|SOPHIA OR SOPHISTRY: A Cognitive Dissonance?|
"In the next realm, where things are clearer, clarity eats into freedom. We are free on earth because of cloudiness, because of error, because of marvelous limitation, and as much because of beauty as of blindness and evil. These always go with the blessing of freedom." Saul Bellow
One of the most interesting observations of the Swiss psychologist C. G. Jung was some minds, of the present age, belongs to other times, to earlier periods. Some of them live in the Stone Age, others in the Middle Ages, and still many anywhere in between. Certainly some societies fair better than others. In Arab-stans in general and in Libya in particular the opposite is more likely to be the case! That's, few of its people, a small minority, and as individuals to boot, can be described to partake in the crumbs and leftovers of the present time; the majority still subsists in the ethereal world of once-upon-a-time, somewhere close to the Dark Ages! This majority is made up of the traditionalist segments, which consists mostly of the religionists and their cohorts, tribalists, parochialists, et cetera. If by the contemporary world is meant the world of reason, science, and freedom, then these are in very short supply, indeed, in all that belt of wretchedness which extends from the Atlantic to the Cental Asian Steppes. Can tradition, qua religion, and reason live side by side? Yes, only when reason has the upper hand. Only reason and its derivative commonsense would make it possible for all segments of society to coexist together and to accept the principles of personal choice and mutual tolerance! However, we've also to keep this in mind, reason, since it de-mythologizes life and the world, is a very tough cookie to swallow particularly by those beholden in the traditional way of living. Hence, the ever present strifes between those who look forward and those who're happy to stay where their fathers and grandfathers have left them!
These thoughts were prompted by what's going on, on this site and maybe on other sites as well, on the "precedents" that had constituted the seminal ideas to many of the religio-juridical practices we still live by. While each generation comes to its own self consciousness by revising what it's been handed over by the last, we've to keep in mind that fact, lore, and misinformation had become so intertwined for quite some time to the degree that extracting a pristine truth is almost impossible. However, to dust off the bric-bracs may bring some luster to the surface and thus point to the anomalies and imperfections or just what the patina of time had covered up. As one of the most celebrated minds of all times had put it:
Many have made a trade of delusions
And false miracles, deceiving the stupid multitude.
Blinding ignorance does mislead us.
O! Wretched mortals, open your eyes.
Leonardo da Vinci
The dissonance is between an enquirer who probably has some inkling -or maybe just a hunch- of what's all about and his/her respondents, who, after a good amount of hums, twitters, and croons, no lyrics, have come out yet . They both have approached religion in different ways, if not opposite directions, but both seemed attached to the hagiographic lore of it! Unless the inquirer was such a conceited person to have planned the deep trenches for the respondents to fall in head over heels, according to the conspiracy streak believers, there's no way to escape the positing of some sort of dissonance here. It's a matter of which one is more apt to describe the situation, cognitive or epistemic! Is it only different perceptions or worse deeper than that?
The dissonance between the religious mentality and the subsequent ways of thinking has been around since as way a back as we can go or imagine. It's always there lurking in the crannies and crevices of every corner, sometimes simmering and other times burning. It's between two ways or more of how to look at the world. An orthodox, dogmatic, and literal religious view frozen in time, and an unorthodox open view towards what's becoming. A God centered and inspired, if not sanctioned, absolutist worldview versus a human-centered and malleable outlook.
The battle raging these days between the critics of the faith and its defenders, shows no truce even though sometimes verges on the absurd. The critics, or rather in this case the questioner, is upping the ante by posing more of the same questions1. This increase in temperature has been matched only by the defenders' lack of sangfroid. Anytime a defense reverts to character assassination, they not only sink their case further down the pit but is also a sign that the pompous and weary homilies are getting desperate in addition to boring the readers to death. The question: Are they getting anywhere? Yes and no! If nothing else it's breaking some of the taboos that certain issues are beyond human reach and grasping and thus best left to pickle. It shows also that some humans are in a hurry to wait and want the answers up-front. Both sides seem not to realize they've already reached some implicit agreement: They both, seem to agree on, but perhaps inadvertently are falling into the intellectual traps they were loath to admit, that's of cultural relativism. A cultural relativism, which, in essence, presumes that systems of belief were constructions within a social context, which, in turn, can only be evaluated within that context. Basically: Historicism writ large!
