Sunday, April 04, 2021

Comments on Ronald A. Lindsay's "The Necessity of Secularism: Why God Can't Tell Us What to Do"

A few years ago I read Ronald A. Lindsay's The Necessity of Secularism: Why God Can't Tell Us What to Do. I meant to reread it and then thoroughly review it, but I'm in a fit of Konmari & I need to send my copy to the person who requested it from me. So, I'm writing a few comments based on my skimming a few passages I had highlighted.

I hope readers of this blog, Muslims in particular, will attempt to understand secularism in a non-polemical manner. It isn't licentiousness (الإباحية), and it can be uncommitted on essential religious positions, so it is not equivalent to atheism.

Lindsay's layman definition of secularism is "the view that: government should not involve itself with religious matters; religious doctrine should play no role in shaping public policy or in the discourse about public policy; and religious institutions and beliefs should not enjoy a privileged position within society." [p. 18]

Friday, March 05, 2021

Flannery O'Connor's "Wise Blood" and Pathologies of Religion

I had read Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor a few years ago. I remember at the time I thought that the story had some insights into modern religious pathologies, but I would have to do a closer read and possibly some research to explore that thought further. Since my list of "backburner" projects has only grown since then, I'm giving this one up and simply presenting some passages I had marked and some accompanying thoughts.

The novel uses racist anti-black slurs frequently, as did the author in real life. None of these appears in the quotes for this blog entry.

My titles in bold. Quotes are from an online, full-text edition.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Comments on "Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World" by Anand Giridharadas

If you've found yourself wanting to scream at the "thought leaders" shoved down your throat on Public Broadcasting Service, Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World will help you translate your rage into coherent English. Author Anand Giridharadas gives us an "insider-outsider" view of MarketWorld:

MarketWorld is an ascendant power elite that is defined by the concurrent drives to do well and do good, to change the world while also profiting from the status quo. It consists of enlightened businesspeople and their collaborators in the worlds of charity, academia, media, government and think tanks. It has its own thinkers, whom it calls thought leaders, its own language, and even its own territory -- including a constantly shifting archipelago of conferences at which its values are reinforced and disseminated in translated into action. MarketWorld is a network and community but it is also a culture and state of mind.

These elites believe and promote the idea that social change should be pursued principally through the free market and voluntary action, not public life and the law and the reform of the systems that people share in common; that it should be supervised by the winners of capitalism and their allies and not be antagonistic to their needs; and that the biggest beneficiaries of the status quo should play a leading role in the status quo's reform. [p. 30]

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Quotes from Mary Shelley's "The Last Man"

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1797-1851) is most famous for Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus. A friend suggested her 1826 novel The Last Man was especially poignant during the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you can ignore the Victorian-era obsession with facial characteristics and the casual assumptions of European, in particular British, superiority to the rest of the world, the novel does have some excellent, thought-provoking passages.

Quotations are lifted from the Romantic Circles website page on the novel. The narrator is Lionel Varney, the sole survivor of a plague and its resulting chaos. I've added my thoughts in bold.

Friday, February 05, 2021

In Law & Order: SVU S06E20 "Night," the Violent Muslim Male Relative of the Rape Victim Satisfies His Honor By Assaulting the Assistant District Attorney

Dick Wolf's Law and Order franchise is a serial promoter of Islamophobia and other forms of stereotyping, as I've documented on this blog. One early episode of the original series achieved quantum anti-black racism in a 30 second clip

Season 6, Episode 20, entitled "Night," aired in May, 2005. Here's some excerpts from the script. Mildred Contana is the immigrant rights advocate who has been trying to get the police to investigate a series of rapes against undocumented women who are too afraid of deportation to report the crimes.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Thoughts Inspired by Peter Wohlleben's "The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate"

Peter Wohlleben's The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate (translated by Jane Billinghurst) makes me want to tell parents worried about their child's social and career prospects, "It's OK. Let beyta بیٹا be a forester."

