Nick Cohen on reforming Islam: don’t look to faith to fix itself

 We don’t have Orwell around any longer, but we do have Nick Cohen, who instantiates many of Orwell’s values: a hatred of totalitarianism, an overweening need and respect for the truth, and plain writing about the truth. He’s one of the few journalists whom I agree with down the line, though of course I haven’t sworn fealty to the man.

Cohen’s new piece in the Guardian, “Don’t look to the Pope for enlightenment values“, is his usual good stuff, criticizing the Vatican for calling Charlie Hebdo anniversary cover “blasphemous,” and especially for the hypocrisy of a Church whose history showed and whose scripture still shows approbation for awful crimes. But there’s one bit of the piece that struck me strongly.

First, though, we have Cohen’s definition of the Enlightenment, taken from Kant. It’s as good as any I’ve seen:

Kant provided a guide for the uninitiated. What is Enlightenment? he asked in 1784. It was nothing less than the freedom to argue for your own ideas without being forced to comply by authoritarians: the general who says: “Do not argue – drill!”; the taxman who says: “Do not argue – pay!”; the priest who says: “Do not argue – believe!” To overcome them, you must first understand that “the public use of one’s reason must be free at all times and this alone can bring enlightenment to mankind”.
This is why I call the “regressive Left” the “authoritarian Left.” It’s less pejorative and more accurate. But putting that aside, Cohen names the Pope and his church as prime anti-Enlightenment authoritarians:
Kant’s generals, governments and priests bawl orders to this day. To update him, however, we would need to add an authoritarian the 18th century could not have imagined: the pseudo-liberal who says: “Do not argue – respect!” [JAC: here he’s referring to the so-called Regressive Left], They were bawling at the Parisian dead before their graves were dug and the loudest bawls came from Pope Francis.
. . . I’m damned if I can see any moral superiority, liberal, conservative or otherwise. The pope responded to the murders of satirists by lecturing their corpses. You cannot insult or make fun of the faith of others, he said, as he came as close as he dared to blaming the victims. A man’s religion was like his mother, he added. And anyone who insulted his mother could “expect a punch”.
Finally, I want you to look at the middle paragraph of the end of the piece (my emphasis):

Assad, Iran and Hezbollah engage in the mass murder of Sunnis. Isis returns the compliment and takes Yazidi, Shia and Christian women as their sex slaves. But then Moses commanded the Israelites to fall upon their enemies and kill everyone except “women that have not known a man by lying with him”. Those they could keep for themselves.

It may be objected that the New Testament is less gory that the Old. But Christ no more forbad slavery, rape, torture and genocide than did the Ten Commandments. Christians in power engaged in orgies of persecution of one another, of non-believers, of witches and of Jews. Indeed, the true Judaeo-Christian tradition was the 1,600-year tradition of Christians murdering Jews. What civilisation Judaism and Christianity possess came from the outside. They did not reform themselves, which is why calls for a Muslim reformation so spectacularly miss the point. Civilisation came from the battering that religion took from the Enlightenment, from sceptics, scientists, mockers and philosophers, who destroyed their myths and exposed the immorality of their taboos.

Charlie Hebdo told us a truth that too many do not like to admit: anyone who tries to do the same to Islam today can end up dead.

The more I think about the bit in bold, the more I agree with Cohen. I’ve always said, along with other liberals, that our own lucubrations about the perfidies of Islamic doctrine are pretty much bawling up a drainpipe. The real change that Islam needs, if such change is to come, will depend on moderate Muslims or even ex-Muslims: people like Maajid Nawaz or Ayaan Hirsi Ali.  But, truth be told, while these people are immensely brave, passionate, dedicated, and arduous in their attempts to de-fang Islam, I haven’t seen much change. Now perhaps it’s because that change, in the hearts and minds of men and women, is invisible to us. But the tail of the distribution of extremist Islam hasn’t appeared to be drawing in.

People like Ayaan Hirsi Ali or Maryam Namazie can be ignored because they’re apostates, and thus deserve to be killed rather than heard. Muslims secretly suspect that “liberal Muslims” like Maajid Nawaz are unbelievers, too, and pay them little heed.

