Thursday, October 30, 2008

Moral-Political Lessons From Dubai

A South African drive-time disc jockey in Dubai has been fired for imitating God as part of his morning banter. (AP story here.)

He was not fired for violating Sharia Law. Dubai, one of the principal cities and one of several semi-autonomous states in the United Arab Emirates, is a diverse international community. He was fired because his irreverence, that is, his careless treatment of this divine subject matter, offended the religious sensibilities of the people who live in Dubai. He was responding to someone's failed attempt to sue God in a U.S. court. (See my post on that: "The Audacity of Suing God.") "He intended to be funny, not to offend anybody," said Arabian Radio Network Chief Operating Officer Steve Smith. "However, what he did was highly offensive to the Muslim and Christian community in the UAE."

No doubt this shocks many American readers who see it as an example of religious fundamentalism in the benighted Arab world.

But this was our world not so long ago, and I think that in that respect it was a better world. People were more self-controlled and respectful of one another when we inhabited that world.

In 1966, John Lennon had to apologize publicly for saying that the Beatles were "more popular than Jesus." The remark made no impression on the British when it was first published in London's Evening Standard. But when DATEbook published the Maureen Cleave interview in America it was a huge scandal.

Lennon's full statement from the interview was this:

'Christianity will go,' he said. 'It will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue about that; I'm right and I will be proved right. We're more popular than Jesus now; I don't know which will go first-rock 'n' roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that ruins it for me.'

In some ways, of course, we are a better society now than we were. We're more accepting of racial differences among us, for example. But that improvement has not grown out of our rejection of God. Indeed, the civil rights movement was, in significant measure, motivated by Christian faith.

When people turn away from God and focus on themselves, they actually dehumanize themselves and each other.

Consider this post from November 7, 2007: "An Atheist Ally of Religion? Sounds Reasonable."

Dalrymple, noting the rarity of religiously motivated cruelty, draws attention to the decency that the eternal perspective engenders in by far most people who genuinely embrace it. After quoting from a meditation by Bishop Joseph Hall (1574-1656) on contentment and self-control, Dalrymple concludes that, “moderation comes more naturally to the man who believes in something not merely higher than himself, but higher than mankind. After all, the greatest enjoyment of the usages of this world, even to excess, might seem rational when the usages of this world are all that there is.” It is at least arguable that unsentimental, atheistic rationalism leads logically to debauchery and ultimately to tyranny.

He drives home this connection between piety and moderation by comparing the genuine fruit of Christian faith with what these grumpy anti-theists have to offer:

“Let us compare Hall’s meditation “Upon the Sight of a Harlot Carted” with Harris’s statement that some people ought perhaps to be killed for their beliefs:

With what noise, and tumult, and zeal of solemn justice, is this sin punished! The streets are not more full of beholders, than clamours. Every one strives to express his detestation of the fact, by some token of revenge: one casts mire, another water, another rotten eggs, upon the miserable offender. Neither, indeed, is she worthy of less: but, in the mean time, no man looks home to himself. It is no uncharity to say, that too many insult in this just punishment, who have deserved more. . . . Public sins have more shame; private may have more guilt. If the world cannot charge me of those, it is enough, that I can charge my soul of worse. Let others rejoice, in these public executions: let me pity the sins of others, and be humbled under the sense of my own.

“Who sounds more charitable, more generous, more just, more profound, more honest, more humane: Sam Harris or Joseph Hall, D.D., late lord bishop of Exeter and of Norwich?”

No comments: