Saturday, March 31, 2012

Book Pondering:  The Closing of the Muslim Mind, by Robert Reilly.

I ordered this book many months ago, but it never arrived.  After poking around a bit, however, I did find the Introduction and Chapter 1 online and thought I should give it a comment anyway.  Reilly bravely challenges the modernist notion that "all religions are alike" and takes the step towards that the radical concept that the theology of a religion might have something to do with the nature of its adherents.  The next step is to suggest that there might even be a spiritual dimension out there, but we must whisper this softly.

Now I admit that this notion of the practice of religion being positively correlated with the theology is something that I most definitely adhere too.  What bothers me, however, is the start.  Reilly seems to be taking a path that says that Christianity and Judaism accepted Greek philosophy, whereas Islam did the opposite and formally rejected Greek philosophy, hence, Islam rejected reason itself.  Is the distinctiveness of a religion thus reduced to whether it accepts or rejects Greek philosophy?

The problem I have with this is that I have actually spent a lot of time both studying Greek philosophy and the Christian reaction to it.  Any student of Greek philosophy should know that the Golden Age of classical philosophy was a historical and geographical blip starting a bit before Socrates and ending with Aristotle.  Yes, there were many other schools that popped up, but seriously ...  here is a brief list:

The Academics.  These took over Plato's Academy and mindlessly extrapolated from Socrates questioning to a system based on the notion that all statements are false ... there is no such thing as truth.  As soon as someone cheats them, however, all this high sounding philosophy goes in an instant.

The Skeptics.  Brighter than the Academics, they realized that a philosophy based on the notion that all philosophies are false is self defeating.  Thus, they employed the tactic that there might be truth, but no one had ever seen it.  Their founder, Pyrrho, had to be saved from being run over by out-of-control carts periodically because he chose to remain skeptical of their reality.  It is little surprise that this school did not survive to the modern era.

The Epicureans.  Epicurus explained everything about how the universe worked down to atomic theory.  According to the Epicureans, all opinions they held were thus "science", whereas all other opinions of were "superstition".  The sun was about the size of your fist, contrary to the superstitions of those who said it was bigger than the earth.

The Stoics:  They were mostly moral philosophers who had little to say about science.  There big problem was that they believed that reason leads only to truth, but as the Academics pointed out, all evil has its origin in reason also.

The Neo-Platonists:  These had a very loose connection to Plato (I am being very generous).  They invented the conflict between faith and science.  In their system, faith was the beliefs of the Christians, and science was all other opinions under the Sun.  Thus, they promoted astrology, omens, reading of entrails, dream interpretation, ...

The Cynics:  They seemed to believe that the only way to get out of the tyranny of mindless tradition was to go around offending everyone's sensibilities.

Thus, what we inherited from Greek philosophy was an intellectual garbage dump.  Augustine and Calvin said as much, thus, the condemnation of philosophy was a theme running through Christianity as well as Islam.  We can point to Aquinas and the scholastics as exceptions.  I will leave this aside for the time being.  My claim at this point is that Reilly has almost no knowledge of classical philosophy, but is mainly going off of modernist caricatures.  (Update:  Reading his book more, I will retract this, but note that his understanding of Greek philosophy still seems a bit selective.)

As we proceed down this path, it is important to keep in mind the original goal, which was to explain the uniqueness of Islam.  Explaining this in comparison to Judaism and Christianity is a challenge, but what of Hinduism, Buddhism, Animism, Atheism, Darwinism, Big Bangism or other forms of worship?  I still need to buy a copy of the book and finish reading it.


Delirious said...

So how do you think the Greek philosphers have influenced Christianity?

Looney said...

What I had formerly believed on this subject has had to be discarded as I actually read the philosophers, the early church fathers, and compared with scripture. I think Greek philosophy mainly provided a vocabulary that permitted earlier Biblical concepts to be presented to Greek culture in a clear way. God had shaped earlier Greek philosophy to prepare the way for His son, but after that Greek philosophy self destructed.