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  The Growing Conflict in America

Muslim Americans Living in a Secular Democracy and a Predominately Christian Country

 [A five-part series]

Part V

 

Introduction

 

By way of deception, thou shalt do war. Israel’s Mossad

 

The United States and much of the civilized world in 2016 is increasingly under attack from radical Islam. The purpose of this fundamentalist jihadist ideology has, as its goal, to either kill or convert all people on earth who don’t support their fundamentalist ideology. They have dreams of world conquest and domination, and a desire to make Islam the one and only religion on the planet. And, they want the entire world to be under Sharia Law, regardless of how much barbarian cruelty is involved. They also want the elimination of all civil rights and human rights worldwide.

 

The first part in understanding these attacks and what to do about them is to recognize that the threats themselves fall into two basic categories: (1) threats involving “civilization jihad” being achieved without guns and bombs. This is the rather insidious attempt to slowly infiltrate and convert the United States into an Islamic state through intimidation and the cry of Islamophobia whenever anyone questions their motives. And, (2) the second category of threats involves both violent jihad here in the United States and abroad.

 

In countering these threats, the United States needs to be fully aware of what is going on here and abroad, and no longer be willing to naively put its head in the sand. We must take decisive action now.  

 

Part IV dealt with the reality of the plot by the Muslim Brotherhood to   infiltrate American society and all its institutions in order to slowly convert the United States into an Islamic state.

    

     This Part V will describe my observations and recommendations as to what to do now. Basically, what actions should our country take? There is growing rage by most Americans that is now being directed at radical Islam worldwide.

 

But such rage is beginning to spill over to eradicate and subjugate any and all who want to internally convert the United States into an Islamic state by way of “civilization Jihad.” Unless we are able and willing to confront our enemies here and abroad, our enemies will ultimately devour us.

 

Nature of Threats

 

Threats abroad have involved more than threats themselves, but actual murder of large groups of people such as in Paris, Brussels, Syria, Iraq, and recently in Pakistan. These attacks have injured and maimed thousands of people worldwide.

 

Violence perpetrated by ISIS and other terrorist groups has resulted in the murder, torture and slaughter of Christians, Muslims, Jews, and other ethnic groups. The United Nations has now recognized and spoken out and declared their acts of violence as genocide. Unfortunately, Americans have a short memory. For now, let me give my cyberspace audience a reminder of what has happened.

 

 

Jihadist Violence in America—Remembering the Slain and Injured

What if the Arabs had been Christians? To me it seems certain that the fatalistic teachings of Mohammed and the utter degradation of women is the outstanding cause for the arrested development of the Arab. He is exactly as he was around the year 700, while we have kept on developing.

George S. Patton

War as I Knew it (1947), Part One, Ch. 1

 

There appears to be quite a definite similarity or overlap between what is happening overseas in Europe, Asia and the Middle East and what has happened here in the United States going back to September 11, 2001.

2001—Terror Hits America Big Time

The September 11 attacks (also referred to as 9/11) were a series of four coordinated terrorist attacks by the Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda on the United States on the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001. The attacks consisted of suicide attacks used to target symbolic U.S. landmarks.

Four passenger airliners—which all departed from airports on the U.S. East Coast bound for California—were hijacked by 19 al-Qaeda terrorists to be flown into buildings. Two of the planes, American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175, were crashed into the North and South towers, respectively, of the World Trade Center complex in New York City. Within an hour and 42 minutes, both 110-story towers collapsed, with debris and the resulting fires causing partial or complete collapse of all other buildings in the World Trade Center complex, including the 47-story 7 World Trade Center tower, as well as significant damage to ten other large surrounding structures.

A third plane, American Airlines Flight 77, crashed into the Pentagon (the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense) in Arlington County, Virginia, leading to a partial collapse in the Pentagon’s western side. The fourth plane, United Airlines Flight 93, initially was steered toward Washington, D.C., but crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after its passengers tried to overcome the hijackers.

In total, the attacks claimed the lives of 2,996 people (including the 19 hijackers) and caused at least $10 billion in property and infrastructure damage and $3 trillion in total costs. It was the deadliest incident for firefighters and law enforcement officers in the history of the United States, with 343 and 72 killed respectively.

Suspicion for the attack quickly fell on al-Qaeda. The United States responded to the attacks by launching the War on Terror and invading Afghanistan to depose the Taliban, which had harbored al-Qaeda.

Many countries strengthened their anti-terrorism legislation and expanded the powers of law enforcement and intelligence agencies to prevent terrorist attacks. Although al-Qaeda’s leader, Osama bin Laden, initially denied any involvement, in 2004 he claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Al-Qaeda and bin Laden cited U.S. support of Israel, the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, and sanctions against Iraq as motives. Having evaded capture for almost a decade, bin Laden was located and killed by members of the U.S. military in May, 2011.

Jihadist Attacks on America since 9/11

Today we have a similar situation with Islamic Jihadist attacks; the Boston Marathon Jihadist attack that killed 4 people and injured many others; the November 2009 attack at Fort Hood that killed 13 soldiers and wounded 30 others; the July 15, 2015 attack by a Jihadist at a military recruiting facility and naval center killing four marines and one sailor in Chattanooga, Tennessee; the carnage that occurred with the death of 14 citizens and many more wounded, in San Bernardino, California; and, as recently as January 7, 2016, a professed jihadist tried to murder a Philadelphia police officer shooting the officer 11 times. Fortunately, the officer chased him, and then fired back wounding the assailant.

And, internationally, all of this was preceded in 2015 by Jihadist attacks in Paris, France that killed 130 people; Beirut Lebanon where 40 were killed and 200 others injured at a university; a hotel in Mali where 20 were killed; and the downing of a Russian passenger jet over the Sinai desert that murdered 224 passengers.

With all these attacks by radical jihadist Muslim extremists, fear has once again gripped the entire nation. But, so have anger and finally the willingness of our nation to put itself on a war-footing with radical Islamic jihad, whether there is a formal declaration of war or not. If there was a formal declaration of war made by the United States Congress, the country would give the President the powers to engage the enemy with all its might, including strategic nuclear weapons.

What is the Strategy to Terminate the Enemy Abroad?

 

The best way to describe the strategy abroad to defeat ISIS is to first discuss President Obama’s original plan disclosed in September, 2014. It is also important to report on the progress to prosecute the war since then.

 

The President revealed a 4- point plan described as follows:

  1. U.S. airstrikes: Obama said such attacks have already been successful against al-Qaeda in Iraq, Yemen and Somalia.
  2. Support to foreign ground forces: He vowed to send 475 more U.S. troops to Iraq to support local security forces as well as provide military equipment and training to Syrian rebels.
  3. Counterterrorism: The U.S. will work with allies on intelligence and programs to prevent foreign fighters from joining ISIS.
  4. Humanitarian assistance: Aid will go to Muslim, Christian and religious minorities in danger of being driven out of their homes by ISIS.

He stressed the strategy was different than the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

 

The President stated in his meeting at the White House at that time, “But I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil. This counter-terrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground. This strategy of taking out terrorists, who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.”

Current Fight against ISIS in the Middle East

As of early February, 2016 much progress has been made since inception of President Obama’s original 4-point plan a year and a half earlier. This progress includes:

(1)  10,000 strategic air strikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, but also ongoing for years in Yemen and Somalia.in Africa.

(2)  Because of the air campaign strikes, ISIS now has 40% less territory in Iraq and Syria than it did before the campaign. The leadership of ISIS and individual commander’s lives are, on a daily basis, being terminated by American Special Forces, precision air strikes and drones, and also because of increased intelligence gathering and information sharing among all the coalition partners.

(3)  Coalition partners are now making greater contributions to the war effort to destroy ISIS in terms of logistics, ground forces and some humanitarian aid for refugees.

(4)  The money supply for paying ISIS fighters has been cut in half by a precision strike in the city of Mosul. Also ISIS’ finance director, a long time jihadist, was killed in an air strike.

(5)  ISIS is now confronting a shortage of new recruits for ISIS forces.

(6)  New territory is reclaimed by coalition forces every day and roads are being controlled which prevent ISIS from replenishing their own needs.

(7)  Two cities are soon to be reclaimed, and ISIS fighters will be captured or killed. They include the main headquarters city of Raqqa in Syria, and Mosul in northern Iraq near the Turkey border. As soon as these cities are re-taken the others will begin to fall like dominoes.

 

     The above progress cited strongly suggests that President Obama’s plan has succeeded a great deal in the war against ISIS. I believe however that there may be some fine-tuning of his basic approach to destroying and defeating ISIS that may expedite its completion as well as deal with its long-term effects.

 

     Consequently, I’d like to suggest both a short term and a longer term approach to defeating ISIS militarily, but also crippling it from returning in the future.

 

Short-Term Approach

 

First, there is the problem that ISIS fighters are perniciously embedded with Muslim or other captives. Second, ISIS also has a total malevolent stranglehold on the cities it has captured.

 

In my opinion greater use of psychological warfare needs to be employed against ISIS since ISIS morale is at an all-time low due to the precision killing of their leaders, not getting paid as much because of air strikes in Mosul that destroyed their money supply, and knowing that 40% of their forces have been destroyed by airstrikes since 2014.

 

 

In this war, which was total in every sense of the word, we have seen many great changes in military science.  It seems to me that not the least of these was the development of psychological warfare as a specific and effective weapon.

General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower

 

In my opinion, no plan of psychological warfare is ever perfect, but credibility, even when it’s based on a lie, is the key to effective deception. The first step in taking ISIS cities, large or small, is to surround them on all sides so there is no way for ISIS fighters to escape. U.S. warplanes and coalition warplanes can assist in tracking and killing ISIS fighters who try to escape. In addition, in the case of cities like Mosul, Raqqa, Fallujah, and others, all water, food, electricity, and drug sources need to be stopped. U.S. Special Forces could be very useful in carrying out these missions. In addition, the ISIS fighters must not be allowed to sleep. PA systems need to produce very loud irritating blasts of sound 24/7.

 

Psychological drugs have been given to ISIS fighters and others in the past to make them willing to die for their cause without regard to their own safety or desire to live. In essence, when under the influence of drugs supplied by their leadership, they do not fear death. Without a source for these drugs an individual’s greatest need is to survive. Down deep they value their own life.

 

Leaflets would then be dropped on the cities to give ISIS fighters a chance to live. A timeline is made clear to these fighters by giving them 24 hours before a horrible death awaits them. They will be told in the leaflet that they must release all captives in that 24 hour period before hostilities of an unusual nature will occur. If they do, they are told their lives will be spared.

 

You don’t tell them what this horrible death will be; you leave that to their imagination. They will stew during the 24 hours (just a bit of psychological terror). At 24 hours, if they don’t surrender and release the hostages, high-flying crop dusters will go to work spraying the city below with a white powder laced with an active, yet mild form of the influenza strain.

 

In another 24-36 hours people in the city will begin to get sick.

 

ISIS Fighters will be made to think (another leaflet) that you’ve just dropped Ricin (Ricin is very toxic. Ricin can be made from the waste material left over from processing castor beans. It can be made in the form of a powder, a mist, or a pellet or it can be dissolved in water or weak acid.) to give them that horrible death. Their own imagination will create in their minds their own worst nightmare.

 

Then begins the waiting game whereby inhabitants begin to suffer the symptoms of influenza (weakness, high temperature, throwing up, diarrhea, that over-all crappy feeling). Without food and water they will soon begin to hallucinate, amplified by their own fear of impending death.

 

They are told over the blasting PA system that medical attention is there for them if they surrender. At this point deception is followed by a “grand lie.” The enemy is told what they have.

 

We broadcast a message that they have been infected with ricin. They are told that in the next few hours they will begin foaming at the mouth and convulsions will soon occur. They are told, however, that if they surrender, then medical attention will help them survive.

 

If ISIS fighters resist anyway, then snipers should be used to pick off any who resist. At this moment tank fire will begin to bombard the city on all sides. Streets will be hit by the shells, not buildings where people are hiding.

 

If all this fails to get ISIS to surrender then recapturing forces would then begin to target buildings with tank fire from every direction. If they try to use captives as shields, snipers will need to separate the “wheat from the chaff.”

 

What I’ve described is just one scenario on how to extricate an enemy from a city using psychological warfare. If ISIS fighters want to die in the end for Allah, then we can help them do that. As General Patton said during WWII, “Now I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.”

 

This is not of course WWII. ISIS does not have a country; what it does have is an Islamic State trying to overtake other countries and impose their will and their own ideology. Once we kill their Caliphate, tensions in the Middle East may get much better. For now their numbers are dwindling, and it’s time to strike a fatal blow in every city that ISIS, al-Qaeda, or Boko Haram is holding.

Long Term Approach

 

When the shooting ends the war is not over. All survivors from the Middle East, Asia, and Africa need to be helped with aid. Survivors will help us and others to bring all ISIS fighters, al-Qaeda and Boko Haram enemies, and their leaders, to a war crimes tribunal. Survivors will identify and give testimony before these tribunal courts. Court judges will be appointed by the respective presidents from the United States, Iraq, Japan, Saudi Arabia, United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Belgium. Rather than being held in The Hague in the Netherlands, these trials should be held in Iraq.

 

Following these initial trials, there needs to be a relentless multi-national approach to track down and capture those enemy combatants or supporters, who fell through the cracks. This would be similar to the efforts made after World War II to track down and capture Nazi war criminals. This process may need to be conducted for many years to come.

 

In addition, the United States needs to end all foreign aid to any country in the Middle East or Africa (ally or not) who supports in any way Sharia Law. Nation building gets a “bad rap” these days, but we must find ways to eliminate or get rid of Islamic religious law (Sharia Law) from the face of the earth. And, in America, the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights needs to be in every textbook in America from K-12. All education of Muslim American children need to have all textbooks and teaching materials approved by a secular State Board of Education. All public and private school education in the United States needs to be reviewed every year.

 

 

What is the Strategy to Terminate “Civilization Jihad” at Home?

 

I reported in Part III of this series this piece of social science research finding, i.e., “At the present time, 51% of Muslim Americans, according to the Gatestone Institute (an international policy council), want or would prefer they be governed by Sharia Law.”

 

I find this statistical evidence very troubling. Why? Because it adds fuel to the fire that slightly more than 50% of Muslim Americans prefer Islam’s political aspects of superiority to all other religions and promotes a disingenuous pretense of moderation including perhaps a disdain for America’s laws including the United States Constitution. If more than half of all Muslims in the United States feel this way—we indeed have a very serious problem.

 

There are, of course, wide differences of opinion in the Muslim American Community whereby 49% of those surveyed don’t necessarily go along with Islamic religious laws reflected in the Koran any more than Christians buy into the Old Testament as representing “real Christianity.” The idea of the Old Testament in Christianity is looked upon, even by many evangelicals, as rather quaint in today’s world. Likewise, many Muslim Americans think for themselves and reject the “fundamentalist viewpoint” of Islam or any religion for that matter.

 

I am reminded of the true distinction (See Part IV) of importance pointed out by Robert Spencer who wrote the book, Stealth Jihad: How Radical Islam is Subverting America without Guns or Bombs. In his book he said, “Those who are working to advance the subjugation of non-Muslims are not doing it solely by violent means. The common distinction between ‘radical’ and ‘moderate’ Muslims has generally been made between those who are engaged in blowing things up or are plotting to do so, and those who are not. However, the evidence presented in this book shows that the distinction ought to be placed elsewhere: between those Muslims who believe that Islamic law is the perfect system for human society and who are working by whatever means to impose that Islamic law, and those Muslims who support Western pluralistic governments and seek to live with non-Muslims as equals, under secular law, on an indefinite basis.”

 

Plan to Terminate or Disembowel “Civilization Jihadists” in the United States.

 

Because half of Muslim Americans prefer Sharia law to the laws in America, it is clear that these citizens may need to be under close and constant surveillance. In addition, our laws on treason need to be revised and expanded under the Patriot Act to include “civilization Jihad” as Treason.

 

Anyone who plans to overthrow the United States government by whatever means, is guilty of treason and would be subject to the death penalty. Such individuals or organizations in a criminal conspiracy to overthrow the United States by violent or “civilization jihad” means would all be subject to asset forfeiture and confiscation of all properties thereof. This will get the point across to those who want to promote Sharia law in the United States that they will be caught, subject to the harshest of laws, and if found guilty will be subject to very long prison sentences and, following that—deportation from the United States.

 

Where Muslim front groups are concerned, the Justice Department, FBI, and Homeland Security need to make greater use of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to investigate or require scrutiny of all funds in and out of these organizations on a regular basis.

 

The FBI should join forces with the Internal Revenue Service to track where such money is coming from and going to. Rather than wasting resources, the 160 current FBI agents dedicated to investigating Hillary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server account, could be more wisely, prudently, judiciously, and effectively utilized to fight against this internal threat from civilization jihad.

 

Nearly half of all Muslim Americans are pissed off that political jihadists had high-jacked their religion of Islam. Given that Sharia Law is an integral part of Islam, the time has now been reached whereby the social cement of oppression and contamination by Sharia Law should be eradicated or purged worldwide including right here in the United States. Twenty-five states already have proposals, laws or pending legislation to eliminate Sharia Law in the United States.

 

What must be promoted is a kind of “democracy jihad” in reverse. The United States needs very much to make disincentives meaningful against all countries in the world that use Sharia Law. The country can start by ending all foreign aid to all countries that use Sharia Law. As they say, “What goes around comes around.”

 

We Need Muslim American Support

 

 

It will be critical to the country’s effort to destroy our internal threat of “civilization jihad” by enlisting the help and support of the Muslim Reform Movement. Zuhdi Jasser, who has been a target of the Muslim Brotherhood, is co-founder of the Muslim Reform Movement.

 

Here are their declarations or what they stand for:

Origin of Muslim Reform Movement

Declaration of the Muslim Reform Movement / Signed by AIFD (December 4, 2015)

Preamble

     We are Muslims who live in the 21st century. We stand for a respectful, merciful and inclusive interpretation of Islam. We are in a battle for the soul of Islam, and an Islamic renewal must defeat the ideology of Islamism, or politicized Islam, which seeks to create Islamic states, as well as an Islamic caliphate. We seek to reclaim the progressive spirit with which Islam was born in the 7th century to fast forward it into the 21st century. We support the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by United Nations member states in 1948.   

     We reject interpretations of Islam that call for any violence, social injustice and politicized Islam. Facing the threat of terrorism, intolerance, and social injustice in the name of Islam, we have reflected on how we can transform our communities based on three principles: peace, human rights and secular governance. We are announcing today the formation of an international initiative: the Muslim Reform Movement.

     We have courageous reformers from around the world who have written our Declaration for Muslim Reform, a living document that we will continue to enhance as our journey continues. We invite our fellow Muslims and neighbors to join us.

DECLARATION

 

  1. Peace: National Security, Counterterrorism and Foreign Policy
  2. We stand for universal peace, love and compassion. We reject violent jihad. We believe we must target the ideology of violent Islamist extremism, in order to liberate individuals from the scourge of oppression and terrorism both in Muslim-majority societies and the West.
  3. We stand for the protection of all people of all faiths and non-faith who seek freedom from dictatorships, theocracies and Islamist extremists.
  4. We reject bigotry, oppression and violence against all people based on any prejudice, including ethnicity, gender, language, belief, religion, sexual orientation and gender expression.

