Grading Obama’s Speech: A For Diplomacy, C- For Religious Dishonesty

If I were giving President Obama’s speech a grade solely for effectiveness in reaching out to the Muslim world, he … Continued

If I were giving President Obama’s speech a grade solely for effectiveness in reaching out to the Muslim world, he would definitely get an “A.” But in doing so, he exaggerated the virtues of all religions–not only Islam–and simply ignored the historical fact that religious liberty for all is a secular principle born of the Enlightenment. He also failed to note that dominant majority religions had to be dragged kicking and screaming to accept freedom of conscience for others within their sphere. For that portion of his speech, I give him a “C-.” And that’s a generous grade.

“Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance,” he told his audience at Cairo University. “We see it in the history of Andalusia and Cordoba during the Inquisition.” Actually, Obama has his timeline wrong. It was before the Inquisition, during the period known as the convivencia on the Iberian peninsula, that Muslims, Jews, and Christians lived in the same cities and developed a culture not of “tolerance” in the modern sense but of cross-fertilization of ideas. That came to an end with the Christian reconquest and union of Spain and the final expulsion of both Jews and Muslims in 1492. And the tolerant side of Islam lost out after the expulsion from Spain. (For more on this subject, see Ornament of the World, by Maria Rosa Menocal. I don’t agree with everything she says, but it’s a fascinating and important work.)

Majority religions have seldom displayed tolerance unless they were required to do so by a civil government. That is the main reason why Jews, after the Roman destruction of the Second Temple, always sided with secular reformers when they had the chance. The founding generation of the United States was the exception that proves the rule. It is still amazing to realize that an overwhelmingly Protestant people voluntarily became the first nation in the world to guarantee freedom of conscience to everyone.

Obama talked happy talk about the “Holy Bible,” the “Holy Koran,” and the Talmud at Cairo University. He should also have noted the contribution that secular thought has made to all countries in which there is true freedom of religion. Religious freedom is a religious value for some people of faith now, but to suggest that it is a historically religious value is disingenuous–though it went over as well in Cairo as it does with audiences composed of other religious people.

I was happy that Obama mentioned women’s rights as a point of tension between the West and many elements in the Muslim world, but he did not go far enough. And once again, he did not draw any connection between secular democracy and women’s rights. The only majority Muslim countries in which women have anything approaching equal legal rights are countries with secular governments. Equality for women, again, was originally a secular idea. And all major religions fiercely opposed the 19th-century feminist movement. Islam, both in the Islamic theocracies and in states, like Pakistan, that have secular governments but strong extremist forces within, is far behind both mainstream Christianity and mainstream Judaism in its acceptance of women’s equality.
Obama said that “the struggle for women’s equality continues in many aspects of American life, and in countries around the world. True enough, but right-wing Christian fundamentalists here do not have the power to keep women from going to school, baring their faces, driving cars, or (according to a new law in Afghanistan) leaving the house without their husbands’ permission.

Of course I understand that a president (or anyone else, for that matter) doesn’t go into other people’s houses and tell them how to live their lives. But Obama didn’t have to do that in order to point out the importance of secular concepts of women’s rights as human rights. And I really hated his statement that we shouldn’t “disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretense of liberalism.” Pretense? (The White House transcript spelled the word incorrectly in standard American English.) It’s no pretense, Mr. President. My liberalism is what makes me support the right of Muslim girls to wear the hijab, if they wish, in public schools in the United States. They also have the right not to cover their heads (or their faces)–a right that girls subjected to fundamentalist Islamist rule do not have.

Obama might also have pointed out that in non-theocratic Muslim countries, attacks on women’s rights are one of the earliest and most effective tactics of Islamic extremists attempting to undermine secularly oriented governments.

Readers of my essays already know that I strongly support Obama’s position on a halt to new settlements on the West Bank, as well as his call for Hamas to recognize Israel’s right to exist. They also know that I don’t believe Obama’s efforts are going to be any more successful than Jimmy Carter’s or Bill Clinton’s. I think Hamas will recognize Israel’s right to exist when pigs fly, and I do not think that Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is going to say tomorrow, “Oy vey, we’ve been wrong for so long and I’m going to dismantle the settlements.”

But that is no reason not to try–again. And I deeply hope that my pessimistic view turns out to be wrong. As long as there is no progress toward a Middle East peace settlement, the conflict between Isarel and the Palestinians will continue to offer an excuse for terrorism. I also think that Obama did well to talk about the Holocaust to an audience in the heart of the Arab world–and to Muslim listeners around the world–because the historical facts about the Holocaust are neither widely known nor widely accepted in majority Muslim nations. I must note that although Obama’s speech was interrupted with applause many times, he received no applause when he said anything about the Holocaust or Israel’s right to exist.

