Saturday, December 6, 2008


This weekend's New York Times Magazine features a one-page article about a controversy among Islamic scholars regarding the divine nature of the Koran:

I don't really have the patience to say everything I have to say about this issue, but I can't resist the temptation to say at least a little bit.

It is as clear to me as the bottled water I just purchased for an exuberant $2.99 that a human or humans wrote the Qur'aan. Just as a human or humans wrote everything that's ever been written. It follows the simple logic that humans are the only earthly organism that has what Chomsky and others have dubbed the language faculty. As I mentioned in my previous posting, this refers primarily to speaking (a) language(s), but certainly extends to writing as well.

Of course, if you believe in god, or gods, or spirits or what have you, I don't think I can convince you that such entities do not exist. Shit, I won't even try.

I have devoted much of my adolescent and adult life to studying the language and culture of peoples who for the most part are very much concerned with matters such as the one featured in the Times article. This, naturally, poses a dilemma for me. For I have not only studied Arabic and Arabs and to some extent Islam, but I have also supported a host of political causes pertaining to these people, especially with respect to the seemingly eternal conflict between the Palestinian people and my native Israel.

Both parties to this conflict have subgroups who base their argumentation on religious scriptures and teachings. To me, these arguments are, a priori, moot. Occasionally, they may overlap with other, relevant arguments, but that is but a coincidence.

Yesterday, at yet another discussion at F&M's Women's Center, this time on Proposition 8, the issue of religion came up. A portion of the discussion revolved around the question of whether or not the Bible prohibits this or that form of same-sex love/lust/intercourse/marriage. A minister who was in the room reminded the audience that not all Christian denominations and congregations denounce same-sex unions, and took pride in having presided herself over ceremonies uniting members of the same gender for two decades.

I find it ironic that some religious establishments are more progressive than most secular jurisdictions. But like the overlap of scriptural arguments and rational ones, it is by no more than statistical chance (damn, I wish I had the numbers to prove it) that Rev. X or Rabbi Y have a better sense of human dignity than the State of A or the Republic of B. We still have Canada and the Netherlands on the good side of the secular spectrum and Pat Robertson and the Shas/Hamas coalition on the bad side of the religious one.

My biggest frustration, ideologically, politically, even academically to some extent, is that so much of our societal life is based on religious beliefs, which had evolved long before there was any true scientific research around. I wish we could cut the bullshit and stop talking about sacred walls and holy tombs and men born to virgins and people who ascended and descended and parted seas and brought frogs and locust to cover the earth.

That being said, am I guilty for not being critical enough when I teach about Arabs and Arabic and Islam? On the flip side, had I been more critical, would I be deemed "culturally insensitive"? I know in my mind that I think that all theistic religions are equally ridiculous. But in this era of utter disregard for context, even I tend to walk on eggshells.

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