 

  1. Human Rights: Women’s Rights and Minority Rights
  2. We stand for human rights and justice. We support equal rights and dignity for all people, including minorities. We support the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.
  3. We reject tribalism, castes, monarchies and patriarchies and consider all people equal with no birth rights other than human rights. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Muslims don’t have an exclusive right to “heaven.”
  4. We support equal rights for women, including equal rights to inheritance, witness, work, mobility, personal law, education, and employment. Men and women have equal rights in mosques, boards, leadership and all spheres of society. We reject sexism and misogyny.

 

  1. Secular Governance: Freedom of Speech and Religion
  2. We are for secular governance, democracy and liberty. We are against political movements in the name of religion. We separate mosque and state. We are loyal to the nations in which we live. We reject the idea of the Islamic state. There is no need for an Islamic caliphate. We oppose institutionalized sharia. Sharia is manmade.
  3. We believe in life, joy, free speech and the beauty all around us. Every individual has the right to publicly express criticism of Islam. Ideas do not have rights. Human beings have rights. We reject blasphemy laws. They are a cover for the restriction of freedom of speech and religion. We affirm every individual’s right to participate equally in ijtihad, or critical thinking, and we seek a revival of ijtihad.
  4. We believe in freedom of religion and the right of all people to express and practice their faith, or non-faith, without threat of intimidation, persecution, discrimination or violence. Apostasy is not a crime. Our ummah–our community–is not just Muslims, but all of humanity.

 

Final Comments

This entire five-part series has been to bring some clarity to the current war against radical Islam in the United States and abroad. We are at times between a “rock and a hard place.” That is, on the one hand Islamophobia is real and needs to be curtailed; less innocent Muslims may fear for their lives and are subject to unwarranted and unfair persecution. On the other hand, there are Muslim Americans who would prefer a more fundamentalist perspective on Islam, and want to turn our country into an Islamic state.

Patrick Henry, one of the founding fathers, once wrote “give me liberty or give me death.” Liberty and freedom are not free—it comes with a cost. And that cost is vigilance, tenaciousness and the willingness to take anyone on.

Whether we believe it or not, democrats and republicans both love freedom and democracy. We just have differences of opinion as to how to protect our freedoms and defend this country. The things we take for granted such as civil rights, freedom and the pursuit of happiness, often times need protection during times of war but also when there seems to be no apparent threats to the country at all.

This time in the 21st Century, in this country, there are definite threats to our way of life. Nobody can ask you to put yourself in harm’s way unnecessarily in this position. We depend on others such as law enforcement, the military, and our government to protect us. But this dependency on others all the time is what leaves us most vulnerable to harm—more than you think. It is time to get your buried head out of the sand and stand up and be tough and resilient. Never has there ever been a time for the nation to pull itself together against our enemies here and abroad.

As I said in Part I in this series, “Americans are not weaklings; Americans are tough, extremely resilient, tenacious and strong-willed. As a nation we are protective of our people, our laws, institutions, and the supreme law of the land—the United States Constitution.” I am reminded again of a famous 20th Century quote from Winston Churchill. It is also a good idea from our perspective in the 21st Century.

We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.

 

Winston Churchill

 

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The Growing Conflict in America

Muslim Americans Living in a Secular Democracy and a Predominately Christian Country

 [A five-part series]

Part II

In Part II, I will answer the questions of what it means to be an American, and how well do Muslim Americans identify with being an American? The majority of Muslim Americans are moderates—as the Pew research data will show. However, it is also true from their survey data that a small minority of particularly younger Muslims and native-born African Muslims may put the country at risk by adopting an extremist jihadist viewpoint.

These latter groups may need to be under local, state and national surveillance in order to prevent another Paris or San Bernardino violent attack. Under normal circumstances, such surveillance might be characterized as racial, ethnic, or religious profiling.

However, we are no longer living under normal circumstances. The threats that have been perpetrated on the home front are too many. The nation cannot and will not ignore these threats. There will always be a need to balance civil or legal rights on the one hand, with the need to protect our citizens from harm on the other.

Now we move on to answering the first question above. A good starting point in answering the first question is to discuss what it means to be an American. One standard that’s been around for 109 years comes from our 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt.

What it means to be an American

In 1907, one of our greatest presidents laid out what it means for immigrants of any origin to come to America and be an American. Nothing less than that will suffice. The standard set by Teddy Roosevelt was indeed high, as it should be.

Whether most groups of immigrants coming to America today are meeting this standard has yet to be determined. So what is this high standard set by President Theodore Roosevelt? In my estimation it is all about value judgments and that translates to where one’s sincere loyalty lies.

The Standard for Being an American

“In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the person’s becoming in every facet an American and nothing but an American … There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn’t an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag … We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language … and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people.”                                                                                    Theodore Roosevelt, 1907

In one of the previous Republican debates Senator Rick Santorum made the statement that “not all Muslims are jihadist, but all jihadists are Muslim.” Because of the open-ended suspicion generated by that statement, fear of Muslims overseas and Muslims here at home is causing increased tension between the Muslim world and those of non-Muslim populations worldwide. At the same time on the Home front, Islamophobia is running rampant here in the United States. This is very similar to the reaction against Japanese Americans following the attack on Pearl Harbor. That, of course, led to the round-up and incarceration of Japanese American citizens in internment camps based on nothing more than race. Individuality, loyalty, or proven disloyal conduct were never part of the equation to incarcerate American citizens who were presumably as protected by the U.S. Constitution as any other citizen. History has showed that such hypocrisy subsequently brought shame and dishonor to the country that presumably ignored what Theodore had said about immigrants coming to this country. But these were not immigrants—they were American citizens.

Muslims in America

What is needed is a fresh factual look at the Muslim community, particularly a comprehensive review of their demographic characteristics, religious beliefs and practices, education and income levels, identity, assimilation and community, political and social values, attitudes toward foreign policy, terrorism and concerns about extremism.

First up is a summary from Pew Research’s 2007 study. Here are their findings: In a 2007 survey titled Muslim Americans: Middle Class and Mostly Mainstream, the Pew Research Center found Muslim Americans to be “largely integrated, happy with their lives, and moderate with respect to many of the issues that have divided Muslims and Westerners around the world.”

However, forty-seven percent of respondents said they considered themselves Muslims first and Americans second. However, this was compared to 81% of British Muslims and 69% of German Muslims, when asked the equivalent question. A similar disparity exists in income; the percentage of American Muslims living in poverty is 2% higher than the general population, compared to an 18% disparity for French Muslims and 29% difference for Spanish Muslims.

Interestingly, Pew Research in 2007 found that 42% of Christians see themselves as Christians first, and as Americans second. An additional 7% of Christians see themselves as both equally.

Politically, American Muslims were both pro-larger government and socially conservative. For example, 70% of respondents preferred a bigger government providing more services, while 61% stated that homosexuality should be discouraged by society. Despite their social conservatism, 71% of American Muslims expressed a preference for the Democratic Party. The Pew Research survey also showed that nearly three quarters of respondents believed that American society rewards them for hard work regardless of their religious background.

The same poll also reported that 40% of U.S. Muslims believe that Arab Muslims carried out the 9/11 attacks. Another 28% didn’t believe it, and 32% said they had no opinion. Among 28% who doubted that Arab Muslims were behind the conspiracy, one-fourth of that claim the U.S. government or President George W. Bush was responsible. Only 26% of American Muslims believe the U.S.-led war on terror is a sincere effort to root out international terrorism. Only 5% of those surveyed had a “very favorable” or “somewhat favorable” view of the terrorist group al-Qaeda. Only 35% of American Muslims stated that the decision for military action in Afghanistan was the right one and just 12% supported the use of military force in Iraq.

In 2011, a Gallop poll found that 93% of Muslim Americans considered themselves loyal to the United States.

The 2011 Pew Research Survey

Like Christians and non-Christians alike, religious and secular populations are very diverse. Between groups and within groups people are quite different. The Pew research below demonstrates such diversity among American Muslims. The following (It was written by Michael Lipka) is a precise and detailed summary of the Pew Research from 2011. Below are its major findings:

Muslims and Islam: Key findings in the U.S. and around the World

By Michael Lipka

“Muslims are the fastest-growing religious group in the world. The growth and regional migration of Muslims combined with the ongoing impact of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other extremist groups that commit acts of violence in the name of Islam, have brought Muslims and the Islamic faith to the forefront of the political debate in many countries.

Yet many facts about Muslims are not well known in some of these places, and most Americans – who live in a country with a relatively small Muslim population – say they know little or nothing about Islam.

Here are answers to some key questions about Muslims, compiled from several Pew Research Center reports published in recent years:

How many Muslims are there? Where do they live?

There were 1.6 billion Muslims in the world as of 2010 – roughly 23% of the global population – according to a Pew Research Center estimate. But while Islam is currently the world’s second-largest religion (after Christianity), it is the fastest-growing major religion. Indeed, if current demographic trends continue, the number of Muslims is expected to exceed the number of Christians by the end of this century.

Although many countries in the Middle East-North Africa region where the religion originated in the seventh century are heavily Muslim, the region is home to only about 20% of the world’s Muslims. A majority of the Muslims globally (62%) live in the Asia-Pacific region, including large populations in Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran and Turkey.

Indonesia is currently the country with the world’s single largest Muslim population. With more than 300 million Muslims, Indonesia is currently the country with the world’s single largest Muslim population, but Pew Research Center projects that India will have that distinction by the year 2050.

The Muslim population in Europe also is growing; it is projected that 10% of all Europeans will be Muslims by 2050.

How many Muslims are there in the United States?

According to estimates, Muslims make up just less than 1% of the U.S. adult population. Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study (conducted in English and Spanish) found that 0.9% of U.S. adults identifies as Muslims. A 2011 survey of Muslim Americans, which was conducted in English as well as Arabic, Farsi and Urdu, estimated that there were 1.8 million Muslim adults (and 2.75 million Muslims of all ages) in the country. That survey also found that a majority of U.S. Muslims (63%) are immigrants.

Pew research estimates that Muslims will make up 2.1% of the U.S. population by the year 2050, surpassing people who identify as Jewish, on the basis of religion as the second-largest faith group in the country (not including people who say they have no religion).

A recent Pew Research Center report estimated that the Muslim share of immigrants granted permanent residency status (green cards) increased from about 5% in 1992 to roughly 10% in 2012, representing about 100,000 immigrants in that year.

Why is the global Muslim population growing?

There are two major factors behind the rapid projected growth of Islam, and both involve simple demographics. For one, Muslims have more children than members of other religious groups. Around the world, each Muslim woman has an average of 3.1 children, compared with 2.3 for all other groups combined.

Muslims are also the youngest (median age of 23 years old in 2010) of all major religious groups, seven years younger than the median age of non-Muslims. As a result, a larger share of Muslims already is, or will soon be, at the point in their lives when they begin having children. This, combined with high fertility rates, will fuel Muslim population growth.

While it does not change the global population, migration is helping to increase the Muslim population in some regions, including North America and Europe.

What do Muslims around the world believe?

Like any religious group, the religious beliefs and practices of Muslims vary depending on many factors, including where in the world they live. But Muslims around the world are almost universally united by a belief in one God and the Prophet Muhammad, and the practice of certain religious rituals such as fasting during Ramadan, is widespread.

In other areas, however, there is less unity. For instance, a Pew Research Center survey of Muslims in 39 countries asked Muslims whether they want sharia law, a legal code based on the Quran and other Islamic scripture, to be the official law of the land in their country. Responses on this question vary widely.

Nearly all Muslims in Afghanistan (99%) and most in Iraq (91%) and Pakistan (84%) support Sharia law as official law. But in some other countries, especially in Eastern Europe and Central Asia – including Turkey (12%), Kazakhstan (10%) and Azerbaijan (8%) – relatively few favor the implementation of Sharia law.

How do Muslims feel about groups like ISIS?

Recent surveys show that most people in several countries with significant Muslim populations have an unfavorable view of ISIS, including virtually all respondents in Lebanon and 94% in Jordan. Relatively small shares say they see ISIS favorably. In some countries, considerable portions of the population do not offer an opinion about ISIS, including a majority (62%) of Pakistanis.

Favorable views of ISIS are somewhat higher in Nigeria (14%) than most other nations. Among Nigerian Muslims, 20% say they see ISIS favorably (compared with 7% of Nigerian Christians). The Nigerian militant group Boko Haram, which has been conducting a terrorist campaign in the country for years, has sworn allegiance to ISIS.

More generally, Muslims mostly say that suicide bombings and other forms of violence against civilians in the name of Islam are rarely or never justified, including 92% in Indonesia and 91% in Iraq.

In the United States, a 2011 survey found that 86% of Muslims say that such tactics are rarely or never justified. An additional 7% says suicide bombings are sometimes justified and 1% says they are often justified in these circumstances.

In a few countries, a quarter or more of Muslims say that these acts of violence are at least sometimes justified, including 40% in the Palestinian territories, 39% in Afghanistan, 29% in Egypt and 26% in Bangladesh.

In many cases, people in countries with large Muslim populations are as concerned as Western nations about the threat of Islamic extremism, and have become increasingly concerned in recent years. About two-thirds of people in Nigeria (68%) and Lebanon (67%) said earlier this year they are very concerned about Islamic extremism in their country, both up significantly since 2013.

What do American Muslims believe?

Our 2011 survey of Muslim Americans found that roughly half of U.S. Muslims (48%) say their own religious leaders have not done enough to speak out against Islamic extremists.

Living in a religiously pluralistic society, Muslim Americans are more likely than Muslims in many other nations to have many non-Muslim friends. Only about half (48%) of U.S. Muslims say all or most of their close friends are also Muslims, compared with a global median of 95% in the 39 countries we surveyed.

Roughly seven-in-ten U.S. Muslims (69%) say religion is very important in their lives. Virtually all (96%) say they believe in God, nearly two-thirds (65%) report praying at least daily and nearly half (47%) say they attend religious services at least weekly. By all of these traditional measures, Muslims in the U.S. are roughly as religious as U.S. Christians, although they are less religious than Muslims in many other nations.

When it comes to political and social views, Muslims are far more likely to identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party (70%) than the Republican Party (11%) and to say they prefer a bigger government providing more services (68%) over a smaller government providing fewer services (21%).

As of 2011, U.S. Muslims were somewhat split between those who said homosexuality should be accepted by society (39%) and those who said it should be discouraged (45%), although the group had grown considerably more accepting of homosexuality since a similar survey was conducted in 2007.

What is the difference between Shia Muslims and Sunni Muslims?

Sunnis and Shias are two subgroups of Islam, just as Catholics and Protestants are two subgroups within Christianity. The Sunni-Shia divide is nearly 1,400 years old, dating back to a dispute over the succession of leadership in the Muslim community following the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632. While the two groups agree on some core tenets of Islam, there are differences in belief or practices, and in some cases Sunnis do not consider Shias to be Muslims.

With the exception of a few countries, including Iran (which is majority Shia) as well as Iraq and Lebanon (which are split), most nations with a large number of Muslims have more Sunnis than Shias. In the U.S., 65% identify as Sunnis and 11% as Shias (with the rest identifying with neither group, including some who say they are “just a Muslim”).

How do Americans and Europeans perceive Muslims?

A Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2014 asked Americans to rate members of eight religious groups on a “feeling thermometer” from 0 to 100, where 0 reflects the coldest, most negative possible rating and 100 the warmest, most positive rating. Overall, Americans rated Muslims rather coolly – an average of 40, which was comparable to the average rating they gave atheists (41). Americans view the six other religious groups mentioned in the survey (Jews, Catholics, evangelical Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and Mormons) more warmly.

Republicans and those who lean toward the Republican Party gave Muslims an average rating of 33, considerably cooler than Democrats’ rating toward Muslims (47).

Republicans also are more likely than Democrats to say they are very concerned about the rise of Islamic extremism in the world (83% vs. 53%) and in the U.S. (65% vs. 38%), according to a December 2015 survey. That survey also found that Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say that Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence among its believers (68% vs. 30% of Democrats) and that Muslims should be subject to more scrutiny than people of other religions (49% vs. 20%). Overall, most Americans (61%) say Muslims should not be subject to additional scrutiny solely because of their religion, while U.S. adults are closely divided on the question of whether Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence. (Note: This paragraph was updated Dec. 17 to reflect a new survey.)

In spring 2015, we asked residents of some European countries a different question– whether they view Muslims favorably or unfavorably. Perceptions at that time varied across European nations, from a largely favorable view in France (76%) and the United Kingdom (72%) to a less favorable view in Italy (31%) and Poland (30%).

How do Muslims and Westerners perceive each other?

In a 2011 survey, majorities of respondents in a few Western European countries, including 62% in France and 61% in Germany, said that relations between Muslims and Westerners were bad, while about half of Americans (48%) agreed. Similarly, most Muslims in several Muslim-majority nations – including Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan – agreed that relations were bad, although fewer Muslims in Pakistan (45%) and Indonesia (41%) had this view.

The same survey also asked about characteristics the two groups may associate with one another. Across the seven Muslim-majority countries and territories surveyed, a median of 68% of Muslims said they view Westerners as selfish. Considerable shares also called Westerners other negative adjectives, including violent (median of 66%), greedy (64%) and immoral (61%), while fewer attributed positive characteristics like “respectful of women” (44%), honest (33%) and tolerant (31%) to Westerners.

Westerners’ views of Muslims were more mixed. A median of 50% across four Western European countries, the U.S. and Russia called Muslims violent and a median of 58% called them “fanatical,” but fewer used negative words like greedy, immoral or selfish. A median of just 22% of Westerners said Muslims are respectful of women, but far more said Muslims are honest (median of 51%) and generous (41%).

Do American Muslims meet the Standard for American Citizenship?

This actually is a complicated question. If one uses the standard set in 1907 by Theodore Roosevelt, then it’s very clear American Muslims do not meet the American standard for citizenship. Forty-seven percent of Muslims surveyed see themselves as a Muslim first before identifying themselves as an American. However, the Pew Research Center found that in 2011 that 93% of Muslims considered themselves loyal to the United States. It appears from the Pew data that the lion’s shares of American Muslims (approximately 93% if we extrapolate from a sample to the entire population of Muslims) is not a threat to the country, and are supportive of the United States.

The data also showed that Muslim Americans by and large are no friend of either al-Qaeda or ISIS. People who target Muslims in general are engaging in Islamophobia of the worst kind, actual discrimination. The picture that emerges from the Pew data is that, by and large, Muslim Americans are a diverse group within the religion of Islam and identify with being an American reasonably well considering acts of mistreatment by the general public. The most poignant findings of the 2011 Pew research data are as follows.

Muslim Americans appear to be highly assimilated into American society and they are largely content with their lives. More than six-in-ten do not see a conflict between being a devout Muslim and living in a modern society, and a similar number say that most Muslims coming to the U.S. today want to adopt an American way of life rather than remain distinctive from the larger society.

By overwhelming margins, Muslim Americans are satisfied with the way things are going in their own lives and rate their local communities as good places to live. And Muslim Americans are far more likely than the general public to express satisfaction with national conditions.

Assimilation and Identity

     A majority of Muslim Americans (56%) say that most Muslims coming to the U.S. today want to adopt American customs and ways of life. Far fewer (20%) say that most Muslims coming to the U.S. want to be distinct from the larger American society, with a similar number (16%) volunteering that Muslim immigrants want to do both. Native-born and foreign-born Muslims give similar answers to this question.

The U.S. public as a whole is less convinced that immigrant Muslims seek to assimilate. An April 2011 Pew research survey finds that just a third of American adults (33%) think that most Muslim immigrants want to adopt American ways, while about half (51%) think that Muslim immigrants mostly want to remain distinct from the larger culture.