Furthermore, I think that Obama’s references to the possibility of cooperation between American leaders and sensible Middle East leaders on issues like nuclear nonproliferation were extremely helpful. If Obama fails to impress Americs’s most implacable enemies in the Islamic world, he may well impress sane Muslim leaders on issues such as nuclear weapons.

That’s why I give Obama an “A” for diplomacy and a “C-” for defending secular democratic ideas. Call me crazy. I just hate hearing this American president, whom I so deeply respect and in whom I have invested so much of my own hope, bowing to the “holy” Koran and “holy” Bible. If it weren’t for tenacious belief in the sacredness and holiness of religious texts written by all too human beings, we wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place.

For more commentary on Obama’s speech to the Muslim World, go to the Saban Center at Brookings’ Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World and the Doha Network.

Susan Jacoby
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  • hsnkhwj

    I admire Susan Jacoby. Her liberal ideology is a process that will take decades if not centuries. Mind sets do not change in a hurry. Even in America, liberalism is despised by a lot of people. I could not expect President Obama to give a lecture on liberalism in Cairo.Liberals in the U.S. are taunted with the very term ‘liberal’ and epithets like “bleeding heart liberals”. Read some of the blogs on the first page of this newspaper. I am sure you have an idea, Ms. Jacoby.

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    Susan,There is much I have to say regarding your essay, but for now, I will say that the “tolerant side of Islam” resides in Muslims, just as the tolerant side of Christianity resides in Christians.You forget that under Musharraf, our man in Pakistan (one of many of our men, more on whom later) one million Pakistanis marched to Islamabad demanding the restoration of the Judiciary. There are countless numbers of tolerant Muslims. I have met many more than I can possibly recall, quite honestly, exceeding the number of tolerant Christians. Religion wed to patriarchy and politics is deadly. It has always been, both in the Middle East and in the West. Just recently, it killed Dr. Tiller.

  • iamweaver

    I always find it interesting when viewers like Susan Jacoby and others seem to confuse good manners with dishonesty.Obama’s version of politics is bridge-building and inclusiveness, not divisiveness. This means that when initially talking to someone, you talk about points in commmon – views that you share. In this form of politics, you don’t start worrying about the things that make you different until you feel comfortable with the things that make you similar. This is not “dishonesty”. Dishonesty would be saying one thing and thinking another, or saying one thing in public and something different in private. Dishonesty would be deliberately presenting untruths. About 1/3 of the Op Ed columns in the Post seem written by authors more interested in showing how the other side is wrong than trying to move forward in partnership. It’s pretty disappointing, really.

  • hsnkhwj

    Kudos to Farnaz’s latest post except her figures about Pakistan’s lawyers’ movement and the number of Iranian Jews are exaggerated.We must understand persecuting Jews or people of any religion, race, linguistic group or even sect is not acceptable.All humans should speak out against persecution.

  • ccnl1

    Tis good to see that hsnkhwj and Farnaz agree with each other sometimes while other times there is the appearance of “straw menning”. Farnaz does have a large number of such friendsi.e. Observer12, Observer31, Yael1, ivri5678, Billy8, nadinebatra, stadtbear, Spark1, Shark2, Spidermean3, DOUG_WHITE, FTH123 MANSOUR112, hsnkhwj and Zebra4If only such friends could back up their comments with references about Jewish refugees from Iran other than seeing parades and visiting cities.

  • edtc

    Susan,No faith can ever escape the accusation of being intolerant at one point or another in their history, despite their impressive accomplishments. And neither can ‘secular thought.’ That’s why you get the same grade as Obama.

  • cjacks

    I am sorry, but I give your essay a D- for using a facily as your basis. I would have given it an F but as clearlr a not-a-muslim you can be forgiven a bit for getting the muslim statement of religious tolarence wrong. Muslims are required to protect the religious freedom of the people of the book as long as they do not attack others. That last phrase means ther are required to come to the aid of the oppresed and fight the opressor. With the violence by thechristians in expelling the jews and muslims from andelusa the made themselves objects of the last phrase. The jews that were expelled continued to live with the muslims in other lands. Unfortuinitly, the christians have not given up their violence towards others, ww1, ww2, the troubles, colonialism, ect. Since that time.

  • cjacks

    Your historical accuracy stinks. Packistan was the first country to fave a frely elected femail leader. The ERA died a deadt of negelect in the USA.

  • cjacks

    Sorry folks. O have big fingers, a small phone and a bumpy train.

