of apostasy and religious irrelevance...
There is a battle between Christian factions which seems to indicate their fear of becoming irrelevant.
Such is the present little stouch between Rod Dreher of The American Conservative and James K A Smith, a small publisher of religious books. When Rod Dreher chose a competiting publisher for his book on diving under the radar -- what he calls “The Benedict Option” -- there was some conflagration at ten paces. Smith who apparently wanted to published the book, pissed on it in an article he wrote for the Washington Post. To Rod, this sounded like sour grapes.
The position taken by Smith is that Christians such as Rod Dreher steal “scripts from home security commercials” because they are worried about secularity and want to batten the hatches down until the storm has passed.
Hey guys, secularity is not going to go away in Western societies, unless it is wiped out by Islamic belief fast spreading around. Presently, religions are fighting for their relevancy in a material world, in which other stuff has taken over from the metaphisycal view point of life.
Islam deals with the possible apostasy with temporal punishment. The abandonment or renunciation of the religious belief is treated severely:
In Islamic law (sharia), the view among the majority of medieval jurists was that a male apostate must be put to death unless he suffers from a mental disorder or converted under duress, for example, due to an imminent danger of being killed. A female apostate must be either executed, according to Shafi’i, Maliki, and Hanbali schools of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh), or imprisoned until she reverts to Islam as advocated by the Sunni Hanafi school and by Shi’a scholars.
Many Islamic scholars, but not all, consider apostasy as a Hudud (or Hadd) crime, that is one of six “crimes against God” a Muslim can commit, which deserves the fixed punishment of death as that is a “claim of God”.
Under traditional Islamic law an apostate may be given a waiting period while in incarceration to repent and accept Islam again and if not the apostate is to be killed without any reservations. This traditional view of Sunni and Shia Islamic fiqhs, or schools of jurisprudence (maḏāhib) each with their own interpretation of Sharia, varies as follows:
Hanafi - recommends three days of imprisonment before execution, although the delay before killing the Muslim apostate is not mandatory. Apostates who are men must be killed, states the Hanafi Sunni fiqh, while women must be held in solitary confinement and beaten every three days till they recant and return to Islam.
Maliki - allows up to ten days for recantation, after which the apostate must be killed. Both men and women apostates deserve death penalty according to the traditional view of Sunni Maliki fiqh.
Shafi’i - waiting period of three days is required to allow the Muslim apostate to repent and return to Islam. After the wait, execution is the traditional recommended punishment for both men and women apostates.
Hanbali - waiting period not necessary, but may be granted. Execution is traditional recommended punishment for both genders of Muslim apostates.
Ja’fari - waiting period not necessary, but may be granted according to this Shia fiqh. Male apostate must be executed, states the Jafari fiqh, while a female apostate must be held in solitary confinement till she repents and returns to Islam.
However, according to legal historian Sadakat Kadri, while apostasy was traditionally punished by death, executions were rare because “it was widely believed” that any accused apostate “who repented by articulating the shahada” (LA ILAHA ILLALLAH “There is no God but God”) “had to be forgiven” and their punishment delayed until after Judgement Day. This principle was upheld “even in extreme situations”, such as when an offender adopts Islam “only for fear of death”, based on the hadith that Muhammad had upbraided a follower for killing a raider who had uttered the shahada.
So here you are. Strong Islamic punishment is designed to make sure, the religious belief does not become irrelevant by accident or by design. It keeps the believers in check. There is no choice but to believe when the greater social structure is based on such barbaric attitude. This is what drives most of the Middle East Arabic philosophy, in the two opposing camps -- the Shia and the Sunni.
In the West, this used to be the case with Christianity during the time of the inquisition and quite somewhat before that. Anyone who did not believe in Jesus Christ would be taken to the gallows, put on the rack and plainly burnt to the stakes like a witch or a demon. Non-believers hid under logs and stones. There was no choice.
But things have changed a bit since then. Secularity came along with the Enlightenment, which did not mean that people became Buddhist, but became aware of scientific reasoning and experiments, as well as rediscovering the ancient philosphers. This challenged the idea of god, especially after this idea had been the subject of fierce bloody battles between the various codes of Christianity.
The resultant of this is that Christianity lost its grip on the social context, though it’s trying hard to hang on to it by various means, including transforming the “vengeance of god” which had been the main motivator or religious beliefs till the 19th century, into the “love of god”.
