Monday, May 02, 2011

José Benlliure y Gil, 1858-1937
La Barca De Caronte
With the reported death of the enigmatic Osama Bin Laden there have been expressions of hope for the Muslim World. But we must temper our hope for the inevitable change that must come to Islam. Only change coming from within will be real. And that change will proceed slowly. Reform can never be imposed from without on the cultures of the Middle East. As ancient as that part of the world is, Islam is yet the little brother of the world's important religions. Islam is an immature self-consciouse hothead, like an adolescent who refuses to admit any error or misdeed. The natural progression of any religion is towards flexibility and tolerance.
The stiff-necked religion is ultimately inimical to the spirit of man and will be rejected if it is not altered.
Humans eventually tire of the old and obvious yet effective trickery the masters of oppressive cultures use when they emotionally proclaim:

"You may be miserable but you are so lucky to be favored of [Place name of appropriate god here.] And you are so much better than [Place names of other people, religion, race here.] Now do as we order you to do."

Muslims are about fourteen centuries into their religion. That is around the time Christianity began to reform. And, Judaism began to get flexible (of necessity) about a millenia and a half in. Islam as a religion and a culture  will reform and get away from the strict norms and rules that hold back its people (and need I say it, their women especially). Perhaps a religion needs to get to the point where it stops taking itself so seriously in the sense that it needs to be on a mission to force the world to conform to the message. Would a true religion need to  force itself on people?  If a religion is not freely chosen how successful can it be? To paraphrase a certain guy: By their fruit you will recognize them. Ultimately men are swayed by results, not claims of future reward for donning a metaphysical straight jacket that induces unhappiness and neurosis.

Be careful what you wish for in the Middle East, in the Islamic countries. It is prudent to temper one's enthusiasm here. A popular democratic government in that part of the world will tend to support some policies that will appear very strange to us in the West. However, it is important to understand that changes which may   appear backwards and retrogressive could actually lead to liberalization. Martin Luther was a reformer of Christianity yet he was actually very conservative, turned on the peasants who first supported him, and despised Jews above all others. However, his notion that any man may interpret the Bible for himself sounded the first the death knell of the oppressive Catholic Church and opened the way for liberal Christians. Islam is at  the beginning of a very long process. Christianity has shown that for all the progress it has made from its bloody repressive past, there are still many flaws in its major institutions. Change never evades friction and never travels in a straight upward motion. 

The religion to fear is the next important religion to be born. Babies are beautiful, full of hope and trouble.

As in the United States where there are no good guys running things or wanting to run things, so in Libya there are no good guys on either side of their battle because there are no perfect men walking around today. When we see rebels sending a representative to the World Bank before they have won their rebellion, something is wrong. We should let the natural process take its course. But men with certain evil interests are already forcing that process to their own wills.

It's probably best not to speculate too much about these matters when you don't have all the information at hand. The theme of one of my favorite books, Voltaire's Candide, is  that a certain road to unhappiness is travelled when one is absolutely sure he has all the absolute answers on a meta-scale:

"Cunégonde grows uglier and more disagreeable every day. Cacambo works in the garden of the small farm. He hates the work and curses his fate. Pangloss is unhappy because he has no chance of becoming an important figure in a German university. Martin is patient because he imagines that in any other situation he would be equally unhappy. They all debate philosophy while the misery of the world continues. Pangloss still maintains that everything is for the best but no longer truly believes it. Paquette and Giroflée arrive at the farm, having squandered the money Candide gave them. They are still unhappy, and Paquette is still a prostitute. 
The group consults a famous dervish (Muslim holy man) about questions of good and evil. The dervish rebukes them for caring about such questions and shuts the door in their faces. Later, the group stops at a roadside farm. The farmer kindly invites them to a pleasant dinner. He only has a small farm, but he and his family work hard on it and live a tolerable existence.
Candide finds the farmer’s life appealing. He, Cunégonde, and his friends decide to follow it, and everyone is satisfied by hard work in the garden. Pangloss suggests to Candide once again that this is the best of possible worlds. Candide responds, “That is very well put . . . but we must cultivate our garden.”"

Death Carrying A Child, Stefano della Bella,  1645-1651

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