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RELIGION: Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa

It is dishonest and lazy simply to say that all religions are equal and therefore not to analyze them. It is also unWAIS. We will discuss religions without fear or favor. Margaret Mackenzie sends me this summary of a lecture entitled "Islam and Authoritarianism", by Steven Fish, at the University of California, Berkeley:

"Are predominantly Muslim societies distinctly disadvantaged in democratization? If so, why? Fish presented a straightforward cross-national examination of the link between Islam and political regime. The evidence strongly suggests that Muslim countries are in fact democratic underachievers. The nature of the causal connection between Islam and political regime is investigated. Many conventional assumptions about Islam and politics do not withstand scrutiny. But one factor does help explain the dearth of democracy in the Muslim world: the treatment of women and girls. The rudiments of a provisional theory linking the treatment of females and regime type were offered and the implications of the findings for democracy, both in Muslim societies and elsewhere, were discussed".

In response to Jim Bowman's discussion of Christianity in Islamic countries, a WAISer Arabist says: "I find myself quite angry at the arrogance of some Christians with a missionary bent. I have lived in Christian, Moslem, and Buddhist countries, and have come to believe each religion has both good and bad aspects- but that none is inherently more "right" than the others. So I see no justification in ranking countries as good or bad depending on whether or not they let Christian missionaries broadcast and preach. Frankly, that seems intolerant to me. Similarly, we have enjoyed great material success with our brand of democracy and capitalism, but that does not mean we should insist on exporting our systems and branding those who do not adopt it as bad. That also seems intolerant. Tolerance, for me, is the willingness to examine and learn from other people and cultures and to appreciate them; while at the same time being thankful we live where we do and enjoy what we have. Zealots of any stripe disturb me".

My comment: Well, Bible-thumping preachers have almost disappeared from the US. In any case, thumping a Bible is not the same as killing infidels or banning another religion. Jim is a very understanding, compassionate person. He replies to my question about Afghanistan by saying it is too early to tell how tolerant it will be. To complete the survey of the three monotheistic religions, Judaism must also be scrutinized. I will not repeat what I have said about the creation of the state of Israel, based on Jehovah's alleged promises in the Old Testament, being at the root of our problems with the Islamic world. Instead, I will mention two ritual matters. The approved, kosher method of killing cattle is unnecessarily cruel. Finally, there was an item in the New York Times (9/16/02). Yom Kippur is the origin of the Christian idea of atonement. The world would be a much better place if we all reviewed our actions during the year. But the ceremonies accompanying Yom Kippur add nothing. Ruskin has a famous description of the scapegoat, which the Jews decorated with ribbons and then then let loose so it would carry the sins of society into the desert. However, a photograph of a New York scene showed a ceremony I had not heard of. It featured two charming little Jewish girls, smiling happily. The father was waving a live hen over their heads to take away their sins, of which they seemed unaware. What happens to the hen? Is it killed and eaten, sins and all? A scapehen seems to me to be an easy way of atoning for one's sins. The hen has no more idea of what is happening than the hundreds of sheep killed in similar Islamic ceremonies. The important thing is dor humanity to repent and repair any damages it has done.

Ronald Hilton - 9/17/02