Merry Christmas and all that

It’s that time of year again, and I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas, greetings of the season and happy holidays!

I found this rather timely post about the nature and giving of presents during Christmastime. Sometimes we should stand back and think about the more important things in life, and more meaningful ways of giving. ‘The present and future of presents’, here (h/t Far Outliers, who’s also on my blogroll).

Also from Far Outliers, I also discovered the blog Europe Endless. The author has two thought-provoking pieces of writing, one from someone else and the other an original commentary.

On democracy and enlightenment. An excerpt:

We anti-foundationalists, however, regard Enlightenment rationalism as an unfortunate attempt to beat religion at religion’s own game – the game of pretending that there is something above and beyond human history that can sit in judgment on that history. We argue that although some cultures are better than others, there are no transcultural criteria of “betterness” that we can appeal to when we say that modern democratic societies are better than feudal societies, or that egalitarian societies are better than racist or sexist ones. We are sure that rule by officials freely elected by literate and well-educated voters is better than rule by priests and kings, but we would not try to demonstrate the truth of this claim to a proponent of theocracy or of monarchy. We suspect that if the study of history cannot convince such a proponent of the falsity of his views, nothing else can do so.

On the ‘myth’ of European secularism.

Immigration has become the major test of Europe’s secularism. The increasing presence of Muslim in the public sphere has challenged citizens and governments to define the meaning of secularism. “Super mosques”, honor killings, plural marriage, headscarves, language, etc., test the extent to which religious expression is tolerated. Some are easy to proscribe. Others, like headscarves, can be claimed as important symbols of expression and identity central to Islam, even though the wider public regards them as symbols of liberty undermined. Tensions over Islam show one thing: Europe’s secularism is built on an assumed, internalized Christianity.

Europe’s secularism is what it is … another institution that can only be known in itself. It internalizes religion, rejecting the institutions of faith but institutionalizing its spirit. Freedom may not require religion, but in Europe, they are allies.

Happy reading.

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4 thoughts on “Merry Christmas and all that

  1. chee meng says:

    Hey mate, it’s a season to be jolly indeed. I’m no Christian but to me it’s a wonderful celebration of the winter solstice, so much more colourful than the Chinese glutinous rice dumplings. It’s also a beautiful story that deserves to be universal – baby Christ being born in the manger (so proletarian), wise men coming from the East to visit (so transboundary). Lest we forget, Jesus Christ is also considered a prophet in the Islamic religion, and if you ask a Hindu friend, he will be very jolly to tell you that Jesus apparently visited India in his time.

    But alas, in reality, there is so much trouble in the world, sometimes I wish we all just convert to Rastafarianism instead and find peace through reggae and ganja. The excerpt you have there about Europe’s secularisation just hit it right on the nail. The current issue of Der Spiegel has an extensive feature on the Koran and the Muslim world, which seems a commendable effort in promoting intercultural understanding, except they also decide to include a commentary on Muslim society in Europe, written by a blatant Islamophobe, novelist Leond de Winter, a Dutch Jew – probably an attempt at urging the neo-Nazis to divert their energy. Still a long way to enlightenment then…

  2. blueheeler says:

    happy days to you too !

  3. chee meng says:

    OK, just managed to get myself a copy of Der Spiegel magazine. Looks like I underestimated the writer Leon de Winter, he is not quite so blatant. The main message in the article seems to be that Muslims in Europe have a chance of establishing a liberal Islam within the western society. In that sense he has avoided accusation of Islamophobia under definition of the British Runnymede Trust, identifying 8 forms of narrow views, the first being such that “Islam is seen as a monolithic bloc, static and unresponsive to change”.

    However, one still has to be careful what he seems to be suggesting in the article. He not only highlights raical Muslims, Al-Qaida and Iranian Mullahs as violent threats against liberalism, he is saying that the core crisis in the Islamic world is in the “global claim to power of Islam that finds expression through the figure of Mohammed as a fighter”, and that “the story of Mohammed as Prophet shows his success as a conqueror”. And if there is “Islam without a worldly power over states and non-believers”, that would be like… something similar to Christian or Judaistic values, he says vaguely. That is very sly of him. He has avoided equating all Muslims with potential terrorists, but he is putting across a mental image that to conquer is part of the tradition of Islamic leaders, and it looks as if it never occurs to him that the terrorism which has grown is a reaction to a perceived invasion of the Middle East by western powers! He has still reduced everything to religion.

    Oh kudos to Der Spiegel though, the same issue has two separate interesting articles, about how churches are big business in the USA, and how in Germany some Catholics are angry about how their bishop is tearing down old churches and selling property. Secularisation can be a funny thing.

  4. rodsjournal says:

    chee meng,

    Thanks for your comments and sharing.

    Perhaps it is more useful to look at the the tendency for violence (political, socio-cultural, physical) in certain kinds of Islamic thought, than it is to either look at whether Islam has inherent problems with conquest and violence or with modern terrorism (which are largely reactions to perceived Western imperialism and/or injustices by Western-backed authoritarian Muslim rulers). That debate, though still relevant, is getting old.

    When I say ‘certain kinds of Islamic thought’, I am referring to the so-called religious reforms by individuals or groups throughout history that has not made Islam more open or tolerant – much less progressive – but went the other way. For example, progressive Muslim writer and activist Ali Eteraz has written about this here:
    http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/ali_eteraz/2007/09/the_islamic_reformation.html

    Such movements within Judaism and Christianity are fortunately marginal (and marginalised), and thus one does not hear much of terrorism or violence coming from those religious traditions.

    Not every problem with a religion can be reduced to the inherent beliefs of a religion, and I’ll be the first to agree to that. But we should take care to look at the intermediate levels between doctrine (eg. there is only one god) and external catalysts (eg. state oppression, US foreign policy). These levels range from practices (eg. female genital mutilation, ‘honour’ killings) to extreme schools of thought and aberrant variants of mainstream sects, all of which have given Islam a pretty bad reputation.

    On balance, I have no problems with the essential spiritual character, derived from Christianity, of ‘secular’ Europe. It is what history has made it to be, and something we cannot go back in time to change. I reckon though that Eastern Europe, especially post-Communism, as well as those parts of the former Ottoman Empire, have a more varied and nuanced experience of Christian-Muslim relations. It would be a mistake to assume that the institutionalisation of Christianity’s spirit (to go back to the Europe Endless blog post) is something homogeneous throughout that continent.

    On the other hand, Muslims have to be aware that they are still largely ‘guests’ in mainstream European culture(s), in my honest opinion. But let’s not expect Europe to change. Until there is a move towards more progressive ideas in Islam, and a greater voice from those proponents of progress, I’m afraid there will always be that divide.

    I am not a cultural relativist. I believe that compromises have to be made when different peoples have to live together, and sometimes these involve hard choices that they may not be willing to make.

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