Saturday, April 20, 2019

"Why I became Muslim"

I don't know if this is worth responding to:

So First Things, basically a Catholic outfit, is hosting a conversion story about an atheist who became a Muslim. A revealing example of the identity crisis that besets post-Vatican II Catholicism. 

I chose a different course and embarked on a search for God. Where could a lost soul go? Nowhere in college or country offered an answer. What the campus Conservative Party outlined was absurd: We can pick up the fragments of our culture by putting on three-piece suits, getting riotously drunk, and reviving the divine right of kings. I had plenty of opportunities to engage with orthodox Christians, and I sincerely wanted Christianity to be true. It was clear to me that what the authorities in my world celebrated—the collapse of family life, the slaughter of the unborn, the deterioration of high culture—were, in truth, social evils that followed from the decline of the Church. Christianity seemed the natural alternative to secularity. But when I entered the chapels and listened to the ministers, the regeneration I sought didn’t happen. Christian voices sounded all too agreeable and compromising. I wanted something stronger, something that didn’t ­bargain with secularism. I found it in Islam.

That's naive. There are traditional Christians as well as modernist Christians, traditional Muslims as well as modernist Muslims. 

The first part of the Islamic ­shahada, or testimony of faith, is la ilaha il’Allah, “there is no god but God”—an uncompromising statement of pure mono­theism. Islam puts the One God front and center, a simple and commanding being. Philosophy had persuaded me that God was an intellectual and moral necessity. I did not know whether his existence could strictly be proven, but I recognized the dishonesty and intellectual contortions atheism required. Without an absolute, transcendent Lord, I could see no way to objective morality and to a purpose and order in the cosmos that could overcome the transience of this world. I doubted that we could justify even belief in causal regularities without a constantly acting Creator to guarantee them. If I were to embrace God, then God would need to be an ­unmediated, undifferentiated, and decisive Omnipotence, whom I might ­willingly obey.

i) It's unclear what that means. If Allah is unmediated, does that mean Jacob Williams subscribes to occasionalism or theistic idealism? Does he deny the existence of the external world? 

What about the Koran. That's in Arabic. So Allah's communication is mediated through human language. Likewise, an angel supposedly appeared to Muhammad. Once again, that's mediated communication. 

ii) Why is an "undifferentiated" God (whatever that means) required to ground morality and rationality? 

My problem with Christianity arose from the contrast between the abstract Divinity who answers such questions and the all-too-human majesty of Jesus (peace be upon him). Surely God, if he was God, had to be a perfectly simple being, absolutely distinct from his creation. If his separation was questioned, then he wasn’t really the infinite Creator I sought. How could this transcendent being be identical with the fleshy Messiah portrayed in church, complete with his bloody stigmata? The mystery of the Trinity seemed to me a dark glass that made God’s majesty dimmer, not brighter. Rather than puzzling indefinitely, I sided with simplicity and affirmed the Islamic doctrine of tawhid: God’s absolute oneness.

i) What's the relationship between "a perfectly simple being" and "absolutely distinct from his creation"? Is he claiming that in order for God to be absolutely distinct from his creation, he must be a perfectly simple being? If so, how does that follow? How can the source of complexity be absolutely simple or undifferentiated? 

ii) There's a sense in which the Creator must be distinct or separate from the world. He must preexist or exist apart from the world in order to make it. He must have a mode of subsistence independent of the world he made. 

iii) On the other hand, if God is the source of the world, then in some respect the world must mirror God. The world must be conceptually contained in God's imagination. The world begins as a divine idea. God objectifies his idea in space and time. Analogous to a musical composition that originates in the composer's mind. In that respect, the world must correspond to something in God. 

iv) It's not clear that Williams understands the Incarnation. Identity can operate at more than one level. It's not that God becomes identical with a human soul and body. Rather, the Incarnation involves a relation–a contingent relation–between the divine Son and a human body and soul. To take a comparison, a living human individual is a composite being: an embodied soul. We might say that's what he is, but that allows for distinctions. The pairing of a particular body with a particular soul. These remain distinct and even separable. 

v) There's an a priori character to how Williams evaluates the options. But how does he know what God is like apart from divine self-revelation? He operates with preemptive criteria, as though he knows in advance what God must be like. What's the justification for that procedure? How can the Trinity be discounted merely because it's mysterious? What if reality is mysterious? Indeed, shouldn't we expect God to be mysterious in some degree, given God's surpassing greatness and our intellectual limitations? Can we simply intuit what God is like, or is that an act of discovery? 