National Identity

     When asked whether they think of themselves first as an American or first as a Muslim, about half of Muslims (49%) say they think of themselves first as a Muslim, compared with 26% who think of themselves first as American. Nearly one-in-five (18%) volunteer that they think of themselves as both Muslim and American.

A May survey by the Pew Global Attitudes Project finds that 46% of Christians in the United States think of themselves first as a Christian, while the same percentage says they consider them first as an American.

Among both Muslims and Christians, people who say religion is very important in their lives are far more likely to view themselves primarily as a member of their religion.

     Among Muslims who say that religion is very important in their lives, 59% say they think of themselves first as Muslims. Among those for whom religion is less important, only 28% identify first as Muslim. Similarly, among Christians who place great personal importance on religion, 62% say they are Christians first, compared with 19% among those who view religion as less important.

Pew Global Attitudes Project surveys conducted this year found substantial differences in views of national identity across Muslim communities. Nearly all Pakistanis (94%) consider themselves first as Muslims rather than as Pakistanis. By contrast, just 28% of Muslims in Lebanon say they consider themselves Muslim first – far fewer than the number of U.S. Muslims expressing this view (49%).

Many Muslims report having friendship networks that extends beyond the Muslim community. About half of U.S. Muslims say that all (7%) or most (41%) of their close friends are Muslim; about as many say that some (36%), hardly any (14%) or none (1%) of their close friends are Muslim.

More women than men have a close circle of friends consisting mostly or entirely of other Muslims. And Muslim Americans who are highly committed to their religion are much more likely than those with medium or low commitment to say that all or most of their close friends are Muslims.

More than six-in-ten American Muslims (63%) see no conflict between being a devout Muslim and living in a modern society, twice the number who do see such a conflict (31%).

A 2006 Pew Research survey found a nearly identical pattern among American Christians who were asked about a possible conflict between modernity and their own faith. Nearly two-thirds of Christians (64%) said there is no conflict between being a devout Christian and living in a modern society, compared with 31% who did perceive a conflict.

Muslims of all ages express similar views on this question. Similarly, there are only small differences between native-born Muslims and immigrants, as well as between those who are personally religiously observant and those who are less religious.

There are, however, sizable differences between men and women in views on this question. More than seven-in-ten men (71%) say there is no conflict between Islam and modernity, but fewer women (54%) agree. The view that there is no conflict between Islam and modernity is also much more common among college graduates than among those with less education.

 

Final Comments

The Pew Research organization has provided a valuable service to everyone in terms of good social research. There was lots of interesting data on Muslims living abroad and those living here in the United States.

Nevertheless, I detected many unanswered questions from the data they presented from their 2011 study that should be looked into. Such questions relate to degree of assimilation, legal questions regarding religious belief from religious practice, and finally, prejudice and discrimination among Muslim Americans.

Questions about Assimilation

The first question is what percentage of Muslim Americans wants Sharia Law in the United States rather than following our legal system of a U.S. Constitution as well as state constitutions and all other federal, state and local laws and regulations?

Related to this is the question of whether Muslim Americans prefer sending their children to Muslim schools instead of integrating them into the general educational system in the United States? While those who follow Catholicism have church schools in the U.S., by and large, the children from these schools are nonetheless highly integrated into a secular society. To what extent is this true for the Muslim American child population?

Another unanswered question not asked in the Pew data relates to inter-faith marriages and marriage itself. What proportion of Muslim Americans marries non-Muslims? Are such marriages forbidden by Islamic law, culture, or the scriptures of Islam as well? It has been reported that anywhere between 50,000 and 100,000 of the American Muslim population (2008 estimate) engage in polygamy. Women under Islamic law are forbidden to have multiple husbands, but men are permitted to have two, three or four wives.

Questions about Religious Belief versus Religious Practice    

Another area for questions has to do with general differences between religious belief and religious practice. In the future will a legal brief dealing with Sharia Law be brought before United States Supreme Court as a violation of separation of church from state? Since Sharia Law is an integral part of Islam’s scriptures, will there be a separation of religious belief from its practice?

For example, the Mormon practice of having more than one spouse did separate belief from practice. Today, neither in Utah nor elsewhere in the United States is bigamy or polygamy allowed under the law. Was religious practice separated from religious belief in this case? Another example is where religious cults engage in human sacrifice. There is no doubt that belief is separated from practice in that case. Anyone can believe whatever they want; however, once belief crosses the line into actual behavior, American Law has something to say about that. Human sacrifice is viewed as murder, and is prohibited under all U.S. law.

The acceptability of foreign law (religious or otherwise) in the United States has yet to be decided by the United States Supreme Court. To my knowledge the U.S. Congress has yet to act against Sharia Law. Less clear is why?  Sixteen states have already passed state laws to forbid Sharia Law or foreign law. The legal issue, whether Muslims can be allowed to impose Sharia Law within the United States, a law that violates provisions of the U.S. Constitution that are concerned with the separation of church and State, is one the high court needs to address.

Questions about Prejudice and Discrimination

Islamophobia is real and has caused many Muslim Americans to complain about it. But what isn’t known are the racial, ethnic and religious prejudices held by Muslim Americans.

No group in society is immune from this aspect of life. Sociologists back in the 1950s found that there was as much prejudice and discrimination caused by minorities as there was among majorities in U.S. society. Its character was sometimes different, such as minorities’ prejudice and discrimination against other members of minorities. As then as it is now—nobody wants to confront this type of social phenomena.

Given that Sunni and Shia Muslims in the Middle East have never been fond of the citizens of Israel, would such attitudes be prevalent among Muslim Americans living in the United States? Are there attitudes among the Muslim population that promote anti-Semitism and discriminatory behavior against people of the Jewish faith, or directed against Jews living here or abroad?

What’s needed is a comprehensive sociological study of racial, ethnic and religious attitudes (prejudices and discrimination) by Muslim Americans.

As one can see, many questions remain unanswered.

In Part III, I will discuss Sharia Law in more detail, and discuss if there is a plot underway to replace American Law with Sharia Law.

The most troubling aspect of all is that Sharia Law, as a religious practice, is a 7th Century set of religious rules that are barbaric, discriminatory, homophobic, misogynist, and intolerant of all non-believers, as well as those from other religions.

Adolf Hitler and Genghis Khan had the dream of world domination. World domination by any group in the past failed, and will fail in the future. Any group that intends, surreptitiously or otherwise, to dominate the United States and convert it to a non-democratic country will ultimately experience the wrath of the American people. Any real threats from abroad will also experience the wrath of the most awesome military power on the face of the earth. We will be all over such threats “like a fly on you know what.”

Our values here in the United States reject Sharia Law as it is a serious threat to all civil and human rights. It is an extremist set of religious laws that are currently practiced in many (but not all) Muslim countries around the world. Stay tuned for Part III.

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Psychology and Sociology of Religious Fanaticism

A Five Part Series

Part V

 

Understanding the Context of Religious Terrorism and Fanaticism

One of the greatest influences in my life as a young college student back in the 1960s was the written works of sociologist, longshoreman, philosopher and columnist—Eric Hoffer.

It is with the context of Eric Hoffer’s seminal 1951 book, The True Believer that I offer an explanation for groups as diverse as ISIS, The Ku Klux Klan, David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, or other international, national or locally grown fanaticism groups.

Such diverse groups really have much in common as far as their psychology and sociology are concerned.

 

The True Believer

 

     The True Believer: Thoughts On the Nature of Mass Movements is a 1951 social psychology book by American writer Eric Hoffer that discusses the psychological causes of fanaticism.

The book analyzes and attempts to explain the motives of the various types of personalities that give rise to mass movements, why and how mass movements start, progress and end, and the similarities between them whether religious, political, radical or reactionary.

Hoffer argues that even when their stated goals or values differ, mass movements are interchangeable, that adherents will often flip from one movement to another, and that the motivations for mass movements are interchangeable. Thus, religious, nationalist and social movements, whether radical or reactionary, tend to attract the same type of followers, behave in the same way and use the same tactics and rhetorical tools. As examples, the book often refers to Communism, Fascism, National Socialism, Christianity, Protestantism, and Islam.

The first and best-known of Hoffer’s books, The True Believer has been published in 23 editions between 1951 and 2002.

 

Summary

 

Part 1. The Appeal of Mass Movements

Hoffer argues that mass movements begin with a widespread “desire for change” from discontented people who place their locus of control outside their power and who also have no confidence in existing culture or traditions.

Feeling their lives are “irredeemably spoiled” and believing there is no hope for advancement or satisfaction as an individual, true believers seek “self-renunciation.” Thus, such people are ripe to participate in a movement that offers the option of subsuming their individual lives in a larger collective.       Leaders are vital in the growth of a mass movement, as outlined below, but for the leader to find any success the seeds of the mass movement must already exist in people’s hearts.

While mass movements are usually some blend of nationalist, political and religious ideas Hoffer argues there are two important commonalities: “All mass movements are competitive” and perceive the supply of converts as zero-sum; and “all mass movements are interchangeable.”

As examples of the interchangeable nature of mass movements, Hoffer cites how almost 2000 years ago Saul, a fanatical opponent of Christianity, became Paul, a fanatical apologist and promoter of Christianity. Another example occurred in Germany during the 1920s and ’30s, when Communists and Fascists were ostensibly bitter enemies but in fact competed for the same type of angry, marginalized people; Nazis Adolf Hitler and Ernst Rohm, and Communist Karl Radek, all boasted of their prowess in converting their rivals.

Part 2. The Potential Converts

    

     The “New Poor” are the most likely source of converts for mass movements, for they recall their former wealth with resentment and blame others for their current misfortune. Examples include the mass evictions of relatively prosperous tenants during the English Civil War of the 1600s; or the middle- and working-classes in Germany who passionately supported Hitler in the 1930s after suffering years of economic hardship. In contrast, the “abjectly poor” on the verge of starvation make unlikely true believers as their daily struggle for existence takes preeminence over any other concern.

Racial and religious minorities, particularly those only partly assimilated into mainstream culture, are also found in mass movements. Those who live traditionalist lifestyles tend to be content, but the partially assimilated feel alienated from both their forbearers and the mainstream culture. (e.g., “The orthodox Jew is less frustrated than the emancipated Jew.”)

A variety of what Hoffer terms “misfits” are also found in mass movements. Examples include “chronically bored,” the physically disabled or perpetually ill, the talentless, and criminals or “sinners.” In all cases, Hoffer argues, these people feel as if their individual lives are meaningless and worthless.

Hoffer argues that the relatively low number of mass movements in America is attributable to a culture that blurred traditionally rigid boundaries between nationalist, racial and religious groups, and which allowed greater opportunities for individual accomplishment.

Part 3. United Action and Self-Sacrifice

In mass movements, an individual’s goals or opinions are unimportant. Rather, the mass movement’s “chief preoccupation is to foster, perfect and perpetuate a facility for united action and self-sacrifice.” To this end, mass movements have several means.

Mass movements demand a “total surrender of a distinct self.” One identifies first and foremost as “a member of a certain tribe or family,” be it religious, political, revolutionary, or nationalist.

Every important part of the true believer’s persona and life must ultimately come from his/her identification with the larger community; even when alone he/she must never feel isolated and unwatched.

Hoffer identifies this communal sensibility as the reappearance of a “primitive state of being” common among pre-modern cultures. Mass movements also use play-acting and spectacle designed to make the individual feel overwhelmed and awed by their membership in the tribe, as with the massive ceremonial parades and speeches of the Nazis.

While mass movements idealize the past and glorify the future, the present-day world is denigrated.  “The radical and the reactionary loath the present.” Thus, by regarding the modern world as vile and worthless, mass movements inspire a perpetual battle against the present.

Mass movements aggressively promote the use of Doctrines that elevate faith over reason [sound familiar] and serve as “fact-proof screens between the faithful and the realities of the world.”

The Doctrine of the mass movement must not be questioned under any circumstances. Examples include the Japanese holdouts who refused to believe that WWII was over, or the staunch defenders of the Soviet Union who rejected overwhelming evidence of Bolshevik atrocities.

To spread and re-enforce their doctrine, mass movements use persuasion, coercion, and proselytization. Persuasion is preferable, but practical only with those already sympathetic to the mass movement. Moreover, persuasion must be thrilling enough to excite the listener yet vague enough to allow “the frustrated to […] hear the echo of their own musings in the impassioned double talk.” And, as Hoffer quotes Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels, “a sharp sword must always stand behind propaganda if it is to be really effective.”

 The urge to proselytize comes not from a deeply held belief in the truth of Doctrine but from an urge of the fanatic to “strengthen his own faith by converting others.”

Successful mass movements need not believe in a god, but they must believe in a devil. Hatred unifies the true believers, and “the ideal devil is a foreigner” attributed with nearly supernatural powers of evil. For example, Hitler described Jews as foreign interlopers and, moreover an ephemeral Jewishness alleged to taint the German soul was as vehemently condemned as were flesh-and-blood Jews.

The hatred of a true believer is actually a disguised self-loathing, as with the condemnation of capitalism by socialists while Russia under the Bolsheviks saw more intensive monopolization of the economy than any other nation in history. Without a devil to hate, mass movements often falter (e.g., Chiang Kai-shek effectively led millions of Chinese during the Japanese occupation of the 1930s and ’40s, but quickly fell out of favor once the Japanese were defeated).

Fanaticism is encouraged in mass movements. Hoffer argues that “the fanatic is perpetually incomplete and insecure” and thus uses uncompromising action and personal sacrifice to give meaning to his life.

Part 4. Beginning and End

Hoffer identifies three main personality types as the leaders of mass movements, “men of words, “fanatics”, and “practical men of action.” No person falls exclusively into one category, and their predominant quality may shift over time.

Mass movements begin with “men of words” or “fault-finding intellectuals” such as clergy, journalists, academics, and students who condemn the established social order (e.g., Gandhi, Trotsky, Mohammad, and Lenin). These men of words feel unjustly excluded from, or mocked and oppressed by, the existing powers in society, and relentlessly criticize or denigrate present-day institutions.

While invariably speaking out in the name of disadvantaged commoners, the man of words is actually motivated by a deep personal grievance. The man of words relentlessly attempts to “discredit the prevailing creeds” and creates a “hunger for faith” which is then fed by “doctrines and slogans of the new faith.” A cadre of devotees gradually develops around the man of words, leading to the next stage in a mass movement.

Eventually, the fanatic takes over leadership of the mass movement from the man of words. While the “creative man of words” finds satisfaction in his literature, philosophy or art, the “noncreative man of words” feels unrecognized or stifled, and thus veers into extremism against the social order.

Though both the man of words and the fanatic share a discontent with the world, the fanatic is distinguished by his viciousness and urges to destroy. The fanatic feels fulfilled only in a perpetual struggle for power and change. Examples include Jean-Paul Marat, Maximillian de Robespierre, Benito Mussolini, and Adolf Hitler.

The book also explores the behavior of mass movements once they become established as social institutions (or leave the “active phase”). With their collapse of a communal framework, people can no longer defeat their abiding feelings of insecurity and uncertainty by belonging to a compact whole.

If the isolated individual lacks opportunities for personal advancement, development of talents, and action (such as those found on a frontier), he will seek substitutes. These substitutes would be pride instead of self-confidence, memberships in a collective whole like a mass movement, absolute certainty instead of understanding.

The “practical men of action” take over leadership from the fanatics, marking the end of the “dynamic phase” and steering the mass movement away from the fanatic’s self-destructiveness. “Hitler, who had a clear vision of the whole course of a movement even while he was nursing his infant National Socialism, warned that a movement retains its vigor only so long as it can offer nothing in the present […]

The movement at this stage still concerns itself with the frustrated–not to harness their discontent in a deadly struggle with the present, but to reconcile them with it, to make them patient and meek.”

The focus shifts from immediate demands for revolution to establishing the mass movement as a social institution where the ambitious can find influence and fame. Leadership uses an eclectic bricolage of ideological scraps to reinforce the Doctrine, borrowing from whatever source is successful in holding the attention of true believers.

For example, proto-Christians were fanatics, predicting the end of the world, condemning idolatry, demanding celibacy and sowing discontent between family members; yet from these roots grew Roman Catholicism which mimicked the elaborate bureaucratic structure of the Roman Empire, canonized early Christians as saints, and borrowed pagan holidays and rites. In the absence of a practical man of action, the mass movement often withers and dies with the fanatic (e.g., Nazism died as a viable mass movement with Hitler’s death).

Mass movements that succeed in causing radical change often, but not always, exceed in brutality the former regime that the mass movement opposed. The Bolsheviks in Russia and the Jacobins in France ostensibly formed in reaction to the oppression of their respective monarchies but proved themselves far more vicious and brutal in oppressing their opponents.

Hoffer does not take an exclusively negative view of “true believers” and the mass movements they originate. He gives examples of how the same forces that give rise to True Believer mass movements can be channeled in more positive ways.

“There are, of course, rare leaders such as Lincoln, Gandhi, even F.D.R., Churchill, and Nehru. They do not hesitate to harness man’s hungers and fears to weld a following and make it zealous unto death in service of a holy cause; but unlike a Hitler, a Stalin, or even a Luther and a Calvin, they are not tempted to use the slime of frustrated souls as mortar in the building of a new world …. They know that no one can be honorable unless he honors mankind.”

— p.147

Hoffer argues that the length of the “active phase” of a mass movement — the most energetic phase when fanatics are in control — can be predicted with some accuracy. Mass movements with a specific goal tend to be shorter-lived and feature less terror and bloodshed (e.g., the American Revolution). In contrast, an amorphous goal tends to result in a longer active phase of decades rather than months or years and also include substantially more bloodshed (e.g., the Bolsheviks in Russia, National Socialism in Germany).

In either case, Hoffer suggests that mass movements are accompanied by a dearth of creative innovation because so much energy is devoted to the mass movement. For example, in England John Milton began a draft of his epic poem Paradise Lost in the 1640s before turning his literary talents to pamphleteering for the Commonwealth of England, only to finish the poem and his other major works after a change in government in 1660.

Reception

     U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower read The True Believer in 1952, gave copies to friends, and recommended it to others. In 1956, Look Magazine ran an article calling Hoffer “Ike’s Favorite Author.”

Allen Scarborough chose The True Believer as one of 25 books that “you need to read to know just about everything.”

     The True Believer earned renewed attention after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and, also after the Tea Party Protests and Occupy Wall Street protests a decade later.

 

Bibliography

 

The True Believer Quotes

The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements by Eric Hoffer

Preview — The True Believer by Eric Hoffer

“It is startling to realize how much unbelief is necessary to make belief possible.”
“People with a sense of fulfillment think it is a good world and would like to conserve it as it is, while the frustrated favor radical change.”
“The quality of ideas seems to play a minor role in mass movement leadership. What counts is the arrogant gesture, the complete disregard of the opinion of others, the singlehanded defiance of the world.”
“Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.”
“There is no doubt that in exchanging a self-centered for a selfless life we gain enormously in self-esteem. The vanity of the selfless, even those who practice utmost humility, is boundless.”
“The permanent misfits can find salvation only in a complete separation from the self; and they usually find it by losing themselves in the compact collectivity of a mass movement.”
“The enemy—the indispensable devil of every mass movement—is omnipresent. He plots both outside and inside the ranks of the faithful. It is his voice that speaks through the mouth of the dissenter, and the deviationists are his stooges. If anything goes wrong within the movement, it is his doing. It is the sacred duty of the true believer to be suspicious. He must be constantly on the lookout for saboteurs, spies and traitors.”
“Propaganda … serves more to justify ourselves than to convince others; and the more reason we have to feel guilty, the more fervent our propaganda.”
“A movement is pioneered by men of words, materialized by fanatics and consolidated by men of action.”
“Glory is largely a theatrical concept. There is no striving for glory without a vivid awareness of an audience… The desire to escape or camouflage their unsatisfactory selves develops in the frustrated a facility for pretending — for making a show — and also a readiness to identify themselves wholly with an imposing spectacle.”
“The conservatism of a religion – its orthodoxy – is the inert coagulum of a once highly reactive sap.”
“Faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves.”
“The act of self-denial seems to confer on us the right to be harsh and merciless toward others.”
“Jesus was not a Christian, nor was Marx a Marxist.”
Final Comments

     The purpose of this five part series has been to describe the characteristics of religious fanaticism in the world today. It is clear that there are definite behavioral characteristics of individuals who choose to start, or be part of, radical or extreme groups. Eric Hoffer has definitely captured in his Theory of Mass Movements the psychological appeal such movements have.