  • clearthinking1

    Susan,Although you make some good points, you seem to live in a very limited world. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are not the only religions in the world. As a matter of fact less than half of the world associates itself with these religions.Religious tolerance did not come from European enlightenment and secularism only. Many secular leaders and people are extremely intolerant of religions and other beliefs (Stalin, Mao, Hitler…). Europe has struggled with deep religious intolerance as recently as the Holocaust.Religious tolerance is only difficult when supremacist attitudes are built into religions. For examples, a true believing Muslim or Christian cannot accept that another religion is equally good as a path for spiritual growth. They have to claim superiority.On the other hand, Hinduism (based on the philosophy of Vedanta) allows all to develop and follow their own path to spiritual growth. This is why Hinduism seems so complex on the surface. The oldest (~7000 years) known religious text in the world, the Rig Veda (1.64.46), states: “That which is One, the sages call by many names.”This is why Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Zoroasterianism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Baha’i have found refuge among Hindus for 2,500 years. It is no accident that tolerance, pluralism, nonviolence(ahimsa), vegetarianism, Yoga, Vedanta, and concepts of Nonduality and Unity arose in this environment.So please expand your horizons and open your mind to see what has happened throughout the world. The same old Religion vs. Secularism paradigm from recent European history is not very useful for analysis of religious tolerance.

  • zebra4

    I heard two commentators appreciating the Obama speech on Chris Mathews’ show on MSNBC this evening Their point was that the Obama way is the right way to win the hearts and minds of young Muslims around the world.Ironically, headlines underneath on the T.V. screen were saying that Mr. Netanyahoo and the Israelis have rejected the demand from our President to halt the construction of settlements.Putting the two together it is obvious that Obama will have to follow through by providing results. If he can not deliver, it might result in a renewed disappointment of the young Muslims and increase their disillusionment with America.

  • schaeffz

    I wonder where LROBBY lives?

  • schaeffz

    Also, to Ms. Jacoby…my daily experience proves that the very, very BEST of religion shines thru the people I work with. That CORE of religious experience and belief exists in all people of “good faith”. I live in a very real example of what religious freedom means. And if we look at USA history, we see this happening all along, in spite of fringe efforts to yank us into one religious mold or another. I take the most positive meaning of “secularism” to heart, not rejection of religion, but instead, interpersonal acceptance and respect, regardless of religious preference.

  • persiflage

    I think Obama is limited by his audience here. There is no way to address the Muslim world without including religion in the message. Simply because there is no bright line of religious/secular separatism to be found in the world of Islam – it’s host cultures/societies are either largely theocratic or influenced to a significant degree by Islamic laws/beliefs – including Indonesia.Attempting to meld Christianity and Islam together historically in a positive way may appear to be taking the (cynical) low road of political expediency, but frankly I don’t see another way to get a constructive conversation started with the Muslim world. On the other hand, I wouldn’t be one to have unrealistic expectations based on this hoped-for emergence of a heretofore conspicuously absent congeniality between the modern secular/democratic world and a huge population of over 1 billion people still under the sway of a theology largely unchanged since the Middle Ages – not to say that Christianity has changed all that much either. The fundamentalism associated with a literal belief in either the Quran or the Bible is without significant differences as to the mindset of the believer. We do have protections against the tyranny of religion in the West – not so in the Muslim world. This is Obama’s political reality.

  • edbyronadams

    While I concur with Ms. Jacoby’s grading system, her historical analysis is still too kind to the Muslims. The tolerance in al Andalusia is greatly exaggerated. The non Muslims still had to pay the Jizya and at times it was onerous. Pogroms still occurred during the Muslim occupation of Spain as well.Not only the power to tax non Muslims but the unequal value between the penalties for taking a Muslim life or that of a non-Muslim are codified in the Koran. It is difficult to call for religious tolerance when Islam has such a foundation. It is similar situation for the call for women’s rights.Lastly, it was not the thinkers of the Enlightenment that provided us with the legacy of religious freedom but the sea of blood called the Thirty Years War and the Eighty Years War. That is what dissolved the categorical imperative for the believers in different brands of Christianity, not the writing of eggheads. It is questionable that the Muslim world can reach their own version of the Peace of Westphalia without adequate amounts of bloodshed to drive the point home that religious chauvinism is a bad idea.

  • walter-in-fallschurch

    lrobby1, you said,really now…. must susan explain to you how the american constitution is a SECULAR document – possibly the first example of a national constitution NOT to invoke ANY GODS as its source of authority?must she remind you that the “religious freedom” clause of the first amendment is intended to protect people (theists and atheists) from persecution…by other religious people.”secular thought” is what gave us the constitution. perhaps an explanation of the origins of the constitutional thought from john adams is in order here.”It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service [writing the constitution] had interviews with the gods, or were in ANY DEGREE UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF HEAVEN, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived MERELY BY THE USE OF REASON AND THE SENSES. Thirteen governments [of the original states] thus founded on the NATURAL AUTHORITY OF THE PEOPLE ALONE, WITHOUT A PRETENCE OF MIRALCE OR MYSTERY, and which are destined to spread over the northern part of that whole quarter of the globe, are a great point gained in favor of the rights of mankind.” [emphasis mine]John Adams, A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, 1788.it turns out adams was too charitable. we indeed do “pretend” our founders “had interviews with the gods,” and were “under the influence of heaven.”mind you “secular” does not mean “anti-religious”, it just means “not religious”.

