Saturday, April 26, 2014

Its the actions not the interpretations that count

From More on the Brandeis-Hirsi Ali controversy by David Bernstein
As I’ve blogged before (though I can’t find the link), unless you believe that a particular version of a religion is “true,” it’s foolish to suggest that the religion itself is to blame for human actions based on that religion. Human beings interpret religious texts, and they should be held responsible for their actions, including how they interpret inevitably ambiguous religious tradition.

And religions evolve. Rabbinic Judaism, for example, evolved through interpretation to the extent that it often bears only a tangential relationship to the purported source material, the Torah. Islam, as mediated through human action, was historically often more tolerant of Jews living under it than was Christianity, even though if you compare the Quran to the Christian Bible it would seem that Christianity would obviously be the more “Love Thy Neighbor” religion. And so on. A great religion like Islam, with hundreds of years of commentary and interpretation, can inevitably be interpreted to be more liberal or less liberal, more tolerant or less tolerant, more belligerent or less belligerent. To the extent it’s been interpreted to be incompatible with liberalism, we should blame the interpreters who have created “radical Islamism” and criticize their ideology, not issue blanket condemnations of “Islam.” If the Catholic Church can evolve from what it was in the 19th century to what it is today, a decentralized religion like Islam surely is not static or monolithic.
This is close to my criticism of those trying to lump everybody in to groups and cultures and to criticize at the aggregate level rather than the individual level. Cultures are critical in many ways, not least that they encourage and discourage certain actions and behaviors. But when someone does something, it is their individual choice that is relevant, not the abstract notion of culture.

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