     The sociological side to religious fanaticism or global movements reflects the facts that, particularly in the Muslim world, three strikes against them give rise to extremism—low literacy rates, low educational levels, and high unemployment.

     There needs to be a renaissance in learning throughout the Muslim world if they are ever going to escape their vulnerability to extremist mass movements and the appeal of radical Jihadists.

     Ever since the Ottoman Empire down-played the importance of education and learning for their people, millions upon millions of Muslims over the millennial have suffered the consequences.    

 

 

 

 

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Psychology and Sociology of Religious Fanaticism

A Five Part Series

Part IV

 

In Part IV statistics concerning education, literacy rates, and employment among Muslims are presented and compared to other groups.

Education and Literacy Rates

 

Worldwide Historical View

     Note that the breakup of the Ottoman Turkish Empire resulted in about 40 new countries, including 22 Arab states.

     The Ottomans had their virtues, but they were no friends to public education, independent news media and the printed word. Ottoman culture favored the oral tradition, expressed in gorgeous poetry and music, and integrated the revered calligraphy of the Koran into every possible visual art form, from painting and ceramics to architecture and metalwork.

But literacy languished, particularly among Muslim Arab populations. According to historian Donald Quataert, general Muslim literacy rates were only 2 to 3 percent in the early nineteenth century, and perhaps 15 percent at its end. The vast majority of Muslim women remained illiterate well into the twentieth century. Prior to 1840, an average of only eleven books a year was published in the imperial capital of Istanbul.

     Books and printed matter in Turkish and Arabic were unknown before the end of the 18th century, and even then they were of limited impact because of widespread illiteracy.

Jewish refugees from the Spanish Inquisition established a Hebrew printing press about 1494. Armenians had a press in 1567, and Greeks had a press in 1627. These presses were not allowed to print in Turkish or in Arabic characters, owing to objections of the religious authorities. One result of this delay was to give Greeks, Armenians and Jews an advantage in literacy, and therefore an advantage in commerce, and in having a means to preserve and propagate their culture that was denied to Turks and Arabs. The major result was to retard the development of modern literate society, commerce and industry.

The first Turkish printing press in the Ottoman Empire was not established until 1729. It was closed in 1742 and reopened in 1784. The press operated under heavy censorship throughout most of the Ottoman era. Elections were unknown of course, though government decisions were usually reached by consultation of the government, provincial chiefs and religious authorities.

     The whole Arab world translates about three hundred books annually–one fifth the number that Greece alone translates; investment in research and development is less than one seventh the world average; and Internet connectivity is worse than in sub-Saharan Africa.

August 2002

Fifty-seven Muslim majority countries have an average of ten universities each for a total of less than 600 universities for 1.4 billion people; India has 8,407 universities, the U.S. has 5,758.      Of the 1.4 billion Muslims 800 million are illiterate (6 out of 10 Muslims cannot read). In Christendom, adult literacy rate stands at 78 percent.

November 2005

Large numbers of children in African and Arab countries are still shut out of classrooms, with primary school participation at below 60% in 17 OIC countries. More than half the adult population is illiterate in some countries, and the proportion is as high as 70% among women. Four out of 10 children in the African sub-region are out of school, as are a quarter of children in Arab member states. Only 26 out of 57 OIC members are on course to achieve the primary education gender equality targets for 2005.

November 2005

The 57-member countries of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) have around 500 universities, compared with more than 5,000 universities in the US and more than 8,000 in India. In 2004, Shanghai Jiao Tong University compiled an “Academic Ranking of World Universities,” and none of the universities from Muslim-majority states was included in the top 500.

May 2007

The 2002 United Nations Arab Development Report compiled by leading Arab scholars and intellectuals, reported that fewer than 350 books were translated into Arabic every year, less than one-fifth the number translated into Greek. The 2003 report added that the 10,000 books translated into Spanish every year exceeded those translated into Arabic— over the entire millennium.

2008

With an average adult literacy rate of 71.7% in 2010, OIC countries as a group lagged well behind the world average of 80.1% and also the other developing countries’ average of 82.5%.

2013

 

Arab World

Nearly half of all women in the Arab world are illiterate.

Nearly one in three people in the Arab world is illiterate, including nearly half of all women in the region, the Tunis-based Arab League Educational Cultural and Scientific Organization (Alecso) said Monday.

Three-quarters of the 100 million people unable to read or write in the 21 Arab countries are aged between 15 and 45 years old, Alecso said in a statement.

Equally alarming, some 46.5% of women in the region are illiterate, the organisation reported, urging governments to put the fight against illiteracy at the top of their agendas.

January 2008

 

Denmark

Two thirds of all immigrant school children with Arabic backgrounds are illiterate after 10 years in the Danish school system:

Those who speak Arabic with their parents have an extreme tendency to lack reading abilities – 64 percent are illiterate. … No matter if it concerns reading abilities, mathematics or science, the pattern is the same: The bilingual (largely Muslim) immigrants’ skills are exceedingly poor compared to their Danish classmates.

May 2007

 

India

There has been a growing concern about the lack of educational qualifications of Muslims in India. While so far statistical information was lacking, the Census of India 2001 for the first time gives detailed educational data across religious groups.

Made available to INDIA TODAY exclusively, the findings are disheartening. The facts irrefutably demonstrate that, on an average, Muslim men and women are far less educationally accomplished than their non-Muslim counterparts, and this is so across almost every state in India. .      In 2001, only 55 percent of India’s 71 million Muslim males were literate, compared to 64.5 percent for the country’s 461 million non-Muslim men. Less than 41 percent of the country’s 67 million Muslim females were literate, versus 46 per cent of India’s 430 million non-Muslim women.

In proportional terms, the all-India Muslim male literacy rate was 15 per cent lower than that of non-Muslim males; this percentage difference increased to 17 percent in urban India.

     Far more serious was the percentage difference in literacy rates between Muslim females and their non-Muslim sisters; an 11 per cent disadvantage at the all-India level increased to over 19 per cent in urban India.

At the basic level of being ‘literate, ‘ Muslim women were proportionately 11 percent worse off than non-Muslims. The difference widened to 19 percent for those educated up to middle school; to 35 percent for those who studied up to Class X; to 45 percent for those who learned up to Class XII; and to 63 percent for those who were graduates and above.

August 2006

Muslims, India’s largest religious minority, are “lagging behind” on most things that matter.
Educational disparities were among the most striking. Among Muslims, Shariff said, the literacy rate is about 59 percent, compared with more than 65 percent among Indians as a whole. On average, a Muslim child attends school for three years and four months, against a national average of four years.

     Less than 4 percent of Muslims graduate from school, compared with 6 percent of the total population. Less than 2 percent of the students at the elite Indian Institutes of Technology are Muslim. Equally revealing, only 4 percent of Muslim children attend madrasas (colleges for Islamic Instruction), Shariff said.

November 2006

The first is the high drop­out rate among Mus­lim students. It is below even SC/ST students, who are generally considered the most educationally backward communities.

Six percent of girl students are forced to stop their education as parents think that there is no need for them to be educated.

The transition rate of Muslim students from class VII to VIII is very low compared to other communities.

September 2013

 

Indonesia

The global standing of Indonesia’s universities has dropped according to the latest world rankings published by Quacquarelli Symonds. The University of Indonesia, remains No. 1 in the country, but is only ranked 273rd globally.
United States and British universities dominated the top 20 in this year’s list, while ETH Zurich was the only university from a non-English speaking country that landed in top 20.

     The University of Hong Kong came in as the best performing university in Asia, securing 23rd place, followed by the National University of Singapore at 25th. The Australian National University was also among best performers in the region, finishing in 24th place.

The University of Indonesia was the only Indonesian institution in the top 300, but fell from 217th from last year to 273rd.

September 2012

Nigeria

 

     Illiteracy among Nigerian women of child-bearing age is three times as high among Muslims (71.9%) as among others (23.9%). Two-thirds of Nigerian Muslim women lack any formal education; that goes for just over a tenth of their non-Muslim sisters.

January 2011

 

Pakistan

Senator Haji Muhammad Adeel while addressing the inaugural ceremony showed his concern over the literacy rate in Pakistan which he said is amongst the lowest in the world. The actual literacy rate in Pakistan is hovering around 30% while this rate is around 15% in the tribal areas and the female literacy rate in tribal areas is around 5%.

December 2011

Fata comprises some of the least developed areas of the country, according to official figures, with the literacy rate for women standing at barely three per cent.

January 2012

    

   Pakistan ranks second in the global ranking of countries with the highest number of out-of-school children with the figure estimated to be about 25 million. Seven million have yet to receive some form of primary schooling. As many as 9,800 schools were reportedly affected in Sindh and Baluchistan due to floods. Around 600,000 children of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are reported to have missed one or more years of education due to ongoing militancy.      Pakistan has the lowest youth literacy rate. Only 59 percent females are literate as compared to 79 percent of males in the age group of 15 to 24 years. There are around 51.2 million adult illiterates in Pakistan. Only 65 percent schools have drinking water facilities, 62 percent have toilet facilities, 61 percent have a boundary wall and only 39 percent have electricity.

September 2012

Saudi Arabia

     In Saudi Arabia, the lack of books is accompanied by the struggle to modernize basic educational institutions. In his new book, Prophets and Princes, Mark Weston points out that Saudi Arabia did not have a high school until after 1930, and its first girls’ school was established after 1950.

     The Saudis have only 250 public libraries to serve a population of 26 million people, and there were no hours for female readers until 2006. The Saudis spend many millions of dollars translating and publishing the Quran into other languages, without devoting similar efforts to making foreign books available in Arabic.

2008

Tajikistan

The deputy chairman of Tajikistan’s State Committee for Religious Affairs said Friday the country has more mosques than schools.

Mavlon Mukhtorov said official figures show there are 3,425 regular mosques, 344 cathedral mosques, and 40 central cathedral mosques.

Mukhtorov said on February 16 his ministry issued permits for 45 new mosques to be built in different parts of the country.

Tajikistan’s Education Ministry reports there are 3,793 schools, most of them overcrowded, and in many cases one classroom has up to 40 students.

February 2012

 

Turkey

Pollster Adil Gür of A&G polling company interviewed 3,252 women in 42 provinces across Turkey on the subject of gender-based violence, ntvmsnbc.com reported.
Ten out of every 100 women in Turkey over the age of 18 are illiterate. Approximately 30 percent of women surveyed graduated from high school, and only 9 percent have a college degree. Twenty out of every 100 women over the age of 44 are illiterate.

March 2012

Moroğlu [the head of the Turkish Association of University Women (TÜKD)] stated that only 2 percent of women have access to a university education, which is far below EU standards. She further stated that every two out of 10 women are still illiterate in Turkey.

November 2012

 

United Kingdom

     People of working age with no qualifications: by religion, 2004, GB

In 2004 a third (33 per cent) of Muslims of working age in Great Britain had no qualifications – the highest proportion for any religious group. They were also the least likely to have degrees or equivalent qualifications (12 per cent).

Percentage of 16 to 30 year olds with a degree: by religion and country of birth, 2004, GB

 

Thirty percent of pupils of Pakistani origin gained 5 or more GCSE grades A-C in 2000, compared with 50 per cent of the total population      One in three Muslims has no qualifications, the highest for an ethnic group in Britain. They also have the lowest proportion of degrees or other higher qualifications.

July 2006

A large part of this, of course, reflects the lack of educational qualifications among the first generation of migrants. However,  Dale  etal. (2002) suggest that Muslim groups, such as Pakistani and Bangladeshis are most likely to have to retake exams to gain qualifications.
There appears to be an Asian polarization with pupils of Indian origin doing very well and pupils of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin performing poorly in comparison to other minority groups while at the same time doing better than their socio-economic position would suggest. Figures for 2006 show that Bangladeshi and Pakistani pupils perform below the national average at Key Stages 1 and 2, and at GCSE attainment including English and mathematics. For example, at Key Stage 1 Reading, 77 per cent of Pakistani pupils and 78 per cent of Bangladeshi pupils achieved the expected level compared to 84 per cent nationally… Pakistani pupils’ relative attainment at GCSE and equivalent is six percentage points below the national figure, 50.9 per cent compared with 56.9 per cent, rising to nine per cent when English and mathematics are included.

2007

 

United States

According to a Gallup Institute study involving 300,000 people, American Muslims for the most part have lower incomes, less education, and fewer jobs than the population as a whole.

March 2009

 

Yemen

A shocking 65% of married Yemeni women aged between 15 and 24 are illiterate.

According to the Multiple Indicators Cluster Survey (MICS) conducted by Ministry of Public Health and Population in September 2006, illiteracy among mothers the health ministry’s survey shows, that on average 35 percent of married Yemeni women aged between 15 and 24 are literate, with 59 percent of married women in urban areas, and 26 percent of married women in rural areas being able to read and write.

November 2008

Employment

 

Worldwide

Unemployment remained one of the most serious problems facing the OIC countries. According to the latest available data during the period 2007-2011, the average unemployment rates in the OIC countries were significantly higher than the world average and the averages of the developed and other developing countries. During this period, total unemployment rate in OIC countries increased from a level of 9.4% in 2007 to 9.9% in 2011.

November 2013

 

Middle East

The Middle East is the region with the highest rate of unemployment in the world, confirmed the International Labour Organisation (ILO), which reports that unemployment in the region is 10.3% compared to 6.2% on average globally.

The situation presented in “Global Employment Trends 2011” is even more dramatic when looking at the young segment of the population up to the age of 25, where the unemployment rate is estimated to be 40%. The data published by the UN agency raised a further alarm for a region that has already been observing popular insurrection and protests with cries for “more bread, more work” in recent weeks.

January 2011

Around three quarters of Arab youth want to migrate to countries out of their region due to rising unemployment in Arab states, an Arab League official said.

“Due to their poor participation in society and politics and to rising joblessness, 70 percent of the Arab youth want to migrate out of the region,” Khalid Al Wahishi, director of Population Policy and Immigration at Arab League, said.

“We at Arab League have been warning member states at all our meetings to empower the youth. Unemployment, alarmingly high at 26 per cent, poor participation of youth and illiteracy are major hindrances to population policy development and implementation,” Al Wahishi told delegates at a gathering of population experts from member-countries in Qatar.

November 2011

 

Australia

Unemployment rate in Queensland:

Muslims – 10.9% Non-Muslims – 4.7%

Research shows the unemployment rate of Australian Muslim women is over three times higher than Australian-born females from English speaking populations.

2006

 

Denmark

In Denmark, Muslims make up 5% of the population but receive 40% of social-welfare outlays. Their preachers have told them, Mr. Bawer reports, that only a fool would not take maximum advantage of the bounty that Western Europe offers.

February 2006

 

     Ninety percent of applicants for economic help to celebrate Christmas [in North Als] are Muslims.

November 2012

 

Germany

Foreign nationals are consistently overrepresented in unemployment figures. Turkish nationals are in the worst situation; they have an unemployment rate of 23 percent and comprise up to one third of all unemployed foreigners.

2007

Talina (11), Svenja (11) and Jason (9) do not understand a word spoken on the playground. Their classmates speak only Turkish or Arabic. In class, the three of them explain German words to their classmates.      They are the last German children at their school, The Jens Nydahl elementary school on Kohlfurter street (Kreuzberg). Ninety Nine percent of the 313 students are from an immigration background. The parents of 285 of them are financially supported by the state. One of the many school problems Bild reported on.

September 2011

India

In the famed national bureaucracy, the Indian Administrative Service, Muslims made up only 2 percent of officers in 2006. Among district judges in 15 states surveyed, 2.7 percent were Muslim.
The gaps in employment are likely to be among the most politically explosive. Muslims appear to be overrepresented among day laborers and street vendors and underrepresented in the public sector. Muslims secured about 15 percent of government jobs, considerably less than the share filled by “backward” castes and dalits, who were considered “untouchables” in the Hindu caste system.

November 2006

The survey [by the Abu Dhabi Gallup Centre] revealed that 47 per cent of Indian Muslims said it was difficult to survive on their incomes, compared with 39 per cent of Hindus.
More than 9,500 Indians, including 1,197 Muslims, were interviewed face-to-face last year and this year for the poll.

December 2011

Among religious groups, Sikhs have lowest poverty ratio in rural areas at 11.9 per cent, whereas in urban areas, Christians have the lowest proportion of poor at 12.9 per cent. Poverty ratio is the highest for Muslims, at 33.9 per cent, in urban areas.

March 2012

 

Saudi Arabia

In Saudi Arabia, the youth unemployment rate in 2009 was over 30%. Other areas that need to be assisted with large investments, according to ILO analysts, include SMEs and the private sector.

January 2011

A study conducted by Booz and Co. for global management and strategy consultation, showed that 78.3% of female university graduates in Saudi Arabia , as well as over 1,000 Ph.D. holders, are unemployed.

According to the report, thousands of women graduate from Saudi universities each year who fail to find a job due to their area of specialization which were described as “routine” and “theoretical.” Women’s studies, the report added, are very nearly restricted to education and health.

The study explained that since 1992, female participation in the job market in Saudi has increased by three fold as it leaped from 5.4% to 14.4%. The number, however, remains the lowest in the Gulf region, according to Saudi newspaper al-Sharq.

June 2012

Spain

 

     Forty-two percent of Moroccan immigrants are jobless, but remain in Spain. Note that 99% of Moroccans are Muslim.

They are staying on in Spain whether they have jobs or not. Immigrants from Morocco, the largest foreign group resident in Spain, are also the one most affected by unemployment.

Of the more than one million unemployed persons of foreign origins registered as living is Spain at the end of 2009, around 350,000 are of Moroccan nationality. This is 42.4% of the community of 775,054 immigrants from Morocco with residence permits. These figures come from the 4th survey of immigration and the job market, which has been issued by the Ministry of Labour and Immigration and is quoted in today’s edition of the daily ABC.

August 2010

Turkey

According to a government study in Turkey, some 23.4 percent of women have been forced by men to quit their jobs or have been prevented from working; in the lower-income category, this figure is 21.5 percent while it is 21.2 percent for those with higher incomes.

February 2011

United Kingdom

     Muslim men of Pakistani and Bangladeshi background are disproportionately unemployed relative to other Asians, according to a Cabinet Office report commissioned by Tony Blair. Even after allowances for education and residential area, Pakistani Muslims are three times more likely to be jobless than Hindus; Indian Muslims are twice as likely to be unemployed than Indian Hindus.      Downing Street commissioned the study from the Performance and Innovation Unit, whose brief was to come up with ways of improving the economic performance of ethnic minorities.

