Monday, September 18, 2017

Religious pedigree

This post is occasioned by the question of whether Ahmadis are real Muslims. Because the late Nabeel Qureshi was the most high-profile Muslim convert to Christianity, Muslim apologists attempt to discredit his witness by claiming that Admadis aren't real Muslims. 

Since I'm not Muslim, I don't have a personal stake in that debate. But here's a defense of the Muslim pedigree of the Ahmadiyya sect.

This also goes to the question of whether Islam is essentially violent. Is the jihadist tradition baked in the cake? 

But it goes to larger questions, like Newman's theory of development. How do we distinguish authentic developments from inauthentic developments? 

From what I can tell, the Ahmadiyya sect is a variation or extension of Shia Islam, with its doctrine of the hidden Imam or occultation of the Madhi. But that just pushes the question back a step. Is Shia Islam an authentic or inauthentic development? When I read Muslim writers like Henry Corbin, René Guénon, and Seyyed Hossein Nasr, with their esotericism and Neo-Platonism, a chain of intermediary Intelligences, and other paraphernalia, that's far removed from the provincial outlook of the 7C desert founder. Yet Ibn Sina was very eclectic. Conversely, Ibn Rushd was passionately Aristotelian. Are these authentic or inauthentic developments?  

Are members of the LDS the true Mormons, or members of the RLDS? 

Which is more authentic: Theravada Buddhism or Mahayana Buddhism? In Buddhist tradition, Gautama undergoes legendary embellishment, morphing into a surreal figure that's far removed from the historical Buddha. 

What about Hinduism? That's such a mishmash. 

There are different ways to analyze the question:

1. One criterion is logical consistency. For instance, modern Catholicism has undergone drastic reversals on major issues. Take salvation outside the church. The whole raison d'être for the priesthood is the presupposition that saving grace is channeled through the sacraments. To be saved, to be in a state of saving grace, you must receive valid sacraments. To receive valid sacraments, you must receive them from validly ordained priests. And valid holy orders is contingent on apostolic succession, the Roman episcopate and papacy. 

Once, however, you say that people can be saved apart from the sacraments, then the whole rationale for the sacraments, priesthood, episcopate, and papacy begins to unravel. And it's not just the occasional exception. Contemporary popes are verging on hopeful universalism. 

Likewise, contemporary popes are increasingly pacifistic. On a related note is their opposition to the death penalty. 

Yet another example is the contrast between the policies of anti-modernist popes regarding evolution, historicity and traditional authorship of Scripture and popes from Pius XII onward. 

From a logical standpoint, we can say these are inauthentic developments. "Inauthentic" in the sense that they are not valid inferences from traditional positions. To the contrary, they are logically inconsistent with traditional positions. 

2. Another criterion is truth. Muhammad, Swedenborg, Sun Myung Moon, and Joseph Smith were false prophets. From an alethic standpoint, it's nonsensical to ask what represents a true development of a false premise. All the sects of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Mormonism are factually false. That, however, is distinct from the question of logical development (see above).

From a Protestant perspective, Biblical revelation is our touchstone of truth. That's a way we distinguish authentic from inauthentic developments. 

3. Finally, there's the criterion of historical development. That's a loose criterion, but not meaningless. 

Let's use the metaphor of a card deck. The standard deck with 52 French cards. Four suits of clubs, diamonds, hearts, and spades. 

Many card games are based on that standardized card deck. Even though different card games have different rules, what they all share in common is the same card deck. 

Compare that to Tarot cards. That's a different deck.

Another differential factor is the card sequence. That depends on the shuffle. How the game plays out dependends on the sequence of the cards that are dealt. If you reshuffle the deck, the game will play out differently. Likewise, if you deal from the bottom of the deck rather than the top of the deck. And, of course, how skilled the players are will affect the outcome.

In terms of truth and logical consistency, many developments in modern Catholicism are inauthentic. They are, however, distinctively Catholic developments in the sense that given the hand they dealt themselves, there are only so many ways to play that hand. The Catholic deck has certain cards that can be combined or recombined in different ways. A theological paradigm generates the available options. 

Catholicism has always been eclectic and syncretistic. It's possible for Rahner or von Balthasar to accentuate and elaborate a particular strand of Catholic tradition. Tradition can take on a life of its own, detached from fact and logic. 

But certain developments are not in the cards. Different religious traditions play with different decks of cards. If you reshuffled the deck, historical theology would take a different turn. 

Dropping the metaphor, if Christianity had originated in ancient China or India or Mesoamerica, that would reshuffle the deck. Church history would take a different course. Because Christianity originated in the Eastern and Western Roman Empire, historical theology interacted with, and adapted to, Greek philosophy as well as indigenous socio-economic, scientific, and political influences or challenges. 

As the Christian center of gravity shifts to the global south, that will reshuffle the deck. Closed questions in theology will be reopened. New heresies will arise, which generally duplicate old heresies. Christians in the global South will have to assess for themselves whether the legacy of Western theology represents an authentic development of the authoritative source (Scripture). 

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