So goes the first shahada. The second declares Muhammadun rasool’Allah: “Muhammad is the Messenger of God.” This is a matter of Scripture. In the Qur’an’s claims to be the direct speech of God, Islam again seemed a simpler and more compelling story. One God, one final Message.

Once again, he has this odd prejudice about simplicity. But how is one man's uncorroborated, self-serving report better than multiple-attestation? 

C. S. Lewis argued that a man claiming to be God must be either a lunatic, a liar, or truly the Lord. Likewise, a man claiming to be a Messenger of God must be either insane, dishonest, or just what he says he is. I judged, based on my reading of history, that Muhammad (peace be upon him) could not have been either of the former two. The facts of his life and ministry reveal an honest man in full possession of his rational faculties. 

The Koran reveals Muhammed to be someone who changes his message because he makes shortsighted claims that fail to anticipate unforeseen eventualities. Hence the face-saving theory of abrogation. 

By contrast, it wasn’t hard for me to avoid Lewis’s trilemma, because Muslims simply do not believe that Jesus (peace be upon him) ever claimed to be God. Rather, we hold him to have been another prophet like Moses, Abraham, and Isaac (peace be upon them all). 

Yes, the Koranic Jesus is a different Jesus than the NT Jesus. But what makes the Koranic Jesus the standard of comparison? Muhammad didn't know Jesus or know anyone who knew Jesus. What makes his belated account–written centuries after the fact–more accurate than 1C witnesses? 

The final piece of the puzzle fell into place upon my learning of the long process of redaction and recomposition that produced the canon that became the Bible. 

i) That's hard to respond to because it's so vague. Is Williams alluding to the formation of the canon? Or is he alleging that the books of the Bible were repeatedly edited? If so, what's his evidence? Or is he making a claim about the textual transmission of the Bible? Or is he making a claim about fluid oral tradition before the Gospels were committed to writing? What's his source of information? Is he channeling Bart Ehrman?

ii) What about the murky editorial history of the Koran? 

This was consistent with the Islamic narrative of an earlier revelation that, though true, was imperfectly preserved. The Qur’an was the unification and confirmation of what the Bible merely tried to assemble.

To the contrary, Muhammad treats the Bible in his own time and place as accurate. He challenges those who doubt his message to compare his message to the Bible. He makes copies of the Bible, in the possession of 7C Jews and Christians in Arabia, the litmus test for the veracity of his own purported revelations. 

1 comment:

  1. --The Koran reveals Muhammed to be someone who changes his message because he makes shortsighted claims that fail to anticipate unforeseen eventualities. Hence the face-saving theory of abrogation.--

    Not to mention his proclamations in the Hadith permitting and even encouraging deceit (in war, in assassinating critics, in self protection as the infamous taqiyya); Allah's repeated boasts about deceiving better than anyone else can; and that 1 John 2:22 flatly qualifies Muhammad and his deity as liars.

    ...But then, I just mentioned those things.

    --What about the murky editorial history of the Koran?--

    And this is why Jay Smith's current work and relentless focus on the un-historicity of the Koran is so important.

    'A little knowledge is a dangerous thing' people like Williams can spout pop-wisdom about the alleged redaction of the Bible, because it has entered popular awareness.

    He wouldn't know about the internal and external testimony to the far greater redactions of the Koran, because Islam doesn't have its own Dan Browns or Bart Ehrmans - the closest anyone came is probably Tom Holland, and British TV simply refused to broadcast his documentary any more after the first airing got massive protests.