Perhaps, then, the route to reforming a dangerous faith is not to ask those within the faith to fix it. After all, Cohen is right: the Church didn’t reform—as far as it has, which isn’t far*—because moderate Catholics decided to change it. It liberalized itself (or at least pretended to) because secular society moved ahead of its regressive values, forcing the Vatican to play moral catch-up if it wanted to keep its Catholics. As far as I can see, with few exceptions religious morality is always behind secular morality.  Do you think that Pope Francis is asking us to be tolerant of gays because the Church had a revelation from God? No, it’s because intolerance of gays, and opposition to gay marriage, gradually became seen as contrary to Enlightenment values. That put pressure on regular Catholics, which in turn puts pressure on the Vatican.

Maybe we should stop saying that the only reform of Islam will come from moderate Muslims. Maybe we ourselves should keep the pressure on—promoting those precious Enlightenment values and showing that many Muslims oppose them. The failure of nerve on the Left, which refuses to take this action for fear of its being seen as bigotry, may ultimately produce a failure to de-radicalize Islam.


The Cohenator.

*See Kristina Keneally’s corrective to her recent Prime Minister (both Catholics) “Tony Abbott, you do know you belong to a church that has not reformed, don’t you?
 h/t: Phil


  1. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted January 11, 2016 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    After all, Cohen is right: the Church didn’t reform—as far as it has, which isn’t far*—because moderate Catholics decided to change it. It liberalized itself (or at least pretended to) because secular society moved ahead of its regressive values, forcing the Vatican to play moral catch-up if it wanted to keep its Catholics.

    A significant point may also be that the Catholic Church doesn’t exist within a vacuum – I doubt that there is a Catholic on the planet who isn’t aware that there are non-Catholic but still Christian churches out there, and of considerable size. While the pressures against converting from Catholicism are substantial, the mere fact that the Vatican cooperates with various other churches in “ecumenical” conversations of some sort or another implies that the Vatican still considers them to be Christian churches, and therefore that leaving the Catholic church for, say, some sept of Protestantism isn’t actually a mortal sin.
    I don’t know how the Sunni Muslims treat people who convert to Shia Islam, or vice versa. But the prospect of losing adherents (and tithes) to another sept may be a moderating influence.
    Whether this suggests a workable strategy – schisming Islam – I don’t know. I just can’t put my head into a state where I can think that way.

    • Kevin
      Posted January 11, 2016 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

      Two phrases I like:

      No religion is in a vacuum. Though they all would like to be, or ideally, exist on their own planet…wait, I think one of them promotes that for their afterlife super-Sunday-sale.

      All religions play moral catch-up. Flip side: Has any part of reformation made religion worse? Well, maybe, if you are a pig and you live in the middle east near some reformed Jews. 🙂

      • rickflick
        Posted January 11, 2016 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

        All religions play moral catch-up because they are, by design, dogmatic. They change only when forced to by the outside (secular) world.

  2. Randy Schenck
    Posted January 11, 2016 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    A very good and convincing point. The changes in christian religion mostly come from outside forces, like reality and science. The problem with most muslim states is likely the isolation in their world. Jet travel and the internet may be their salvation.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted January 11, 2016 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

      “Around the world, the global average Muslim family size has fallen from 4.3 children per family in 1995 to 2.9 in 2010, and is expected to fall below the population-growth rate, and converge with Western family sizes, by mid-century.”

      “Muslims change their cultural views dramatically when they emigrate.”

      “Muslims have adopted exactly the same rate of religious observance as the people around them in their host country.”

      [ ; “This is adapted from my book The Myth of the Muslim Tide”]

      • Randy Schenck
        Posted January 11, 2016 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

        Interesting and good signs. The fellow who did my operation a few years back, a Thoracic Surgeon was an emigrant from India and first name was Muhammad and he was probably one of the best around. I was thinking more about all the millions who do not emigrate or go anywhere.

    • gluonspring
      Posted January 11, 2016 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

      The changes in christian religion mostly come from outside forces, like reality and science.

