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Default Modern Orthodoxy - Modern Heresy - 05-05-2012, 12:04 AM

Modern orthodoxy, modern heresy Many pride themselves on their commitment to principles of the Enlightenment, but what would a modern Voltaire do?


http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opi...653273383.htmlModern orthodoxy, modern heresy Many pride themselves on their commitment to principles of the Enlightenment, but what would a modern Voltaire do?


"Western intellectuals who complained about religion cast themselves as the heirs of Voltaire."

London, United Kingdom - The last decade or so has seen an upsurge in self-conscious and forthright scepticism. The word itself has come to have a quite particular meaning. It refers to intellectual combativeness of a very narrow sort. Self-declared sceptics rail against the power of organised religion to bewilder the unwary. They worry about our appetite for conspiracy theories, for wacky "alternative" medicine and for all manner of pseudo-mystical trickery and sleight-of-hand. The city of Enlightenment, they never tire of telling us, is besieged by a host of enemies.

From How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World in 2004 to Counterknowledge in 2008 via The God Delusion and God is Not Great in 2006 and 2007 respectively, publishers found that noisy atheism and jeremiads about the decline and fall of reason were gratifyingly successful. Denunciations of popular delusions were perennially popular.

It is worth pausing for a moment to ask why that was. Sceptics love diagnosing others. Let's see how they like it. What we had in all this was an opportunity for people to enjoy the sensation of risk without danger. Western intellectuals who complained about the power of religion gave their audiences an opportunity to fall in love with them - and with themselves - as the heirs of Voltaire and Jefferson.

But unlike the heroes of the late Enlightenment, their assault on the sacred brought with it little in the way of real danger. The church and its various modern competitors have little power to blight careers. The Pope is no longer in the habit of abducting and torturing his critics. If this was Enlightenment, it was a theme park Enlightenment.

And there was more to it, of course. Educated atheism mapped neatly on to the blue half of the Liberal/Conservative split in the United States, a division of character types that far surpasses astrology in its power to mystify. And the outspoken critics of God were often on hand to cheer on American military adventures in the Middle East. If the Christian God was both non-existent and a brute, then how much more pernicious was Islamo-Fascism. The New Atheism reassured those who couldn't bring themselves to buy all that Bush administration moonshine about crusades, the Beast and Babylon.

The genre began to lose something of its commercial appeal around 2008. Perhaps this was because there are only so many ways of saying that God doesn't exist, that people who obsess about the assassination of JFK are lonely and deluded, and that, you know, there's a word for alternative medicine that works, they call it medicine (copyright Tim Minchin and thousands of stand-ups looking to win over a roomful of graduates).

A rational understanding of the world?

But lazy repetition didn't seem to be much of a problem for several years. More likely, the collapse of the Western economy in 2007-8 and the Arab uprisings that began in December 2010 finally made some people realise that the assumptions of the sceptics were hopelessly muddled and their priorities were deranged. The faith-based thinking that mattered turned out to be in the heart of the economic and political establishments: Islam wasn't the problem in the Middle East. Western-backed tyranny was.

But while the obsession with certain kinds of unreason has lost some of its charm, we are still some way from a thorough reckoning with the real threats to a rational understanding of the world. And the reasons for that are much more obvious. If one begins to investigate how the world operates you will soon discover things that have a disreputable aura, to put it mildly. Indeed, unbridled curiosity about things that matter can have career-ending consequences.

Let's consider for a moment the News International affair here in Britain. On February 27 this year Sue Akers, the police officer in charge of investigating allegations of criminal wrong-doing by journalists and public officials, told Lord Leveson's inquiry that "the current assessment of the evidence is that it reveals a network of corrupted officials. There appears to have been a culture at the Sun of illegal payments, and systems have been created to facilitate such payments whilst hiding the identity of the officials receiving the money".

Anyone hinting at such a thing a few years ago would have been dismissed as that modern day outcast, a conspiracy theorist. Conspiracies do not happen. When they do happen they are amateurish, ad hoc affairs. The culprits are swiftly discovered and brought to justice. Anyone who thinks otherwise is obviously a member of the tinfoil hat brigade. And this remains the case, even when it turns out that British public life was host to a longstanding, extensive and highly consequential criminal conspiracy.

