Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

“Innocence of Muslims” and the Faith Fallacy

September 21, 2012 10:37 am 9 comments

In all the discussion of freedom of speech because of the “Innocence of Muslims” video, and the resurgent disputes about Islam – which, if any, aspects of the religion are cause for concern, what in it deserving of regard – both the left’s and the right’s reflexive political positioning tend to overlook a deeper issue. People’s reactions to the politicized debate consistently reflect an unexamined piety that transcends any political divide, even that between the religious and the secular. That piety is the profession that people’s faiths, even if they are not shared, should at least be respected.

In what is considered to be civil discourse, it is usually only the atheist who will criticize doctrines of faith – transgress, that is, against the automatic acquiescence in respect for them. Yet permitting challenges to doctrines of faith to be identified with atheism lets the faith doctrines off the hook. Then, the challenge can be considered by others to function purely as a rejection of faith itself. The critique of a set of ideas is thus frequently overlooked by respondents, who come to the defense of religion in general.

Consider that what we mean by faith is both an activity of the spirit, a belief in something, and of the mind – the organized collection of ideas, symbols, metaphors, and narratives in which the person believes: the doctrine. It is reasonable enough to see the latter as the product of the former. There is a natural human drive toward meaning, with the desire for solace amid our existential mystery and dread. This drive creates out of the spiritual inclination to believe, in various forms and from various historical circumstances, the particular objects of belief: the various faith doctrines, both lesser and greater in the numbers of adherents to them. These doctrines, in turn, in answer to spiritual yearning, produce more of the former sense of faith: the activity of the spirit, as additional people are drawn to believe, to become adherents of an established faith. The doctrines of these faiths are generally total, all encompassing accounts of the world and our being in it, so that they are exclusive of other accounts, of other doctrines.

Historically, we well know, the presence of competing faiths has led to bitter, even greatly murderous conflict. It is currently so, in regions around the world. In response, in the increasing refinements of our civilization, liberal societies have sought to accommodate this multiplicity of mutually exclusive faith doctrines. Because the force of the human drive that produces them is so great, and the dread and the fearful mystery of that drive’s source so universal, a common bond, ironically, is created across these otherwise exclusive doctrinal divides. In our secular historical development toward social accommodation we have created, as an adjunct idea to various social accommodations, an ecumenical accommodation, as well – a kind of holy of holies that seeks to bring peace among all doctrines and between the religious and secular worlds. This meta-level faith-teaching affirms that all faiths are expressions of our deep need for connection with God and God’s love. Accordingly, all faiths are to be respected.

That is the piety. It is rejected by some numbers of religious fundamentalists and extremists, but we marginalize these rejectionists by those very labels we apply to them. It is also rejected by those atheists who, rather than simply lacking or rejecting faith for themselves, intellectually campaign on behalf of their atheism.

A Marxist will reject this principle of accommodation because Marxism is an atheism. However, most people on the political left, because of contemporary notions of tolerance for difference and esteem for diversity, will accept the principle. Most people on the right will accept it, too, particularly in the United States, because the principle is part of the mythos of the nation’s founding in religious toleration and freedom of worship. It is sometimes, too, part of a hard-earned accommodation by religious minorities that struggled to gain respect for their own faiths. However, it should be readily apparent, though it is an appearance mostly overlooked, that for the faithful of left, right, or middle, there is a buried source of potentially continued conflict beneath all of this accommodation – and this is the unaltered totality and exclusivity that persists in each religion’s individual doctrine. These unaltered claims to singularity and supremacy together are the unecumenical bomb in the theological armory whose fuse goes unlit – the Love (Kumbayah) that is actually not love (infidels!) that dare not speak its name.

For the more secular on the left – those whose spiritual inclinations are more casually directed in life – this unacknowledged conflict emerges in the contradiction between their general and profound commitment to reason and the unreason in the faiths to which these secularists offer so much privilege. In the ongoing and emotional conflicts over Islam, for instance, throughout the West and in the U.S., many on the left are quick – because they think the attacks from the right to be politically motivated, emotional, and exclusionary – to claim rejections of Islam to be acts of intolerance and bigotry. If one does not simply accept and assert that Islam is a religion of peace and love – because, according to the piety, all religions are doctrines of peace and love (hellfire and eternal damnation and historical subjugation of the Godless inferior or infidel notwithstanding) – then one commits a form of secular sin.

Jesus Christ’s declaration is “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” But still, though Christianity be not your way, and your eternal soul be damned, and against much historical evidence, you must say it is a religion of peace and love, and you should respect it.

The rules for inclusion in the protected circle of this piety are not codified. Origins obscured by ancient history are beneficial. When reason did not rule, it seems more likely to many, the Creator would more likely have made His appearances in all sorts of now unbelievable ways. For some, the eighth century origins of Islam are a little less beatified by the ancient holy halo. Take it to the Mormon nineteenth century and golden tablets in upstate New York, and though considerable progress toward fallacious respect has been achieved, one can still cry “cult” and not be branded a bigot. If the faith is small enough, conventional of practice, and seeks no political role, respect in toleration is easily proffered.

