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The Forum > Article Comments > Are we weaker than Muslims because we do not believe anymore? > Comments

Are we weaker than Muslims because we do not believe anymore? : Comments

By George Virsik, published 10/12/2004

George Virsik argues that Theo van Gogh may have been a champion of free speech but he was also insulting.

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Can't a person take the good parts of religion (social justice, human rights) and leave the rest and still be a useful person on this planet?
Posted by ericc, Friday, 10 December 2004 12:06:32 PM
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Firstly, the title of this article was not chosen by me. It was taken from Scholl-Latour, quoted at the end of my article, where the “us” refers to Europeans facing, and getting along with, a seemingly inevitable islamic future (in one or two centuries?). Neretheless the title, as stated in its generality, poses a legitimate question that is not so easy to answer. My article was not concerned with that but with the question of a fair criticism of Muslims, which does not include calling them “goatfuckers”. (My original title was “Offence is no criticism”.)

Coming to your question as it stands, the answer is, of course, yes, he can. The same as the answer to the question, “can’t a person take the good parts of mathematics (applications, in particular computers) and leave the rest (pure mathematics) and still be useful to the society” (you see, I am a pure mathematician by profession)? Nevertheless, there are two points to be made: Firstly, without pure mathematics of the past there would never have been computers of the present, and, secondly, without further support for pure mathematics the contemporary “good parts” would remain stale, unable to develop and adjust to new situations. Of course, “further support” must not mean simply return to 19th century (in case of pure mathematics as well as in case of e.g. Christianity). The problem is not with those who do not understand mathematics for whatever reasons, but with those who want to use their influnce to dscriminate against those who do. Similarly, the problem is not with those who do not believe (in a transcendental dimension of reality) but with the “fundamentalist non-religious”, called secularists.

However, I realise you are not defending van Gogh’s (and others’, e.g. Oriana Fallaci’s) methods of “criticism” but object to my reference to “the politically correct but morally permissive post-Christian society that thinks it can live without religion while replacing it with something that in many aspects (human rights, social justice) resembles a plastic replica of Christian values”. I realise, this was implicitly a statement that should have been clarified.

Firstly, the “politically correct but morally permissive (sexual morals) post Christian society” is what I see in Europe as the main adversaries of Islam (as well as Christianity). The question is in what degree and in what sense they dominate Europe. That cannot be explained in a few words.

Secondly, I admit, a misunderstanding could have arisen, as if I were describing all non-religious in this way. There is, of course, a difference. Not every non-believer is a secularists who thinks he/she has to fight, or at least socially discriminate against, those who call their world-view religious. The same as not every Christian is a fundamentalist, not every Muslim an islamist.

Finally, let me point to two different ways of viewing religion in principle. Psychologically, and in the sense of social function, there is no difference between a believer (in God or whatever else he/she sees as standing beyond physical and social reality) and a non-believer who is in fact a negative believer (you have here a distinction between atheists and agnostics). Everybody stands for something along a long scale of positions, from a fanatic, through all colours of fundamentalist, all the way to a tolerant, scientifically (not ideologically) enlightened one.

On the other hand, as far as the world view, the metaphysics, if you like, of what you believe in, is concerned, there is, of course, a difference between various traditional religions. And a big difference between religious believers (in a transcendental dimension of reality), and non-religious deniers. Here I must admit my bias in calling fashionalble today values mere superficial copies (plastic replicas) of their Christian counterparts. But this brings me far away from the topic of my article.
Posted by George, Saturday, 11 December 2004 12:55:47 AM
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Hi George,

Heaven forbid are you having problems with titles again?

You have again produced a provocative piece, one that I am mostly in disagreement with yet again; however your last effort did make me confront the idea of fundamentalist secularism, something I had not dwelt upon previously and for that I thank you.

It could be that you have a different breed of secularists over there but I find it hard to believe the burning down of Mosques and Churches were their work and not that of the various religious groups engaged in tit-for-tat revenge attacks. Do you have proof, have there been people arrested for these crimes and confessed to being secularists? If not then aren’t you committing a similar transgression, being offensive (in both senses of the word) rather than merely critical?