  • walter-in-fallschurch

    edbyronadams, you said,well…given the moral exceptionalism of the koran/hadith (and therefore the “islamic world”), that non-muslims weren’t automatically killed counts as “tolerance”. it’s an extremely low bar.obama’s speech was much more deferential to islam than i would have been, but that’s why obama is a great politician. he criticised without insulting.

  • schaeffz

    John Adams was indeed a very religious man from a church-going perspective, where Jefferson was not church-going yet still a God-believer in his own unique way. These two, as well as most of the Founding Fathers, I dare say, did in privacy and in their own way offer prayers for their success. I say this as a Christian who does not flaunt it, uses “reason” in daily affairs, yet prays to God very frequently with thanks for my reason and freedom, and prays for instruction and enlightenment. Even the most devout atheist, I dare say, at times thinks privately, “I hope this works out”, which is indeed a prayer as I define it.

  • keviv321

    Your insistence that secularism is an American/European idea shows your ignorance of other cultures and religions. Coming back to the topic at hand, it is probably true that there has historically been more intolerance among the three Abrahamic religions than otherwise. However, it does nobody any good if Obama were to highlight that.

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    Susan Jacoby:Interesting essay. Lotsa stuff! I disagree on several points, about which more later. Right now, I’m delighted to see you back on this blog. I was getting worried. I was going to write to the management. I was having anxiety attacks. It was awful. But you’re back with us, in virtuality, where (a) virtual you belongs. I am pleased, much! :

  • schaeffz

    I would point out that in India there is very dramatic inter-religious strife. Ignorance is at the core of intolerance, and ignorance is not reserved for those of us on this side of the globe. I would say that the previous US Administration acted largely out of ignorance, where I hope (pray) that Obama works out of enlightenment. So far I see evidence of this!

  • walter-in-fallschurch

    schaeffz,”The question before the human race is, whether the God of Nature shall govern the world by His own laws, or whether priests and kings shall rule it by fictitious miracles?”the “fictitious miracles” here are are the virgin birth of jesus and his resurrection. adams was religious in the sense that he thought the masses needed religion to behave, but his personal views were, uh, more secular.

  • schaeffz

    Walter – we are on the same page.

  • walter-in-fallschurch

    schaeffz, you said,i totally agree (except for the “pray” part – i’m stuck with just “hoping”. ;-))

  • walter-in-fallschurch

    schaeffz,

  • zebra4

    KEVIV321:I disagree with you that there is more intolerance among Abrahamic faiths than other religions.If you are familiar with Hinduism, you know that they have a caste system in which all humans are born unequal until their death. The atrocities by upper caste Hindus on the untouchables are beyond belief.All people have ETNOCENTRISM–the belief that our way of liofe is the best and others are bizzare, strange and unfit for human survival.The Israelis do not want to give Human Rights to Palestinians because the Palestinians are considered to be sub-human. If they believed in Human Rights they wouldn’t treat the Palestinian people the way they do.No doubt, jiziya wouldn’t be an acceptable thing from today’s standards. But I understand non-Muslims in Andalusia paid jiziya. In return, they were exempt from military service and were given protection.One more point: There is a big difference in theory and practice. Despite the fact that there are laws against committing crimes. Has crime been eliminated from any society?I admire the secular constitution of the U.S. Does that mean religion, ethnicity, race, sectarianism do not play any role in our elections? Remember Sarah Palin?Why were some people calling “Obama is a Muslim” during election. Some are still calling him a Muslim. If we are secular, how does it matter if he is a Muslim or not? Of course, he is a Christian, we all know that.

  • edbyronadams

    walter-in-fallschurch,”obama’s speech was much more deferential to islam than i would have been, but that’s why obama is a great politician. he criticised without insulting.”That is why Susan Jacoby’s split grade is justified. I have my doubts on the long term efficacy of seducing the Muslim population with sweet talk, but it is worth a try.

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    I must be in a good mood. Otherwise, I would ask why the Palestinians refused the two-state solution in 2000, after having said it was what they wanted.I would ask whether shooting little girls in the head at point-blank range signifies Palestinian respect for human rights. Ditto blowing up busloads of children. Ditto honor killings, corruption, returning fathers in body bags on the basis of this suspicion or that.If I were not in such a good mood, I’d ask why 1,000,000 Iranian Jews are living in exile, why Egypt, which had 80,000 Jews now has fourteen (14), why Egypt denies its citizens of Palestinian ancestry an education, bars them from full citizenship, still practices female genital mutilation, honor killings. Why Mubarak and friends grow fat while Egyptians starve. Why he is grooming his son to take over. Why he turns back fleeing Sudanese or kills them if they don’t make it to Egypt.I’d take a stroll around the region…if I weren’t in such a good mood.

