Saturday, April 13, 2013

St Thomas Aquinas' advice to the New Atheists

Interesting article about Islam and the New Atheism (though the Independent ought to know that Richard Dawkins is an Oxford not a Cambridge scientist. Fact checking)!

I agree with Richard Dawkins that anyone can have an opinion about Islam without having read the Koran. Many no doubt practice Islam without having read it completely (as do people practice Christianity without having read the Bible from cover to cover though they have a better excuse given its comparative length) but what is the weight of that opinion if it is grounded in ignorance?
Richard Dawkins' opinion on Islam comes to have the same value as my opinion on genetics and if one is going to be a public intellectual critiquing Islam, I think one has to do better than that. New lazy atheism is not going to win many battles...

Equally curious is suggesting that having an opinion about Islam without having read the Koran is similar to having an opinion about Nazism without having read Mein Kampf. The first is a normative scriptural text embedded in a community of believers; the second is a part political tract, part autobiographical testimony that not even its author thought of in normative scriptural terms (though some of his followers may have) though its was politic to own a copy (if reading it was optional). Islam's core is its embedded belief structure, Nazisms' core was its power grabbing dynamic at a particular moment of history. Of course the choice of comparison is undoubtedly meant to be offensive and from a basically good, and indeed shy, man that is depressing.

The charge of 'Islamophobia' would be undermined and deflected if the New Atheists were able to focus on criticising Islam as such (and reading the Koran might be a good place to start) rather than on what a proportion of Muslims may or may not be inspired to do by a complex set of motives only some of which may be religious.

Indeed the New Atheists need to take a leaf out of the book of St Thomas Aquinas (of whom, I do not expect, they are a great fan) that in criticising the arguments (or world views) of another, you first construct their best possible arguments (or accounts) of what they believe and then critique them. For what is the point of criticising something at its weakest point? Know thy 'enemy' from the heart not from the periphery.

Now I expect that many professors of Islam think any criticism of Islam by atheists (new or otherwise) is impermissible but I think every tradition ought to welcome criticism as from a believer's perspective it helps refine why (and what within in it) we actually believe in? Lao Tzu says of the Tao that if it was not laughed at, it would not be the Tao. By which I think he meant that anything that aspires to being ultimately true acquires around it all kinds of untruths not least the fanaticism of belief. These need to be shed. After all if we are secure in the ultimate reality of things should not the result be a mirroring of that compassion and mercy that is at the heart of things? Nothing is more unnecessary than killing for the truth!

The opposition to Mrs Thatcher manifest this week after her death might like to ponder this rule to rather than participate in, I confess, rather offensive parties at her demise personally take the opportunity afforded to assess her legacy and show why you see it as having failed, deconstruct the ideological hagiography, with a different portrayal, not of the person, flawed as we all are, but of the truth claims and consequences of the ideology. Find the opportunity to protest 'Thatcherism' by bearing witness to alternatives.

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