Conversations About God

Commenting on my remarks about Qutb, Paul Rahe asked a question. I paraphrase and I apologize, Paul, if I’ve misunderstood, but it seems to me he’s wondering whether so-called moderate Muslims are, basically, just faithless. 

I went for a walk with a friend this afternoon. As we walked past a mosque, he mentioned that he knew the imam. They had served in the army together and they used to pray together.

Are you a believer, I asked?

He said he was. He had had times of doubt, but he had always come back to believing. 

What, I asked, did he mean by that? What exactly did he believe? 

It didn’t seem to me that this was a question he’d often been asked. He said that he supposed it meant that he believed there was a life after this one, and that we would be judged for our conduct. He couldn’t murder someone, for example, because it was forbidden.

Could you murder someone, I asked, if you didn’t believe God was watching?

No, he said, he supposed not. He might be a bit more flexible about the other commandments, though. 

I suggested to him that he was already a bit flexible on some of the others.

He agreed. He thought some of them didn’t make much sense in the modern world–you had to think about the spirit of the law, not just the letter.  He said that he believed God wanted him to be a good person, and that he tried to be a good person. This, he said, was what all religious people believed. “That part’s the same for them all, isn’t it?”

Is this a bit unsophisticated, theologically? Of course it is. 

Is he faithless? 

Beats me. I’m not in his soul at three in the morning. 

  1. Okan Altiparmak

    I’d like to get a definition from Paul of what “faith” is before I can comment on this… Because I often wonder after talking to and interacting with them whether the so-called “devout” Muslims truly have any faith or not. So, if possible, I’d like to know what “faith” is to Paul before commenting further.

  2. Claire Berlinski
    C

    I may have misunderstood Paul’s question–I linked to it. I may be reacting to something he did not intend. But I’m groping at a general point. Okan, I was thinking too today about conversations we’ve had about just the point you raise–the way showy displays of religious devotion are occasionally revealed in conversation–or at least suggested, by conversation–to be a frantic effort to compensate for a deep and terrifying lack of faith. Although, again, who knows?

  3. raycon and lindacon

    As a Christian, I accept Paul’s definition: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”.  Whether Allah in Islam (Koran and Hadith), Christ in Christianity (Old and New Testament), or G– in Judaism (Old Testament and Talmud), it is the acting on your faith that is the measure of your faith itself.  In the end, some of us will be more right than others, and some of us will be very far wrong.  And we will be judged by the One True God; Christ, G– or Allah.  Better at least take it seriously and fully commit yourself and your eternity to the one you choose.

    Disagree with my theology if you will, but if you disagree with my conclusion, what’s yours?

  4. Douglas Pologe

    Not faithless, just less committed. It could very well be that they’re more well-balanced, and that the ones who are more committed need to be asked what’s really driving them.

  5. Okan Altiparmak
    RAYCON: As a Christian, I accept Paul’s definition: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”.  Whether Allah in Islam (Koran and Hadith), Christ in Christianity (Old and New Testament), or G– in Judaism (Old Testament and Talmud), it is the acting on your faith that is the measure of your faith itself.  In the end, some of us will be more right than others, and some of us will be very far wrong.  And we will be judged by the One True God; Christ, G– or Allah. 

    I agree. We will be judged by One True God-whatever you may want to call that One True God. But we will not be judged by each other. No one has the right to judge each other on behalf of the “One True God.” This is why any attempts at politicizing religion is in effect an intrusion into the right of each person to exercise his/her faith the way he/she chooses to (and thus be accountable to his/her God) and why religion should – actually must – be kept in the personal sphere in order to adhere to its essence.

  6. flownover
    Okan Altiparmak

    This is why any attempts at politicizing religion is in effect an intrusion into the right of each person to exercise his/her faith the way he/she chooses to (and thus be accountable to his/her God) and why religion should – actually must – be kept in the personal sphere in order to adhere to its essence. · Jan 8 at 7:58am

    If the problem appears to be the politicization of religion, which side of the mirror ? It appears that one religion is using it’s faith as a political instrument, and ofttimes a military one. Does religion relinquish it’s state of grace when it strays from maintaining a framework for faith and interaction into what they call jihad ? In simpler terms, what the heck does my church have to do with war ? War being a disagreement of governments.

  7. Claire Berlinski
    C

    RAYCON: it is the acting on your faith that is the measure of your faith itself.

    So many have said, but I have no idea whether it is true. Only someone with limited powers of observation would deny that men at times act with particular conviction to forestall a terrible doubt–just as at times they act with particular conviction because they feel a deep conviction.