     Hindus are four times less likely to be unemployed than Pakistani and Bangladeshi Muslims.

February 2002

In 2004 the unemployment rate among economically active Muslim men (13 per cent) was twice the rate of Sikh (7 per cent) or Hindu (5 per cent) men.      Muslim women have the highest rates of economic inactivity. In 2004 almost seven in ten (69 per cent) Muslim women of working age were economically inactive, a rate twice that of Hindu (31 per cent) and Sikh (36 per cent) women.

2004

Thirty-five percent of all Muslim children are growing up in a household where no adult is in employment, compared with 17.6% of all dependent children.

September 2004

Unemployment rates: by religion and sex, 2003-2004, GB

Unemployment rates for Muslims are higher than those for people from any other religion, for both men and women.

In 2004, Muslims had the highest male unemployment rate in Great Britain, at 13 per cent. This was about three times the rate for Christian men (4 per cent). Unemployment rates for men in the other religious groups were between 3 and 8 per cent.

The unemployment rate for Muslim women at 18 per cent was about four times the rate for Christian and Jewish women (4 per cent in each case). Unemployment rates for women in the other religious groups were between 6 per cent and 9 per cent.

Unemployment rates were highest among those aged under 25 years for all religious groups. Muslims aged 16 to 24 years had the highest unemployment rates. They were over twice as likely as Christians of the same age to be unemployed – 28 per cent compared with 11 per cent.

Economic inactivity rates of working age people: by religion and sex, 2003-2004, GB

Men and women of working age from the Muslim faith are also more likely than other groups in Great Britain to be economically inactive, that is, not available for work and/or not actively seeking work.

October 2004

  • 28 percent of Muslims live in socially rented housing as opposed to 20 percent for the general population. . . .
  • The unemployment rate for Muslims is 15 percent which is approximately three times higher than Christians and Hindus.
  • The unemployment rate for Muslims aged 16-24 is 17.5 percent as opposed to 7.9 percent for Christians and 7.4 percent for Hindus.

December 2005

 

     2/10 Pakistani or Bangladeshi women are active in the job market, compared to 7/10 black Caribbean and white women.

£150 a week is the average amount that Pakistani and Bangladeshi men earn less than white men.
     Thirty-one percent of working age male Muslims were economically inactive, the highest level in the country, in 2004.

July 2006

Muslims are more than twice as likely to be unemployed than the national average (16.4 per cent, compared to 7.7 per cent).

Worryingly, unemployment is especially high among young Muslims under the age of 30 (23 per cent), which is again higher than the UK average for young people (17 per cent).

The jobless rate for the least educated young Muslims – those with no qualifications – is even higher, approaching 40 per cent.

February 2010

Unemployment among ethnic minorities costs the economy almost £8.6 billion a year in benefits and lost revenue from taxes. Half of Muslim men and three quarters of Muslim women are unemployed.

October 2010

While there is some variation in employment rates among different religious groups, the most significant gap is for Muslim people who have the lowest rates of employment in the UK.
Fifty-one percent of second generation British Muslim women (those born in Britain) are inactive in the labor market, compared to only 17% of second generation- Hindu women. Of second generation British Muslim women, 13% are unemployed, compared to 4% of second generation Hindu and Sikh women, and 3% of Christian women.      Muslims are also more likely to experience periods outside education, employment or training, than Christians or those of no religion. Young Muslims are more likely to be NEET by age 19-21 than Christian young people, or those of no religion (28% compared to an average of 23%). This worsens with age: by age 22-24 Muslims are among those most likely to be NEET (42%).
Fourteen percent of Muslim women were employed full-time, 10% were employed part-time and 2% were self-employed. Moreover, 42% were categorized as ‘inactive, looking after the family, home.’ This compares to 10% of Christian women and 16% of Hindu women.

October 2010

Because such Islamic multiple-marriages are not recognized in Britain, the women are regarded by the welfare system as single mothers — and are therefore entitled to the full range of lone-parent payments.

As a result, several ‘families’ fathered by the same Pakistani man, can all claim benefits as they are provided for by the welfare state, which treats them as if they are not related.

Figures are hard to obtain, but it’s thought there may be around 1,000 polygamous families living in the UK, costing taxpayers millions of pounds every year.

September 2011

United States

     According to a Gallup Institute study involving 300,000 people, American Muslims for the most part have lower incomes, less education and fewer jobs than the population as a whole.

 

Final Comments

Unfortunately, Muslims are at the very bottom of the social ladder in terms of three very important social variables: education, literacy rates, and employment. Hundreds of years ago the de-emphasis on education and learning in the Ottoman Empire created the conditions for future failure in the Muslim/Arab world to elevate itself above poverty and ignorance. In this author’s opinion, the Muslim culture has been ripe, in terms of vulnerability, for the rise of radical Islam and groups like ISIS or al-Qaeda.

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The Truth Value and Interpretation of the Holy Bible

 

It is between fifty and sixty years since I read [The Apocalypse] and I then considered it merely the ravings of a maniac, no more worthy or capable of explanation than the incoherence of our own nightly dreams.

Thomas Jefferson (Third President of the United States, 1743-1826)

 

Background

 

This Blog is a modified excerpt from a book I wrote between 2005 and 2009, “titled—Trouble in Paradise: The Decline of Christianity in the 21st Century. For those of you who haven’t read this book, this Blog should provide information and facts that are central to the following question: How was the Holy Bible really created?

There are two ways people generally view the Holy Bible: (1) as the “Received View” based on faith, and (2) as the “Historical View” based on valid historical facts. True Christian believers tend to follow the Received View, while academics and religious scholars tend to support and accept the historical view. Both viewpoints attempt to see “Truth” as supporting their viewpoint. For the true believer facts are irrelevant, only faith and belief matters. For the academic or scholar, facts and data are the only things that matter. This conflicting difference between the two viewpoints automatically begs the question—what is truth?

What is Truth?

So what is truth anyway? Is my truth the same as your truth? Is truth absolute or is it variable, conditional, a product of culture, or depend entirely upon the interpretation of the word itself? Is truth only a matter of faith or are there empirical ways of getting at the truth? Well, it appears that truth is not absolute. Truth is, quite simply, what we agree it is (no more and no less). It is a matter of consensus that can change over time. Scientific truth operates in this conditional sense of everything being subject to change. So, why not any other “type” of truth?

Theologians, when discussing truth, would answer that everything has a cause and that cause is God. In their opening pages to their book, The Idiot’s Guide to the Bible, the authors ask a thought provoking question in their own right. If everything has a cause (as theologians assert) then what caused God? Theologians, of course, don’t answer that question and can’t answer the question.

At one level these questions are asking for an answer that is logical, empirical and straightforward, based on reason and facts. Most of us lead lives that are rather pragmatic and ordinary where we tend to answer everyday questions using facts and reason. At another level some questions simply have an underlying dimension of value judgments. The answers to these value-laden, judgmental-type questions also tend to be value-laden, judgmental-type answers.

Answers are not facts or data but statements of value instead. For example, people on both sides of the abortion issue often ask and answer questions that are riddled with value judgments. Another example of a value judgment question (it must be remembered that many cherished beliefs are really cherished values) is–what is the purpose and meaning of one’s life? Since everyone presumably would have a different purpose in life, this question is really asking, “Does my life have value?” Science, of course, is unable to answer judgmental or value-laden questions such as meaning and purpose, including the ultimate value of one’s life. Theologians and ministers ask these types of value-laden questions and provide value-laden answers every day.

At times it is true that scientists also make value judgment statements about the value of research findings, and the delight and joy at making discoveries and unraveling the laws of the universe. People will mostly agree that there is value when science does succeed when cures are found for illness and new medicines are created in the laboratory.

However, that is where the similarity between science and religion ends. Knowledge and methodology separate physical science, medicine, and the social sciences from religion. While the physical sciences (chemistry, biology, physics and medicine) came on strong from the 17th century on, the social sciences of psychology and sociology made their strong entry and debut into the world of science, and scientific methods, during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Knowledge in medicine and the physical and social sciences are contained in books, articles, and academic journals. Such a body of knowledge goes back in time regarding the content of the material. In addition there are over 1500 formal academic journals published around the world each month. Each journal usually covers 10-12 articles on new research findings that have passed muster by a professional peer-review process.

Unlike the quality and quantity of authoritative serious knowledge created and reported upon by scientists today, religions rely almost exclusively on ancient documentation to support their belief systems.

In order to provide religious answers on meaning and purpose, special documentation was needed.  In Judaism, it is the Old Testament accepted as the Hebrew bible. In Christianity it is the Hebrew bible and the New Testament. In Islam it is the Koran. Scriptures are used to teach adherents and to serve as justification for a particular belief system.

This is only speculation, but perhaps the first writers of the Judaic and Christian gospels needed to “market” the material as–you guessed it–“The Word of God.” If God is the real author and architect of the Bible, He would be much better than some nondescript followers of Jesus. Ever wonder why there is so much debate as to who wrote this chapter or that chapter in the Bible?

One must remember that in the timeline for authorship in the Old Testament their mythological stories were created by men centuries before the New Testament. In order to garner support for the New Testament, someone among Jesus’ later adherents to the new religion came up with the bright idea that wouldn’t it be nice to hijack the scriptures of another religion and call it their own. If Judaism’s Old Testament were borrowed, wouldn’t that increase the probability that other non-Christian Jews might throw their support to the fledging Christian religion?

Interpretation of Scriptures

In Christianity one problem that surfaces is that the documentation provided is itself highly problematic and questionable as a source of any kind of authority in its own right. In the case of the 27 books of the New Testament and 39 books of the Old Testament, interpretation of scriptures is not a straightforward process. Far from it! Differences of opinion are everywhere from biblical experts, scholars, and from biblical archaeologists on the one hand, to practicing priests, ministers, and Christian schools on the other. In fact, even among believers there is great diversity of opinion as to whether scriptures hold any “truth value” for them.

One important reason scriptural interpretation is so varied is that the Bible itself is believed to have had many authors and many scribes to convey its content. Richard Dawkins has commented that, “The fact that something is written down is persuasive to people not used to asking questions like: ‘who wrote it, and when?’ ‘How did they know what to write?’ ‘Did they, in their time, really mean what we, in our time, understand them to be saying?’ ‘Were they unbiased observers, or did they have an agenda that colored their writing?’

Ever since the nineteenth century, scholarly theologians have made an overwhelming case that the gospels are not reliable accounts of what happened in the history of the real world. All were written long after the death of Jesus, and also after the epistles of Paul, which mention almost none of the alleged facts of Jesus’ life. All were then copied and re-copied, through many Chinese Whispers generations by fallible scribes who, in any case, had their own religious agendas.” [1]

If one thinks that these differences are occurring only in the modern era, he or she is poorly informed. Before the orthodox only abbreviated viewpoint of Christian literature was assembled into what we call the Bible today, the rich tapestry of comprehensive writings on Christianity from many different sources were, for the most part, circulating throughout the ancient religious communities of the Middle East.

Diversity of Opinion in Early Christianity

 

There was no New Testament for early Christians. The books that were eventually collected into the New Testament had been written by the 2nd century but had not been gathered yet into a widely recognized and authoritative canon of Scripture.[2] The best way to determine if early Christians held differing opinions about Christ and Christianity is to know what their beliefs were and how they differed.

For example, according to Erdman, “The wide diversity of early Christianity may be seen above all in the theological beliefs embraced by people who understood them to be followers of Jesus.”[3]  Erdman goes on to cite an impressive offering of different beliefs among early Christians of the second and third centuries. Among those Christians, some thought there was just one god, and others believed there were two gods. Some thought there were thirty and some even believed there were 365.[4]

There were Christians that thought God created the world; other Christians thought or believed that this world had been created by a subordinate, ignorant divinity. (Why else would the world be filled with such misery and hardship?). Yet other Christians thought it was worse than that, that this world was a cosmic mistake created by a malevolent divinity as a place of imprisonment, to trap humans and subject them to pain and suffering.[5]

There were Christians in the second and third centuries who believed that the Jewish Scriptures (the Christian “Old Testament”) was inspired by the one true God. Others believed it was inspired by the God of the Jews, who was not the one true God. Others believed it was inspired by an evil deity. Others believed it was not inspired.[6]

“In the second and third centuries there were Christians who believed that Jesus was both divine and human, God and man. There were other Christians that argued that he was completely divine and not human at all. (For them, divinity and humanity were incommensurate entities: God can no more be a man than a man can be a rock.) There were others who insisted that Jesus was a full flesh-and- blood human, adopted by God to be his son but not himself divine. There were yet other Christians who claimed that Jesus Christ was two things: a full flesh-and-blood human, Jesus, and a fully divine Christ, who temporarily inhabited Jesus’ body during his ministry and left him prior to his death, inspiring his teachings and miracles but avoiding the suffering in its aftermath.” [7]

Finally, there were Christians who believed that Jesus’ death brought about the salvation of the world. Others believed that Jesus’ death had nothing to do with the salvation of the world. There were other Christians who said that Jesus never died.[8]

At the time the New Testament was written, the Gospels (written anonymously and later assigned the names of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) were made a part of it. Other Gospel books (discussed later in this Blog) were becoming available as sacred texts, read and revered by different Christian groups throughout the world.[9]

But all these other Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Apocalypses were viewed as heresy by the orthodox religious authorities of the day. As rich and as popular as these books were among early Christians, they were excluded from becoming part of the sacred scriptures or canon of Christianity. What eventually became the 27 books of the New Testament is only a subset of all Christian literature that was once available to all Christians.

At the root of the development of orthodox views only of Christianity–was politics, even in the ancient world. Holding a conservative orthodox view of Christianity today is, as it was in early Christianity, to see only one view of Christianity. Just because it’s a politically derived set of canonized scriptures doesn’t make it any more descriptive of the historical Jesus than if those who were branded the heretics of Christianity instead had succeeded in dominating the sacred texts of Christianity.

 

Modern Day Differences of Opinion

Despite the orthodoxy of winning the battle to control the scriptures of early Christianity, large differences today exist among the world religions and the many denominations within Christianity itself.

Any particular church’s doctrine may be at great variance, not only with other world religions and other denominations within Christianity, but with the very tomb of religious cannon itself that they promote as their source of authority–the Bible. There is wide variation of opinion regarding Christian doctrine espoused by skeptics, the general public, evangelicals, born-again Christians, notional Christians, agnostics and atheists, including differences by age, gender, and race.

Differences of opinion are the rule, not the exception, where the Bible is concerned. One group that has received a lot of media attention is known as the Jesus Seminar. This is a group of academic scholars who question the truth behind the Jesus of history and the Jesus of faith.

According to Lee Strobel, “The Jesus of history and the Jesus of faith: the Jesus Seminar believes there’s a big gulf between the two. In its view the historical Jesus was a bright, witty, countercultural man who never claimed to be the Son of God, while the Jesus of faith is a cluster of feel-good ideas that help people live right but are ultimately based on wishful thinking.”[10]

One of the great apologists for Christianity was C.S. Lewis (1898-1963). Many younger generations may more likely remember C.S. Lewis for his creative fictional work, “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.” C. S. Lewis was one of the great defenders of the Faith since his conversion to Christianity in 1931. There were many Christians at Oxford in the 1940s. Many, like Lewis, felt that both the pros and cons of the Christian religion should be discussed openly. This led to the foundation of the Socratic Club.[11] C.S. Lewis served as its president until 1954 when he became a Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English Literature at Cambridge University, England.

Many scholars today probably would dismiss Lewis’ logic as nothing more than Socratic debate double-talk, or that his underlying assumptions about the relationship of natural to supernatural things or events made no sense at all. There was one statement in the Preface to Lewis’ book that did make a lot of sense. That is, Walter Hooper wrote, in the preface to Lewis’ book, God in the Dock, “Regardless of one’s education, it is impossible to decide whether Christianity is true or false if you do not know what it is about.”[12] The methodology, of course, of knowing what something is about, should be based on observation, knowledge, and interpretation of the facts and assumptions made.

Interpretation of the Bible itself is made further difficult by the conflicts between various texts. There are texts within the New Testament that conflict with one another as well as conflict with those sacred texts that were rejected by the Orthodox Church. These rejected texts may have been more representative of who Jesus was and what Christianity was about than those texts that eventually became the “Orthodox view” of the Bible people read today.

For example Elaine Pagels reports in, Beyond Belief–The Secret Gospel of Thomas, “Christian mystics, like their Jewish and Muslim counterparts, have always been careful not to identify themselves with God. But the gospel of Thomas teaches that recognizing one’s affinity with God is the key to the kingdom of God.”[13] Pagels goes on to say that, “Orthodox Jews and Christians, of course, have never wholly denied affinity between God and us. But their leaders have tended to discourage or, at least, to circumscribe the process through which people may seek God on their own. This may be why some people raised as Christians and Jews today are looking elsewhere to supplement what they have not found in Western tradition.”[14]

Where Does the Old Testament Come From?

It is important for people to understand that “the stories of the Bible evolved slowly over centuries before the existence of orthodox religions. Many belief cults spread stories and myths handed down by oral tradition from generation to generation long before people wrote them down. Many of the stories originally came from Egyptian and Sumerian cults.

All of these early religions practiced polytheism, including the early Hebrews. Some of the oldest records of the stories that later entered the Old Testament came from thousands of small cylinder seals depicting creation stories, excavated from the Mesopotamia period. These early artifacts and artworks (dated as early as 2500 B.C. E.) established the basis for the Garden of Eden stories at least a thousand years before it impacted Hebrew mythology.”[15]

How eventually were these stories written? It depended upon different languages. According to Martin Manser, “The two main original languages of the Bible were Hebrew and Greek. The Old Testament was mostly written in Aramaic. The entire New Testament was written in Greek, the language commonly spoken and written throughout the Roman Empire in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D.”[16]

Today original writings of the Old Testament do not exist. What does exist are hundreds of fragments from copies that became the Old Testament. The original material of the Old Testament was handed down as mythological stories via oral tradition. When scribes got into the act of writing the Old Testament they began to use Cuneiform tablets, papyrus paper, leather etchings and the famous Dead Sea Scrolls.[17]

 The writers or scribes of the Old Testament, as mentioned wrote in classical Hebrew except for some portions written in Aramaic.[18]  “The traditional Hebrew scribes wrote the texts with consonants but the Rabbis later added vowels for verbal pronouncing…In the second century C.E., or even earlier, the Rabbis compiled a text from the manuscripts as had survived the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E…This text incorporated the mistakes of generations of copyists, and in spite of the care bestowed on it, many errors of later copyists also found their way into it. The earliest surviving manuscripts of this text date from the ninth to eleventh centuries C.E. It comes mostly from these texts which religionists have used for the present Old Testament translations.”[19]

Where Does the New Testament Come From?

