Sunday, March 30, 2008

Catholics and Muslims: Missing the Forest for the Trees

THE Drudge main headline tonight (sometimes Drudge is as bad as the rest of the media at hyping non-news) is that Muslims have overtaken Catholics as the "single" (can you call it that when there are separte Muslims sects FIGHTING EACH OTHER in Iraq?) largest religion in the world.  So what.  Here is the strange way a Vatican spokesman put it (the Vatican evidently announced the "news"):

"For the first time in history we are no longer at the top: the Muslims have overtaken us," Formenti told Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano in an interview, saying the data referred to 2006."

The above statement is, of course, FALSE.  "For the first time in history..."?  Give me a break.

From that statement, you would think that the Catholic Church has been here forever.  Of course, the Christian religion did not even exist until after the DEATH of Christ.  It was a relatively minor sect--although growing--until recognized as the "official", or at least favored,  religion of the Roman Empire by the Emperor Constantine.

Even giving the benefit of the doubt here, and assuming that the Vatican spokesman was referring to modern times (as he surely was), I repeat:  So what!!!!!!!

I will tell you the only real significance here, and I am not sure it is a significance that even the Vatican understands (much less the "spin" others will put on it).  This does NOT mean that we have to "accommodate" the Muslim religion as the world's largest religion (all Christian sects actually still hold that position, when combined).  The United States guarantees freedom of religion.  That does NOT mean that we have to cater to religions because a lot of people are members.  We have certainly never taken that attitude with the CHRISTIAN religion.

What do I mean by "cater"?  I mean things like abandoning our principles of free speech because Muslims don't like cartoons of Muhammad.   I mean Muslim demands for things like "foot baths", or special public school cllasses, accommodations, or considerations.  

There is no reason for us, as a country, to declare the all Muslims as our enemies.  At the same time, there is equally no reason to allow ourselves to be intimidated in to caterin to islami EXTREMISM (not that foot baths, or the like, are that extreme, but the idea that extremist Muslims have a RIGHT to demand that their ideas of intolerance be "respected" by our country--as in the cartoon matter--IS that extreme).

Nope.  I am not scared of Muslims.  I have toyed with the idea of asking my older daughter--an amateur cartoonist with at least some talent--to draw some cartoons of Muhammad for this blog.  I respect the Muslim religion as much as I respect the Christian religion (remember, I am not a Christian, or religions at all, but do NOT believe+ in religious bigotry like that the media promoted against Mitt Romney).  But I do NOT relspect INTOLERANCE, or the right of religions to insist on "respect" for intolerance in the name of being "offended".

Okay.  This "news" means absolutely nothing for public policy--much less which religion is "best".  What does it mean?

To the extent it means anything, I think it means that at some point most "mainstream" Christian religions--including Catholicism--drifted away from the idea of CONVERTING people on the grounds that they represent the one true path.  They have sort of drifted--even the Catholic Church, although not necessarily in the conservative halls of the Vatican and Chruch leadership--into the ida that their is something arrogant and intolerant in the idea of telling people that other religions are WRONG, and that they should join whatever mainstream religion we are talking about.   Some Jewish groups, for example, seem to regard it as wrong for Christians to try to convert Jews.  I don't see it.  I have never seen it.  Sure, it IS "arrogant" to say that your religion is the one which excllusively sets forth the true Word of God.  But that is the whole nature of religion.

That is why I tend respect fundamentalist religious people somewhat more than I respect old line religions.  They seem to really BELIEVE in their religion, and that they are not free to ignore what God says, while there are a lot of "cafeteria" Catholics like Ted Kennedy out there (pick and choose what they want to believe in among the teachings of their church).  I am more cofortable personally--as I have said before--with people who I consider believe as I do:  that something is right because it is right, and not because God says so.   It is just that mainstream religions PRETEND to belive otherwise, since to believe my way is to admit that there is no reason for your church to exist (except as a sort of social club). 

Is that why fundamentalist churches, and even Islam, are gaining members, while the "old line" religions are losing them?  I lthink so.  These religions, including the Mormon Church actually out there trying to rECRUIT people, are willing to tell people that they have THE ANSWERS.   What else is a religion for.   If you are not willing to aggressively try to convert people, what does that say about whether you really believe in your religion?  When Christians were being fed to the lions in the Roman colliseum, would the religion have gotten anywhere if its member were not AGGRESSIVELY out there converting people?  Would the Christian religion have ever gotten ANYWHERE if early Christians had not AGGRESSIVELY tried to convert JEWS (although. admittedly, the mutliple gods of Rome were a more fertile target--especially since the emperors themselves tried to proclaim themselves the equivalent of a godl).   Christ was born a Jew.  The Christian religion became the dominant religion in the world by CONVERTING people.  You can't expect to stay in that position if you stop trying aggressively to convert people.

Is that where the Vatican is heading with this?  If they know what they are doing, it is.  It is the only way this "news" has any significance at all:  If it induced the Catholic religion to get aggressive again about converting people.  There was a straw in the wind in the past few weeks, where the Pope--rather publicly--BAPTISED a Muslim converting to the Catholic Church.

Would a renaissance of AGGRESSIVE Christianity--beyond the evangelicals-- be a good or a bad thing? I don't know.   I think it is a meaningless question (since I don't think religion has anything to do with logic--not that you can't have a logical mind and be religious, but that faith and logic just don't really relate to one another).  The point is that the religions which gain members are going to be those religions giving those members a reason to think that they belong to more than a social club. 

Politically, I line up pretty much with the Christian right, even though I am somewhat uncomfortable around deeply religions people.   Why is that?  I don't think there is any mystery.  I do not believe in religion (including the religious orghodoxy of liberalims/socialism/communism/global warming).  But I DO believe in OBJECTIVE TRUTH--that there issuch a thing as objective right and wrong.  I don't believe it is a mtter of subjective opinion.  Plus, I believe in individual responsibility for an individual's own actions, and I do NOT believe that a person is excused from responsibility because of lupbringing (or lack thereof), racism, lack of "understanding", etc. 

I think you can see why I end up with the same POLICY positions as a religious fundamentalist.  I don't believe in the "God" of Big Government, but I do believe that "truth" does not depend on one's internal, subjective view.  Further, I believe that the thousands of years of the Judeo--Christian tradition came up with some ideas of "truth" that should not be lightly discarded as passe'.   Conduct may not be right because God says so (as distinguished from God saying so because it is right), but that does not mean that the standards of conduct purportedly coming from God, and having stood the test of time, are not right as a matter of ojective truth.

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