Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Post #17 - Dogma

Believing Christians should actually find it easy to relate to Muslims who are seen as irrational and shackled by their faith. After all, we experience similar stereotyping right here in America. Those who manifest a readiness to base a life decision on faith, rather than on rationality alone, are often looked at askance -- a scientist who accepts the story of the Creation; a doctor who will not participate in an abortion procedure; a nurse who declines to facilitate suicide or euthanasia. All of them would recognize the type of scorn heard in these words: “Once you become a believing Muslim, you have said goodbye to your rationality...God is like that red line you cannot cross. He says you have to believe in X, Y or Z, and that is the end of your personal decision-making.” These were the judgments of a prominent geneticist, an acquaintance of Keshavarz. She used his comments to point up how such a condemnation effectively prevents any meaningful discussion on important issues. The believer in each case -- whether Christian or Muslim -- is ruled beyond the pale by the rabid “rationalist” before the debate even begins. Ayatollah Khomeini said once that those who are detractors of religiosity assume "that religious people have trampled upon the rule of reason and have no regard for it." But, he said, "Is it not the religious people who have written all the books of philosophy and the principles of jurisprudence?"
David Goa
As David J. Goa, director of the Chester Center for the Study of Religion and Public Life at the University of Alberta (Camrose, Canada) has written, both the zealous believer and the zealous secularist may have an “appetite for enemies” that prevents them from proceeding in a way that is utilizes the best of their own tradition. He describes zealousness as “spiritual adolescence” -- in which even zealously searching after truth can become a hindrance to finding wisdom. “Our age,” Goa says, “is an age of relativism and absolutism. At least within some quarters of our public life, we have elevated relativism to a public dogma.” Like all dogmas, this can become a hobble which we place on our own legs, then wonder why we have trouble keeping up with the pace and complexity of life. As Goa says, “No wonder St. Isaac says that when we learn what truth really is we will cease being zealous for truth, cease responding as if it were our place to defend and protect truth.”

Keshavarz cites the resolution offered by 12th century Islamic theologian Ghazali: “...the contest between the two [is] irrelevant and unnecessary...Since the human rational faculty is a manifestation of the divine light, putting it to use is absolutely necessary and a form of obedience to God.” She draws on other sources of Islamic thought to suggest the needed constraint on our use of rationality -- “they propose that understanding the limits of rationality is the only guarantee that the tool is used properly.” The goal of thought, they say, is to lead us to the “house of the King [God]”-- who is ishq, or love. Anything which does not lead in that direction is wrong use of our capacities. “The Muslim mystics,” writes Keshavarz, “say, 'I love, therefore I am.'” St. Paul wrote, "Though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all knowledge...but have not love, I am nothing.” (I Corinthians 13:2)

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