In a nutshell, “Scholars have long debated whether Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John actually penned the Gospels. Because John and Matthew were thought to be original disciples and Mark and Luke were companions of Paul, their names may have been used to add credibility to the account. Many scholars argue that the gospel writers were disciples of disciples or members of communities who were influenced by Paul or the disciples.”[20]

Pastor William R. Grimbol regards the Gospel writers as editors. According to Grimbol, “Although the primary sources for the story of Jesus are the Gospels, the Gospels are not firsthand accounts. The writers of these books were not reporters. The Gospels were recorded several decades after the events of the life of Christ. They were written from the perspective of looking back upon Christ’s life and forward in anticipation of his return. The Gospels were not your average history books. The gospel writers gathered many patches of oral tradition concerning the life of Jesus. Each gospel writer received several of the same patches, some that were slightly different, and a few that were unique. Each gospel writer then weaved these patches together with the thread of his personal faith standpoint.”[21]

There is great discontinuity in the bibles that were created. First, the material of the Bible came from many unknown authors spread over a great expanse of time. One thousand two hundred fifty years separates the beginning of the writings on the Old Testament to the end of such writings (1450 B.C.E. to 200 B.C.E.).[22]

It is believed that any New Testament writings didn’t begin to be written until more than 30 to 95 years after the death of Christ.[23] It is believed that Christ died in 30 C.E.[24]  “The Gospels cannot really be dated, nor are the real authors known. It is based on speculation that Mark was the first, written between 60 and 70 A.D., Matthew second, between 70 and 80 A.D., Luke (and Acts) third, between 80 and 90 A.D., and John last, between 90 and 100 A.D.”[25]  The Epistles were written by the Apostle Paul long before the first Gospels were created. These Epistles were written between 48 and 58 C.E.[26]

“All of the Gospels except John contain possible allusions to the destruction of Jerusalem, which was destroyed in 70 C.E., and thus it is likely they were all written after that date.” [27]  Also, there appears nothing in Paul’s letters that either hints at the existence of the Gospels or even of a need for such memoirs of Jesus Christ.[28]

Some scholars believe that in 90 C.E. Old Testament books called, “The Writings,” were created as part of the Christian Canon. The Writings included Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, and Chronicles.[29]

It is also reported that, “The oldest copy of the New Testament yet found consists of a tiny fragment from the Gospel of John. Scholars dated the little flakes of papyrus from the period style of its handwriting to around the first half of the 2nd Century C.E. The language of most of the New Testament consists of old Greek.”[30] In 150 C.E. two important events occurred: (1) the four Gospels were collected and put together, and (2) The School of Alexandria was founded in Egypt, quickly becoming a major center for both Christian Theology and Greek Philosophy.

What many Christians fail to understand is that, in addition to the four Gospels of the New Testament, there were many other texts created by the early Christian religion. But these texts were suppressed [These texts will be discussed in detail in the next section]. They were known as the Agnostic texts, and were very important to early Christianity.[31]

The first recorded use of the term “Christian” occurred at Antioch, Syria, home of one of the first Christian Churches.      

The backdrop of the path of how today’s Bible became what it is, is based on modifications over the last 2000 years. According to the history of the Dark Bible, “There has existed over a hundred different versions of the Bible, written in most of the languages of the time including Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Latin. Some versions left out certain biblical stories and others added stories.

The completed versions of the Old and New Testaments probably got finished at around 200-300 C.E. although many disputed the authenticity of some books which later ended up as Apocrypha (un-canonical or of questionable authorship). For example, the book of Ecclesiastics appears in the Catholic Bible but not in Protestant versions.”[32]

A Bogus Christianity Based on an Incomplete Bible

 

On December 25th, 2005, and later during the spring of 2006, the History Channel presented an outstanding 2-hour world premiere documentary called, “Banned from the Bible.” The reader must understand that many Christian documents and gospels on Christ and Christianity may have been destroyed or lost during the last 2000 years. However, many gospels and related documents were not lost or destroyed. They were simply banned from the Bible. What makes the extant Bible the Word of God? Why wouldn’t the volumes of excluded documents also be the Word of God? And if so, who appointed whom to be the editor of God’s word? Could it be then that the existing bogus Bible really had nothing to do with giving voice to God’s word if men decided what was and was not the Word of God?

It is obvious to religious scholars that these books were in some way objectionable and threatening to the leaders of the orthodox Christian churches. Anything that did not meet with their approval was branded as heresy. Many of the books that were available as possible candidates for inclusion in the New Testament were, in fact, very popular with early Christians.

Like today early Christians hungered for any information about Christ. The extant Bible today is a bogus version representing the life of Christ in only an incomplete and limited way. Other Christian beliefs, such as those of the Agnostics never saw the light of day, even though many might argue better represented the true nature of Jesus Christ and Christianity. Interpretation and the derivation of meaning from any scriptures are patently unintelligible if the original sources of literary importance were excluded.

“One hundred and fifty years after the birth of Jesus, a man named Marcion decided that a Christian Bible was needed to replace the Hebrew Bible. Church leaders opposed Marcion’s banning of the Hebrew books, but they did agree that Christians should have a Bible of their own.

After Constantine the Great converted to Christianity in the 4th century, a serious effort was made to compile a Christian Bible, one that included both the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) and Christian manuscripts (the New Testament). It took another 40 years before a final list of New Testament books was officially canonized by the church. Many of the most popular were excluded. Upon examination today, many of these writings attempt to resolve inconsistencies and questions raised from reading the bible.”[33]

As pointed out, more gospels and documents were left out than were included. To say that the Bible is the word of God is to miss the mark in a big way. The Bible was the political creation of conservative, Orthodox Church leaders in the 4th century that determined what was included, and what wasn’t included in the Bible.

It is interesting to note in Bart D. Ehrman’s book, Lost Christianities when he points out, “It is striking that, for centuries, virtually everyone who studied the history of early Christianity simply accepted the version of the early conflicts written by the orthodox victors. This all began to change in a significant way in the nineteenth century as some scholars began to question the ‘objectivity’ of such early Christian writers as the fourth-century orthodox author Eusebius, the so-called Father of Church History, who reproduced for us the earliest account of the conflict. This initial query into Eusebius’s accuracy eventually became, in some circles, a virtual onslaught on his character, as twentieth-century scholars began to subject his work to an ideological critique that exposed his biases and their role in his presentation. The reevaluation of Eusebius was prompted, in part, by the discovery of additional ancient books, uncovered by trained archaeologists looking for them and by Bedouin, who came across them by chance, other gospels, for examples, that also claimed to be written in the names of apostles.”[34]

Banned Sacred Texts

 

A short synopsis of some of the banned sacred texts follows. Each of the books was excluded from the canons of Christianity:

  • The Life of Adam and Eve: A more detailed story of creation than what is found in Genesis, this book  includes jealous angels, a more devious serpent, and more information      about Eve’s fall from grace from her point of view.[35]
  • The Book of Jubilees: This obscure Hebrew text offers an answer to a question that has vexed Christians for centuries – if Adam and Eve only had sons and if no other humans existed,  who gave birth to humanity? This text reveals that Adam and Eve had nine children and that Cain’s younger sister Awan became his wife. The idea that humanity was born of incest would have been radical – and heretical.[36]
  • The Book of Enoch: This scripture reads like a modern day action film, telling of fallen angels, bloodthirsty giants, an earth that had become home to an increasingly flawed humanity and a divine judgment to be rendered. Though denied a place in most Western Bibles it has been used for centuries by Ethiopian Christians. Large portions of this book were found as part of the Dead Sea Scrolls.[37]
  • The Infancy Gospel of Thomas: The only book that deals with young Jesus, it indicates that Jesus was a strong-willed child who one historian describes as “Dennis the Menace as      God.” The book reveals that at age five, Jesus may have killed a boy by pushing him off a roof and then resurrected him. Perhaps too disturbing for inclusion in the Bible, this book seems to contain traditions, also known to the Koran.[38]
  • The Protovangelion of James: This book offers details of the life of the Virgin Mary, her parents, her birth and her youth; stories not found in the New Testament Gospels but was      beloved by many early Christians.
  • The Gospel of Mary: This Agnostic Text reveals that Mary Magdalene may have been an apostle, perhaps even a leading apostle, not a prostitute. While some texts in the Bible seem to deny women a voice in the Christian community, this text helps spark the debate about the role of women in the church.[39]
  • The Gospel of Nicodemus: This is the story of Jesus’ trial and execution and descent into hell. According to this gospel, the Savior asserts his power over Satan by freeing      patriarchs such as Adam, Isaiah and Abraham from Hell.[40]
  • The Apocalypse of Peter: Peter’s apocalypse suggests that there is a way out of punishment for evildoers and implies that the threat of the apocalypse is a way for God to scare      people into living a moral life, and committing fewer sins.[41]

“These books are just a sampling of the hundreds that were never included in the Holy Bible. Perhaps there are more to be found. Whether one believes these alternative stories or not, they do provide an interesting perspective of the religious culture and propensities of the time.”[42]

On April 7, 2006 a bombshell rocked the world of modern day Christianity. Another book that had never made its way into the “official Bible” was discovered and found to be, through carbon dating, authentic. After 1700 years The Gospel of Judas was rediscovered. “Judas Iscariot, long reviled as history’s quintessential betrayer, was actually the best friend of Jesus and turned him over to authorities only because Jesus asked him to, according to the Gospel of Judas.”[43] The long-lost document was revealed by the National Geographic Society. The document is considered by some to be the most important archaeological find in the last 60 years. It “purports to record conversations between Jesus and Judas in the last week of their lives–conversations in which Jesus shared religious secrets not known by the other disciples.”[44]

This particular gospel, like many others above, was ruled heretical by early church leaders because of its disagreement with the conventionally accepted Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. According to Thomas H. Maugh II, writer for the Los Angeles Times, “Biblical scholars, however, hailed the new text because of the insight it will provide into the exceptionally turbulent period when competing ideologies sought to stake their own claims to the Jesus story, battling in oral stories and written texts until a single, faction eventually won out.”[45]

This writer’s article, which appeared in the Sacramento Bee, also reported that, “Scholars said the 26-page document was written on 13 sheets of papyrus leaf in ancient Egyptian, or Coptic, and was bound as a book, known as a codex. It is one of dozens of sacred texts from the Christian Gnostics, who believed that salvation came through secret knowledge conveyed by Jesus.”[46]

 

The Great Problem of Biblical Interpretation

One of the greatest problems for Christian believers and non-believers alike is interpretation of biblical scriptures. Historically, this is shown and demonstrated by the plethora of major denominations and splinter groups in the Protestant movement alone. Different groups reflect different perspectives on Christian practice, theology, and the underlying meaning of scripture. All of this is aside from the many religions worldwide that have very different systems of belief from Christianity.

Fundamentalists in Christianity are more likely to believe in a ‘literal’ interpretation of the Bible. What exactly is a literal interpretation?

According to Donald K. Campbell, “when we interpret the Bible literally we interpret its words and sentences in their natural, normal, and usual sense.”[47] He quotes Merrill F. Unger as saying the literal method is “the method which seeks to arrive at the precise meaning of the language of each of the Bible writers as is required by the laws of grammar and the facts of history.”[48] At the heart of this approach is to derive ‘meaning’ from the scriptures.

The literal method does not preclude figures of speech such as symbols, allegories, metaphors, and similes.[49] The literal method recognizes that sometimes poetical and allegorical language is used to support a literal meaning of the Bible.[50] Natural meaning, rather than literal words, per se, is secondary to natural meaning that provides context to underlying biblical truth.

Campbell further asserts that the more important principles of literal interpretation of the Bible include: (1) grammatical interpretation, (2) contextual interpretation, and (3) passages in the Bible have one meaning that should be determined prior to any moral application of the passage.[51]

However, A.R. Bernard, Pastor of the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn New York, says “interpretation of the bible is more than literal.” That is, he describes the interpretation of the Bible as literal, figurative, and symbolic.[52] According to Campbell and Bell, coming to agreement about what the Bible means has been quite a difficult task.[53] Both authors attribute difficulty to three factors: (1) a changing culture, (2) different and changing religions, and (3) different ways of understanding sacred writing. Within the Christian faith alone there is a plethora of opinions on what scriptures mean.[54]

Whether something is told as a parable or that appears to be hyperbole, the words themselves always need to have their meaning deciphered. Campbell and Bell generally agreed (also an opinion) that the Bible provides God’s truth for our lives, but how to interpret that truth is another matter. These authors also say, “One reason you need to check out the bible on your own, rather than limiting your knowledge to what we tell you, is that people vary in their opinion of what is to be taken literally and what is figurative or symbolic.”[55]

According to Christian scriptures, only God possesses absolute truth, not man. However, it is still man who must interpret scriptures. If this were not so there wouldn’t be so many religions and so many different denominations within Christianity itself. “We all tend to draw those lines in different places, and it’s no simple matter to say that one person is right and another wrong.”[56]How right one is ought to follow some degree of logic and reason, two things fundamentalists reject, ironically, even when defending their own positions.

Unfortunately, there are extremes in how scripture is interpreted. Some splinter Christian groups use snakes in their services, and others employ mentally unbalanced oppressive interpretations of God and scripture. Such was the case with charismatic leaders David Koresh of the Branch Dravidians, and Jim Jones of Jonestown.

Freedom of religion is a key freedom in every democracy; but to be really free democracy requires that there also be freedom from religion. Problems of interpreting the morality underlying many stories in the Bible are very significant. Seeing the Bible as a source for moral conduct is not only problematic, but downright immoral.

Using the Bible as any source for moral conduct is not only highly misplaced judgment, but highly dangerous in its implications. Problems of moral interpretation of the Bible reach far beyond the difficulties individuals have with ordinary contradictions and nonsensical or bizarre statements found in the Bible. There are more moral contradictions in the Bible than there are speeders on the nation’s freeways. Rather than address all of them I will concentrate on just a few.

Is God A Loving God or a Murderous Thug? You Decide.

In the Bible, many people, including children, are slaughtered. Does God want children to die as some sort of whim? In Matt 18:14. It reads, “It is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.” One might conclude from this passage that God doesn’t want any children to die. However, he often kills children and commands others to do so as well. In Gen.7: 21-22. God drowns all children (except for Noah’s) in a worldwide flood. In Gen.19:24. God kills all of the children of Sodom and Gomorrah, and in Gen. 22:2. God tells Abraham to kill his son for a burnt offering. Gee, what a loving God!

One must remember that fundamentalists believe in a “literal” interpretation of the Bible. If one does take a literal view, as fundamentalists tell us we should when reading and interpreting the Bible, one certainly can’t simultaneously take a symbolic or metaphorical interpretation just to be able to deny the acts of violence and mass murder committed by a monotheistic God. Fundamentalists must also accept these acts of murder as the will of God.

In Exodus 21:15; Lev. 20:9 and Deut.21: 18-21. The word of God says, “Children who are disobedient, or who curse or strike their parents are to be killed. In 1 Samuel 15: 2-3. God orders Saul to kill all of the Amalekite children, and in 2 Samuel 12: 15, 18, and 20, to punish David for having Uriah killed, God kills David’s newborn son. In Deut. 20:16. and Joshua 10:40. God orders the Israelites to kill everyone including the children in the cities that they invaded.

Another area of interest is modern day Christian writers. One of the most influential contemporary religious writers is Lee Strobel. Lee Strobel has written several books on Christianity including The Case for Faith, The Case for Christ, and The Case for the Creator. In the Case for Faith, as in his other books, he takes the approach of stating objections to Christianity as a kind of intellectually presented “straw man.”

His Objection # 4 (in The Case for Faith) is “God Isn’t Worthy of Worship If He Kills Innocent Children.”[57] Next in the process he conducts interviews of key religious scholars or academic theologians for their answers.

On the surface this appears to be straightforward and objective. One of his interviews was with a religious expert, Norman L. Geisler. In one example, God orders genocide by telling the Israelites in Deuteronomy 7 to totally destroy the Canaanites and six other nations and to show them no mercy. “God orders the execution of every Egyptian firstborn; He flooded the world and killed untold thousands of people; He told the Israelites to now go attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children, and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.”[58]

Strobel asked a question, “How can people be expected to worship Him if he orders innocent children to be slaughtered? Geisler’s answer was some odd statement about how evil the Amalekites had been, and God’s motive for committing murder. Strobel again asks the question by pressing him, “Why Did Innocent children need to be killed?” Geisler’s answer then took off in the direction of the totally bizarre. He said “that technically nobody is truly innocent because we’re all born in sin.”[59] Here the Christian concept of Original Sin is invoked again.

This ascribed status for all human beings (rather than judgment based on earned status) of being born in sin is presumably one of God’s justifications for murdering children. Classifying children as full of sin is similar to what often happens to victims of violent crime in the criminal justice system in modern day society. That is, the victim is blamed for the acts of the criminal. For example, “She had it coming to her. She got raped because she lured me.” Blaming the victim is to misplace responsibility for the acts of the offender. When children are blamed through some religiously simplistic explanation of original sin, it only reinforces the non-believers perception that people within Christianity are at best, misguided, or at worst, really stupid.

The Key to Salvation: Faith or Good Works?

One of the key doctrines of Christianity is salvation. Some believers of the faith believe salvation is by faith alone. What the Bible says is pure unadulterated contradiction. In Mark16:16. “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”[60]

It is said in Acts 16:30-31., “Sirs what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved–you and your household.”[61] However, in Psalm 62:12. “For you render to each according to his works,” and in Jer.17: 10. “I the Lord…give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruits of his doing,”[62]and in Matt. 16: 27. “For the Son of Man will come in his glory of His Father with His angels, and then he will reward each according to his works.”[63]And in addition there is James 2:17. “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, it is dead.”[64]

Contradictions in scripture are one reason why we have some Christian denominations telling their members that salvation is based on faith alone, while other denominations are preaching salvation by works alone, and others may be saying you can’t have one without the other. This emphasis on salvation, either way or both, probably varies from church to church.

An Approach to Overcoming Conflict with Biblical Interpretation

One of the directions in the twenty-first century is toward theistic evolution. This is an effort on the part of some scientists and theologians to bridge the gap between science and religion. Despite the long standing conflict between the two approaches to knowledge and the seeking of “Truth,” there may be a middle ground. Not everyone agrees that there can be a middle ground.

If religion, and in particular Christianity, wants to extricate itself from its losing position in the world today, it will have to take a more reasoned approach (albeit scientific methodology) and play by a different set of rules. In all likelihood this repositioning of the rules of the game will be easier for mainline Protestant groups, already many of whom have no quarrel with science or scientists.

Theologians and fundamentalists who pay lip service to wanting to bridge the gap need to remember the words of Clint Eastwood to Liam Neeson in The Dead Pool, “If you want to play in the game love, you better know what the rules are.”[65]

That means take nothing in religion on faith. Test everything according to the rules of scientific inquiry. In other words prove whatever claims are made. Let the chips fall where they may. Let there be no straw men in such testing, but rather the testing of genuine real hypotheses about biblical scripture.

Even if science isn’t brought to bear in the field of religion and theology, it is very likely that conservative fundamentalists, evangelicals, and others who demand a literal translation of biblical scriptures, will continue to experience a losing uphill battle. This is their propensity to view religious dogma in “absolute” terms. This entrenched position, of course, not only flies in the face of, not just scientific knowledge that contradicts scripture, but competition from other major religions and challenges from other denominations within Christianity itself.

In addition, there is absolute widespread ignorance among most Christian church-goers in the United States on the very history of Christianity itself. There is a need to improve the education of Christians themselves. Instead of teaching Christianity from a doctrinal point of view (and doctrine is the “psycho-babble of religion”), churchgoers would be better off initially if they endeavored to learn the actual history of their own religion. Because of this need, education needs to be more detailed as to all of the decision-making points in Christianity.

How the Bible was put together in the first place, and how theological issues were decided at various points in Christian history had a tremendous bearing on what finally came forward from the 4th century on as to the “accepted” content of the Bible Christians use today. Much needs to be learned about 4th Century activities that changed Christianity.

Many questions need to be evaluated and discussed. Why did early Christians high-jack the Torah, the first five books of the Bible from Judaism? Where did the idea of the Trinity come from (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost)? What was the conflict of Christ’s status as either man or God, or both, and why wasn’t it officially decided until 325 C.E?

