"Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and the Sultan of Johor are seen in a blue Proton Saga... "When asked whether there is any tension with the sultan, Dr Mahathir said: “No, I don’t see anything because I went to see him and he drove me to the airport. I don’t want to comment on the sultans because if I say anything that is not good then it’s not nice because he is the sultan”"

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Friday, January 30, 2009

"To my embarrassment I was born in bed with a lady." - Wilson Mizner

***

"Sayyid Iyad Jamaleddine, a reform-minded Iraqi Shiite cleric and one of the true revolutionaries calling for absolute separation of mosque and state in Iraq: "I am a Muslim. I am devoted to my religion. I want to get it back from the state and that is why I want a secular state... Secularism is not blasphemy,” he asserts. “The Koran is a book to be interpreted [by] each age. Each epoch should not be tied to interpretations from 1,000 years ago. We should be open to interpretations based on new and changing times.” Jamaleddine’s notion is not at all alien to Islamic tradition. In fact, it is deeply Quranic. Traditional thought makes room for a procedure known as naskh (literally “deletion”) by which certain Quranic verses are modified or abrogated by others, a procedure sanctioned by the Quran itself. The towering figure of the Islamic Enlightenment, Ibn Rushd (known in the West as Averroës), believed that whenever scripture contradicts reason or knowledge, scripture must be reinterpreted allegorically to remove the conflict.

Another entry point for the theological transformation of Islam is the concept of revelation... The skeptical Muslim philosopher Ibn al-Rawandi observed in the ninth century that the Prophet himself admitted the fallibility of prophecy. Muhammad claimed that the Jews and Christians cling to many false beliefs that were revealed to them by their prophets. The celebrated medieval medical pioneer, chemist, and philosopher Abu Bakr al-Razi argued that an all-wise deity would not give a special revelation to just one person, knowing that this would incite antagonism and disagreement...

Some of the most famous arguments for intermingling religion and government have been premised on the presumably public values of civil order and national self-interest. Jean-Jacques Rousseau argued that a “civil religion” is necessary to motivate citizens to follow the law and thus to maintain the social order... Illiberal it may be, but the rationale for Rousseauian civil religion is a public one: the necessity to motivate citizens to follow the law and keep the peace...

In 2001 a Pakistani professor named Younis Shaikh at a medical college in Islamabad was put on death row on charges of blasphemy. The blasphemy charge had been brought against him by some of his students after he remarked in class that that Prophet Muhammad could not have become Muslim until the age of forty, the age at which he received his first revelation, and that his parents were non-Muslims, since Muhammad had not yet founded Islam at the time of their deaths...

In the end, it is not religions that deserve our respect. A religion is a collection of metaphysical ideas and moral ideals. Ideas are believed or disbelieved; ideals are pursued or rejected. What deserves respect (or not) are people. We do not respect people by accepting whatever they think and do, but by holding them to the same intellectual, moral, and legal standards we apply to ourselves... Sometimes in order to respect religions’ peoples, we must critique people’s religion...

You can’t found a religion on a book. If you try, you’ll be confronted with two questions: “Why this book?” and “What does this book mean?” And these questions necessarily cannot be answered by the book itself. For if you look there for an answer to the first question, you will have already presupposed that the book in question is the book to look to. Likewise, claims about the meaning of the book found in the book are useless unless you already know what such claims are supposed to mean.

How would you go about deciding which text, or which version of a text, is to be scripture? Unless your decision is to he arbitrary, you must appeal to some principles or reasons that lavor some text over others. One can either gel such principles 1mm a source external to the text or from the text itself. But to get them from the text would be to presuppose an answer to the question at issue; namely, is this text credible? The situation is the same even if the text is the product of divine inspiration...

Of course, in the real world, sacred books are not the work of one person. a secretary of the invisible. They have complex histories... The Gospels we are familiar with were produced by a careful process of selection, editing, and rewriting undertaken over an extended period by early Christians in order to record the approved theology of the emerging Church and aid its missionary expansion.