Many elections, though fought on secular matters, are often judged on “religious” fervour, including the 2016 US Presidential election. Few politicians admit to atheism, Julia Gillard being an exception.
In this new religious framework, the old temporal “punishment” for being an atheist or for abandoning the religion is now mutated into the idealised version of hell, where you will burn for ever and ever should you not believe or be a bad boy as well.
So, how can you make religious beliefs relevant when there are so many real pleasures to be had while living as loving good humans. No need to flagellate, nor starve on Fridays, nor pray for forgiveness for the illusion of an “original sin” that was truly wiped out by the reality of evolution. We can live very well under a secular code in which we don’t have to steal, kill or do something stupid to be shamelessly repentent.
The fear of religion becoming irrelevant becomes a puzzling issue for most deeply religious people. Enters Rod Dreher. He is a devout Christian who mostly thinks that “all is lost” but one’s own faith. This is where his Benedict Option comes in. His pessimism is counter-balanced by someone like James K A Smith who tries to instill some positive attitude in the general dwindling of numbers of people who believe in Genesis and mitigate the “moral depravity” that permeates new secular ideals, such as abortion and LGBTi views. Smith flies the religious flag high... But even under this new delusion, is the wilting carrot of paradise going to do the trick that the fear of the temporal painful old stick used to do?
No matter what, the only way to stir people into believing into religion is to instil fear -- especially the fear of death, natural death. We need to be sold an afterlife pass the pearly gates or a banquet at god’s table. Take a number. So, once the Church could not beat you up for not believing, it started to push once more the fear of god who will deliver His (god is a male) own version of virtual punishment at the end of time which is announced every week by some fundamentalist loonies -- mostly in the US. For the Muslim, the fear of the Hanafi is real because it means real death within three days at the hands of the rabid religious clerics.
Here we must see that this is the modus operandi of Sharia Law.
In countries where the secular code is the main deliverer of justice, such religious beliefs becomes irrelevant, though there is still a religious push to “multiculturally” recognise such repugnant barbaric practices. Here we should be living under no illusions. The fear of temporal punishment still maintains the “relevancy” of the Islamic religion, not the love of the burqa. There are nasty devious ways to temporaly punish someone for Muslim apostasy, without the secular law system knowing about it.
In countries that are borderline, such as Syria, the government is at war with religious beliefs that would demand religious punishment according to Sharia for misdemeanour which dont attract any penalty under the secular code, first namely apostasy...
The fear of becoming irrelevant is quite inexistent under such powerful religious beliefs, though it could be at the bottom of the barrel of motivation when all the other motives are exhausted once one is defeated. Here I mean the rise and decline of Daesh, which uses barbaric images to let us know it has recaptured the full value of bloody temporal punishment.
Here comes Smith:
When did Christians start stealing scripts from home security commercials?
We’re all familiar with the canned tropes of the alarm system advertisement: the female resident alone in a darkened house; the ominous threat lurking outside with a crowbar; the horror-flick music rising to a crescendo as the intruder approaches the door—but then repelled by the sight of the ADT sign in the window. Whew! Crisis averted. Cue bright sunshine and smiles and a three-course breakfast with the whole family around the table. Secure.
The home security industry trades on a combination of fear and idylls. In fact, they depend on swelling the idyllic in order to heighten the fear. The more you have to lose, the more you feel the threat.
A spate of recent books from Christian leaders and intellectuals seem to have stolen this script, swelling the jeremiad shelf. We might describe this as “the new alarmism.”
In Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput’s “Strangers in a Strange Land,” it is a character named “Obergefell” from the Supreme Court case legalizing gay marriage that lurks outside the door in a black knit cap. Do you know where your children are?
In “Out of the Ashes,” Providence College professor Anthony Esolen reaches back beyond the home security commercial to replay the end-of-civilization script. Sensing his own exaggeration, he doubles down, writing, “Sometimes entire civilizations do decay and die, and the people who point that out are correct.” (That’s all in italics in the original, by the way.) The surest sign of alarmism is when they tell you: “This isn’t alarmist!”