While answers to these questions are available in the academic literature on Christianity, very few church-goers have an interest in developing a deeper understanding of the very religion they lay claim to believe in. Some believers want to maintain a comfort zone of belief independent of any effort to learn the facts of the very religion they believe in. The notion of justification of beliefs and faith was covered in my book, Trouble in Paradise: The Decline of Christianity in the 21st Century. The specific chapter was Chapter XI , Religious Beliefs versus Rationality.

Despite the sometimes antagonistic relationship between science and religion, it must be remembered that some scientists, namely biblical archaeologists, have contributed a great deal toward our understanding of the ancient world of the Middle East. Biblical Archaeology, however, has never been able to affirm the divinity of Christ, his miracles, or even his character. What it has been able to do is connect many of the locations and identify (through artifacts) many of the events, individuals and empires described in the Bible.

 

 


[1] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, Boston: (Houghton Mifflin, 2006), 92-93.

[2] Bart D. Ehrman, Lost Christianities—The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 3

[3] Ibid., 2

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., 3

[10] Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998), 124

[11] C.S. Lewis,  God in the Dock—Essays on Theology and Ethics, ed. Walter Hooper, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), 8

[12] Ibid., 9

[13] Elaine Pagels, Beyond Belief—The Secret Gospel of Thomas, (New York: Random House, 2003), 75

[14] Ibid.

[15] The Dark Bible: A Short History of the Bible  n.d. [online]; accessed 5 Sept. 2005; available from  http://www.nobeliefs.com/DarkBible/darkbible2.htm

[16] Martin Manser, Bible Stories, (Bath, UK: Miles Kelly Publishing, Ltd., 2000), 8

[17] The Dark Bible.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Pastor William R. Grimbol, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to The Life of Christ, (Indianapolis: Alpha Books, 2001), 7

[21] Ibid.

[22] The Dark Bible.

[23] These dates are a matter of conjecture. No one knows for sure when they were written.

[24] Richard Carrier, “The Formation of the New Testament Canon (2000)” [online]; accessed 10 Apr. 2006; available from http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/NTcanon.html

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Individual books of the Writings occurred much earlier. They were not put together into a collection until 90 C.E.

[30] The Dark Bible

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Banned From the Bible: The Stories That Were Deleted From Biblical History,  25 Dec. 2005 [online]; accessed 19 Mar. 2006; available from http://www.prnewswire.com/cgi-bin/stories.pl?Acct=10466story=/www/story/12-19-2003/00

[34] Bart D. Ehrman, Lost Christianities, (New   York: OxfordUniversity Press, 2003), 5

[35] Banned From the Bible.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Thomas H. Maugh II, Los Angeles Times “Long Lost Document Casts Judas in new light,” in The Sacramento Bee7 Apr. 2006, A1

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid, A12

[46] Ibid.

[47] Donald K. Campbell, “We believe in literal interpretation,” Pamphlet (Dallas Theological Seminary, 1974), 4

[48] Ibid, 5

[49] Ibid, 7

[50] Ibid.

[51] Ibid, 13-17

[52] This quote was obtained while watching A.R. Bernard’s television show during the fall of 2004.

[53] Jim Bell and Stan Campbell, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Bible, (New York: Alpha Books, A Simon & Shuster Macmillan Company, 1999), 15

[54] Ibid.

[55] Ibid, 17

[56] Ibid.

[57] Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith , (Grand   Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000), 113

[58] Ibid, 118

[59] Ibid, 119

[60] “The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible,” [online]; accessed 16 Mar. 2005; available from  http://www.skepticsannotated bible.com/contra/faithalone.html.

[61] Ibid.

[62] Ibid.

[63] Ibid.

[64] Ibid.

[65] Clint Eastwood, The Dead Pool, 1988 VHS Tape, A Malpaso Production (15189), 1997 WarnerHome Video.

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A Psychoanalytic Understanding of Your Life Cycle Stages

The Pioneer Work of Sigmund Freud

Part III

 

Freud defines religion as an illusion, consisting of “certain dogmas, assertions about facts and conditions of external and internal reality which tell one something that one has not oneself discovered, and which claim that one should give them credence.” Religious concepts are transmitted in three ways and thereby claim our belief. “Firstly because our primal ancestors already believed them; secondly, because we possess proofs which have been handed down to us from antiquity, and thirdly because it is forbidden to raise the question of their authenticity at all.”Psychologically speaking, these beliefs present the phenomena of wish fulfillment. Wishes that are the “fulfillments of the oldest, strongest, and most urgent wishes of mankind.” Among these are the necessity to cling to the existence of the father, the prolongation of earthly existence by a future life, and the immortality of the human soul. To differentiate between an illusion and an error, Freud lists scientific beliefs such as “Aristotle’s belief that vermin are developed out of dung” as errors, but “the assertion made by certain nationalists that the Indo-Germanic race is the only one capable of civilization” is an illusion, simply because of the wishing involved. Put forth more explicitly, “what is characteristic of illusions is that they are derived from human wishes.” He adds, however, that, “Illusions need not necessarily be false.” He gives the example of a middle-class girl having the illusion that a prince will marry her. While this is unlikely, it is not impossible. The fact that it is grounded in her wishes is what makes it an illusion.

[Summarized Excerpt] The Future of an Illusion—Sigmund Freud, 1927

Introduction

 

This Blog is the third in a series of articles on the pioneer work of Sigmund Freud. It needed three parts in order to do justice to the remarkable work of this theoretical giant of the 20th Century. In Part III I review several of Freud’s written works. For those unfamiliar with Freud’s written contributions to the study of human behavior, Sigmund Freud was a prolific writer.

Combined with all his other psychoanalytic theoretical work, and considered to be the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud was indeed an extraordinary human being. Although he passed away in 1939 his contribution lives by being unparalleled in its significance to the field of human behavior.

Planned Reviews

I had originally planned to review eleven of Freud’s most important books. If I posted all of these as summarized reviews—my Blog would be 32 pages long. In deference to just how much information most people can digest at any one time, I’ve elected to review just four (and I’ll be honest—they are my favorite Freud books) out of the eleven books originally planned for review. Most of the nitty-gritty of Freud’s psychoanalytic work was covered in Part’s I and II anyway. Consequently, I’ve elected to review those books that had a larger world view of society in general, as I think most readers would be quite interested in the intellectual and sociological impact of Freud’s writings.

Consequently, I will review for the reader: The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, Civilization and Its Discontents, Future of an Illusion, and Totem and Taboo.

 

The Psychopathology of Everyday Life

 

Psychopathology of everyday life (1901) is one of the key texts of Sigmund Freud, who laid the basis for the theory of psychoanalysis, along with The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), Introduction to Psychoanalysis (1910) and Ego and the Id (1923). This little book became one of the scientific classics of the 20th century and it is very important not only for psychopathology, but also for modern linguistics, semantics and philosophy.

Studying the various deviations from the stereotypes of everyday behavior, strange defects and malfunctions, as well as seemingly random errors, the author concludes that they indicate the underlying pathology of the psyche, the symptoms of psychoneurosis.

This is how Freud introduces his book:

During the year 1898 I published a short essay On the Psychic Mechanism of Forgetfulness. I shall now repeat its contents and take it as a starting-point for further discussion. I have there undertaken a psychologic analysis of a common case of temporary forgetfulness of proper names, and from a pregnant example of my own observation I have reached the conclusion that this frequent and practically unimportant occurrence of a failure of a psychic function — of memory — admits an explanation which goes beyond the customary utilization of this phenomenon.

If an average psychologist should be asked to explain how it happens that we often fail to recall a name which we are sure we know, he would probably contend himself with the answer that proper names are more apt to be forgotten than any other content of memory. He might give plausible reasons for this “forgetting preference” for proper names, but he would not assume any deep determinant for the process.

Freud believed that various deviations from the stereotypes of everyday conduct – seemingly unintended reservation, forgetting words, random movements and actions – are a manifestation of unconscious thoughts and impulses. Explaining “wrong actions” with the help of psychoanalysis, just as the interpretation of dreams, can be effectively used for diagnosis and therapy.

Considering the numerous cases of such deviations, he concludes that the boundary between the normal and abnormal human psyche is unstable and that we are all a bit neurotic. Such symptoms are able to disrupt eating, sexual relations, regular work, and communication with others.

This is the conclusion Freud makes at the end of the book:

The unconscious, at all events, knows no time limit. The most important as well as the most peculiar character of psychic fixation consists in the fact that all impressions are on the one hand retained in the same form as they were received, and also in the forms that they have assumed in their further development. This state of affairs cannot be elucidated by any comparison from any other sphere. By virtue of this theory every former state of the memory content may thus be restored, even though all original relations have long been replaced by newer ones.

 

 

Civilization and its Discontents

Civilization and Its Discontents Summary

In the introductory paragraphs, Freud attempts to understand the spiritual phenomenon of a so-called “oceanic” feeling – ‹the sense of boundlessness and oneness felt between the ego and the outside world. This feeling is “a purely subjective fact, not an article of faith.” It does not betoken an allegiance to a specific religion, but instead points to the source of religious sentiment in human beings. Churches and religious institutions are adept at channeling this sentiment into particular belief systems, but they do not themselves create it.

In general, the ego perceives itself as maintaining “sharp and clear lines of demarcation” with the outside world. This distinction between inside and outside is a crucial part of the process of psychological development, allowing the ego to recognize a “reality” separate from itself. After summarizing his previous research, Freud returns to the question of “oceanic” feeling, finding it unconvincing as an explanation of the source of religious sentiment in human beings. Instead, according to Freud, it is a longing for paternal protection in childhood that continues into adult life as a sustained “fear of the superior power of Fate.”

In Future of an Illusion, Freud lamented the common man’s preoccupation with the “enormously exalted father” embodied by God. The idea of placating a supposedly higher being for future recompense seems utterly infantile and absurd. The reality is, however, that masses of men persist in this illusion for the duration of their lives. According to Freud, men exhibit three main coping mechanisms to counter their experience of suffering in the world: 1) deflection of pain and disappointment (through planned distractions); 2) substitutive satisfactions (mainly through the replacement of reality by art); 3) intoxicating substances. Freud concludes that religion cannot be clearly categorized within this schema.

What does man wish for and aim to achieve in life? Religious belief hinges on this central question. Most immediately, men strive to be happy, and their behavior in the outside world is determined by this “pleasure principle.” But the possibilities for happiness and pleasure are limited, and more often we experience unhappiness from the following three sources: 1) our body; 2) the external world; and 3) our relations to other men. We employ various strategies to avoid displeasure: by isolating ourselves voluntarily, becoming a member of the human community (i.e. contributing to a common endeavor), or influencing our own organism. Religion dictates a simple path to happiness. It thereby spares the masses of their individual neuroses, but Freud sees few other benefits in religion. (For those of you who are curious, see how Freud’s ideas here compare to Eric Hoffer’s work in his seminal book—The True Believer.)

After looking specifically at religion, Freud broadens his inquiry into the relationship between civilization and misery. One of his main contentions is that civilization is responsible for our misery: we organize ourselves into civilized society to escape suffering, only to inflict it back upon ourselves.

Freud identifies three key historical events that produced this disillusionment with human civilization: 1) the victory of Christendom over pagan religions (and consequently the low value placed on earthly life in Christian doctrine); 2) the discovery and conquest of primitive tribes and peoples, who appeared to Europeans to be living more happily in a state of nature; and 3) scientific identification of the mechanism of neuroses, which are caused by the frustrating demands put on the individual by modern society. An antagonism toward civilization developed when people concluded that only a reduction of those demands – ‹in other words, withdrawal from the society that imposed them‹ – would lead to greater happiness [Think about the Hippie movement of the 1960’s].

Freud defines civilization as the whole sum of human achievements and regulations intended to protect men against nature and “adjust their mutual relations.” A “decisive step” toward civilization lies in the replacement of the individual’s power by that of the community. This substitution henceforth restricts the possibilities of individual satisfaction in the collective interests of law and order. Here Freud draws an analogy between the evolution of civilization and the libidinal development of the individual, identifying three parallel stages in which each occurs: 1) character-formation (acquisition of an identity); 2) sublimation (channeling of primal energy into other physical or psychological activities); 3) non-satisfaction/renunciation of instincts (burying of aggressive impulses in the individual; imposition of the rule of law in society).

Even if one of the main purposes of civilization is to bind each man’s libidinal impulses to those of others, love and civilization eventually come into conflict with one another. Freud identifies several different reasons for this later antagonism. For one, family units tend to isolate themselves and prevent individuals from detaching and maturing on their own. Civilization also saps sexual energy by diverting it into cultural endeavors. It also restricts love object choices and mutilates our erotic lives. Taboos (namely, against incest), laws, and customs impose further restrictions. Freud reasons that civilization’s antagonism toward sexuality arises from the necessity to build a communal bond based on relations of friendship. If the activity of the libido were allowed to run rampant, it would likely destroy the monogamous love-relationship of the couple that society has endorsed as the most stable.

Freud next objects to the commandment “Love thy neighbor” because, contrary to Biblical teaching, he has come to see human beings as primarily aggressive rather than loving. He first identified this instinctual aggressiveness in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, and though his proposed “death drive” was initially met with skepticism, he maintains and develops the thesis here. Civilization is continually threatened with disintegration because of this inclination to aggression. It invests great energy in restraining these death instincts, and achieves this goal by installing within the individual a sort of watchdog agency, which Freud calls the super-ego, to master our desire for aggression. For Freud, the entire evolution of civilization can be summed up as a struggle between Eros and the death drive, overseen by the super-ego.

With the establishment of the super-ego comes a sense of bad conscience. Because it is internalized, the super-ego omnisciently regulates both our thoughts and deeds, whereas prior to its installation, individuals only had to submit themselves to a higher authority for punishment (such as parents) in the case of fully accomplished acts. There are two sources of guilt: 1) fear of authority and 2) fear of the super-ego. In the latter case, instinct renunciation no longer liberates the individual from the sense of internal guilt that the super-ego continues to perpetuate. By extension, civilization reinforces the sense of guilt to regulate and accommodate the ever-increasing numbers of relationships between men. It becomes a more repressive force that individuals find increasingly difficult to tolerate. Freud considers this increasing sense of guilt to be “most important problem in the development of civilization,” since it takes an enormous toll on the happiness of individuals.

In the last chapter, Freud clarifies his usage of seemingly interchangeable terms: the “super-ego” is an internal agency whose existence has been inferred; “conscience” is one of the functions ascribed to the super-ego, to keep watch over the intentions and actions of the ego; “sense of guilt” designates the perception that the ego has of being surveyed and arises from the tension between its own strivings and the (often overly severe) demands of the super-ego. It can be felt prior to the execution of the guilty act, whereas “remorse” refers exclusively to the reaction after the act of aggression has been carried out. Finally, Freud re-emphasizes the instinct of aggression and self-destruction as the single greatest problem facing civilization, as manifested in “the present time.” He ends by asking which force‹ – “eternal Eros” or his potent adversary‹ – will prevail.

The Future of an Illusion

The Future of an Illusion (Die Zukunft einer Illusion) is a book written by Sigmund Freud in 1927. It describes his interpretation of religion’s origins, development, psychoanalysis, and its future. Freud viewed religion as a false belief system.

Religion as an Instinct Restrainer

Freud attempts to turn our attention to the future that awaits human culture. In the process of developing his thought, he finds it necessary to deal with the origin and purpose of human culture as such. By human culture Freud means all those respects in which human life has lifted itself above the animal condition and in which it differs from the life of the beast.

Human culture includes, on the one hand, all the knowledge and power that men have accumulated in order to master the forces of nature, and on the other all the necessary arrangements whereby men’s relations to each other may be regulated. These two conditions for culture are not separable from one another because the existing resources and the measure by which they satisfy the desires of our instincts, are deeply intertwined. Although man forms culture, he is, at the same time, subject to it because it tames his raw instincts and makes him behave in a socially acceptable way. Thus Freud writes: “It seems more probable that every culture must be built upon . . coercion and instinct renunciation.”

Freud maintains that the essence of culture does not lie in man’s conquest of nature for the means of supporting life, but in the psychological realm, in every man’s curbing his predatory instincts. One of the instinct restrainers that man has devised to perpetuate his culture is religion. The unique aspect of religion as reflecting moral conscience was recognized by Freud as he writes of one of its functions is attempting, “. . . to correct the so painfully felt imperfections of culture.”

Religion as an Illusion

Freud defines religion as an illusion, consisting of “certain dogmas, assertions about facts and conditions of external and internal reality which tell one something that one has not oneself discovered, and which claim that one should give them credence.”

Religious concepts are transmitted in three ways and thereby claim our belief. “Firstly because our primal ancestors already believed them; secondly, because we possess proofs which have been handed down to us from antiquity, and thirdly because it is forbidden to raise the question of their authenticity at all.”

Psychologically speaking, these beliefs present the phenomena of wish fulfillment. Wishes that are the “fulfillments of the oldest, strongest, and most urgent wishes of mankind.” Among these are the necessity to cling to the existence of the father, the prolongation of earthly existence by a future life, and the immortality of the human soul.

To differentiate between an illusion and an error, Freud lists scientific beliefs such as “Aristotle’s belief that vermin are developed out of dung” as errors, but “the assertion made by certain nationalists that the Indo-Germanic race is the only one capable of civilization” is an illusion, simply because of the wishing involved. Put forth more explicitly, “what is characteristic of illusions is that they are derived from human wishes.” He adds, however, that, “Illusions need not necessarily be false.” He gives the example of a middle-class girl having the illusion that a prince will marry her. While this is unlikely, it is not impossible. The fact that it is grounded in her wishes is what makes it an illusion.

Origins and Development of Religion

Freud begins by explaining religion in a similar term to that of totemism. The individual is essentially an enemy of society and has instinctual urges that must be restrained to help society function. “Among these instinctual wishes are those of incest, cannibalism, and lust for killing.” His view of human nature is that it is anti-social, rebellious, and has high sexual and destructive tendencies. The destructive nature of humans sets a pre-inclination for disaster when humans must interact with others in society. “For masses are lazy and unintelligent; they have no love for instinctual renunciation, and they are not to be convinced by argument of its inevitability; and the individuals composing them support one another in giving free rein to their indiscipline.” So destructive is human nature, he claims, that “it is only through the influence of individuals who can set an example and whom masses recognize as their leaders that they can be induced to perform the work and undergo the renunciations on which the existence of civilization depends.” All this sets a terribly hostile society that could implode if it were not for civilizing forces and developing government.

He elaborates further on the development of religion, as the emphasis on acquisition of wealth and the satisfaction of instinctual drives (sex, wealth, glory, happiness, immortality) moves from “the material to the mental.” As compensation for good behaviors, religion promises a reward.

The topic is resumed in the beginning of Freud’s subsequent book, Civilization and Its Discontents:

“One of these exceptional few calls himself my friend in his letters to me. I had sent him my small book that treats religion as an illusion, and he answered that he entirely agreed with my judgement upon religion, but that he was sorry I had not properly appreciated the true source of religious sentiments. This, he says, consists in a peculiar feeling, which he himself is never without, which he finds confirmed by many others, and which he may suppose is present in millions of people. It is a feeling which he would like to call a sensation of ‘eternity’, a feeling as of something limitless, unbounded–as it were, ‘oceanic’. This feeling, he adds is a purely subjective fact, not an article of faith; it brings with it no assurance of personal immortality, but it is the source of the religious energy which is seized upon by the various Churches and religious systems, directed by them into particular channels, and doubtless also exhausted by them. One may, he thinks, rightly call oneself religious on the ground of this oceanic feeling alone, even if one rejects every belief and every illusion.

