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Asheville, NC, USA A Potpourri of Good Sense Updated January 26, 2015
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Recent essays:
Islamist terror & Islamic culture
Unconstitutional amendments
Nationhood & Multiculturalism
Good Friday
NSA, Snowden, national security
Nebulous cosmology
Another Washington disaster
Bye-bye privacy
U.S. states as power centers
Asteroids, meteors, and us
World peace - regional security
A New Year's wish list
Israel and Palestine
No Emancipation Celebration?
Presidential debates again!
The "Roberts trick"
The sins of The Fathers
NC vote on same-sex marriage
Updating the U.S. Constitution
Reforming a moribund Congress
A Civilization built on hot air
The "Occupy Wall St." protests
Arguing about God
The irrational stock exchange
The danger of belief
Obama's asteroid boondoggle
Presidential MQ's
"Don't ask, don't tell"
The Second Coming
Glob. Warm'g - western guilt?
Rot of campaign finance
Health care debacle
Cities in the sea
On human population
Education for democracy
Are 3 gods better than 1?
Stupid is as stupid does
A new economics
Immediate energy solution
A Public Stock Exchange
The Dawkins delusion
Viceroy of the carpenter?
Charisma and Democracy
US missile shield for Europe
Theologians,myth,relig.peace
Eve of Eden
A fable of fools
China's cheap labor
Memorial Day: an addition
Congress & representation
On doing stupid things
The Calendar & diplomacy
Science & Religion
The American President
The spark of life
Transport+the energy crisis
Letter to a "creationist"
An ordinary election...
Liberal & Conservative
Real campaign issues
Evolut'n/Creat'n conundrum
What's a matter?
The toy kings of Europe
Corporate pensions
E = MC².  Or is it  E = M?
The disease of militarism
Evolution v. "Intel. Design"
The Supreme Court...
Reps, Dems & coup d'├ętat
On going to Heaven
"Creationism" in school
Mars Madness
Global warming
Yahweh?
Free public transit
Lotto: a new poor tax
EU: the new imperialism
Religion, new & improved
Extra-terrestrial life?

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Suggested Related Essays:
"Arguing about God"   and:  "Theologians, myth, religious peace"

 Current essay:

Islamist terror and Islamic culture

Some say there's no connection

January 2015
Abstract:
Are Islamic states whose national religion preaches intolerance of alternative religious interpretations blameless when their citizens join cults that extend intolerance to fanatical levels? Would not religious extremism be reduced by Muslim nations embracing a modern toleration of religious pluralism, as Christianity has?

We often hear it claimed, as a defence of Islam, that "Islamist" terrorism has no connection with Islam, which teaches peace, not violence. And we often see western political leaders politely nodding that yes, it's important to distinguish "Islamism," which is bad, from Islam, which is good. But it's hard to ignore the fact that the "Islamist" terrorists have all sprouted from the soil of Islam; all come from Muslim cultures or Muslim communities. Their religious beliefs have been formed in Islamic schools and mosques, and they claim Islam and the commandments of the Koran as the inspiration and justification for their outrages. So are they wrong, the terrorists, when they say they're defending Islam? Don't they know what religion they're fighting for? Certainly, their view of Islam is different from that of their more quiescent fellow Muslims, but that they are grounded in Islam, and that they represent a particularly vicious branch of Islam, cannot be doubted. No matter how often we hear or say it, denial that Islamists are a part of Islam – and are a serious problem in Islam – can't be taken seriously.

Rather than an isolated phenomenon, is not Islamist terrorism and its philosophy a direct outgrowth of the religious environment in contemporary Muslim states? There are few Muslim countries where intolerance toward other faiths – particularly other sects of Islam – is not encouraged by both the religious establishment and the state. We see intolerance and even hatred toward those who hold different beliefs systematically taught in the schools, nourished in the mosques, and practiced in the culture. It is not surprising that cultures that preach and practice intolerance as official policy breed a violent religious intolerance in some members. What has been disappointing, if not so surprising, has been that these nations have failed to acknowledge Islamist terror as an outgrowth of their cultures and religion, and have largely failed to take any measures either to discourage recruitment to violent sects or to move their cultures toward a modern religious tolerance.

But can we reasonably expect rapid liberalizing changes in Muslim cultures, to remove the breeding ground for Islamist terrorists? Probably not, though we can hope for a quicker development of religious accommodation than that which Christianity experienced in its history. The Christian west went through centuries-long, bloody periods of sectarian violence, especially beginning with the Reformation period in the 16th century. Fortunately the west may at last have absorbed the idea that everyone has an equal right to his own faith.

