Monday, December 21, 2015

A Futher Reply to Dragon Fang

[Dragon Fang has written a lengthy explanation HERE, to which I reply below]:

Dragon Fang,
Thank you for your input, it obviously is a major effort, and I appreciate it.

I have some questions. You say this:
”In short, it is fallacious to assume that a text-only approach in vacuum of tradition is inherently more correct than one that combines scholasticism, authority, and tradition. To jump to such conclusion means that the person made several assumptions contradicting the real holistic worldview of an actual believer.”
From the prior text I take it that you refer to axioms and characteristics of behaviors which I’ll try to summarize:

Your axioms, as gleaned from your text:
1. The author of a work owns the work and the right to interpret it.
”The founder takes precedence over the scripture both logically and empirically, in this case the founder's vision coincides with the author.”
2. Major authority was vested by the deity in the Prophet, less in his companions.

3. “Tradition” means to preserve initial conditions (meanings).

4. Independent interpretations are void of meaning.
”Any independent literary treatments of the text will be devoid of religious context and utterly useless for discussions of criticism or reform of religion;”
5. The founder’s interpretation is the most legitimate.
”If the founder of the religion and their vision are the ultimate authority on the religion available to people, then it would be the most objective legitimacy possible. ”
But the apparent conclusion is this:
”So if the tradition-based approach is rationally and logically the most legitimate way to treat religion, what does the text-only approach have for it?”

The axioms seem to support the “initial conditions” and the original “author” as the most credible. But the initial conditions are contained in the Qur’an, which is supposed to contain the thoughts and directives given to the prophet directly from the deity. But to accept just the wording of the Qur’an would be text-only, which you do not accept as valid.

Since tradition is not the same as text-only, then tradition must mean interpretation by someone outside and beyond the text ownership, i.e. humans who interpret the text after the fact. But if that is tradition, then it violates axiom 4, above.

There several possibilities here, regarding my comprehension of your statements. Either I have misunderstood the meaning of the word, “tradition”, OR the word, “tradition”, means something different for you, OR I have not correctly understood the axioms, OR there is an internal incongruity between the axioms and the conclusion.

The next issue is Luther and his rejection of the traditions (interpretation) of the Papacy. What Luther was actually supporting was text-only, in combination with the existence of the Holy Spirit within each human. That direct deity contact is what gives authority and legitimacy to the text. So what Luther did was to remove indirect interpretation-by-proxy, which I think is what you might mean by the term, “tradition”, although I could well be wrong about that. So Luther handed the interpretation not to his words, but back to the text itself.

But here (and other places) you seem to say that text-only and tradition are the same thing (identities):
”so any text-only approach if actually reading the Quran with understanding will be redirected into a tradition-based approach; any attempts to separate Muhammad (saw) from the Quran are on extremely shaky ground.”

This text appears to say first that reading the text-only is not the same thing as tradition; but the second part implies that tradition and the prophet/Qur’an are the same thing.

I admit to being confused. Here’s the internal contradiction in my understanding of your statement:
1. Text-only is not authoritative;
2. Authority is contained in the text (Qur’an and life of the prophet).
And we land back here, discussing Christianity:
”But the chain of this new tradition's authority doesn't end at Muhammad (saw) or Jesus (as), it ends at some reformer who came centuries after the fact. I wonder how can anyone think this has any objective legitimacy.”
So apparently there is “original” tradition on the one hand, and “new” tradition on the other hand? Presumably the original tradition devolves to the original text, is that not so? So it would appear, then, to coincide with text-only, the same as Luther’s position.

”In short, it is fallacious to assume that a text-only approach in vacuum of tradition is inherently more correct than one that combines scholasticism, authority, and tradition. To jump to such conclusion means that the person made several assumptions contradicting the real holistic worldview of an actual believer.”
This statement seems to verify that I do not understand the axioms. I tried to pull axioms out of the un-annotated text, and quite likely misinterpreted your intent. Please enumerate your axioms so that I can see exactly what they are.

Regarding “liberal” interpreters:
”It is irrational when the interpreter isolates the speaker's or writer's words from their context, especially in idiomatic phrases, or when he pays no attention to the special uses of words or phrases by a certain kind of speaker or community. A sound approach is to understand what is really meant by the words which they take to be words of God or of one of His true prophets.”

I agree about interpretations that are made to appear congruent with Materialist or cultural (“liberal”) ideology. And I agree that context is important. But I wonder about the problems with idiomatic loss of meaning – that leads to the concept that the Qur’an/Muhammad cannot be understood, if someone claims a different idiomatic meaning or context. So there is a conflict of authority based on text vs. modern interpretation of idiom/context once again.

In fact, if the Qur’an cannot be understood as meaning what the text says, then of what value is it? I think if that is the case, then it has no value. After all, as you say above, Muhammad and the Qur’an cannot rationally be removed from the pursuit of truth. But if the Qur’an cannot be understood, then both the prophet and the deity cannot be understood and there is consequently no access to grounded moral authority.

Further, if subsequent interpretation is required outside and beyond the text, then your other comment comes into play:
” But the chain of this new tradition's authority doesn't end at Muhammad (saw) or Jesus (as), it ends at some reformer who came centuries after the fact. I wonder how can anyone think this has any objective legitimacy.”
The authority resides with the author, as you have said above; not with subsequent interpretation.