      If my poor memory of my slight studies of the time serve, changes in Christian religion were greatly aided by the desires of various rulers. King Henry’s break with the Catholic church is the most famous one, but at many crucial moments during the Reniassance, Reformation, and Enlightenment religious power and hegemony was diluted by the desires of secular rulers, giving opposing ideas, reason, and science breathing room to advance.

      In my equally poor knowledge of more recent history, I think figures like Ataturk are examples of something similar in Islam. If reform comes to Islam, I think it will be in that form: a charismatic leader who can counter religious power with secular power.

      Unfortunately, Islam had a big dose of secularism after WWI, but most often in the form of brutal dictators. We are, it seems to me, in at least the 40th year of the religious backlash from those dictators.

      I think this is what the Neocons hoped to achieve in Iraq, establish a new non-despotic secular authority that could provide legitimized pushback, for the theocratic regimes in the region. Of course, among the great many obvious reasons this did not work, not the least is that one can not conjure great leaders to fill the vacuum out of thin air.

      • Posted January 12, 2016 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

        Or secularism with (somewhat) independent nationalism, in the case of, say, Nasser, which made him enemies of the US (and Britain and France, for that matter).

        • gluonspring
          Posted January 12, 2016 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

          Another good example. Perhaps without so many complicating factors (The Cold War, Israel, etc.) things could have turned out better, but the needle, at the time, was just too small to thread.

          I don’t think we, in the West, can make it happen but, asymmetrically, I do think we are capable of completely undermining it.

    • Victoria
      Posted January 11, 2016 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

      Multicultural policies combined with reluctance by academic and media figures, excepting avowedly conservative media, to criticise Islamic history and norms have allowed this isolation to continue. Isolation is tantamount to Islamic supremacism. Liberals who are not racial paternalists and are not racially-essentializing Islam deep down should have no problem with Islam being subject to robust criticism in the spirit of the Open Society.

      Even after the mass sexual assaults in Europe coming to light, most of the left media has its head buried in the sand, most conspicuously my fellow feminists. Fortunately the mainstream media has broached this once taboo subject, because most people are justifiably outraged by both the attacks and the attempted cover up.

      • Mark R.
        Posted January 11, 2016 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

        “Isolation is tantamount to Islamic supremacism.”

        I agree. This is why we in the West must embrace emigration. It’s no surprise that two of the positive Muslim trends that Torbjörn cited came about when Muslims emigrated to secular countries:

        “Muslims change their cultural views dramatically when they emigrate.”

        “Muslims have adopted exactly the same rate of religious observance as the people around them in their host country.”

        • steve
          Posted January 12, 2016 at 5:11 am | Permalink

          PCC wrote: “But the tail of the distribution of extremist Islam hasn’t appeared to be drawing in.”

          In fact I would say, the tail is wagging the dog!!

    • Historian
      Posted January 11, 2016 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

      I’m not an expert in medieval or church history, but as I recall it was Martin Luther who kicked off the Protestant Reformation. This cataclysmic change to Christianity was precipitated from within the Church. I don’t think reality or science played a role. Of course, one can argue whether the emergence of Protestantism was a positive force for good,i.e., a true reform. But, there’s no doubt that Christianity was different. Whether Islam can undergo an internal reform that will more align itself with modernity remains an open question.

      • TJR
        Posted January 12, 2016 at 5:47 am | Permalink

        You can also argue that to some extent that sort of reformation has already happened in islam. Sunni islam is in some ways similar to protestantism (bibliolatry, less formal priesthood) while shia islam is more like popery (more formal hierarchy).

        It doesn’t seem to have helped much.

        You can certainly claim that the xian reformation played a large role in allowing the enlightenment, but its less clear whether reformation in islam would help much in spreading enlightenment values.

