The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, July 23, 2007

Why no Christianity-Islam debates here

Was in Las Vegas over the weekend, at a Kempo seminar taught by my first instructor, Steve Mohammad. He’s 68 years old, and his movement is completely impeccable. The Whipping Willow martial arts association has acknowledged him as the creator of his own style, and this was rather a coming out party.

Had a banquet later at a Mohammad’s Mosque in Vegas—very nice, and some of the conversations were even more interesting. One started skirting in the direction of comparing black folks and white folks. I knew where that one was going, and backed out of it pretty fast.

And this is germane to the question of discussing whether Islam can produce Democratic, capitalistic societies as Christianity has, and why I won’t go there, either.

Here’s the problem? Who says Christianity produced the governmental and economic institutions that make the West Wealthier than the Middle East? Why, Christians say that. Do atheists? It’s been my experience that atheists generally say that the economic and political institutions we hold dear evolved DESPITE Christianity, not because of it. I’m not agreeing, just pointing out that you can’t automatically link the two.

And even if you could, you would have to demonstrate that the underlying historical conditions have been identical. If so, it is reasonable to contrast the effectiveness of the two. If not, well…

Well, in that case, you get a discussion that is distressingly similar to conversations I’ve had about women (“since women haven’t contributed as much to science, art, and politics, clearly they are intrinsically less capable in these areas”) or race (“since blacks have higher poverty and crime levels, clearly they have less innate capacity…”) dozens of time sover the years.

Not that some of these arguments might not have merit. But here’s the important part: If group X has a discussion about their merits in respect to group Y, and there are not members of group Y present, the conclusion will be, at best, that the groups are equal. If it is decided that one is better than the other, then group X will come out on top. 99% of the time.

In other words, there is nothing more predictable than the fact that any homogeneous group will conclude that they are the best. Whites, blacks, women, men, Americans, Europeans, gays, straights, Christians, Moslems.

Want to have a chance to have a real discussion? Have equal numbers of Moslems in the discussion. Otherwise, you’ll come to the conclusion that Christianity is better for producing Democracy, or truffles, or anything else.

Better still: have the discussion between a group of historians and economists who are Chinese Buddhists, who have no investment in either side winning.

What bothers me is the tendency people seem to have to forget (or ignore the fact) that we have an innate, automatic tendency to believe we are the best, that our team, tribe, nation, gender, religion, political party, or sexual orientation is the best. That’s just the way most people think. It disturbs me when members of group X sit around, discuss their relative merits with group Y, and then feel secure in their apparent victory.

And of course, their reasoning makes sense to them. Heck, there is nothing in the world that is easier than agreeing with what you already believe. And I know NO ONE who doesn’t think that they have good reasons for what they believe. That their beliefs aren’t based on facts and logic.

Wow. I agree with myself? I convince myself? Great. Wow. I conclude that blacks, or science fiction writers/fans, or martial artists, or 50-somethings, or Yogis are the enlightened ones? Big surprise.

I simply won’t consider any conversation about whether Islam is less suitable for the production of a democratic republic with liberty for all, unless equal numbers of representatives of the opposite point of view are present. Unless it’s clearly labeled as a B.S. conversation being conducted merely for fun Too many factors. America only freed its slaves 150 years ago, and gave the vote to women 100 years ago—and guaranteed full legal rights to Americans of African descent only about 40 years ago. Trying to separate out what levels of development are made possible by varying resources and historical accidents is a task that taxes the academic theoretician, let alone the practical social engineer.

And when there are vested interests and psychological tendencies that make it CERTAIN that X is 99% of the time going to come to the conclusion that X is best, it’s worse. When the issue is as charged as the history between Christianity and Islam, or Europe and the Middle East, I wouldn’t really expect answers to arise unless the conversation is…dare I say it? Fair and Balanced.

Go ahead, have those conversations--just grasp that they are all straw man discussions. Never make the mistake of thinking you've settled something.
Only crazy people don't agree with themselves.

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