Thursday, September 21, 2006

Dawkins and a Hasidic Rabbi

This is one section of a series of clips taken from Dawkin's documentary show titled "The Root of All Evil," where he goes around interviewing various religious believers about their beliefs. The primary thesis being that religious faith is irrational and oftentimes dangerous.

The segment with the Hasidic rabbi starts at around the six minute mark here. My only issue is that I think they cut it off before it really got interesting.

I don't agree with everything that Dawkins says, but him and I are more likeminded than I and Rabbi Gluck.

Secular Muslims, Say What?

Stereotyping Rankles Silent, Secular Majority of American Muslims

Khalid Pervaiz is an American Muslim, an investment banker in Los Angeles with two young daughters. On the door of his home is a Christmas wreath made by his 7- year-old, and in the living room is a Christmas tree with an angel on top. His daughters go to the mosque, or masjid, on Sundays for classes in the Koran, but Mr. Pervaiz himself goes once a year on the major Muslim holiday of Id al-Fitr.

"I had the privilege of being exposed to other religions from the very beginning, so I wasn't so fixed on the idea that Islam is the only way to live," Mr. Pervaiz said. "Every once in a blue moon I will go for my Friday prayers, but I still think I'm a good Muslim. If I don't go and pray five times a day, I don't think I'm less of a Muslim. I'm just not a practicing, going-to-the-masjid Muslim."

In behavior and belief, Mr. Pervaiz is among an overlooked silent majority of Muslims in America. They call themselves moderates, but another way to describe them is as cultural Muslims, akin to the assimilated cultural Jews who identify as Jewish, eat gefilte fish and celebrate Passover, but are for the most part not observant and not affiliated with a synagogue.

The cultural Muslims may attend prayers in mosques once a year on Id al-Fitr, not unlike Christians who make it to church only on Easter or Jews who attend services only on the High Holy Days. They may fast intermittently in the monthlong holiday of Ramadan, but they do not pray regularly. And yet they consider themselves good Muslims.


Generally, a Muslim is defined by faith in the religion of Islam; however, in the modern world there are religiously unobservant, agnostic or atheist individuals who still identify with the Muslim culture due to family background or personal experiences. This group is best described as cultural Muslims, since they are identified by association with a Muslim community rather than Islamic faith or rituals. Malise Ruthven discusses the term in Islam: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2000) as follows:

There is, however, a secondary meaning to 'Muslim' which may shade into the first. A Muslim is one born to a Muslim father who takes on his or her parents' confessional identity without necessarily subscribing to the beliefs and practices associated with the faith, just as a Jew may describe him- or herself as 'Jewish' without observing the Halacha. In non-Muslim societies, such Muslims may subscribe to, and be vested with, secular identities. The Muslims of Bosnia, descendants of Slavs who converted to Islam under Ottoman rule, are not always noted for attendance at prayer, abstention from alcohol, seclusion of women and other social practices associated with believing Muslims in other parts of the world. They were officially designated as Muslims to distinguish them from (Orthodox) Slavs and (Catholic) Croats under the former Yugoslavian communist regime. The label 'Muslim' indicates their ethnicity and group allegiance, but not necessarily their religious beliefs. In this limited context (which may apply to other Muslim minorities in Europe and Asia), there may be no contradiction between being Muslim and being atheist or agnostic, just as there are Jewish atheists and Jewish agnostics... It should be noted, however, that this secular definition of Muslim (sometimes the terms 'cultural Muslim' or 'nominal Muslim' are used) is very far from being uncontested.

Secular Muslims? Cultural Muslims? Skeptical Muslims? Atheist Muslims? Who knew?

Maybe we really are cousins.

I wonder, is there a Muslim Reconstructionist movement in the works?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Pantheism vs Atheism

At Spinoza's blog there was a discussion regarding the pantheist position and the centuries-old criticism that pantheism is nothing but atheism in ill-fitting religious clothing. If you are equating the universe with God, why can't you just drop the God term entirely? Do we really need another synonym, especially one that carries such heavy connotations?

But I think that the pantheist position is a far cry from atheism. Granted, to the theist who insists on anthropomorphizing God they are equally heretical, but they are actually only superficially similar.

The major difference lies in the appreciation for existence. What is existence really? Is it some random backdrop in which we find ourselves or is it an integral part of who and what we are?

Pantheists are generally philosophical Monists, everything is 'one thing' and all comes from the same source. All things within the universe are interconnected.

Pantheists may also believe that there is value external to human judgement for things like morals and aesthetics. That these are not human constructions but that they are human fulfillments and recognitions of aspects of reality. The typical atheist position which undermines such things as epiphenomenal are actually integral (as are all things) to the pantheist position.

The Pantheist may understand a certain way that things ought to be, as opposed to the atheist which sees such ideas to be a matter of mere personal preference or irrelevant.

Atheists don't tend to make metaphysical assertions, they just harp on the failures of theism. If they follow scientific skepticism then their metaphysical views may be nothing but basic materialism.

The ultimate difference lies in what each side considers the basic substance of the universe to be like. The atheist conceives of nothing but subatomic particles whizzing about or random quantum fluctuations while the pantheist imagines a fundamental well-structured ground of being.

Personally, I don't know if I'd call myself a pantheist. Perhaps I'm more of a panentheist wherein physical existence is a manifestation of a higher existence, albeit a still integral one. The question is then what we mean when we use the term 'universe.' If it means just physical reality, then I'm a panentheist. If it means all things then I'd have to a pantheist.

Pantheism is a positive belief that the universe holds properties worthy of reverence for its own sake and that are truly integral for a meaningful existence. To refer to such ideas as simply the physical universe loses a lot of the intended meaning. The term 'God' as ultimate existence is not just a semantic ruse, it is truly a more apt expression of pantheistic beliefs.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Word of the Day: Hypokeimenon


"Hypokeimenon is a term in metaphysics which loosely means the "underlying thing" or the substratum. To search for the hypokeimenon is to search for that substance which persists in a thing going through change—its essential being. It is conceptually similar to Spinoza's "substance" and Kant's concept of the noumenon in The Critique of Pure Reason."

I believe few people would say such a thing does not exist. Yet, is this not God?

Is not God the hypokeimenon of the universe, however imprecisely it is defined?