        • peepuk
          Posted January 12, 2016 at 6:15 am | Permalink

          You can also argue that Islam after its golden age (786-1258) is in a state of decline. Free thought was an early victim:

          “The caliph al-Mutawakkil enforced a more literal interpretation of the Qur’an and Hadith. Science and rationalism were dismissed in favor of revelation.[73] Greek philosophy was condemned as anti-Islamic.[73]”


          “To account for the decline of Islamic science, it has been argued that the Sunni Revival in the 11th and 12th centuries produced a series of institutional changes that decreased the relative payoff to producing scientific works. With the spread of madrasas and the greater influence of religious leaders, it became more lucrative to produce religious knowledge”

          wikipedia :

      • gluonspring
        Posted January 12, 2016 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

        I tend to think of the Reformation as merely an aspect of the Renaissance that was well under way.

        Luther did his bit, no doubt, but what is the context? Why did he do it then? What influenced him? What made him feel free enough to to it? Why didn’t he end up in a dungeon? Why, importantly, did it take? Some have mentioned vernacular Bibles, printing presses, printing pamphlets as factors. But so many things were happening then… Italy was divided into city states that increasingly centered on the interests and power of commerce vs nobility, the Black Death had swept through Europe leaving it’s mark and social change, the Renaissance was well under way, Mirandola had published Oration on the Dignity of Man arguing for humanist thinking, and Columbus had just discovered the New World a mere 23 years before Luther nailed his theses to the door. Even as Luther hammered, Copernicus was working on his book dethroning the Earth. One could say that Luther kicked off the Protestant Reformation, or one could see the Protestant Reformation as just one aspect of the rise of humanism all across Europe during the Renaissance.

        • gluonspring
          Posted January 12, 2016 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

          And to clarify this a bit more…

          Some may wonder at the idea that Protestantism is more humanistic than Catholicism, but it is. The essence of Protestantism is, in some sense, Sola scriptura, that the Bible alone is all the authority one needs and, critically, that ordinary people outside the church hierarchy are able to interpret scripture for themselves. Individual reason (in this case applied to the Bible) is elevated over official authority. I think this is not an accident. Trusting one’s own ability to reason is core to humanism, and humanism of this sort was in the air in the late 1400’s early 1500s.

          • GBJames
            Posted January 12, 2016 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

            That is debatable.

            For a more extended read.

            • gluonspring
              Posted January 12, 2016 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

              I’m not sure what I’m supposed to get out of that article. Anabaptists set up a little kingdom for a bit. It goes badly. So?

              • GBJames
                Posted January 12, 2016 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

                If you take “set up a little kingdom for a bit”, then you miss the point.

                I would hope you would take away the observation that the advent of Protestantism did not represent much of what most of us think of as “humanism”. Far from it. It represented nothing but an alternate form of religious intolerance, repression, and violent schism after schism. Reason was not elevated over official authority. The authority was changed. Nothing more.

            • gluonspring
              Posted January 13, 2016 at 9:19 am | Permalink

              I still disagree with the bit about Enlightenment philosophers getting too much credit,

              That was guest’s bit in 15, not mine. I agree with you there too. My guess would be that, if anything, Enlightenment philosophers may get too little credit because the religious want to retrospectively claim it was all their idea.

          • Posted January 12, 2016 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

            See the response I just made to GBJames on thread 15. You’re right that the Protestant Reformation shunned the notion of authoritative mandates, but it largely replaced it with subjective analysis, not aided by reason, but by faith. I believe the owner of this site has something to say about this method of deciphering reality in his latest book.

            It’s hard to say whether authoritarianism with a nod towards reason is worse or better than libertarianism that completely shuns reason.

            • gluonspring
              Posted January 13, 2016 at 1:04 am | Permalink

              My sloppy writing has gotten me in trouble here. Both of you are correct. My point was rather more modest. I’m not suggesting that Protestantism ushered in an age of reason. I’m suggesting, rather, that some growth in reason and individualism ushered in Protestantism.

              The fact that Protestantism came to be is, to my mind, of a piece with all the other trends of the age. Those trends were in the direction of humanism, though I don’t think that anyone on the earth at that time was embracing humanism as we think of it now. Just as the Reign of Terror is not something we’d want to emulate now, we can still see it as part of the trend away from monarchy. We can see in it the anti-monarchist sentiments that are eventually reflected in better things. Protestantism is to Catholicism a bit like the Reign of Terror is to Monarchy. It’d be better to do without it, and it is a dead end to be sure, but historically it is part of the trend.

              It’s hard to say whether authoritarianism with a nod towards reason is worse or better than libertarianism that completely shuns reason.

              I would say that a nod towards reason is a nod in the direction of humanism, it says that that reason can be trusted. This is exactly and all I mean when I say Protestantism is more humanistic than Catholicism.

              Is it better? That is a difficult question. I grew up in a fundamentalist sect that made a big deal about reason, but in practice they applied reason in a rather Orwellian way. In practice, my church was more authoritarian than my friends Catholic church, because my sect devoted enormous energy to policing orthodoxy.

              Still, their pretense of being about reason did have a big effect on me. I took it seriously, that we should not trust any authority figure, and in time I came to apply that principle to them as well.

              • GBJames
                Posted January 13, 2016 at 7:20 am | Permalink

                Thanks for clarifying your point. I think I still disagree with the bit about Enlightenment philosophers getting too much credit, but I agree that the Reformation was part of the stream of history that produced the Enlightenment.

              • Posted January 14, 2016 at 8:08 am | Permalink

                I would say that a nod towards reason is a nod in the direction of humanism, it says that that reason can be trusted. This is exactly and all I mean when I say Protestantism is more humanistic than Catholicism.

                In my original comment, I was actually thinking it was the other way around, at least in time immediately following the Reformation. The Catholic Church, for example, had Aquinas and his philosophical reasoning, while Martin Luther shunned both reason and authority, instead relying on personal faith and revelation.

                It’s hard 500 years later in the modern world to disentangle all the different sects (though apologists for each of them certainly insist otherwise). I grew up in a Catholic household that seemed like a cross between Pentecostalism, Catholicism and fundamentalism. It was a combination of speaking in tongues, disavowing Evolution and following the authority of the Church. Despite, the Vatican’s insistence that they’ve embraced cosmology and biology in modern times, that message certainly doesn’t get passed down to the laity, and there’s no effort made to enlighten someone who thinks the Earth is 6000 years old, we were created from dust and vaccines are evil (thankfully, my parents were never in the antivax camp).

                Of course, at this point arguing which sect is more reasonable is an exercise in futility. There’s been quite a bit of cross pollination between all of them in the last few centuries; I personally am allergic to all of them.

  3. GBJames
    Posted January 11, 2016 at 1:21 pm | Permalink


  4. Posted January 11, 2016 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    It’s as good as any I’ve seen: “… It was nothing less than the freedom to argue for your own ideas without being forced to comply by authoritarians: … you must first understand that “the public use of one’s reason must be free at all times and this alone can bring enlightenment to mankind”.”

    Just wondering Jerry, in the light of your previous post. Are you taking a compatibilist interpretation of the word “free” in this paragraph? 🙂

    • Posted January 11, 2016 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

      I’d bet that every incompatibilist understands this meaning of freedom without the need to give up determinism or invoke magical mind body dualism. Likewise, if I’m on trial for a crime I committed while kidnappers held my family hostage, everyone would understand what it means when I say I was not allowed to act of my own free will.

      I understand the rules of the game. Now, what best describes the game? That is yet to be determined.

  5. Athesis
    Posted January 11, 2016 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    While (so-called) moderate and ex-Muslims should be granted the platform to expose the need for reformation of Islam, one cannot help but notice the abject failure of the states in which Islam is most prominent. We are aware that there is an inverse relationship between the religiosity of a society and it’s dysfunction.
    The regions/countries where Islam retains it’s worst venom are those in which theocrats, dictators, and other perfidious strongmen retain their stranglehold. They sit over a quagmire of failed policy and broken government. Many of these are propped up on oil money and Western support for whoever keeps the bounty flowing and the rabble out of the way. I do not intend to solely pin the blame on “colonialism” or fault the West for their complicity in the state of these places. Perhaps the most crucial course of action (in the long term) is to continue to push for the social growth of enlightenment values in all places.
    It’s only through the universal acceptance of the human right to personal and social growth that will pull these countries into the modern age. The rights of women, education, free speech, freedom of information, freedom of movement, and the continued encouragement of democratic, secular, humanist values will be required to de-fang these theocrats and ensure that people are allowed to live free of their generals and priests (though the taxes must, regrettably, continue).

