All posts filed under: Religion

The Onward March of Christian Political Power

Fifty years ago, in conscientious reaction to the perceived erosion of biblical norms in society, religious conservatives began operationalizing the teachings of Christianity into a vigorous political program. Society’s accelerated liberalization in the 1960s—which featured the sexual revolution, drug experimentation, and enforced racial integration—prompted religious leaders to harness the power of “Judeo-Christian values” to build an electorally formidable monolith. They succeeded. A ritual in Republican politics now involves presidential hopefuls prostrating themselves before religious conservatives in order to be anointed the next Great Godly Leader by the Christian masses. In other words, to even have a prayer in Republican politics, these candidates need their prayers. Today, though the individual battles are waged on different fronts, the nature of the conflict—the sociocultural clash between Christian political power and its rival frameworks—remains fundamentally the same. The debates over school prayer, stem cells, and evolution, have evolved into debates over religious liberty, transgender rights, and whether or not employees for functionally atheological corporate entities should be compelled to provide customers with a religiously-laden greeting during the winter holidays. …

The Preachers of the Great Awokening

“Yea, on the contrary, Justice calls aloud for an infinite Punishment of their Sins.” Jonathan Edwards From the sun-blanched beaches of California to the snow-covered cities of New England, a religious fervor is sweeping the United States. PhD-toting preachers spread the faith with righteous zeal, denouncing those who violate its sacred principles. Sinners are threatened not by an angry god, but by a righteous mob. The impenitent among them are condemned to be outcasts, while the contrite, if they properly mortify themselves and pledge everlasting fealty to the faith, can secure enough lost status to rejoin society, perhaps forever marked by a scarlet epithet. Racist. Sexist. Ableist. This is the religion of Wokeness, and this is the era of the Great Awokening. In the following article, we will explore this quasi-religion, Wokeness, as a status system that functions predominantly to distinguish white elites from the white masses (whom we will call hoi polloi). It does this by offering a rich signalling vocabulary for traits and possessions such as education, intelligence, openness, leisure, wealth, and cosmopolitanism, all …

Religions, Nations, and Other Useful Fictions

In the age of Neo-Darwinian synthesis between natural selection and Mendelian genetics, it appears increasingly impossible to give credence to any idea metaphysical, spiritual, or religious. The dualism of Rene Descartes—a world reduced to machinery and a separate soul, to “measure and number” combined with Christian theology—was the origin of our modern worldview. But it has been entirely exorcised, emptied of soul and Christianity, respecting only the machine underneath. It has become common sense to consider the human subject as little more than a machine, or a computer. Subjectivity itself is a curse, expelled by theories in the philosophy of mind such as Daniel Dennett’s inclination to consider consciousness itself “an illusion.” Sam Harris has said that “consciousness is the only thing that cannot possibly be an illusion.” Harris is right, but Dennett understands more clearly the stakes for materialist philosophy. As the world grows more mechanical, religious inclination is produced from the merciless rack of empiricism and positivism. New ways of contextualizing religious belief have emerged from the tradition of Christian existentialism, which dates …

“Liberals Have Compromised on Their Own Values”: An Interview with Ali A. Rizvi

The Pakistani-Canadian writer Ali Rizvi is a fierce critic of Islam, the religion in which he grew up. But unlike many other critics who maintain that Islam is inherently incapable of modernization, and that the Muslim world is sliding ever further into backwardness and fundamentalism, Rizvi is refreshingly optimistic about the future. The seed of a new Enlightenment has been planted in the Arabic world, he told me in Antwerp, and there’s no way to eradicate it. In his book The Atheist Muslim, Rizvi speaks directly to the many closeted atheists, agnostics, and secularists in the Muslim world. These people are obliged by the societies in which they live to present themselves outwardly as Muslims, but in private, they harbor different ideas. Rizvi’s book is often polemical in tone, but also humane and sympathetic to the plight of Muslims around the world. He is keenly aware of the consolations which faith provide to some, and he never stoops to condescension. If Rizvi is right, freethinkers in the Muslim world are more numerous than most of us suspect. Not only are their numbers growing, but …

The Peculiar Opacity of Jordan Peterson’s Religious Views

During a recent conversation in Vancouver—the first night of a massive four-part event sponsored by Pangburn Philosophy—Sam Harris asked Jordan Peterson a question that he can never quite answer: “What do you mean by God?” If you’ve ever heard Peterson discuss the subject or read either of his books, the answers he provided in Vancouver will not surprise you. God is “how we imaginatively and collectively represent the existence and action of consciousness across time.” God is “that which eternally dies and is reborn in the pursuit of higher being and truth.” God is “the highest value in the hierarchy of values.” God is the “voice of conscience.” God is the “source of judgment and mercy and guilt.” God is the “future to which we make sacrifices and something akin to the trascendental repository of reputation.” God is “that which selects among men in the eternal hierarchy of men.” It went on like this for awhile, but you get the idea. Or do you? Peterson’s definition of God is a sprawling, book-length collection of abstractions, …

