Sunday, April 01, 2012

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

Islam grew rapidly from its beginnings into an empire extending from India and China to Spain.  A few interesting authors have come down to us leaving us some tantalizing glimpses of intellectual genius, but what do we make of this?  Admittedly this is a period that I have done little studying on, but will make some comments keeping this in mind.  Reilly's thesis is that Islam was picking up Hellenism - for a time - just like Christianity (and Judaism) did.  This produced a period of Islamic scholarship, but due to politics and The Fates, a different school got the preeminence and changed the direction of Islam.  Here is what Reilly writes:

"The freedom to interpret revelation was based upon the Mu'tazilite teaching, shocking to the traditionalists, that the Qur'an was created in time.  The standard orthodox belief was that the Qur'an is uncreated and exists coeternally with Allah.  If the Qur'an was created, it is subject to rational criteria.  If it is subject to rational criteria, it is not the exclusive domain of the ulema.  An uncreated Qur'an would not allow for this interpretive freedom.  Caliph al-Ma'mun knew that the teaching of a created Qur'an and of man's free will would enhance his authority and undermine that of the traditionalist ulema.  Therefore, he sponsored the Mu'tazilites.  He also genuinely embraced their views because he was fascinated by philosophy."

His thesis is that if Islam had stuck with a notion of a Qur'an created in time, then Islam would have embraced the faculty of reason, whereas their belief that the Qur'an was eternal caused them to do the opposite.  

At this point, I again have a major problem:  Christianity insists that the Bible is a revelation that is coeternal with God:

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it." - John 1:1-4

The Christian theologians that developed this concept the most were the scholastics such as Anselm and Aquinas.  The Word is understood to be the Bible, which is God's Word, yet is also Christ eternal who, although being born, was still uncreated.  It seems to me that Reilly has no hope to employ his argument consistently as he switches between Christianity and Islam.  To complete the counter argument, it is the scholastics who would bring the teachings of Aristotle back to a West that was rising out of illiteracy.  

A modernist would then jump in and say, "See, that is why Christianity is in the Dark Ages", thus, forcing a bit of consistency onto Reilly's argument.  Modernism, however, didn't show up until centuries after the industrial and scientific revolution had occurred.  At the same time, it is the modernists who deny the possibility of specific theological concepts having meaning, arguing that anything can be given all possible interpretations.  Accepting this would defeat the entire purpose of the book.  I am still trying to figure out what framework is Reilly's starting reference point, which he badly needs.


Delirious said...

Maybe I'm misunderstanding this, but it seems a little odd to say that the "truth" would have many different interpretations, and all of them would be correct. That doesn't even seem logical.

Looney said...

The Academics and Skeptics both taught that truth didn't exist. Pilate in John 18:38 asks the question, "What is truth?", which would be a standard rhetorical question from these schools. Once real truth is rejected, truth is then redefined so that truth is determined by political force (Political Correctness), or truth is whatever each person wants to make of it (Post-modernism, Existentialism).

You are right that it isn't logical.