  6. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted January 11, 2016 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    Fundamentalists are in part resistant to religious reform because of a fear that it will lead to decay in faith that will ultimately result in atheism as this 1920s cartoon from Wikipedia illustrates

    Success in reforming religion indeed entails a delicate balancing (indeed tightrope) act between incorporating some values of secularism and scientific inquiry while maintaining some sense of sacred/transcendent aspirations and retaining a stable system of values and beliefs.

    During the early 20th century, Christianity was fairly successful in this area, but it does not seem to be maintaining this synthesis well.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted January 11, 2016 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

      Interesting that the reaction of the catholic church was to reinstate an Inquisition (“the Sodalitium Pianum”) and use censure (“Index of Forbidden Books”), which couldn’t be more perverse in the light of the Enlightenment. [ ]

      Also that ‘resurrection’ is the more important goal than the chosen ‘deity’, at least in the eye of the artist of the stair illustration.

      I would of course reverse the stair to show the progression from the Dark Ages to now…

    • Mark R.
      Posted January 11, 2016 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

      The 4th step says “no miracles” and then the artist proceeds to write other miracles on the next steps. The religious just don’t seem to understand logic. It reminds me of those who say atheists “hate god”; sorry, nothing to hate.

      • Posted January 11, 2016 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

        Oh, I hate the Tooth Fairy so much!


        • jeffery
          Posted January 11, 2016 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

          Upon her young son losing another baby tooth, the mother decided it was time to tell him the truth about the tooth fairy: she sat him down, with some trepidation, and informed him that it was she who had been leaving money under his pillow in exchange for the teeth he left. She was surprised and relieved when he seemed to take it all very lightly- “OK, mom”, he shrugged, and ran off to play. A little while later, he came back up to her and said, “There’s something I wanna know, mom- how do you get in all those other kids’ houses?”

      • Jenny Janiver
        Posted January 11, 2016 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

        ” It reminds me of those who say atheists “hate god”; sorry, nothing to hate.”
        Thank you. This I am copying into my vademecum, with all due credit.

  7. Victoria
    Posted January 11, 2016 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    Even here, I frequently see people insist that Islam cannot be singled out or is ‘no worse’ than other religions. That final cartoon, however, nicely illustrates the flaw in that thinking. Even liberal Muslims have no descended to that first step ‘down’ towards modernity, i.e. rejection of textual inerrancy.

    The entire legitimacy of Islam rests on the Qur’an being inerrant because its internal origin story and theology demands that as a corollary. Christianity in contrast can fall back on Jesus as a supernatural being to almost the nth degree, as many liberal, modern Christians do. The Bible has further been recognized as a mishmash of books spread out over centuries, even by people who insist God would allow no error therein. Even then fundamentalist evangelism stresses a spiritual experience, not a textual one.

    If the Qur’an is in error, then the entire faith is built on error and is no better than the other Peoples of the Book with their supposedly flawed revelations. Islam is built on such an overt sense of supremacism over others that I don’t think it can handle that. Rushdie in the Satanic Verses makes a big deal about how Islam is special in being defiantly inflexible, yet surviving nonetheless.

    • Hassan Ali
      Posted January 12, 2016 at 2:16 am | Permalink

      The foremost obstacle in the way of reform is not the Quran itself, but the fiqh (the scholarly tradition) and its take on the hadith. The ijma (consensus) of the companions and the early scholars is a foundational source of law in Islamic epistemology. This is why any reformer who proposes something new is seen as being guilty of bidaa (innovation) and dismissed.

      Any reform worth the name will have to involve a radical break from tradition. And such a break can only occur if liberal values gain currency in the Muslim world.

