Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Doctrine Matters

There is a theory that doctrine does not matter that much. That religion is simply man's way of connecting with his moral self and different religions do it slightly differently but those details are unimportant. Ironically that is a statement about doctrine and it does matter. It causes the secular world to be very confused by much human behaviour because they refuse to take into account the religious beliefs of the people involved as primary motivators for their behaviour. Those who do actually act on their belief are called radicals. Pope Benedict and Osama Bin Laden are both in this category because their behaviour cannot be understood without seriously considering their religion. Obviously no self-respecting intellectual can do that so it is best to just think of them as unenlightened people who behave erratically.

This struck me as I was listening to this especially a section on Muslim history. He talked about Mohammad breaking moral laws and rather than defending his actions with any kind of moral reasoning he simply said it was God's will. In one case he broke a cease-fire and attacked convoys during a holy month. He was a brutally violent man but many religious leaders were back then. This made him worse than any of them by breaking the annual time of peace everyone else was respecting. So he said it was God's will. But he didn't feel the need to explain why God was not evil for giving Mohammad such evil commands. Christian leaders would feel that need. God's revelation should not contradict what we know to be right and wrong. Mohammad believed God did not have to avoid contradicting Himself. He could command anything anytime and was above rational scrutiny.

Similarly when Mohammad wanted to marry his daughter-in-law. Again he claimed God told him that he should do it. Another objectively immoral act that God willed for no reason. It has profound effects on the way Muslim's think about God versus the way Christians think about God. The Christian God can be surprising but He is always surprising in a beautiful and loving way. He is never surprising in an arbitrary and evil way that Muslim's believe he can be.

So if young men are told it is God's will for them to strap explosives to themselves and blow themselves up in a crowd of people then this difference is huge. Christians could discern that God would never command such a brutal killing of innocents. Muslims cannot know that. There is nothing in their understanding of God that excludes it. Does that mean any Muslim would do that? No. They do have the option of questioning their leader and deciding he does not speak for God after all.

But what about all the bad acts by Christians over the centuries? They do exist. But there are degrees of morality. You cannot say that nobody is perfect therefore Hitler and Gandhi are pretty much on the same moral level. It does not follow. You need to talk about the number and kind of sins committed. There is also the notion of development. Christians have come to realize that executing heretics is immoral. Muslims have not even come to recognize killing random people is immoral. They can't. Every moral principle has to have this gigantic loophole of "unless it is God's will."

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