What Jordan Peterson Gets Wrong About the Beatitudes

During an appearance on Joe Rogan’s podcast The Rogan Experience in January, Jordan Peterson turned to the beatitudes offered by Christ in his Sermon on the Mount. The unhelpful notion that the meek would inherit the earth, Peterson explained, rests on a misunderstanding of what Christ actually said: …“Meek” [πραΰς] is not a good translation, or the word has moved in the 300 years [sic] or so since it was translated. What it means is this: ‘Those who have swords, and know how to use them, but keep them sheathed, shall inherit the world’…that’s a big difference.”1 Let it be said at the outset that I like this image of an effective person. It is a very definite image. To paraphrase Peterson, it is a person who has taken the time to become dangerous, who is dangerous, and who won’t be a victim of mayhem because they’ve got a bit of mayhem inside themselves. The problem isn’t with this idea of effectual personhood. The problem is that Peterson is claiming that the Bible endorses the same …

Why Sam Harris—Not Ezra Klein—Is the One Making Space for People of Colour

The demand that we transcend tribalism in public debate sits on the schism line of today’s culture wars over speech, scholarship and art. On one side (loosely, if inexactly, called “the left”), there exists a deep conviction that the social justice sins of the past (and present) make an escape from tribalism impossible—and so the only solution is to carve out well-guarded silos of speech and cultural representation for disadvantaged groups. On the other side (loosely, if inexactly, called “the right”) are those who view those silos as a tool of censorship, as well as an affront to the idea that we all can speak for ourselves as individuals, regardless of skin color, sexual orientation, gender and faith. This conflict took center stage during a recent high-profile Munk Debate in Toronto, which had been billed as a debate about the dangers of political correctness. Two of the biggest reactions from the 3,000-strong audience came in response to Georgetown University’s Michael Eric Dyson (representing “the left”) referring to psychologist Jordan Peterson as a “mean, mad white …

Elham Manea: From Fundamentalism to Reform

In February 2015, the gaze of the international media was transfixed by the case of three Syria-bound British schoolgirls. Amira Abase, Shamima Begum, and Kadiza Sultana were all pupils aged between 15 and 16 at the Bethnal Green Academy in east London. Without warning, they abandoned their GCSE studies and fled the safety of Britain for life in the nascent Islamic State. The political and media class recoiled in shock and horror. Even though dozens of British males had already left to become militants in Syria and Iraq, the idea that apparently normal middle-class schoolgirls should be lured by a life of punishing austerity and violence struck a new nerve. The media reported on the story for weeks, and the girls’ tearful families made appeals before the cameras. By then, the trio had long slipped across the Turkish border into I.S. territory. They would not return. From central Switzerland, an Arab academic followed the story closely and now ponders its larger significance. Elham Manea is an associate professor in the Political Science Institute at the University …

Life as a Kuffar: My Seven Lost Years in Kuwait

It’s December, 2017, and I’m awash in late-afternoon sunshine, sitting outside around a table with old friends and former colleagues. The setting is a farm in the agricultural sector of Kuwait. We’re drinking tea and maybe bootleg date rum, reminiscing. Some of us are smoking shisha. There are dogs at our feet. At night, the courtyard lights can be programmed to flash and glow in different colors. If you stand on the roof, you can see the oil fires burning at Burgan, the largest oil field in Kuwait. This is my first time back since I lived in Kuwait between 2006 and 2013, when I was in my thirties. It was a period during which I became uglier, angrier—and, finally, broken. I returned last year to see familiar faces and revisit old haunts. But I also came to figure out why I broke. Was it me? Or was it Kuwait? I find that some things have changed and many have not. That’s true of me. And it’s true of this country. It’s big things like …

How Canada’s Cult of the Noble Savage Harms Its Indigenous Peoples

A few months ago, I spoke at a small academic conference in Toronto about the future of Canada. As with many events of this type in my country, it began with sacred rituals. An Ojibway elder, described to us as a “keeper of sacred pipes,” took to the podium and showed us a jar of medicine water. In her private rituals, the elder explained, she would pray with this water, and talk to it as she smoked her pipes. After this, she instructed us to join her in “paying respect to the four directions”—which required that we stand up and face the indicated compass point, moving clockwise from north to west as she performed her rituals. “With this sacred water, we smudge this space,” she said. “Let us live the lesson of being in harmony with all creatures.” Then the elder instructed us to bend down, touch the floor, and say migwetch—thank you, in her Ojibway language—to signal our gratitude. The room was full of middle-aged former politicians who, like me, did not want to …