    I do know that the question, “Why are you acting this way?” is immensely hard for me to answer of trivial questions in my own life. I have better access to my soul and beliefs than anyone else. I’m nonetheless still, often, a stranger to myself.

  8. Mel Foil

    For Catholics:

    ‘Faith is the theological virtue by which we believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us, and that Holy Church proposes for our belief, because he is truth itself. By faith “man freely commits his entire self to God.” For this reason the believer seeks to know and do God’s will.’

    ——-

    It’s kind of like eating raw oysters. The fewer you’ve eaten, the more faith it takes to eat them.

  9. Okan Altiparmak
    flownover

    Okan Altiparmak

    This is why any attempts at politicizing religion is in effect an intrusion into the right of each person to exercise his/her faith the way he/she chooses to (and thus be accountable to his/her God) and why religion should – actually must – be kept in the personal sphere in order to adhere to its essence. · Jan 8 at 7:58am

    If the problem appears to be the politicization of religion, which side of the mirror ? It appears that one religion is using it’s faith as a political instrument, and ofttimes a military one. Does religion relinquish it’s state of grace when it strays from maintaining a framework for faith and interaction into what they call jihad ? In simpler terms, what the heck does my church have to do with war ? War being a disagreement of governments. · Jan 8 at 8:08am

    If the West is intent on seeing me and Muslims like me as non-existent, then jihadists’ll be the only Muslims. If the US chooses to be advised by moderate-looking jihadists called the Muslim Brotherhood, is it the fault of a billion Muslims who have nothing to with jihadist ideology?

  10. Cas Balicki
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. . . . [M]en at times act with particular conviction to forestall a terrible doubt–just as at times they act with particular conviction because they feel a deep conviction.

    I do know that the question, “Why are you acting this way?” is immensely hard for me to answer of trivial questions in my own life. I have better access to my soul and beliefs than anyone else. I’m nonetheless still, often, a stranger to myself. · Jan 8 at 8:10am

    The first citation leads me to ask, are heretics acting on faith?. This question, of course, sets aside the difficulty of who decides what is heresy.

    The second gives me pause, as I may be an idiot, but I have never felt myself a stranger to myself. This is especially so in hindsight.

  11. Aaron Miller
    Okan Altiparmak

    …and why religion should – actually must – be kept in the personal sphere in order to adhere to its essence. ·

    Impossible. People vote the way they do and live the way they live because of moral beliefs, which are inseparable from their religions (fundamental perceptions of reality). It is literally impossible to interact with others without those differences in perception of moral obligations being influential. Religion is not and never will be merely personal. All that is necessary is for the free will of others to be respected.

  12. TeeJaw

    If believing that judgment day is coming helps people to be good…well, good. But I do not automatically think someone is good because they appear to have religious faith.  Too many scoundrels use faith and religion as subterfuge. 

    A few hundred years ago one without faith was condemned to a life of confusion and bewilderment.  There were so many cosmic questions to which there were no answers without faith in Biblical explanations.  Man being a curious animal always needs answers and explanations for everything.

    Today it is easier to live without religious faith because we have explanations for so much of the natural world.  It is possible to believe that most of the world can be explained without resort to the supernatural, even if we have not yet discovered it.

    A man who lives a virtuous life for its own sake without the in terrorem threat of punishment on final judgment day may be the most righteous of all.

  13. Okan Altiparmak
    Aaron Miller

    Okan Altiparmak

    …and why religion should – actually must – be kept in the personal sphere in order to adhere to its essence. ·

    Impossible. People vote the way they do and live the way they live because of moral beliefs, which are inseparable from their religions (fundamental perceptions of reality). It is literally impossible to interact with others without those differences in perception of moral obligations being influential. Religion is not and never will be merely personal. All that is necessary is for the free will of others to be respected. · Jan 8 at 8:28am

    This is quite different than the expression of a religion within the personal sphere of voting for a political choice. Most importantly, who voted them in and where? They are self-assigned messengers of their Allah, which isn’t exactly the Allah of other Muslims, either.  

  14. Claire Berlinski
    C

    TeeJaw A few hundred years ago one without faith was condemned to a life of confusion and bewilderment. 

    We’re all pretty much condemned to that, with or without faith.

  15. Aaron Miller

    Everyone acts against one’s own beliefs at times. That’s human nature. But do you believe religions have definite forms, histories and may be objectively understood by study?

