: the collapse of Marxism as an ideological force over the past 20 years has left the poor in formerly colonial powers at a loss for an ideological substitute for resistance to what they perceive as ongoing exploitation from globalism. Instead of turning to Marxism, they are seduced into radical cultural counternarratives against globalism—fundamentalist and medieval Islam being the most ready at hand in Muslim countries. Terrorists are frequently combining Islam with a Leftist narrative and form of analysis and critique of globalism—a kind of Isalmo-Bolshevism—and applying it to politics. Islam, having passages justifying violence in its book, combined with Leftist forms of underground movements, urban terror, and bombing from the 1960s and 1970s, have become a heretical SYNCRETISM. Most Muslims regard suicide terrorism, for example, as completely contrary to Islamic principles of warfare (not to kill yourself or harm civilians).

    I’d also note that in the evolution of Malcolm X, that it was his conversion to Islam that chilled him up and mellowed his violent rhetoric and helped him see the universal brotherhood of human beings. I think that Islam has enormous issues with regard to patriarchy and authoritarian religion, but I also think it is a religion that is perfectly capable—like any other form of monotheism—of peacefully integrating into a global multicultural system of trade and peaceful relations. Muslims in the United States—the vast, vast majority—have already made the journey of this integration and are peaceful and productive citizens.

    I don’t know about you, but I live in a part of the country where Muslims are a decided presence, and one of my coworkers is a very committed Muslim. He is an exemplary friend and coworker, and a gentle, funny, and thoughtful person.

    I’d also bring up one more issue: people with authoritarian, agressive, and violent personalites will tend to be attracted to forms and styles of religion that match them. Those, on the other hand, who are temperamentally the opposite or in between will tend to practice religion in a gentler way, noticing the peaceful parts of their chosen holy book and ignoring the noxious parts (or metaphorizing them). Gandhi, for example, read the Bhagavad Gita metaphorically even though it is, if read literally, a justification for violence and war. The Gita is a Hindu book which Hindus have, indeed, used historically to justify killing in war.

    So what I’m saying is that we are not just cultural creatures—blank slates—influenced by holy books. We are also biological creatures with strong inherited temperamental characteristics toward agression, asociality, or social cooperation. Our religious expression is frequently just a veneer for our inherited temperamental characters. Gandhi is going to read the Baghavad Gita differently than a Hindu general who has risen to the top of the Indian army. A Reformed Jew in New York is going to read the Hebrew Bible differently than an Orthodox Jew who has decided “God” has given the West Bank to his “chosen people” and has, therefore, settled right smack dab in the middle of it, weapons always at the ready. Likewise, a Muslim in the West can see no problem parading in a swimsuit and winning Miss USA even as her counterparts in Pakistan wouldn’t think of such a thing.

    One more thought: Islam in many Islamic countries obviously has a problem of rewarding authoritarians rising through the clerical ranks. In other words, the authoritarians are rewarded, and have essentially taken whole countries hostage to their authoritarian dictates. Iran is an obvious example. Moderate young Muslims try to resist and are brutally repressed. But who are the true Muslims? The young people in the streets or the authoritarian geezers at the top? I’d argue that it is neither. Islam is plural because human beings’ inherited temperaments are plural. The WAY you read the holy books (which, historically, have been written by a mix of sadistic and masochistically tempered individuals) tells you a lot about who you are.

    I realize I’m offering you a form of analysis that is not especially politically correct, but I have been influenced by Steven Pinker’s book, “The Blank Slate” (which you can find at Amazon). His book, which is very carefully documented, has convinced me, even though I’m a liberal, that at least half of our expressed human temperaments are the products of genes, and this impacts how we read holy books and affiliate in our politics. We are not blank slates at birth, and getting rid of one political or religious ideology will not change authoritarian or violent human impulses, but probably set people on a search for a fresh ideology that matches their psychological inclinations.

    Have you ever noticed, for example, how a person who believes in one conspiracy theory—a 911-truther, say—is also inclined to be attracted to a lot of the other conspiracy theories as well, mixing and blending them into a stew of paranoia?

    If a political or religious system starts rewarding such a person you can end up with a nutty person in power. But now I’m thinking of Sarah Palin. Is the Republican Party essentially nutty–and necessarily so? No. But the system has gotten skewed to rewarding its nuts (like Palin) and sublimating its saner elements (like David Frum). I think that the same thing is true of contemporary Islam in Islamic countries like Iran. The crazy authoritarians are being rewarded through the way the system is set up in those countries. A different system of rewards in a culture might bring temperamentally calmer Muslims to the fore (as it obviously does in the United States, as the winner of Miss USA attests).

    This being a very long response, I’ll probably go ahead and just make it a separate post. Feel free to comment back (if you choose to) in either place.