Developing religious tolerance is part of the maturing process of a religion. It takes time to accept the modern notion that a "belief" is just that: it's a belief, not a demonstrable objective truth. To believe something is not the same as to know it. What I believe to be true may indeed be true, but it may also not be true, and that holds true (I believe) for every religious belief. It's neither easy nor pleasant to give up the comfortable idea that what one believes must be the one holy truth, and that others are deluded, but it's necessary in order to welcome those of other faiths within one's culture, and to wish them peace and joy in their beliefs. And that's the true measure of tolerance.

I wish I could give a prescription for the religious liberalization and liberation of Islam. Of course I can't. It used to be a tolerant religion, at least toward non-Muslim faiths, though it seems to always have had difficulties accepting alternative interpretations of Islam. Though I'm not Christian myself, I would point to the relationships of Christian denominations as an example for Muslims to emulate: Where I live, in an ordinary small American city, there are houses of worship of every conceivable religion. There are temples, synagogues, mosques, and a dazzling variety of Christian churches. There are churches for Roman Catholic, Greek and Russian Orthodox, and for Protestants of every stripe: Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Congregationalists, Lutherans, Pentecostals, Unitarians, Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, not to mention Mormons and churches catering to specific national or ethnic groupings. On my street my neighbors belong to many of these communities of belief. In some cases I know the religion of my neighbors, in other cases I don't. Does this matter? Not at all. We're friendly neighbors who discuss the weather, politics, and weeds in the lawn. I don't care about their faith, and they don't care about mine. Equally, the houses of worship are friendly neighbors with one another, often sponsoring musical events that attract people of all faiths.

Why does this solution of tolerance and good neighborly relations among faiths and among their adherents seem so unlikely in some Islamic societies? The answer, it seems to me, is that Islam, as a religious power structure, has come to dominate the civic polity and civil life in the cultures where it is a majority religion. Where politics and lawmaking should be an inclusive and open public search for solutions to social needs, where education should be an unfettered quest for knowledge, where written and spoken expression should reflect the free flow of ideas and the arts demonstrate freedom of emotional expression, the priestly power structure has arrogated to itself the power to determine all aspects of social life, and through fear and dogmatic censorship has darkened and stunted every form of social and human development, to the great detriment of these captive cultures.

To use the example of the history of Christianity, during many hundreds of years the Church of Rome ruled Europe in a reign of terror. Emperors fell on their knees before the Pope, who – they believed – could send them to Hell by excommunicating them from the Church. This fear was then enforced on the people of every state, where the priests assumed power of life and death over every citizen; a few words counter to the Church's teachings would get you executed by the priests. But when Martin Luther proclaimed in 1517 what many already suspected – that the priests and the Pope did not have the power they claimed – the Pope discovered he only had power over those who continued to believe in him, which was fewer and fewer. Today he has become irrelevant in politics. The freedoms and progress that have characterized the west came after the unquestioned authority of the priests was overturned in favor of free enquiry and expression. This same path – without the religious wars that marred the Christian transformation – is available to Muslim cultures today; it is the path of tolerance, peace, and progress.

In this new year, may a less dogmatic Islam learn from the historical mistakes of Christianity that accommodation to, and appreciation of, the beliefs of others must come eventually; much horror can be avoided by achieving it sooner rather than later. May Islamic leaders be motivated to develop a new tradition of understanding for those who find different ways to worship the deity, be they Sunni, Shia, Christian, Jewish, or whatever their choice. Teaching children love instead of hate should go far toward easing such religious terror as is currently infesting much of the world.

H. Paul Lillebo

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Previous essay: 
December 2014
The Supreme Court's Unconstitutional Constitutional Amendments

An end run around the American people

Abstract:
It's a cumbersome process, amending the U.S. Constitution the proper way. The Supreme Court has found another way: changing the meaning of the Constitution without changing the words -- which bypasses the constitutional process. Congress has concurred by its irresolute silence, but the court's irregular constitutional amendments are probably unconstitutional and certainly undemocratic. The court's back-door amendments represent a tyrannical rule of men, not of law, and the practice must be prohibited by Congress.

Next previous essay: 
July 2014
Nationhood and Multiculturalism

Cultural belonging and national identity.

Abstract:
The desire to control, safeguard, and keep separate one's own culture (the tribal drive) motivates all the separatist conflicts around the globe. The future of multiculturalism may be shaky.

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