And in his much-anticipated book, “The Benedict Option,” blogger Rod Dreher has seen the apocalypse: “There are people alive today who may live to see the effective death of Christianity within our civilization. By God’s mercy, the faith may continue to flourish in the Global South and China, but barring a dramatic reversal of current trends, it will all but disappear entirely from Europe and North America. This may not be the end of the world, but it is the end of a world, and only the willfully blind would deny it.” Note, again: if you’re not alarmed, you’re not seeing things, a circular reasoning to help work yourself into a froth of fear.
[Christians have lost the culture wars. Should they withdraw from the mainstream?]
These are books intended for choirs: they are written to confirm biases, not change minds. They are not written to be overheard. If you’re not part of the alarmist choir, reading these books will sometimes feel like watching video smuggled out of secret meetings in underground bunkers.
This is why Rod Dreher is bitter. For him Smith is full of sour grapes:
A man who can read that response and still write the kind of hatchet job he penned for the Post is not interested in fairness. I could be very wrong about his personal motivations for writing that piece, and it was unwise to speculate on them. Let me simply say that I do not understand why he was so supportive of the Ben Op for a while, then suddenly so antagonistic to it.
But, if Smith wants to separate himself from us alarmist troglodytic Christians, hey, that’s fine by me. Here’s the thing, though: if he publicly affirms Biblical orthodoxy on same-sex marriage and LGBT issues in general, he’s going to have some explaining to do to his own colleagues. Christina Van Dyke, who teaches philosophy at Calvin alongside Smith, helped lead the witch hunt against Richard Swinburne last year, when the 82-year-old philosopher briefly affirmed that homosexuality was not compatible with Christian orthodoxy — this, at a meeting of the Midwest chapter of the Society of Christian Philosophers last year.
I don’t know where Smith stands on LGBT issues, but if he were to publicly affirm Christian orthodoxy, I expect that life would get really … alarming really fast for him at Calvin. But if he were to deny it, that would come as a surprise to more conservative Christians who have long assumed that he was one of them.
One can put as much stylistic distance between oneself and the nasty, fearful, homophobic, white-privilege-defending Christians as one wants, but that’s not going to save you if you hold the “heretical” position on LGBT issues in the academy. As Smith will find out if he actually holds to orthodoxy on the issue, and dares to come out of the closet over it. Winsomeness is a shield made of tissue paper. I don’t even work in academia and I have heard from more than a few Christian academics, even some who teach in Christian colleges and universities, who live in real fear for their careers over this issue. That is alarming.
And by the way, it’s pretty funny to accuse Archbishop Chaput, a Native American (he’s a member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi), of mourning the decline in white privilege.
UPDATE.2: Some of you have said it wasn’t fair for me to cite personal e-mails from Smith in which he praised the Benedict Option. OK. Let me just say then that in private, Smith had led me to believe that he was a supporter of my work on the Benedict Option. Does he deny that? I don’t think he can or will, because when I asked him last year after the Florida remarks why he had turned, he said, in writing, that he had changed his mind about it. Ask him. He knows.
Thank you for this precise explanation, Mr Dreher, but Old Gus has seen it before: publishers are money-men first. Smith would have done his sums and seen that the publication of Rod’s work would have brought him a bit of cash in return. So when doing the bidding for the publishing rights, he could not say he did not like the work, could he? In publishing love is secondary -- finance comes first.
But having been snubbed, and seeing that some other publisher is going to make the cash instead, would have prompted Smith to say WHAT HE REALLY THOUGH about the work.
And it’s not that bad... It’s only a small difference between his own positivism and the pessimism of Rod Dreher. Both are still in fear of religious irrelevancy, in their own ways.
James K. A. Smith (born 1970) is a Canadian philosopher who is currently Professor of Philosophy at Calvin College, holding the Gary & Henrietta Byker Chair in Applied Reformed Theology & Worldview. He is a notable figure associated with Radical Orthodoxy, a theo-philosophical movement within Postmodern Christianity (although Smith now questions the reality of Radical Orthodoxy as an ongoing theological movement: “Is ‘radical orthodoxy’ still a thing? I hadn’t realized”). His work is undertaken at the borderlands between philosophy, theology, ethics, aesthetics, science, and politics. Drawing from continental philosophy and informed by a long Augustinian tradition of theological cultural critique—from Augustine and Calvin to Edwards and Kuyper—his interests are in bringing critical thought to bear on the practices of the church and the church’s witness to culture, culminating in the need to interpret and understand what he has called “cultural liturgies.”
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