      • Posted January 12, 2016 at 7:25 am | Permalink

        It’s telling that Islam has not only dogma but meta-dogma.


        • Posted January 12, 2016 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

          So do other religions, needless to say. For example, when I was told by a Catholic I read the bible wrong, I asked why. The answer? “You’re ignoring the tradition dating from the Fathers of the Church!”

          Think also of one way of understanding Talmud – from what I can tell there are rules there that are supposed to help prevent violation of others. For example, no spending money on the High Holy days, so Talmud introduces “don’t even carry money then”, etc.

        • Hassan Ali
          Posted January 13, 2016 at 7:47 am | Permalink

          Multiple layers of meta-dogma! This is why I think reform must proceed level by level, peeling through the layers. First get rid of the stranglehold of the four major jurists. Then challenge the authority of the six “authentic” books of Hadith. Next you question the standard ways of interpreting the Quran. So on and so forth.

  8. Brujo Feo
    Posted January 11, 2016 at 2:38 pm | Permalink


  9. Charlie
    Posted January 11, 2016 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    I agree that change best comes from the outside:

    It seems certain that without the lawsuits and public outcry, the most advanced theological organization on Earth with its highly refined system of ethics and divine revelation would still believe that it is better to secretly move pedophiles from church to church than to risk any blemish on the Catholic Church by having pedophile priests arrested.

  10. stuartcoyle
    Posted January 11, 2016 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    I had not previously read Kristina Keneally’s refutation of our worst ever Prime Minister. Thanks for including the link. At least someone in our opposition can make a reasonable argument, the rest are still flopping about like stranded fish.

  11. chris moffatt
    Posted January 11, 2016 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    “That put pressure on regular Catholics, which in turn puts pressure on the Vatican.”

    I’m not aware of any item of catholic dogma that has been changed by the current pope or any of his predecessors. They do add new dogmas from time to time, such as infallibility of magisteria back in the nineteenth century, but little or nothing is ever thrown out. They can’t do it. Because of their claims for seventeen centuries to be the possessors of the “Truth” they can’t turn around and negate their claims now. Anybody who thinks RCC Inc has changed, is changing or will change is not paying attention.

  12. jeffery
    Posted January 11, 2016 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    Expecting any religion to be able to “reform” itself and its core tenets is as ridiculous as believing that “a free market economy will solve all problems” or that large corporations will act in an environmentally and ethically responsible manner without any outside regulation.

    • Filippo
      Posted January 11, 2016 at 7:06 pm | Permalink


  13. phil
    Posted January 11, 2016 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

    While it seems some reforms have originated inside existing churches I think most reformation is merely a case of some disaffected group splitting off from the mainstream. This is usually accompanied by persecution and violence, and has already occurred in Islam. What’s more some of the “reformed” sects are not really improvements, from a broad social perspective, let alone liberal or progressive.

  14. Black_Rose
    Posted January 12, 2016 at 3:15 am | Permalink

    This is why I call the “regressive Left” the “authoritarian Left.” It’s less pejorative and more accurate.

    Thank you for being respectful. (I am not totally sarcastic and mostly appreciative in my tone.)

    I do not have much faith in liberalism. But just call me a “Marxist-Leninist” or a “tankie”.

    I am not “regressive” or “reactionary”.

    What do people here think of this:

    Well, anyway, down with the takfiri and Wahhabists.

    • Black_Rose
      Posted January 12, 2016 at 3:25 am | Permalink

      I am not trying to spread pro-Assad propaganda by posting that link, but I wanted to focus on what people here think about the anti-imperialist left (such as those who support Assad). The relevant content is the thesis that the mainstream left is not critical about the West intentions in the Middle East and thus are often display ingenuous outrage at the bugbears of the West (such as Assad and Iran).

      I think this link also discusses it (since it uses the word “left” more than the former link)

      • Posted January 12, 2016 at 8:41 am | Permalink

        Interesting links, Thanks..