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    Correction to previous posting:Should have written:

  • walter-in-fallschurch

    edbyronadams,i too, am skeptical that muslims, especially those “moderates” we keep hearing about, will take responsibility for islam’s poor image and track record. those moderates who gave obama a standing ovation after his speech are the ones who’ve got to initiate a new islamic revolution (a good one, this time) from within islam. i’m skeptical, but allowing myself a bit of hope.

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    If I weren’t in such a good mood, but I am, I’d ask whether Egypt persecutes the Coptic Christians as a human rights gesture.

  • walter-in-fallschurch

    farnaz,

  • zebra4

    To all those who keep harping on the past. President Obama in early part of his speech cautioned us against bickerings of the past.Where do we go from here?IS IT MY WAY OR THE HIGHWAY?Is it :”YOU ARE EITHER WITH US OR AGAINST US?”or is it the Obama way?

  • ccnl1

    Farnaz continues to note that there are over one million Jewish refugees from Iran. Tis strange based on the following statistics:”At the time of the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, there were approximately 140,000–150,000 Jews living in Iran, the historical center of Persian Jewry. Over 85% have since migrated to either Israel or the United States, with the migration accelerating after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, when the population dropped from 100,000 to about 40,000.[23}Actually the Baha’i cult has a larger Iranian population estimated to be between 300,000 and 500,000. They are also persecuted by the Muslim authorities in Iran and many have come to the USA as refugees. (see Google for many references)

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    Walter:”i wish they’d quit building on to those settlements. i suspect they view them as a long-term bargaining chip.”I don’t know. It is interesting that B.B won, albeit by the slimmest majority, but he won over the very popular, infinitely capable Livni. B.B. is not a man one tells what to do. It just is that way. No amount of threats, no consequences for “misbehaving,” nothing. With B.B, we’re in a very different ball park.Still, Israeli politics being what it is, one assumes Labor will be or is already up to something. Even if Labor manages to prevail over Netanyahu, the people will need to see something tangible. I doubt whether “right to exist” will do it this time. “Land for peace,” with no sign of peace.Then, too, whatever their ambivalence about the settlers, other Israeli Jews don’t much like it when people tell Jews not to have children, which is what Obama’s pronouncement amounted to. Jews have heard that before. Context is everything. Know your audience. Know B.B.It’s a tough call. Two people’s, both radicalized to some extent: 2009.

  • daniel12

    Part oneObama in the Muslim world. Or more directly, the truth or falsity of the statements of the U.S. with respect to the Islamic world.

  • daniel12

    Part twoReligion in such a political/economic situation as we see in the West becomes more and more a thing of the individual, something private no matter how much religion strives to remain an outward and visible organization, a meeting of like minds before God. What remains of true religion becomes “cultic behavior” and/or “religious fundamentalism”. Religion watered down, less and less true religion, becomes going to church every now and then and more and more a thing to be kept to oneself–for if there is to be outward and visible organization it must become more and more modern instrumentality toward an increased efficiency of human capitol and eventually the creation of more and more sophisticated humans. Where once man looked up and saw God (in Western civilization) now he looks up and conceives a better body politic–future comes more and more to be a better human society and not a city of God let alone God. A city of God does not resemble modern society let alone the direction man is heading. As a society becomes more and more sophisiticated it becomes a city in which for all curtailing of freedom (rampant behavior as seen in less sophisticated societies) man comes to be breathed out as if petals on a flower, and there is no God worshipped–rather man is thankful for and to himself. The city born is one of man’s humility and pride, vanity, jealousy and envy cast aside and a society of increasing mutual respect born, God in the details–and the details paradoxically explaining more and more, details reinforcing one another, a consistency seen, society firm and capable of being developed indefinitely…

  • bizecology

    Religions are usually tolerant until they lay their hands on the power of the state. At that point, they become intolerant and dictatory. Virtually every major conflict in the world over the past thousand years has organizaed religion as one of the major root causes.

  • Nevermore531

    Dear Susan,I see nothing has changed…

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    clearthingking`”This is why Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Zoroasterianism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Baha’i have found refuge among Hindus for 2,500 years.”May I ask how the foregoing fits in with caste? How it fits in with 170,000,000 enslaved Dalit? You have, I would imagaine, read the Baga vad Gita, registered the analogy of chaos to “caste mixing”?I’m not being sarcastic. I would just like to understand how you continue to hold out Hinuism as exemplary. There are other questions I might ask in this regard, but I will end here.

  • walter-in-fallschurch

    harveyh5,

  • JessFreeborn

    Brilliant article, Susan. If nothing else, you’re bringing important points (facts) to light for many others to see who are probably not aware of the post-theological world’s contributions to human rights efforts. I think Obama has locked himself into showing favoritism for religious viewpoints with his campaign as well as with his support and expansion of the faith-based initiative. Also, this may not be the best time for Obama to address secular contributions. It would perhaps be better to bring up such issues over time or in private conversations with Middle East leaders.

