Thursday, October 25

Lots of discussions about Islam these days, of course, more precisely two questions:

What is the relationship of bin Laden's ideology to the rest of Islam?

and What is the relationship of bin Laden's type of "Islamist fundamentalism" to other types of religious fundamentalism?

The discussions are often shaped, unfortunately, I think, by two overblown and misplaced concerns: to not offend Muslims in general and to make sure religion in general doesn't become a culprit.

One of President Bush's primary advisors on the matter, David Forte, seems particularly intent on drawing all kinds of lines between bin Laden and religion, period. His conversation-starting article can be found here in the National Review. (Actually, the conversation was started by Andrew Sullivan in the NYTimes Magazine. Article's here. ) Subsequent responses in the pages ("on the screens?") of NRO have come from Daniel Pipes and today, , Stephen Schwartz. Here's a good summary of the dispute so far as it centers around the specific issue of the role of violence within Islam: Click here.

I don't really understand Forte's concern or cause here. Of course bin Laden's ideology is rooted in Islam and has a religious component, although it's also true that he's more akin to medieval princes setting forth under the cross of the Crusades to whom religion was a cover for looting, pillaging, adventure, and getting to build their very own castles in Palestine. But sure, it's "religious" in a way, and it's certainly "fundamentalist", too, and as such bears the qualities of all fundamentalism, whether that be Christian, Islam or anything else - selectivity.

People are often wrong about this. They define "fundamentalism" as a religious perspective that takes "everything literally" and applies all tenets of a religion to life without discrimination, sensitivity, nuance, context or mercy. That's just not what fundamentalism is - it's selective application of literal readings of one's religion. Do evangelical Christian fundamentalists apply all of what they read in the Bible literally to life? Of course not. If they did, they'd all be living in community on just what they need, celebrating eucharist every week and believing that that same eucharist was Jesus' Real Presence among them. Uh...they don't.

So very properly defining bin Laden's ideology as one that's partally rooted in Islamist fundamentalism of a certain type is correct, and saying as such doesn't cast a shadow on religion in general, or on orthodox Christianity specifically.

Hey. I made a big-time Blog, albeit anonymously. Andrew Sullivan printed part of a letter I shot off to him about his debate with Katha Pollitt. Nothing new - it's essentially what I wrote here about the matter. (Sullivan doesn't print names of his letter-writers).

Feast of 40 Martyrs of England and Wales.

Modern American Catholics don't really have a sense of how vigorously and consistently Roman Catholicism was persecuted in post-Reformation England (with the exception of Queen Mary's rule, of course!). Today's feast is a good reminder - a summary is here.

By the way, one of the more interesting historical redefinitions that's been going on in recent years is re-evaluating the English Reformation. Although it was always there to be plainly seen, historians (and, just as importantly, those who communicate history to the public through textbooks and so on) have persisted in downplaying the more brutal aspects of Henry VIII's break with Rome, including the obvious element of power-grabbing.

That's changing, though. Two books that you might look into if you're interested in such things: The Stripping of the Altars:Traditional Religion in England, 1400-1580 by Eamon Duffy really broke open scholarship in this area, maintaing that religion in England before the Reformation wasn't particularly corrupt or in need of reform - it was vital, meaningful and connected to both the needs of the people and the core truths of Christianity.

Another book to look at is Peter Ackroyd's biography of Thomas More.

A couple of older books on the subject from the Catholic perspective:How the Reformation Happened by Hillaire Belloc and The Beginning of the English Reformation by Hugh Ross Williamson.

Oh, this is disgusting. Talk about exploitation. This is just creepy. Who would go this low? Well, I guess a guy who makes his living pretending to communicate with the dead would:

"Crossing Over" host John Edward "will feature attempts to communicate with victims of the Sept. 11 attacks" in several episodes airing next month during November sweeps.

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