  18. Roger Salyer says:

    The speech of “God” need not only be theological or mystical affirmations existing solely for the purpose—at least in your universe—of sidestepping Baconian science. It is also an aesthetic.

    Consider this example for the difference between us: Young and youthful people today are constantly seeking to meet other people, to socialise with others. Thus, they go to bars, to churches, to ballgames, get involved in a host of things in order to meet other human beings (sometimes romantically), and in some sense to find out who they themselves are. The young go out here and yonder to find such.

    In ages past, this would have been unnecessary. Family, neighbourhood, the tribe, etc… would have given us the people with whom we would socialise. They were just there. They were just givens.

    I might prefer the givens of the tribe. I might find that it provides a “way.” That this route is more fulfilling. Okay. Now, you might prefer the world of choice for a whole variety of reasons. Okay, you might be right.

    The point is not that one or the other is better. The point is that this isn’t a first order theological proposition dependent upon whether I think someone came down from a cross or not. It is an aesthetic preference. The aesthetics might be screwed up. Maybe they are imminently subjective (I don’t think so however.). But don’t act like they don’t exist. Aesthetics talk, sometimes plainly, whether you personally can hear God or not.

    As an aside, I’m not sure that the game does have to be worth the candle. I will not say that affirming something does not have value, even if that affirmed is untrue or less than perfect… or perhaps even ephemeral or illusory.

    Aside notwithstanding, good and evil, truth and falsity, exist regardless of the reactions humans have to their presence… or they do not exist at all. They do not reside with human consciousness.

    I suspect that Wittgenstein would say that we have thus come to an impasse. You’ve exactly hit upon the very reason that California is inferior to Rome. California means nothing outside of the human consciousness. And there is nothing solely within the human consciousness.

    Of course, in truth California does mean something outside of the human consciousness, so it does in fact have some redeeming features.

    Finally, if a place may be valued by the range of choices it offers, keep in mind this: The value is in making the choice. The thing chosen. To choose something. Logically, it is a something that gives value to having options (albeit a non-choice can be a “something” too). The genius of modern inhumanity is to provide people with a greater range of choices while making the only acceptable choice not to choose.

    You must have an interesting marriage.

    Life is like money. You can’t take it with you. Freedom is only a potential energy, not kinetic, until it is used. Certainly, I am to be reminded that non-choices are choices as well. But the reminder also reminds me to agree with you on your last line.

  19. santitafarella says:


    I’m not denying the choice: I just want the full ability to make it (or not). Globalism and Enlightenment liberalism, by clearing the field of provincialism and religious ideologies, and weakening religion in the public sphere, makes the choices we have more open and challenging, and you don’t get the luxury of taking things for granted. But if living your life immersed in a pre-Vatican II ethos is satisfying (for example), then people can choose it. That so few do may bear no relation to its value, or the truths that it is in possession of (and to which other ideologies, including mine, may be blind).

    But while there may be truth out in the world that is indifferent to human wishes (and I do not doubt this), the truth may nevertheless be quite complicated, and the vantage for seeing aspects of it may require pluralities of vision, including distorted ones, to achieve full comprehension. And there are truths that are held in such a way that makes them, in practice, falsehoods. There are lots of potholes in the road.

    But at another level, your stark choice is a false dilemma. A person can make a choice—make a commitment—but that never ends the story (or, at least, it shouldn’t to a reasonable person). Every day that you open your eyes on the world, you’ve got to choose afresh. You’ve got to reality test and reevaluate. Am I going in the right direction? How do I know? What are the practical consequences of my choices in the world?

    Maybe you wish for a time prior to literacy and Shakespeare’s ironic and ambivalent Hamlet as an archetype for the modern man. Maybe you wish for the time of Noah when God says “build a boat” and Noah starts building, no questions asked, no doubts.

    But that ain’t the human condition in the 21st century. Nobody has the luxury—unless they divorce themselves from society and retreat into a monastary, a religious school, or commune with likeminded souls—to close their eyes to the world around them.


  20. concerned christian says:
    Reading this article made me sick, but also made me ask the question where are all woman rights groups and civil liberties advocates?

  21. santitafarella says:


    On July 8, 2010 I posted on this unfortunate woman here:

    Lots of liberals around the web have been trying to network about this and speak to it. I’m thinking of feminist philosopher Ophelia Benson, for example.

    I have a theory about Petreus’s unusual condemnation of the Quran burner in Florida: it may be that diplomatic channels from Iran are wanting a quid pro quo: the US government unequivocally disassociates itself from the Quran burner and the Iranian govt. will stay this woman’s execution.

    It’s just a theory.


  22. concerned christian says:

    I hope so, although the report about the 99 lashes as a punishment for an erroneous news report in the Times of London was too much for me.

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