  • harveyh5

    Very valid criticism of President Obama’s reverance for the Koran and Bible. Wish the President instead had praised those who follow the Koran, the Bible, and other religious texts to the extent it helps them live a more moral life in line with universal standards of equal rights for all regardless of religious faith, nationality, or sex, but condemn those who view such texts as the inerrant word of Allah, or God, or consider them anything more than moral fables.

  • clearthinking1

    Farnaz1Mansouri1,Many people perseverate on the same criticism of Hinduism and caste. This is because of a lack of understanding of some fundamental concepts.1. “Hinduism” is an english word with literally no direct translation to Sanskrit or a language of the Indian subcontinent. According to the OED etymology, “Hindoo” was the english word for people not identifiably Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, etc living in India. This then became Hindooism in english in an attempt to define the rituals, culture, “religion”, social systems present in “India” at that time. 2. In the West, “Hinduism” has become an overly broad term referring to “religion”, culture, philosophy, mythology, rituals, and social structure of a billion diverse people spanning a history of thousands of years.3. This makes it easy for someone with an agenda to pick and choose any issue for criticism and then attach it to “Hinduism”.4. The fact is that there is no equivalent “religion” called Hinduism as understood in the West. In India a system was developed which we can call “Sanatan Dharma”, but this is very different from the english word “religion”. There is no Prophet, founder, cult leader, Holy Book, or God. Cult is a derogatory word in english, but it is appropriate for entities usually called religion. Examples of cults with founders include Judaism (Moses), Christianity (Jesus), Islam (Mohammed), Buddhism (Buddha), Jainism (Mahavir), Zoroasterism (Zoroaster), Sikhism (Guru Nanak).5. So, Hinduism is best understood by its underlying monistic philosophy of Unity – Vedanta. There is no founder or prophet (by design). Overlying this philosophy are thousands of years worth of complex mythology, rituals, folklore, and diverse local customs of a billion people.6. Some people are attracted to or need the rituals, others to mythology, and others to philosophy.

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    For anyone interested in the bare bones of mainstream Jewish theology, in all its diversity, the following are essential: Maimonides, Yehuda ha Levi, Franz Rosenzweig (enormously difficult, especially in translation: secondary sources highly recommended), Martin Buber, Joseph Ber (Yosef Dov, Yoshe Ber) Soloveitchik, Abraham Joshual Heschel, Emmanuel Levinas (almost as difficult as Rosenzweig, especially in translation: secondary sources, highly recommended), Mordecai Kaplan.

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    Clearthinking,Thanks very much for your post! Very lucid, helpful!Farnaz

  • onofrio

    Clearthinking, Persiflage, Farnaz,Sages three,So much lucid Vedantic unity calls forth my putrescent pedantic murk. (O aid me, Vital Rot, that stirs up worlds!)I would contend (as devils must) benignly in favour of Duality.As I’ve said aforetimes, with ouroboric brio (ah, that old serpent!), Zero is One turned upon itself.Zero and One are the primal duality. And non-duality too, depending on your view.One is already Two, and Two is already both Half and Many, difference and increase, and the Many are fractions and whole refractions of the One.Before there were yet two things there were…two things.Though here an Apostle of the Twain, I am yet one of thine.Fondest Regards.

  • onofrio

    One was, is, will be, becomes, is nought, (Song of the Circler)

  • clearthinking1

    Persiflage and others,Vedanta and Bhuddism share many significant concepts. One of the differences, which may not even matter, is the accepted authority in the belief system. The only accepted authority in Vedanta is knowledge itself. Even metaphorically in the Gita, Krishna does not claim authorship for the ideas that he presents and represents. The idea is that one should be respectful of the concept of Unity (i.e. Brahman, Atman) not a person, god, or idol. In Buddhism, it is the knowledge that Buddha imparted not the man that should be revered. This is the case for most Buddhists. In Hinduism, the Buddha is worshipped as an avatar because he brought knowledge to people. But worship in Hinduism has a different meaning. Worship is essentially respect and reverence, and everthing is worshipped – cows, trees, elements, planets etc. But this is not the same as “idol worship”. Worship (Bhakti) develops humility, which prepares the mind for further spiritual development through right action (dharma) and right knowledge (gyana).I think it is important not to interchangeably use the words “soul” and “Atman”. This leads to confusion because these two words have opposite connotations in regards to nonduality and duality. Nonduality is very difficult to think about, let alone deeply understand. But the word “soul” clearly belongs to a philosophical system that fundamentally accepts dualism. And if someone is trying to understand Advaita (nondualism), it is important to remember that there is no separation or relationship between your consciousness or soul or ego or “I”-ness and the universe.I agree with Farnaz that Judaism is different for Christianity and Islam. Judaism is broader and includes elements of culture and has room for mysticism like Kabbalah. I am not very familiar with Kabballa, but it seems to still be ultimately a dualistic philosophy. Also, Islam has mysticism in the Sufi tradition. However, this has developed and thrived mostly in the Indian subcontinent, and it is diminishing today in Pakistan and Kashmir as the influence of Hinduism wanes and Wahabi Islam increases. The promotion of the mystical traditions will help to diminish the tribal tendencies of religion, decrease conflict and violence, and promote spritual growth.