But then there’s this:
” the text in and of itself is not enough to resolve differing interpretations, and there is always an appeal that settles the matter. Something like Protestantism appeals to a self-defeating principle, and has no assurance or certainty; either they believe there is one truth in any theological dispute but concede the existence of valid arguments or adopts a relativist and indifferent attitude where contradictions are fine.”
This is a False Dichotomy; it does not apply to textual Christianity. The red print in the Bible is the final word, and Christians agree on the basics. All Christians (except Materialist Liberals who don’t accept the existence of deity) accept that humans are not the final word, even the pope, and that the core beliefs are simple and common to all believers. They differ on minute details, which they emphasize improperly, but inconsequentially.
” The Islamic tradition, exemplified by the four Sunni schools of law and thought, all unanimously forbid terrorism with clear religious evidence.”

This is an example of the core issue of understanding the grounding of Islamic moral authority, and bears further discussion:
1. What is the evidence? What is the source of the evidence?

2. If the evidence doesn’t correspond with the text, then why does it not violate your previous claim that interpretations must not ignore the Qur’an and the Prophet (who clearly invoked violence).

3. If the source of the evidence is not the deity (revealed truth), then why is it given authority which supersedes the Qur’an and Prophet?

4. If the source of the evidence is, in fact, the deity, then who is the new prophet to whom the deity spoke? Would not this be a new revelation, to a new prophet, which contradicts the words of the deity revealed to Muhammad?
” Only a text-only no-tradition approach is capable of the logic and reality-defying literary gymnastics necessary to ignore them.”
Then clearly EITHER the text must be wrong, OR it is too incomprehensible (non-rational) to be comprehended without further revelation.

” Actually contemporary Western culture is based on the paradoxical principles of personal freedom + majority opinion.”

Here you have presented a caricature which is a false dichotomy. In the west, personal freedom does not equate to anarchy. Rousseau did present some “back to nature” thoughts which were not adopted by the French revolutionaries; instead they went with the totalitarian “Reign of Terror” which produced violent Leftism and ultimately led to the hegemonic Napoleon. But Napoleon was defeated. Western culture has rules which are agreed upon and ratified by the people, and enforced by agents of the people. In the west, the rules are influenced by Christian, Deist, and Enlightenment values. People are free to interact as they will, so long as they stay clear of the (loose) boundaries.

Compared to Islam, the western rules of civil behavior are much less restrictive, and include human rights. This appears to be where Islam differs from the west. To some degree the western system is open and self-correcting. Islam appears to be rigidly closed, and without right of appeal to the intrinsic value of all humans, including those who are not Muslim. This seems confirmed by the combination of the textual Qur’an plus life example of Muhammad. As you have written, going outside the boundaries of Islam is considered treason, for which death is appropriate.

And here arises the size of the Islamic deity. The Judeo-Christian deity is powerful enough to judge and dispatch each and every individual, so that it is not up to humans to do that job for the deity. Islam, however, allows/requires Muslims to judge and punish other Muslims, and the result is brutal in terms of human-on-human violence. The life of Muhammad is an example of that, and his example is followed daily around the globe with “righteous” murder, torturing and enslaving/raping. In the west, these punishments are forbidden, even by the state, except for humane execution of extremely violent offenders who are judged by a panel of peers.

Further, from a theistic standpoint, the Christian deity has capabilities for communicating with individuals and of self-incarnating as a human - capabilities apparently denied in the Islamic conception of diety. The Islamic deity is therefore more restricted and thus smaller than the Christian understanding of the expansive deity. There is nothing non-coherent about the expansive deity, even though that deity is not comprehensible under human, materialist capabilities. Except for concepts of mind, soul, and life, humans are not likely to comprehend non-physical, non-material existence, especially that of rational, powerful kind.

Perhaps you assert that Islam is coherent and without contradiction. From a systems point of view, that could be the case, except for the fundamentals which are discussed above (which I’m not sure I’ve understood properly). In a closed system, whatever rules govern the system are not influenced by the outside universe, and if the system is stable (like an electronic oscillator or multivibrator) then its internal operation is coherent. In fact, outside interference destabilizes the system. The system operates by virtue of external design, not by any subsequent input to the system (except sustaining energy). However, Islam, which is obviously a set of competing closed systems, does not appear to be stable.

Under Systems Theory, the two systems – western and Islamic – appear to be opposites. The western system, while having basic rules, is an open system which allows input from all sources. This input is processed through the looser system rules, and the system is either modified by an input, or the input is rejected in order to maintain stability within the rule set. In this fashion, for example, the west has changed from slave-holding to anti-slavery and pro-human-rights. This modification was an affirmation of the value of all humans, not a destabilization. However, when a system self-corrects, there is a re-stabilization period, and the west constantly goes through those periods of self-correction.

I think that the open western process of self-correction is viewed as instability by Muslims. But Islam has its own instabilities which are comparable, if not more onerous than the self-corrections of the west.

Islam appears to be a closed system which has degenerated into several closed systems which compete, violently. This appears to be caused by adherence to competing interpretations of the text of the Qur’an plus the example of the life of the prophet (and designation of the chain of authority: Sunni vs Shia). You have pointed out that text-only use of the Qur’an is a problem, on the one hand, and yet that (scholarship?) interpretations must adhere to the Qur’an and the life of the prophet. This is internally contradictory, and perhaps a misunderstanding on my part. Yet there are many, many Muslims who do adhere to the textual Qur’an and the example of the life of the prophet, and that does seem to be coherent from a Systems Analysis standpoint. Closed systems require a firm, coherent set of operating rules (along with firm, decisive rejection of outside influence).

At this point, I think that it would be beneficial for me to stop and to request that you correct any misunderstandings which I might have.

For example, if you could list your axioms as numbered items (as I attempted above), and give the reasons that they are axiomatic (i.e., first principles which are self-evident) rather than arbitrary declarations; that might help me understand.

Thanks for your participation, and for your time; I do appreciate it.

[UPDATE: I still need to address the end-part of your message; I will, in a few days.]

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