The exchange echoes across time that famous [or infamous] debate between the al-Ghazzalists (Avicennaists) and Ibn Rushdistis (Averroeists) [or, orthodoxists and unorthodoxists or ijtihadits] in Islam2 and that between the Augustinians and the Thomists, in Christianity3 . However, this time, the questions and 'answers', as serious as they are, pertain more to the human flaws, even when the humans were the Prophets and apostles, than to the essence of religion, of man, and of reason. Many of these questions, is ages-old, and will continue to swirl around as long as the world is still spinning! The answers, if there are any, have to be constructed. The constructions themselves have to include: (a) the time and context within which such events had taken place; (b) the values and tastes, i.e., civilization, that had regulated such a human conduct; and, ( c) a and b must be juxtaposed to the faith's dictates universal claim, that's the validity across time and space. There'll be and there must have been many opinions to rationalize, if not to justify, some of the questions but apparently and unfortunately few serious attempts, if any at all, to seek true and sincere answers4. Perhaps this was due to the assumption that the seeking of an honest answer(s) may whet the appetite for more of the same and worse, and thus raise further ruffles of the fringe, who still harbors a stricter adherence to the absolutes, which will only exacerbate the precarious and tenuous balances that are still holding the disparate factions and groups from throwing the gauntlet at each other.
Before the thread gets too long and the needle may get lost, so to speak, it's opportune to remember some obvious facts. If faith is an extraterrestrial affair then it must be referred to the miraculous nature of its occurrence. That's to let its super-naturalness hover over the mundane nature of the circumstantial. In other words, to let it fend off and slip out of the historical trap of its worldliness! Otherwise, it'd be caught in an untenable position, of being prophetic and reasonable in the same time. Which means it's to admit to the uncomfortable fact that its dictates are both absolutes and relatives in the same vein. If that would come to pass then its assumption of being across time and space is put in jeopardy. At that case religion, somehow or another, has to face the fact and deal with the uneasy task of: How faith can be a mistress to many lords, so to speak; how can it cater to the ethos and mores of a particular era or group and to be a constant and anchor of stability for all time?
It's true that religion is, among other things, a product of history. But "what is history" if not what Napoleon had claimed in a moment of lucidity, "but a fable agreed upon!" For example, just to argue about the skewed view of women in Islam, along the lines of Dan Brown, in The Da Vinci Code, which, by the way, has, so far, ruffled many all the way up to those wearing funny hats and red shoals to match in the Vatican: Islam, like its twin sources: Christianity, and Judaism, was mired in downgrading the female part of humanity to below slave level, if humans at all! What's getting more plausible by the day is this bias was only in part due to the roots of what was deemed supernatural in the mores and behaviors of its beginnings and more to the foundational myths. Such as the misogynic traits of the Scriptures. For instance, antiquity had its hang-ups with women, though, it elevated womanhood to the level of deities. al-Lati, Al-'uzza, and most of the other 360 idols in the pantheon of the Arabs5, were females. What possibly motivated the total demolition of the old order and the preference for the blank slate beginnings, was, due to the fact that Islam, unlike the other two monotheistic religions before it, cast itself from the outset as a wholistic replacement revolution to everything and anything before it, rather than a reformist movement and a displacement ideology6. As such, it was in need to invent new mythologies in place of the old ones, as foundations. Among these the anthropomorphization of God and the masculinity of God Himself. If God has human attributes - feelings and emotions of hate, love, anger, forgiving, revenge, etc.- and, He is a male, then, men must be superior to anything else including women!
In the frequently hurried and sometimes murky narratives of religions, Islam, perhaps, committed the most smearing of the old practices than the other two. To prove both its innovative and biased views toward women, it exaggerated, if not basically fabricated, the extreme misogynic nature of the pre-Islamic Arabs. How they were consumed by the shame of having a daughter or how sex-obsession ruled their mores and defined their idea of "honor". Of course, such apochryphal stories, [ Even if the practice existed must have been an exception rather than the rule otherwise how any group would kill its female babies and be able to reproduce itself?]; were to have been made more believable by the practices of those early converts to the New Faith7? From the Prophet himself, to Abu-baker, Omar, Ali, Khalid, etc. For, to marry a nine-year-old or to accept such marriages were equivalents, no matter what was the justification, and an abhorrence to human innate taste and values. Only a sex-obsessed maniac sees marriage in terms of biology only. Marriage was and still is a social and legal contract. Despite Islam's tagging such a contract as "Sexual Contract", it's not primarily sexual in nature. In the last analysis, its sexuality was by necessity rather than by decree. The joining together of couples is for the building of the social edifice on which society rests.
The fuss about what had happened thousands of years ago is only a distraction from facing the real dilemmas. When Arabs are sinking lower by the minute and truly deserving the undeniable truth of being the laughing stock of humanity, their debaters are throwing at each other such "pornographic" material, which, most of them wouldn't be comfortable letting his/her kids hear or to read about. Hollywood of the beardos! If one has not noticed yet, the questioner, though may differ in the way of his belief or unbelief, he's certainly in the same mental set-up of his detractors8!
If the debaters can bring themselves to the fact that Islam today faces the same choices and dilemmas other faiths have faced and still are facing, namely either to stick to the old line of frozen state of unchangeability, no matter what, or be a living entity that provides for the needs of its followers and interacts with life and the world, they'll do us and themselves good service. For, if Islam sticks to the first line, its future is no different than the Catholic faith in Western Europe where the populace is more disgruntled and the churches go empty. If it chooses the second, there's a lot of work to be done, to revive its musty tenets and modernize its outlook toward the world. An educated and literal society wouldn't be anymore thrilled by the simplicity of the liturgical rites nor keen in nitpicking the Canon Code. Islam has to face the posing of some deeper questions that will titillate, if not tease, the brains of humans before it humbles them to submission9.
1- Of course, most of these questions have no answers, otherwise they had been found somewhere in the long stretch of more than 14 centuries. No matter how many more questions are added, they're going to go unanswered. Their answers exist only within the belief system. Only a believer may accept the spin of those who made a career out of reading God's mind. Belief justifies anything since it's based beyond and above human reason. Thus, human reason has to content with its limitation and has to stay within the realm of this world and to seek to find way(s) to coexist with religion.
2- al-Ghazzali and Ibn Rushed represented the two extreme poles of Islamic medieval thought; perhaps still persists until today! Ghazzali represented the orthodox view which in essence downplayed the role of humans in the search for the truth. He based his cogitations on the assumptions: God is the only truth, prophecies were its carriers, and Islam was its embodiment on earth. Ghazzali led the campaign against philosophy and the closing of the "Gate of Ijtihad." Ibn Rushed was a generation after al-Ghazzali and represented the unorthodox school. His philosophical cogitations had instead reached a quite different view as to the role of humans in reaching the truth. As an Aristotelian he was sympathetic to the idea of human reason. Among his many theses: Religions are dynamic and evolving traditions, often shaped by epistemological influences from other traditions.
3- St. Augustine's and St. Thomas Aquinas represent the two extreme poles in Western Christian theology. St. Augustine's pessimistic view of the nature of man and the world, as caught in the struggle between good and evil, had led to the "either/or" theology; while St. Thomas Aquinas's optimistic view of man and the world as good by nature, was accredited to have led to the notion that reason can undergirth faith.
4- The answers perhaps maybe made easier to accept if Islam is looked at as political in nature, and as such, power, money, and sex were strong definers from the beginning.
5- The pantheon of the Arabs, al-ka3ba, since it was started by the monotheist, Ibrahim, in imitation of Mesopotamia's ziggurats, could have been a square; however, the subsequent pagan eras must have changed it into a circle. It was reported that the Prophet was not happy about the Ka3ba and wanted to destroy it and rebuilt it again. It's possible that this rebuilding and modification took place later on.
6- A displacement ideology would have sieved through the existing order to discard only what didn't go with the new philosophy and had saved the rest, As an example of this, take, for instance, Christianity, seen as a replacement to Judaism, kept most of the pratices of the societies that embraced it.
7- With the exceptions of the Prophet and few others, most of the new early converts were the wretched types, with very little culture or civilized mores.
8- When he was asked what would he do if he were faced with the same accusations about his wife, his answer was to send her back to her parents' home. As if she was in a loan to him to send back whenever there's something wrong between them; or a mere object to be disposed of whenever the occasion permits. What a view to marriage even among those who pretend to be reasonable?
9- Islam's strength is also its weakness. More than even Judaism, Islam's emphasis on liturgical rites and "thou shall and thou shall not" type of injunctions have made its appeal to the unlearned multitude but also made it less attractive to the learned. It's a fact, there are no deep questions for this minority -the learned- to contemplate, even heaven has been described in terms of earthly images and suppressed lustful human needs and desires.