        Current media uses multi-pal techniques to justify their own favored “lords” faiths and mission. When I watch the mainstream media I notices all these patterns and the way they implement them naturally to audience and brainwash them in artificial/crafted reality. Same as the religion.
        Western war criminal imperialist and their puppets knows how to stir the pot of hate using the false indoctrinated doctrinaires such as religions / skin color or whatever they can get hand on. They want people to stay dumb, follow a man written out dated book as the word of a all knowing god, listen to their fabricated news, work as salves etc. So the leading religious leaders are co contributors. When the came to my country they brought both the religions, one to run their trades _Islam _ and the other to get the locals align_Christianity. Almost 300 years looted and still keep looting in different faces.

    • chris moffatt
      Posted January 12, 2016 at 6:53 am | Permalink

      It’s a fair summary of the reality in Syria. Unfortunately it doesn’t go far enough. It doesn’t assign the blame for it all to the US government where it belongs because that government has for years, and still does, made those same “loony left” (I’m quoting here) ideas the basis of its whole policy regarding Syria.

  15. guest
    Posted January 12, 2016 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    I think you are giving a little too much credit to enlightenment philosophers and not enough to Christian reformers. I’m not a big history buff but I think the Protestant reformation was driven by people who were deeply religious and angered by what they saw as the hypocrisy of Church leaders, not by science…although I guess you could argue technology played a part, since the printing press allowed more people to read the bible in their own language.
    Protestantism was far from perfect but it did open up Christianity to debate and critical examination, which is why we have the thousands of denominations today.
    And if you want an example of religious groups being ahead of secular morals, look at the Quakers, who played a big role in the abolition of slavery and more recently allowed gay blessings in their congregations before gay marriage was legalised, and argued in favour of gay marriage in the UK.
    I agree that secular critics of religion are useful but we shouldn’t dismiss internal critics so easily.

    • Posted January 12, 2016 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

      I used to say with some jesting that Luther wanted to increase piety by having everyone read the bible for themselves, but his plan backfired! Because although we got more fundamentalism, we also got more people reading it critically.

    • GBJames
      Posted January 12, 2016 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

      To the contrary… It is am mistake to think of schisms as “reform”. It is simply the logical process of social fracturing among people who have no mechanism for figuring out which made-up fantasies about gods are better than others. Enlightenment philosophers contributed far more than Christians debating about what Jesus wants them to do.

      • Posted January 12, 2016 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

        In the case of the Protestant Reformation, we’re hardly talking about reform in the direction that brings us toward Enlightenment values. Rather, we’re talking about the introduction of Sola fide and the fideism that soon followed. Fideism was always considered a heresy in the Church (at least once they consolidated their beliefs 300 years after the alleged events). Sure, their reasoning may have had numerous flaws, but they at least said that faith should be backed by reason, even if this is not how they always acted in principle. Fideism is a big step in the wrong direction. It’s very likely that the number of creationists we have today would be reduced to a much less significant number if not for the Protestant Reformation.

  16. jay
    Posted January 12, 2016 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    A while back I compared the Moses incident to ISIS behavior on a more or less political website. I was accused of being antisemitic.

    Apparently it’s OK if Moses does it.

  17. Black_Rose
    Posted January 12, 2016 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    That is exactly what Catholics argue: they believe that giving one a license of interpret the Bible according to how the Spirit affects one while one reads the Bible, would result in more disunity and discord among Christendom. Only by adhering to the doctrinal orthodoxy and tradition (as Scripture alone would no suffice) of the Catholic Church one could then arrive at truth. Most Catholics say that the Roman Catholic Church is the only sect that has the “fullness of truth”.

    However, I do not want to give the impression that only Protestants are capable of such repressive fundamentalism (as is usually the case in the United States). Catholics can support some pretty repressive regimes, such as the Estado Novo of Portugal.

    • Black_Rose
      Posted January 12, 2016 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

      My reply was to keith Douglas 1:53 PM

  18. peepuk
    Posted January 13, 2016 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    Reform in Christianity was basically switching from militancy to hypocrisy.

    Freedom of speech, earning more money than you need and the fact that nobody likes militants will set up the necessary conditions for the first stage of hypocrisy.

    Ironically most atheist switch again from hypocrisy to militancy.

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