There is every reason to offer this respect in mere toleration. This liberal ideal is purposeful and valuable. Until we all find our way to that truth that is the one way for all, or that permits, quite lucidly and coherently, all ways for one and all, it is the only way we can live in peace. But faiths will not always go to work, come home, and behind closed doors sup and keep to themselves. They will impinge on their neighbors. When they do, we need to consider religious doctrines as we would any other set of ideas, any other conduct, any other argument or claim about the nature of the world. There is no good reason – no reason at all – to treat religious faiths any differently, and nothing other than circular reasoning to argue that a nonbeliever should acknowledge any religious doctrine, far from sacred, as anything more than just another set of ideas.  No faith, as a system of belief and a practice of living, is automatically deserving of respect just because others commit their lives and pray to it. Ideas, whatever label we affix to them, including that of faith, must earn our respect intellectually, as well as spiritually, and not be uncritically awarded it.

9 Comments

  • You are over thinking the issue. It’s really very simple. There are people (not just Muslims) who seek to control knowllege. We can’t determine the course for the rest of the world. But here, on the USA, we are protected be the Constitution. It gaurantees our most fundamental rights. Rights! Not privleges. Either we have free speech, or we don’t. You don’t pick and choose your RIGHTS! They all matter or none do. It’s really that simple.

    • Well, Ethan, I’m glad we agree on the importance of the principle, but a far greater problem than “over thinking” issues is the more common malady of under thinking them – a more likely danger, too, when someone declares a profound idea still not firmly established in the world after several thousand years of civilization to be really very simple. The Constitution is the product of systematic thought. The distinction between “rights” and “privileges” is arrived at though effort in thought. The claim that “you don’t get to pick and choose your rights” is supportable only as the product of complex thought.

      It isn’t very simple at all. But when one has thought it through enough, it can be very clear.

    • Well, Ethan, I’m glad we agree on the importance of the principle, but a far greater problem than “over thinking” issues is the more common malady of under thinking them – a more likely danger, too, when someone declares a profound idea still not firmly established in the world after several thousand years of civilization to be really very simple. The Constitution is the product of systematic thought. The distinction between “rights” and “privileges” is arrived at through effort in thought. The claim that “you don’t get to pick and choose your rights” is supportable only as the product of complex thought.

      It isn’t very simple at all. But when one has thought it through enough, it can be very clear.

  • How can you substantiate this claim. It sounds ridiculous. The Jews of Medinah, then Yasrab were protected and lived in peace under Muslim rule till the modern era. During the Spanish inquisition thousands of Jews sought refuge in the Ottoman Empire in Morocco, Tunisia Turkey Bulgaria Hungary and they lived in total harmony for centuries in fact lots of the Jews of East European countries were settled there by the Turks, till Israel was created and then they moved there, some still live in these places even today. I have never read of any Jewish slaughter during the time of the Prophet,

    • That is not correct at all.Muslim doctrine had instigate hate and murder of the infidel during the expansion under the prophet? Mohamed.Europe had to faith back to preserve their life. In the Koran is clearly state that people who are not believe in Muslim doctrine are the enemy and can be lie to them and eliminate. Many christian had been killed because of they faith in Jesus and Jews too. Nothing had change as in many Muslim country Christians are persecute and kill on this day!

    • There were massacres of Jews in the Moslem world before Israel was founded.

  • Mohammad had 900 unarmed Jews decapitated at Quaraza. An act identical in quality although not quantity to those of Rudolf Hoss, the Commandant of Auschwitz…The civilized world did not respect Hoss’s beliefs…it executed him because of his actions…War criminals do not get respect..

    • September 24, 2012
      3:43 am
      How can you substantiate this claim. It sounds ridiculous. The Jews of Medinah, then Yasrab were protected and lived in peace under Muslim rule till the modern era. During the Spanish inquisition thousands of Jews sought refuge in the Ottoman Empire in Morocco, Tunisia Turkey Bulgaria Hungary and they lived in total harmony for centuries in fact lots of the Jews of East European countries were settled there by the Turks, till Israel was created and then they moved there, some still live in these places even today. I have never read of any Jewish slaughter during the time of the Prophet,

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture First English-Language Trailer Debuts for Natalie Portman’s Hebrew Film ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness,’ Based on Amos Oz’s Memoir (VIDEO)

    First English-Language Trailer Debuts for Natalie Portman’s Hebrew Film ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness,’ Based on Amos Oz’s Memoir (VIDEO)