    Christianity has definite heresies. If someone calls himself a Christian while rejecting a plain and direct teaching of Jesus, I do not take upon myself the authority to judge his heart, but I can logically identify his particular claim as being unChristian. And certain claims provide insight into how one perceives Christian history and the Bible. If one denies that heresies can also be objectively identified in Islam, that view seems to suggest a relativist perception of religions in general.

    It’s a simple fact of life that most people prefer adjusting their beliefs to their lives, rather than their lives to their beliefs, because it’s easier. I think Paul might simply be wondering how often “moderate” reform of the Islamic nations is actually secular reform by people who pretend religion is merely personal and ultimately not that important to public life.

  16. Claire Berlinski
    C
    Aaron Miller: Everyone acts against one’s own beliefs at times. That’s human nature. But do you believe religions have definite forms, histories and may be objectively understood by study?

    Yes, surely. And the history of every major monotheistic religion, Islam certainly included, is characterized–objectively–by great doctrinal debate. It’s pretty easy to say that without a belief in the divinity of Christ, it’s not Christianity. But the moment you get, say, to transubstantiation, you have controversy–to put it mildly. For what it’s worth, I would argue that objectively, Qutb was a lousy theologian. But one need not be a relativist about religion to argue for a secular state. It may be true–objectively–that God wishes us to love our neighbors; this hardly means we should support H.R. Resolution 7739 to Incept Military/Civic Neighbor Loving. 

  17. Karen

    I think doubt is an important part of spiritual growth. Someone that can admit he is doubtful is admitting he is questioning. And if you do not question, you do not grow. I think the most spiritually immature are those that are so rabidly convinced that they’ve got everything figured out that they lash out at others who disagree with them. My dad is a professor of Theology at a Christian college. A sincere, but flawed man (it runs in the family, trust me) he admits that even after studying the Bible for 50 years, he finds something new and challenging each time he opens it. A personal relationship with God is a journey not a destination.

    As I understand it, when it comes to the authority of Scripture v. authority of the clergy, Islam is similar to Catholicism in that believers defer to clergy. It’s not my intention to upset anyone and please correct me if I’m wrong, I just wonder if people sought guidance and clarification from both their holy books and ordained clergy equally that we might be more willing to entertain differences of opinions. 

  18. flownover

    Okan

    I think that is what all this discussion centers on: the non jihadist. We search for them in order to praise and empower them. If the disabling of the jihad can be done within the faith, then the job is done. Otherwise, we are back to the issues of carrying war to jihad, rogue states, etc. 

    Do we act by rule or by exception ? Claire is looking for 2 nonjihadists in a bar full of them . That is enough to sustain her quest. 

    It comes down to the force of the jihad within Islam. If Islam is jihad, then does it serve God ?

  19. Mel Foil
    Karen: ….As I understand it, when it comes to the authority of Scripture v. authority of the clergy, Islam is similar to Catholicism in that believers defer to clergy. It’s not my intention to upset anyone and please correct me if I’m wrong, I just wonder if people sought guidance and clarification from both their holy books and ordained clergy equally that we might be more willing to entertain differences of opinions.  · Jan 8 at 10:09am

    The reason it’s nice to have Sacred Tradition (and a teaching authority that’s hierarchical) is that many times, Sacred Scripture is ambiguous. Verses can be interpreted many ways. Churches even split up over those interpretations. In a completely unrelated example, take the sentence: “I didn’t say that Bob stole the money.” What exactly does it mean? It all depends on what you’re emphasizing. “I” (no, not me, it was Dave that said it), or “say,” (no, I wrote it in an email) or “Bob,” (no, I said Deb, not Bob) or “stole,” (no, I said he just borrowed it) or “money” (no, it was jewelry, not money.) If you have tradition, authority, they decide what it means.

  20. Bereket Kelile

    I think faithless is an attribute of the religion itself, not just him, and that’s not meant to be antagonistic. The story of the prodigal son illustrates the point well. The older son relates to his father on the basis of performance whereas the prodigal’s relationship with his father was based on faith. Since there’s no guarantee of a good judgment in Islam the Muslim has to live as “good” a life as possible in the hope that his good deeds outweigh the bad. This approach is necessarily faithless, just like the prodigal’s older brother’s relationship with his dad. It’s just as true with Christians who do good works and even Jews. If the goal is to live a good life then it is always faithless.

    I think your friend is boxed into a tough spot when it comes to the dictates of religious life in Islam. Whether he wants to or not I’m afraid he is going down a path that requires him to be faithless.