It is difficult to describe political reality adequately without attracting accusations of paranoia. And much the same is true of economics. If anyone had said in the years running up to the financial crisis that the mainstream of the economic profession had lost touch with reality you would have been gently escorted out of the building. Even now, if you set out to describe the monetary system in straightforwardly factual terms, you run the risk of being called a crank, or worse.

There is a taboo around certain topics, a fear of pollution even. Much as Christian orthodoxy depended on periodic denunciations of heresy, the current order insists that certain kinds of belief are unacceptable, even when they are true. Influential figures are on hand to warn against the wrong kinds of curiosity. They do the work of the Inquisitor, often with the same infuriating equanimity.

For the modern, secular world in the West has a system of heresy and orthodoxy that is both more sophisticated and more powerful than its religious prototype. Though it menaces intellectual freedom, only those who internalise it can expect to enjoy a reputation for robust good sense. Meanwhile, refusal to accept its dogmas can have serious professional and personal consequences. It is enlightened modernity as a figment of the Marquis de Sade's imagination.

So let us repeat the dogmas of this orthodoxy. Curiosity should respect certain limits. Economics is a science. Experts and politicians can be trusted. Everything is more or less as it seems. Science exists in a realm beyond both politics and economics. The public are incapable of exercising sovereign power. These are the articles of our modern faith. If our commitment to the principles of the Enlightenment is to be something more than a ludicrous self-deception, they are our enemies, too.


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Last edited by BarakzaiAbdali; 05-05-2012 at 12:09 AM.
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Default 05-05-2012, 12:12 AM

Freaking genius writing. Makes our secular communists come democrats champions of Pashtun secularism here look like mental half wits stuck in the 80s. While guys like this are writing at a level that reaches zen/Nirvana and resonates with the cosmic intellectual "Om" our guys are sitting are card board cut out Kruschev era knock offs asking us to reanimate Najibullah like Dr. Frankenstein.


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Default 05-05-2012, 05:57 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by BarakzaiAbdali View Post
Freaking genius writing. Makes our secular communists come democrats champions of Pashtun secularism here look like mental half wits stuck in the 80s. While guys like this are writing at a level that reaches zen/Nirvana and resonates with the cosmic intellectual "Om" our guys are sitting are card board cut out Kruschev era knock offs asking us to reanimate Najibullah like Dr. Frankenstein.
Just speaking anecdotally - I wonder if there is a possibility that some part of the 'backlash' against religion that you speak about is not led by the majority's inability to reach that higher level of spirituality, but by a reaction to the gross inequities and corruption put before us in the name of religion.

We cannot underestimate the power that the media exerts on our thinking. Knowing that, I am equally against the modern media tyranny of ridiculing religion for the sake of it, but I would guess that the gap between what people preach whilst citing religion and what they do contributes to that very tyranny.

In saying that, however, I acknowledge that we should choose our media friends carefully and avoid becoming part of a wider anti-Islam (or religion in general) agenda.



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Default 05-05-2012, 06:15 PM

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Originally Posted by tor_khan View Post
Just speaking anecdotally - I wonder if there is a possibility that some part of the 'backlash' against religion that you speak about is not led by the majority's inability to reach that higher level of spirituality, but by a reaction to the gross inequities and corruption put before us in the name of religion.

We cannot underestimate the power that the media exerts on our thinking. Knowing that, I am equally against the modern media tyranny of ridiculing religion for the sake of it, but I would guess that the gap between what people preach whilst citing religion and what they do contributes to that very tyranny.

In saying that, however, I acknowledge that we should choose our media friends carefully and avoid becoming part of a wider anti-Islam (or religion in general) agenda.

I think thats a valid point I have thought about myself on many occasions Tor Khan. Its a trans national and cross cultural phenomena. Here in the states, for instance the same conflict reared its head in the recent Sandra Fluke vs Rush Limbaugh controversy. This centered around a debate over whether the Catholic Church based institutes should have to subsidize a woman to invest into oral contraceptives/abortions etc.

A few years back during Bush 2 the debate was around stem cells and whether utilizing embryonic sources defied the right to life creed that Bush 2 had grown up in.

The question has always been which is the chicken and which is the egg? Some would say that the Church's impositions were the egg and the Enlightment was the Chicken that hatched.