  • persiflage

    Clearthinking – well said!

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    Hi Persiflage,It would be good if OnFaith would make room for a discussion about Vedanta and Buddhism. With you, Clearthinking, and Onofrio, we’d be off to a very good start among threaders.I originally posted what follows as a part of a reply to you on Rabbi Hircshfields’ thread on the Tiller murder. I probably should have posted it here:”Regarding your linking of religions to a personality–this is very much the case with Christianity and Islam, not so much with Judaism, which is forever on guard against idols.Unlike Christianity and Islam, Jews are never taught to model themselves after a prophet or God. Christians are to model their lives as closely as possible after Jesus, Muslims after Mohammed. Any Jew who asked, “What would MOses do?,” would be shipped off to a mental hospital ASAP.Moses, in no way, is the Judaic equivalent of Jesus or Mohammed, as you know. He is the greatest prophet, according to Rabbinic Judaism, because he experienced as much of the deity as a human could, because he was chosen to convey the principles. He was great, in other words, because he was considered great by the deity. HOwever, during Passover, when Jews read the Hagaddah, narrating the Exodus from Egypt, Moses’ name is NOT mentioned, not once. Anti-idolatry.He does not have a way with words and so cannot deliver the message himself. He dies at Mount Pigsah, but no one knows where. There can be no shrine. He does not go to the Promised Land. There can be no deification of humans, nothing approaching it. Anti-idolatry.”Also, maybe you’d like to post here the links you recommended on R. Hircshfield’s thread?Farnaz

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    ccnl’s “back on topic” is off topic, as usual. It is the dishonesty that is the problem.

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    Clearthinking, Persiflage, Onofrio, All,Re: My last postMeant to write: For a Logician’s take

  • onofrio

    Hello Farnaz,I followed your link and nearly drowned in Avi Sion’s oceanic acumen. Yet, even as the ninth wave crested, I gleaned that Nagarjuna was being construed a tradent in strawmen; specifically, that he was able to dismiss logic only by misrepresenting it. At this I laughed and laughed (which is of concern):”funnily enough, Nagarjuna appeals to our logical habit in his very recommendation to us to ignore logic.” Ah, ouroboros again. We cannot help but bite our own tails. And without such self-consumption, we could not exist!(And he promptly vanished, like Douglas Adams’ god, *in a puff of logic*…)

  • onofrio

    Farnaz, cont’d.(I’m thinking aloud here, from post-puff limbo)Avi Sion:That makes it potentially edifying, and not a bad thing, though to be used with caution, certes.continues:Suddenly, a thin-ended wedge appears. Attributing logicide and legicide to guru-monistic rhetoric is OTT, IMO, being rather tricksily reliant on anthropomorphism. Who will defend poor Logic from those monistic lambs-that-spake-as-dragons? If we’re talking deplorable consequences, Aristotelian precision has its fair potential share as well. If a hazy monism can become a swamp, an implacable logic can become a guillotine. O Avi Sion, Nagarjuna, can we agree not to play one game by the rules of another!

  • onofrio

    Persiflage,Thank you for sharing Keso’s clearsighted candour, and for Kerouac’s fond (and poignant) rucksackery.Consider me delighted and instructed.Vive le Moonage Daydream

  • onofrio

    Farnaz,My favourite -ism logism is prism (ha! no ism logism at all!). That would make me, um, a prismist, which evokes a mincing fog, a faux-Nephele swaying awry in too-steep stilettos.I love the prism for its capacity to show that the one light is, in *fact*, all colours. Jew and black too, yet still Jew, still black.And yet, even such sunny analytics can make a prison of a prism, if not held lightly.What to do? Be a little Quasiprismistically Mysticynical :-)

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    Or Jewish and black, or black and Jewish, or black Jewish, or just Jewish, or just black.Identity, thy name is Confusion.

  • onofrio

    “Identity, thy name is Confusion.”The identity of identity? Such identitistic pessipositivism ;-)

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    Onofrio,Nefele (Nephele)= maya? No A, at all? Neither of the above?