Wohlleben promotes biophilia, a love and respect for other living inhabitants of our planet. He writes about forests, most specifically trees, in anthropocentric terms to engender those emotions in the reader. I am not qualified to assess the accuracy of his account or his criticisms of the forestry industry and foresting practices. I am  predisposed to accept Wohlleben's call to restrict human activity in large swaths of land for 500 years to allow old forests to reestablish themselves for a number of reasons: my suspicion of technological solutions to our social & ecological problems, the urgency of slowing down biodiversity loss and my fondness for hiking

In this blog entry, however, I am more concerned with two items: the implications of Wohlleben's assertions for proposals to ward off ecological change which would endanger human civilization and how texts from the Quran portray non-humans.

Global bodies are examining how aforestation and reducing deforestation may reduce greenhouse gas effects. Before reading Wohlleben's book, I imagined a Maoist regime compelling all the people who had previously worked in finance to report each morning to the reforestation detail, where a truck carrying trees to be transplanted & workers would go to that day's designated tree-planting zone. Now, I believe it's not as simple as planting rows of baby trees. Forests are more complicated than that.

E.O. Wilson believes one-half of the land surface of the planet must be set aside as a nature reserve. This seems more in line with Wohlleben's thinking, but implementing this seems even less possible than having a centralized planning commission retool mortgage brokers into arboreal workers.

Monotheistic religions have been portrayed as inherently hostile to non-human life. Discussing this assertion is beyond me, but, as I was reading The Hidden Life of Trees, I thought of these passages from the Quran:

وَمَا مِن دَابَّةٍ فِي الْأَرْضِ وَلَا طَائِرٍ يَطِيرُ بِجَنَاحَيْهِ إِلَّا أُمَمٌ أَمْثَالُكُم ۚ مَّا فَرَّطْنَا فِي الْكِتَابِ مِن شَيْءٍ ۚ ثُمَّ إِلَىٰ رَبِّهِمْ يُحْشَرُونَ
There is not an animal (that lives) on the earth, nor a being that flies on its wings, but (forms part of) communities like you. Nothing have we omitted from the Book, and they (all) shall be gathered to their Lord in the end. (6:38)

سَبِّحِ اسْمَ رَبِّكَ الْأَعْلَى الَّذِي خَلَقَ فَسَوَّىٰ وَالَّذِي قَدَّرَ فَهَدَىٰ
Glorify the name of thy Guardian-Lord Most High
Who hath created, and further, given order and proportion;
Who hath ordained laws. And granted guidance; (87:1-3)

قَالَ فَمَن رَّبُّكُمَا يَا مُوسَىٰ  قَالَ رَبُّنَا الَّذِي أَعْطَىٰ كُلَّ شَيْءٍ خَلْقَهُ ثُمَّ هَدَىٰ
(Pharaoh) said: "Who, then, O Moses, is the Lord of you two?"
He said: "Our Lord is He Who gave to each (created) thing its form and nature, and further, gave (it) guidance." (20:49-50)

إِنَّا عَرَضْنَا الْأَمَانَةَ عَلَى السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَالْجِبَالِ فَأَبَيْنَ أَن يَحْمِلْنَهَا وَأَشْفَقْنَ مِنْهَا وَحَمَلَهَا الْإِنسَانُ ۖ إِنَّهُ كَانَ ظَلُومًا جَهُولًا

We did indeed offer the Trust to the Heavens and the Earth and the Mountains; but they refused to undertake it, being afraid thereof: but man undertook it;- He was indeed unjust and foolish;- (33:72)

So if a child spends an inordinate amount of time examining flowers or ants and drawing pictures of birds and fish, don't worry if they'll fit in. Just make sure they get to pursue those interests and learn all they can about those creatures. They may figure out a way to keep this crazy bunch of tool-using, space-faring primates from killing themselves.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Review: "There Goes the Neighborhood: How Communities Overcome Prejudice and Meet the Challenge of American Immigration" by Ali Noorani


Ali Noorani is the President and Director of National Immigration Forum. He began writing There Goes the Neighborhood: How Communities Overcome Prejudice and Meet the Challenge of American Immigration in 2010, after Congress failed to pass The Dream Act, despite the Democratic Party majority in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Those advocating human rights for migrants were bitterly disappointed that, despite decades of advocacy and organizing, legislation which would have provided the most meager of relief for some undocumented immigrants failed. 

Ali Noorani identifies that cultural advocacy was the missing ingredient: "When Americans were looking for an answer to their questions of cultural identity, we gave them a political answer instead." [p. 30]