A piece by Tyler Golson(link below) who is teaching English in Damascus was raised in discussion a few days ago. Tyler found unexpectedly, in this nation member of the Axis of Evil, much support for Bush as a religious man, and much concern about the policies of his opponent Kerry, especially regarding evolution, gun control, abortion, and homosexuality. I had remarked that this should not be surprising since “these are two groups of fundamentalists, albeit of different faiths, which are often able to recognise commonality”. Isn’t this what you seem to be attempting?

I find it interesting your use of mathematics to clarify your point. I have always found a great similarity between religion and mathematics; both are descriptive tool used by humans to explain their world. Both are human constructs that admittedly have allowed great things to be achieved. We have been able to live in great populous cities through the order afforded by religion in the past and we have put humans on the moon through the application of mathematics.

But the number 42 has no reality in nature nor does Pythagoras’ theory. Both religion and mathematics are incredibly useful tools to improve our lot as humans, although without mankind neither exists. But just as I am not about to eschew the application of math not am I prepared to deny the ‘usefulness’ of the constructed God.

As Einstein said, “such a belief seems to me preferable to the lack of any transcendental outlook of life, and I wonder whether one can ever successfully render to the majority of mankind a more sublime means in order to satisfy its metaphysical needs”.

But as a human construct religion has to be malleable enough to adapt to where societies wish to take themselves, even when appearing to do the opposite. Fundamental Christianity, born out of the early 20th century American churches successfully quashed several strong pillars of Christ’s message while moving to a literal interpretation of the Bible. Preaching against wealth accumulation was never going to cut it in a version of Christianity that focussed on the individual in a capitalist society, nor was a message of peace going to survive intact when the need to protect those assets became apparent.

As in life the ability to adapt has given strength, remember the fittest will survive! You seem to be wanting to deny Islam that ability.


Posted by csteele, Sunday, 12 December 2004 1:40:38 AM
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You assume that the mores, norms & principals that the West holds valuable arise from Christianity. You make the same assumption about the Middle East. The best of western mores, norms, & values are rooted in traditions & political/cultural belief systems that predate the state imposition of Christianity. The worst of current fundamentalist Islam predates ( I suspect ) the Prophet. The current versions of these two faiths are the remnants of old empires/ political systems.

The struggle curently underway in Europe, Asia & elsewhere should not be trivialised by its ostensible connection to these current religious systems. It is a more fundamental sruggle than that. It is probably a struggle that may in large part determine the principal mores, norms & values of the planet, of all humanity, of the global village. To combat the worst of fundamentalist Islam we dont need some revitalisation of Christianity ( heaven forbid ), but a gritty & steadfast determination to hold true to values such as democracy & individual freedom that have taken much more that two thousand years to develope

Jesus Christ, I hope we win.
Posted by the confused, Sunday, 12 December 2004 10:21:28 AM
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I really feel sorry for all the sheep in the world...baa none!

The more I study religions the more I am convinced that man never worshipped anything but himself. Sir Richard Francis Burton.

I do not consider it an insult, but rather a compliment to be called an agnostic [or an athiest]. I do not pretend to know where many ignorant men are sure: that is all that agnosticism means.
Posted by puzzlesthewill, Monday, 13 December 2004 2:12:51 PM
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George, it is my personal opinion that the world would be a happier, safer place without religion with all its ugliness muddying the waters of society in general. Almost every religion, believes itself to be the one true faith, their god, their rites to be the only way to find peace and harmony. As an observer of what religions have done in the name of "God" I too am happy to acknowledge that "no faith" allows me my serenity in knowing I in no way contribute to the carnage, bullying, power hungry, including sexual and gender manipulations that is undertaken by "believers" of most "accepted" religions.
Posted by Mary, Monday, 13 December 2004 4:15:19 PM
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