Similarly, the story of the Quran is in some ways more interesting than the stories in it... The caliph Uthman made the Medinan text canonical, but competing manuscripts remained in use for centuries. Over the history of Islamic scholarship, over forty different Qurans were available, depending on the methods one adopted to determine what counts as a part of the canon. By the 1920s, an Egyptian edition of the so-called Hafs transmission became a standard, although the competing Warsh transmission persisted in west Africa and northwest Africa. One Islamic scholar has found over a dozen versions used across the globe. Even in Islamic studies today there is no textus receptus, a single universally accepted form of the Quran, as there is in studies of the Hebrew Bible.

A further difficulty is that books do not read books. Only people read books. And any book interesting enough to inspire a religion will be capable of being read in different ways by different people, with significantly different meanings. Here again the Quran is illustrative... the original manuscripts could hardly have been less transparent. They were written in Arabic that was not “pointed”; it lacked the dots and dashes that mark the vowels and that distinguish consonants such as z from r or b from t. As a result, a great many readings were possible depending on how the text was pointed and vowelized. Thus, early traditional commentators sometimes came up with as many as forty explanations for a single word. Perhaps the greatest of these commentators, Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti, who died in 1505, concluded that only God knows what some of the words mean. In the first three Muslim centuries, scholars came to recognize thousands of variants on the Quran corresponding to different schools of interpretation...

According to one leading historian, a favorite Bible passage for Protestants was “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). “Many insisted that hearing the Word preached was the only means of salvation. Not even reading the Bible would work. Some doubted whether deaf people could be saved.”...

Given the possibility of degrees of uncertainty, there are two ways we could elaborate the meaning of faith. On the first understanding, it becomes shorthand for holding on to a belief when the probability of its being true falls somewhere between 50 percent and 100 percent, in your estimation. In this case, faith collapses into reason...

The alternative is to say that faith consists in picking beliefs utterly without regard to our rational confidence in them, following “intuition” or a “gut feeling.” Faith is the invisible means of support for a belief when reasons fall out from under it. This is faith as intuition. Unfortunately, consulting entrails has never been a reliable guide to truth, even when those entrails are your own. As Nietzsche put it, a casual stroll through a lunatic asylum is enough to convince us that faith alone proves nothing. For the members of the Heaven’s Gate cult, it may have just felt right to strap on their sneakers and drink poison in anticipation of hitching a ride on a passing comet. Guts are important. Your guts are what digest things. But it is your brains that tell you which things to swallow and which not to swallow.

Sometimes people long for the time when God spoke to humanity regularly, as he is portrayed as doing in the Old Testament. In truth, we find ourselves besieged with voices today—voices from Madison Avenue, Hollywood, Tehran, the Vatican. The problem is not the absence of revelations but a cacophony of revelations. Which ones should be heeded, if any, and why? Once you ask that question, you have gone beyond raw intuition and have reentered the realm of reason. Faith as intuition is a kind of faith that no thinking person should aspire to.

On every plausible understanding of faith, then, it is not a real alternative to reason or evidence as a source of belief. Faith as trust bleeds into evidence because it is based in past reliability. Faith as fallible belief folds into reason because it is based on assessments of what is more or less likely to be true...

It might be convenient for theism if there were some particular spiritual or psychological state that prevents people from seeing signs of the divine, but we have been given no independent grounds for thinking that there is such a state.

The last, desperate attempt to explain why God is absent from experience supposes that God has his reasons for remaining mysterious that our minuscule nerve cells just cannot grasp. His hiddenness serves purposes that we cannot know. That could be. Then again, it could he that God revealing himself to everyone would serve purposes that we cannot know. There is no more reason to believe in unknown
purposes for hiding than to believe in unknown purposes for revealing, and therefore no reason to expect divine shyness instead of exhibitionism."

--- The Secular Conscience: Why Belief Belongs in Public Life / Austin Dacey
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