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    Identitism
    => Athens(ism). Ouriboro Q

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    Onofrio,Part of last posting cut off at the head, non ouroboroistically. Heroically hurry me back.identism Athens(ism). Ouroboro. Q

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    Onofrio,Ich kann nicht. :

  • onofrio

    Farnaz,You kann much. You certainly kann wield a Q with glyphic nous! I salute!A whole genealogy of Athensism, in just one stroke. Brilliance.

  • clearthinking1

    Farnaz,No one from Aristotle to Bertrand Russell has found a way to critically establish the basis for the 3 “laws of thought”. These 3 axioms have to be accepted (on faith?). However, Kurt Godel demonstrated in 1931 using formal logic that ANY axiomatic system like logic or mathematics will have true statements that it cannot prove. This was a very important demonstrations of the limits of logic when searching for “ultimate truth”.Many philosophers in the “West” have realized this in different ways. This was mostly seen in the German philosophers like Kant, Hegel, Nietzche, and especially Shopenhauer. Wittgenstein also realized the limits of language, thought, and logic and wrote in the Tractus: “Where (or of what) one cannot speak, one must pass over in silence.” Kant also wrote of the “thing in itself” which is inaccessible to human thought and experience.Unfortunately, in the West these philosophers were sometimes accused of “mysticism” and their metaphysics substantially ignored, especially Schopenhauer and Wittgenstein. These philosophies have never had a chance to be fully developed. In contrast, in the Indian subcontinent for thousands of years, the philosophers (swamis) were left alone to ponder without the pressure of the church, politics, or “establishment” as in Europe. As a matter of fact, they were elevated to the highest status (Barhmin) in society, but they had to give up all wealth, political power, material possessions, and even their names (this is partially the basis of the ideal caste system). This freed the philosophers of agendas and allowed them to build for generation after generation a system of metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics which is internally consistant.

  • clearthinking1

    The “laws of thought” are the essential component of logical thought. However, the key word to understand is “thought”. 1. What is the valid means of understanding the objective universe (including the body and brain)? Only question 1 is easily answered in the “West” and the “East”. The answer is the scientific method and logic.

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    Onofrio,Many thanks! LOL! Right facing arrows spurned posting. Feat Ouroboro foiled. Ouroboro(-ism?). Q

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    Clearthinking:”3: There is no valid means of questioning or understanding the “laws of thought” in western dualistic thinking”But Western philosophy does question the “laws” of thought, at least the dispositions. One great question, for example: Is there a priori synthetic knowledge?Also, the “West” questions more mundane dispositions, e.g., stereotyping, in all senses, typing.Question: What is “self” in the East?

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    Cleathinking:Re: the “West” and thoughtEpistemology, metaphysics, cognition, psychology…?

  • onofrio

    Clearthinking,”There are no short cuts”Sometimes there are. Like Q. Courtesy of a certain acutessa.Thank you for your wonderfully clear precis of Vedanta. “That thou art”, and “satyam = atman” *I* have come around to (I know it seems doubtful, belied by my japey cant, but still…) I do baulk at “All else is mithya” though, preferring *All else is is … well, I dunno … all else*. Cut to Wittgenstein. Re Wittgenstein’s “Where (or of what) one cannot speak, one must pass over in silence.” As a resistist, I kick at musts. There are always words that can attempt the sheer face. Though they fail and fall, I would sing their vainglorious attempt. There’s enough of the Hellene in me, haunting my skull, to thrill, still, to AGON.Of the chattersome, logophilic Occident, me. Whereof one cannot speak, one can always hum, whistle, versify. Who knows? Perhaps The Word will emerge, or at least, be silhouetted. Or it may shout back “Shaddup already!”Indeed, WHO knows.

  • onofrio

    Persiflage,”Plato and Pythagorus may well have been on to something regarding their ideas and insights e.g. archetypal realms….modern day physicists are struggling with the idea that phenomena (including mental constructs) may indeed be holographic in nature – somehow transmitted/projected from more rarified realms.” Plato’s thought is haunted by the ghosts of Nilotic theologues. The text on the ‘Shabaka Stone’ (c.700BC, quoting 1150BC original) posits that every entity in the phenomemal world is a “word” conceived in the “heart” of the primordial creative principle – in this instance Ptah “artificer”. This Ptah actualises his interior cognitions, his “words”, by means of speech. In Hellenic terms, Logos as creative agent. The hieroglyphic script was actually called “words of the god”, as it replicated this creative principle. It was an open-ended, analytic inventory of “the existent”, the contents of that “heart” that conceives All. Word = actual entity = image …

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    Hi Onofrio,” Aristotelian precision has its fair potential share as well. If a hazy monism can become a swamp, an implacable logic can become a guillotine.” Absolutely. Just as surely as A is not A.On the other hand, Sion attributes a wink to the sage, note. (@ (Glyph = wink.)

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    Onofrio,Did you know that “democratism” is a word? This could cause a schism in -ism. Athens redux.