    The first English-language trailer for Natalie Portman’s directorial debut — A Tale of Love and Darkness — based on Israeli author Amos Oz’s memoir, was released on Thursday. The movie, originally filmed in Hebrew, tells the story of Oz’s childhood in Jerusalem at the end of the British Mandate and the early years of Israel’s independence. Portman, who was born in Israel and speaks fluent Hebrew, plays the lead role of Fania, the author’s mother. She struggles to raise her son as she deals with inner demons, a […]

    Read more →
  • Features As Berlin Prices Rise, Israelis Turn East for German Real-Estate Bargains

    As Berlin Prices Rise, Israelis Turn East for German Real-Estate Bargains

    JNS.org – Sonnenallee, a street in Berlin’s Neukölln district, looks like it comes straight out of an Arab city — so much so that it goes by the nickname “Gaza Strip.” Kebab and bakery shops are advertised in Arabic; men sit in men-only coffee shops; and bridal shop windows showcase glittery, not-so-stylish gowns. But take a random turn, and you’ll find a swath of bars, burger joints, and Indian restaurants where hip Berliners announce that they have arrived to urban coolness. […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israeli Actress Gal Gadot Slays in ‘Wonder Woman’ Trailer (VIDEO)

    Israeli Actress Gal Gadot Slays in ‘Wonder Woman’ Trailer (VIDEO)

    Israeli actress Gal Gadot engages in fierce action sequences in the new Wonder Woman trailer, which Warner Bros. premiered during the San Diego Comic-Con on Saturday. The nearly 3-minute trailer, the first to debut for the superhero film, shows scenes of Diana, princess of the Amazons, fighting alongside men in the battle against the world’s toughest enemies. The first shot of the video shows Wonder Woman discovering a man, Steve Trevor (played by actor Chris Pine), washed ashore. The clip then takes viewers to the all-female island where Wonder Woman was born. […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture A Theatrical Look at Diplomacy and the Oslo Accords (REVIEW)

    A Theatrical Look at Diplomacy and the Oslo Accords (REVIEW)

    Is diplomacy worthwhile, even if the end result isn’t what we hoped for? That is the question, among many others, posed by the new play Oslo, by J.T. Rogers. Making its New York debut at Lincoln Center, the play examines the secret diplomatic process that led to the historic 1993 peace accords. The character of Shimon Peres makes an appearance onstage — and he, along with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, tower over the proceedings. But they mainly do so in absentia. Instead, […]

    Read more →
  • Spirituality/Tradition Sports Israeli Trailblazer Dean Kremer Brings Jewish Values to Nascent Pro Baseball Career

    Israeli Trailblazer Dean Kremer Brings Jewish Values to Nascent Pro Baseball Career

    JNS.org – Other than being part of the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, Sandy Koufax and Dean Kremer have something else in common: a respect for Jewish tradition. Koufax — who was recently ranked by ESPN as the best left-handed pitcher in Major League Baseball (MLB) history — decided not to pitch Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because the game fell on Yom Kippur. “I would do the same,” Kremer said in an interview. Last month, the 20-year-old Kremer became […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Lead Guitarist of British Rock Band Queen Asks Adam Lambert to Sing in Hebrew During Upcoming Israel Concert

    Lead Guitarist of British Rock Band Queen Asks Adam Lambert to Sing in Hebrew During Upcoming Israel Concert

    The famed lead guitarist of British rock band Queen, Brian May, encouraged Jewish singer-songwriter Adam Lambert to perform in Hebrew during their upcoming joint concert in Israel, an entertainment industry advocacy organization reported on Tuesday. During a recent interview with Israeli television personality Assi Azar, May was played a 2005 video of Lambert singing the popular song Shir L’Shalom, (Song for Peace). May was so impressed by Lambert’s singing of the Hebrew track that he told the American singer, “We have to do that. Let’s […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Kenyan Marathoner to Compete for Israel in Rio Olympics

    Kenyan Marathoner to Compete for Israel in Rio Olympics

    JNS.org – Kenyan-born marathoner Lonah Chemtai is expected to compete for Israel at the Olympics Games in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil next month after gaining a last minute approval. “I am very proud [to represent Israel] and I hope to achieve a new personal best time,” Chemtai told Reuters. Chemtai, who grew up a rural village in western Kenya, first came to Israel in 2009 to care of the children of her country’s ambassador to Israel. The 27-year-old runner recently gained […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity Will Laughs Lead to Love on Show About Orthodox Dating?

    Will Laughs Lead to Love on Show About Orthodox Dating?

    To date or not to date? That is not the question for most Modern Orthodox singles in New York. The question is when will they find their future spouses, and when will their families stop nagging them about having babies? Inspired by the success of the Israeli show “Srugim,” Leah Gottfried, 25, decided she would create and star in her own show, “Soon By You.” “Dating is so serious already,” Gottfried said. “We wanted to take a lighter approach and laugh at the […]

    Read more →