Khostai made a point once in our discussion that the Parcham/Khalq power base, in his opinion, was a response to mullocracy. The argument builds off Soldat's that various stages of Pashtun advancement on both sides of the line were blunted by the ability to rouse the sentiments of the masses using religious philosophy.

Out of this grows Havi Sultan's very erronious set of arguments that borders on absurd conspiracy theories: i.e. that the US spawned the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The sub implication there is that its now Karzai or Musharraf or Zardari that are in the pockets of the West but rather its the Islamists getting marching orders from DC. The idea here is that folks in Libya like Belhaj are actually a part of some master super plan to unseat secularist democrat leaders like Qaddafi??? and Mubarak ??? at the behest of the West.

On the other side of the durand line, I get the sentiment that PMAP and ANP are trying to push as well. Some of their more devout and stable minded members dont have a gripe against Islam, rather they view British impositions and control being exerted by the British via the elite who then triggered the local mullocracy to subvert Bacha Khan.

The problem with this approach is that it takes on monstrous and repressive proportions in these nation states. Khostai's view has missed on one serious problem: elites alone cannot build a country otherwise that country is bound to be a failed state ----> Pakistan. Therefore, the sentiments of the masses have to be taken into some account. That is exactly why Washington and Jefferson were well read on the Bible and Jefferson even branched out and read that horrible translation of the Quran by George Sale. They may have not viewed everything through a Biblical lens... but they did understand that religion is a powerful motivator. For that reason, I think the American democracy is more stable. If Obama confronts religiousity he doesnt deride the religion he derides the person. He handled the Sandra Fluke issue with finesse and centered the conflict around Rush Limbaugh, nimbly avoiding a confrontation with Georgetown's Jesuits.

Queen Soraya attempted to speak the language of religion at various points when she discussed the rights that women are endowed with. She had some valid points. Yet she didnt examine the substrate and the fact that if we look at the progression of human rights and as a subsection womens rights and suffarge within the context of history, it was a slow process even in the confines of the American system.

Its also a bit ahistorical to view Najib Ahmadzai as a response to mullacracy. A number of the communist elite had studied in Russia and were indoctrinated in Moscow. They did not arrive at some brilliant intellectual conclusion all on their own; rather, they were a foreign inoculant. I think its fair to say that zar zameen zan in its most basic form shows you that even outside the realm of religion, these men were going to impose land reforms on a people that were already agrarian.

To go up to a Pashtun and to tell him: "See your Khan/Malik relative's land??? Its now seized and will be divided up proportionally." Was not only confrontational, but it was also utterly stupid. The poor 1 acre land owner in his village would not even agree to this.

By that same token, taking a group of men in a village on Nuristan and lining them up and then telling them that their book is a book of fairy tales is hardly a diplomatic way to convince someone to come to your side. To shoot them subsequently means you hardly convinced them (that was just after you told them that they were praying to nothing).

The argument that Hekmetyaar and Mossoud were examples of American inoculants as a counterbalance is absurd. Najib had lost the masses the minute he started torturing peasants, and villagers (including Karzai), in his jails. Islam merely became the language of the resistance to the original stimulus. An example of how foolish of a throught process this is, consider that even the shiite Hazaras originally rallied around Hizbe Wahdat. In the rural areas of Hazarajat, the religious establishment had more traction than Ali Mazari and countered him when he coopted communists around Kabul.

Havis counter articles are merely a way for Pakistani's to give themselves comfort "foot for thought" to deal with the fact that the moral imperitive of the TTP has now reared its head against the Pakistani military and establishment. Its utterly ludicrous to think that the Americans somehow give marching orders to the Taliban and AQ. In the first case, of the Russian War, the simple explanation was that enemies were common and in the second situation these groups may very well be a pretext for interventionalism. The latter occurs predominantly because folks are NOT taking the Scheuer approach and analyzing words and deeds to understand motivations.

The best thing everyone can realize is that in general the rural masses in all nations are busy A) feeding their children B) trying to get by. The elites of these nations are depriving the masses of the right to life, liberty, and the right to happiness by using wars of concepts to guide wars between branches of humanity.


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Last edited by BarakzaiAbdali; 05-05-2012 at 06:28 PM.
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