The views expressed by the friend whom I so much honour, and who himself once praised the magic of illusion in a poem caused me no small difficulty…. From my own experience I could not convince myself of the primary nature of such a feeling. But this gives me no right to deny that it does in fact occur in other people. The only question is whether it is being correctly interpreted and whether it ought to be regarded as the fons et origo of the whole need for religion.”

Today, some scholars see the arguments set forth in The Future of an Illusion as a manifestation of the genetic fallacy, in which a belief is considered false or inverifiable based on its origin. Scholars still dispute this claim.

Psychoanalysis of Religion

Religion is an outshoot of the Oedipus complex, and represents man’s helplessness in the world, having to face the ultimate fate of death, the struggle of civilization, and the forces of nature.

He views god as a manifestation of a child-like “longing for [a] father.”  In his words “The gods retain the threefold task: they must exorcize the terrors of nature, they must reconcile men to the cruelty of Fate [parenthetically, it is akin to the religious expression—“God works in mysterious ways], particularly as it is shown in death, and they must compensate them for the sufferings and privations which a civilized life in common has imposed on them.”

 

Totem and Taboo

Totem and Taboo: Resemblances Between the Mental Lives of Savages and Neurotics is a book by Sigmund Freud published in German in 1913 under the title Totem und Tabu: Einige Übereinstimmungen im Seelenleben der Wilden und der Neurotiker.

It is a collection of four essays first published in the journal Imago (1912–13) employing the application of psychoanalysis to the fields of archaeology, anthropology, and the study of religion. The four essays are entitled: The Horror of Incest; Taboo and Emotional Ambivalence; Animism, Magic and the Omnipotence of Thoughts; and The Return of Totemism in Childhood.

The Horror of Incest

The first and shortest of the four essays concerns incest taboos adopted by societies believing in totemism.

Freud uses examples mostly from the Australian Aborigines, gathered and discussed by anthropologist James George Frazer. He points out, with some surprise, that although the Aborigines do not seem to have any sexual restrictions, there’s an elaborate social organization whose sole purpose is to prevent incestuous sexual relations.

Freud discusses various ways in which the exogamy of the totem system prevents incest not only among the nuclear family, but among extended families as well. In addition, the totem system prevents ‘incest’ among members of the same totem clan who are not related by blood and considers as incest relations between clan members which could not produce children. He explains that the existence of marriage restrictions between the members of the same tribes probably goes back to when group marriages were allowed (but not ‘incest’ within a group family).

He concludes the essay with a discussion of the mother-in-law taboo, and concludes that the incestuous wishes which are repressed to the unconscious among civilized peoples are still a conscious peril to the uncivilized people in Frazer’s studies.

Taboo and Emotional Ambivalence

In this essay, Freud considers the relationship of taboos to totemism. Freud uses his concepts ‘projection’ and ‘ambivalence’ he developed during his work with neurotic patients in Vienna to discuss the relationship between taboo and totemism.

Like neurotics, ‘primitive’ peoples feel ambivalent about most people in their lives, but will not admit this consciously to themselves. They will not admit that as much as they love their mother, there are things about her they hate. The suppressed part of this ambivalence (the hate parts) are projected onto others. In the case of natives, the hateful parts are projected onto the totem. As in: ‘I did not want my mother to die, the totem wanted her to die.’

Freud expands this idea of ambivalence to include the relationship of citizens to their ruler. In ceremonies surrounding kings, which are often quite violent, – such as the king starving himself in the woods for a few weeks – he considers two levels that are functioning to be the “ostensible” (i.e., the king is being honored) and the “actual” (i.e., the king is being tortured).

Animism, Magic and the Omnipotence of Thought

The third essay examines the animism and narcissistic phase associated with a primitive understanding of the universe and early libidinal development. A belief in magic and sorcery derives from an overvaluation of psychical acts whereby the structural conditions of mind are transposed onto the world: this overvaluation survives in both primitive men and neurotics. The animistic mode of thinking is governed by an “omnipotence of thoughts”, a projection of inner mental life onto the external world. This imaginary construction of reality is also discernible in obsessive thinking, delusional disorders and phobias.

Freud comments that the omnipotence of thoughts has been retained in the magical realm of art. The last part of the essay concludes the relationship between magic,paranormal, superstition and taboo, arguing that the practices of animistic system are scree behind which lies instinctual repression.

The Return of Totemism in Childhood

In the final essay, Freud argues that combining one of Charles Darwin’s more speculative theories about the arrangements of early human societies (a single alpha-male surrounded by a harem of females, similar to the arrangement of gorilla groupings) with the theory of the sacrifice ritual taken from William Robertson Smith located the origins of totemism in a singular event, whereby a band of prehistoric brothers expelled from the alpha-male group returned to kill their father, whom they both feared and respected. In this respect, Freud located the beginnings of the Oedipus complex at the origins of human society, and postulated that all religion was in effect an extended and collective form of guilt and ambivalence to cope with the killing of the father figure (which he saw as the true original sin).

Conclusions

 

This concludes the three-part series on Sigmund Freud. In Part III I reviewed some of the written works of this giant of the 20th Century.

I believe his work relating psychoanalysis to the larger characteristics of society to have been rather brilliant. If I remember in the years ahead very few details of Freud’s written works, I have nevertheless come away with a deeper understanding of human behavior. That is, I now realize (from his essay on Taboo and Emotional Ambivalence) that we are always ambivalent in our feelings toward other people—including those we love and are closest with.

We all project our own feelings onto others. In the modern era perhaps seeing the world in shades of gray [rather than black or white] allows us a kind of freedom not normally found among the true believers in society. It takes courage to see the world as complex, devoid of simplistic, sometimes delusional thinking patterns.

Ambivalence may be one of the prices we pay for being couragious. The reward however, in having such courage in the way we see the world in shades of gray— is mental maturity. And, mental maturity just might allow us the freedom to maintain healthy relationships for a lifetime with other people. And, as Detective Sergeant Rick Hunter used to say in the TV series Hunter (1984-1991), “It Works for Me.”

 

 

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HOW TO UNDERSTAND AND APPRECIATE ABSTRACT ART

 

  Connections

From my early college years I began to embrace the philosophy of Existentialism. And, I began to see its connection to art, especially abstract art. In the 1960s religion, and the concept of a sky God who judges you, seemed ridiculous and irrelevant in the modern world when juxtaposed against the murder of six million Jews in Germany, its inability to rationalize the horrors of a world in chaos, poverty, including the horrors of cancer wards with young children dying of that terrible disease, and the backdrop of immense widespread economic and social suffering of people all around the world.

I saw cultural parallels to Existentialism everywhere. The radicalism of Existential writers like Kafka in popular literature influenced me greatly as a young man in helping me to see the connection between Existentialism and modern art.

This deviation in thinking, away from expectations fostered by Aesthetics, additionally led me to evaluate the purpose of the artist, or purpose of art movements that have culturally enriched our diverse fabric of society.

 I like the entire movement and artists of Abstract Expressionism (Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Mark Rothko, Hans Hoffman, Robert Motherwell, Barnett Neuman, Clyfford Still, and many many others).  This is my art bias and straight away I want to be up front about that.

However, why would I write at all about a topic that some people might consider boring? Well, it’s because art in general is so important to our culture. It is a reflection of who we are and how we think. There are many kinds of art in many different forms of medium. This actually makes the process of writing a blog about abstract art a lot easier than would normally be the case.

I feel a real connection to the art world (especially including Abstract Expressionism) because of its intrinsic power of creativity and expressiveness. And because I’ve had lots of experience painting in the medium of oil since 1958. I sometimes see in other artists some of the same things I see in myself. Every time I work on an oil painting a bit of me is revealed to the world, perhaps the subconscious or unconscious in me or perhaps the deliberate me as I go about the business of creating my art. The bottom Line: Abstract Art is pure unadulterated FREEDOM of expression.

I’m a little like Will Rogers, i.e., I never met a woman I didn’t like. Every woman has unique qualities beyond exterior appearance, sometimes very subtle, that make them all very interesting in their own way. It’s all part of the things that make life worth living, be it a quiet conversation, a glance, or a beautiful love filled with romance.  Art, including abstract art, should be conceived of in the same way. It is a kind of appreciative love affair with all the artistic subtleties of life, the nuances of what it means to be truly human and alive.

Introduction

All art is about humanity and culture. It is the product or process of deliberately arranging symbolic elements in a way that influences and affects our senses, emotions, and/or intellect. It encompasses a diverse range of human activities, creations, and modes of expression, including music, literature, film, photography, sculpture, and paintings. The meaning of art is explored in a branch of philosophy known as aesthetics and even diverse disciplines such as history and psychoanalysis connect to art (e.g., art history, psychoanalysis of art images as revealed in the unconscious).

Traditionally, the term art was used to refer to any skill or mastery. This conception changed during the Romantic period, when art came to be seen as “a special faculty of the human mind to be classified with religion and science.” Generally, art is made with the intention of stimulating thoughts and emotions.

The Meaning of Abstract Art

There are generally two types of art- representational and abstract.  They are however not opposites, and they do not compete with one another, but rather complement one another. This is true whether one is discussing sculpture, oil painting, experimental photography, or even modern computer art. From this point on I will confine my comments and analysis to just oil painting.

What all painting has in common are the visual elements of line, form, shape, color, texture, and composition. There are many gradations between representational paintings and abstract paintings. That is, representational images can be distorted slightly. Or, sometimes in pure abstract painting there can still be figuration with a hint of recognizable images.

This is why characterization of oil paintings can be difficult at times when blended diverse visual elements are present in a work of art. At the far extremes of these two types there are photograph-like paintings where images on canvas are made to look like they are absolutely real. At the other extreme there can be a total absence of anything recognizable, except visual elements such as line, form, shape, color, texture, or composition. And, there can be extreme variation and use of such visual elements. In general, while representational paintings tend to portray recognizable objects, abstract paintings more often tend to reflect art based on thinking and intellect, ideas rather than objects, and give emotions a prominent role in the painting process.

The end-object of abstract art can be a kind of psychoanalytic expression of the artist’s subconscious life as well as his conscious effort to create art. Sometimes abstract art can transcend the artist or his end product. That is, sometimes abstract art isn’t about the viewer, the artist, or even the end product. Rather the art is in the process itself of creating the art, for example as in performance art, or action painting. And yet, even here the experience of abstract art isn’t divorced from the other elements involved. The meaning of abstract art is, in its most simplified form, art that relies on the internal insights of the artist and the visual elements of design rather than efforts to simply copy exact representations of objects.

This broad definition allows artists almost unlimited freedom of expression. But it also does something else, that is, it invites the viewer to be part of the process of evaluating the intent of the artist. This experience for the viewer may be unique as the invitation is open-ended.

Some abstract artists create compositions that have no precedent in nature. Other abstract artists work from nature and then interpret their subjects in a nonrepresentational manner. In other words, as found on Wikipedia by Answers.com, when abstract art represents the natural world, it “does so by capturing something of its immutable intrinsic qualities rather than by imitating its external appearance.”

Historically, the first art ever created was abstract. Abstract art has existed for centuries, as Jewish and Islamic traditions forbid the use of representational art.   (http://www.artelino.com/articles/abstract_art.asp) However, the roots of what we generally term “abstract art” can be traced to the Impressionism movement of the 1880s-1890s. Impressionism disregarded the notion that art was supposed to portray images.   Post Impressionism continued this trend and placed more emphasis on the artist’s emotions and expression.

Wassily Kandinsky and Kasimir Malevich were the first to really create works that were pure abstraction.   Kandinsky was the founder of the Abstraction movement and even published a book detailing his theories on art and spirituality, On the Spiritual in Art (http://www.artelino.com/articles/abstract_art.asp).  Kandinsky created a series of pieces with numbered titles beginning with, “Improvisation” and “Composition.”  (http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/kandinsky/). 

 Public Expectations of Art

 What follows is this Blogger’s opinion regarding the subject of public expectations of art. Public expectations of what art is, or what art ought to be, have been changing for a very long time. The reality of art and its expressive nature has been changing ever since early man first painted on cave walls animal figures and tribal activities thousands of years ago.

Despite changing expectations of how art ought to be evaluated over the millennia, art objects themselves (paintings, sculpture, etc.) has tended to be cast (as said before) into two general areas: Representational art and Non-representational art. One theory that has dominated the art world in terms of setting expectations is the theory of Aesthetics.

In general, Aesthetics is a theory based on outward appearance or the way something looks, especially when considered in terms of how pleasing it is. Correspondingly, it is about the idea of beauty or specifically an idea of what is beautiful or artistic.

In art it is the study of the rules and principals of art and in philosophy it is the study of beautiful or aesthetic values, e.g., the beautiful and the sublime (beautiful, morally worthy, complete, and excellent).

While much representational art can be quite beautiful, and display an artisit’s ability to identically re-create images or figures in nature, the theory of aesthetics is however quite limited as a standard for how people ought to appreciate art. All of this brings one to the topic of how abstract art fits into how the general public evaluates it.

Aesthetics and Abstract Art

Aesthetics, in this bloggers opinion, has led the viewing public over time to always expect that art must be beautiful or in some way visually pleasing to the senses in order to have value. Whether something has value, of course, is based on a judgment call thus a “value judgment.” And any art that does not have value, based on the theory of aesthetics, is regarded with suspicion, and in some cases, scorn and ridicule. Such historically has often been the case with Abstract Art.

Unfortunately, expecting representations of images in art to always be beautiful or pleasing causes one to self-impose or limit oneself by missing the intrinsic pleasures of seeing art in other totally different ways (For example, seeing art, including abstract art, as total, unlimited freedom of expression, imagination, symbolism, energy and expression of visual elements, seeing purpose of the artist, as a puzzle to be unravaled, or as an idea rather than a recognizable object. It is also about appreciating compositions of fascinating design, how the art object itself fits into the mentally stimulating concept of a particular art genre or art movement, or the diversity of color and its visual dynamics, but also line, textures and shape). In many ways, abstract art is unlimited in potential.

Viewing abstract art and making sense of it is as much about your internal psychological state as it is that of the artist who composed it. Such is the case when one begins to tie the abstractness of the visual elements looked at to the larger context of culture, or to the psychodynamics of conscious and unconscious thought processes within all of us. Abstract art can be a breath of fresh air, innovative and totally creative. It takes a raw, pure, simple look at the world, but never a simplistic one. 

 

What I am trying to communicate is that art, including abstract art, does not occur in a social vacuum; it never has. Often, vast changes in societies worldwide have influenced both the content and direction of contemporaneous art movements that developed.

Pure abstract art, and those works employing some figuration along with abstract elements, is a “Thinking Person’s approach” to understanding and appreciating art; It is not a mentally lazy person’s approach to understanding and appreciating art. All artistic expression done in public (museums, concerts, showings, art fairs) is basically an open invitation to explore the world of the artist, the meaning of the art work or expression, and to enjoy the experience.

Learning to Appreciate Abstract Art

Like anything worthwhile in this life it takes effort to appreciate it, much less to thoroughly understand something. However, in the case of Abstract Art, the best way to appreciate it is to first make an effort to understand it. What exactly does understanding imply or mean? It turns out the word “understanding” for all you Etymology buffs, has five related definitions:

1.  Ability to grasp meaning: the ability to perceive and explain the meaning or the nature of somebody or something

2.  Knowledge of something: knowledge of a particular subject, area, or situation

gaining a better understanding of industrial processes

3.  Interpretation of something: somebody’s interpretation of something, or a belief or opinion based on an interpretation of or inference from something. It was my understanding that the costs would be shared equally.

4.  Mutual comprehension: an agreement, often an unofficial or unspoken one.

I’m sure we can come to an understanding about this.

5.  Knowledge of another’s nature: a sympathetic, empathetic, or tolerant recognition of somebody else’s nature or situation. I thought you of all people would show a little understanding.

There is a very high positive correlation between understanding and appreciation. That is, the more one understands something the more one tends to appreciate it. And the foundation for all understanding is what educators have been telling people for thousands of years: Learning is the foundation.

The absolute best way to learn about abstract art is to either obtain a quality four-year college education in art/and or art history, or to travel around the world for two years  visiting all the major museums and galleries of note, and reading many, many books on the subject. To help stimulate your interest in this subject matter I’d like first to give the Blog reader a very short overview of one of the most prominent art movements of the 20th Century: Abstract Expressionism.

At the end of this Blog I will provide references for further reading on the topic of Abstract Expressionism. For those of you who are thinking about developing a new hobby I highly recommend oil painting. Take classes on the subject and set aside that space in your garage where you can set up a studio just for you. Don’t bring turpentine or oil paints into the house or your marriage may soon be coming to an end. After reading this Blog if you’d like to become more knowledgeable beyond the basics it will be up to you. The path you take to learning and appreciating abstract art will be highly individualistic. This was very true in my own case.

So, I will proceed now with a short overview of Abstract Expressionism to impart some understanding of the concept and reality of abstract art. Just understand this at the top: Abstract art and its concepts or varieties did not occur by itself in a cultural vacuum. Like any other growing concept it is always a product of culture itself, or learned behavior patterns. The development of Abstract Art parallels Abstract Thinking. It also parallels historical developments in all the world cultures, ancient and modern. What is important about art, all art, is that it is inextricably tied to culture and the changes that are constantly occurring in that culture.

Abstract Expressionism

A Little History: The Migration out of Europe

During the Nazi rise to power in the 1930s many artists fled Europe to the United States. By the early 1940s the main movements in modern art, expressionism, cubism, abstraction, surrealism, and dada were represented in New York: Marcel Duchamp, Fernand Leger, Piet Mondrian, Jacques Lipchitz, Max Ernst, Andre Breton, were just a few of the exiled Europeans who arrived in New York.

The rich cultural influences brought by the European artists were distilled and built upon by local New York painters. The climate of freedom in New York allowed all of these influences to flourish. The art galleries that primarily had focused on European art began to notice the local art community and the work of younger American artists who had begun to mature. Certain of these artists became distinctly abstract in their mature work. Some artists of the period defied categorization, such as Georgia O’Keeffe who, while a modernist abstractionist, was a pure maverick in that she painted highly abstract forms while not joining any specific group of the period. Eventually American artists who were working in a great diversity of styles began to coalesce into cohesive stylistic groups.

The best known group of American artists became known as the Abstract Expressionists. Nearly all resided in New York City. In New York City there was an atmosphere which encouraged discussion and there was new opportunity for learning and growing. Artists and teachers John D. Graham and Hans Hoffmann became important bridge figures between the newly arrived European Modernists and the younger American artists coming of age. Mark Rothko, born in Russia, began with strongly surrealist imagery which later dissolved into his powerful color compositions of the early 1950s. The expressionistic gesture and the act of painting itself, became of primary importance to Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline. While during the 1940s Arshile Gorky’s ‘s and Willem de kooning’s figurative work evolved into abstraction by the end of the decade. New York City became the center, and artists worldwide gravitated towards it; from other places in America as well.

Abstract Expressionism Comes Alive in New York

Abstract Expressionism was never an ideal label for the movement which grew up in New York in the 1940s and 1950s. It was somehow meant to encompass not only the work of painters who filled their canvases with fields of color and abstract forms, but also those who attacked their canvases with a vigorous gestural expressionism.

But it has become the most accepted term for a group of artists who did hold much in common. All were committed to an expressive art of profound emotion and universal themes, and most were shaped by the legacy of Surrealism, a movement which they translated into a new style fitted to the post-war mood of anxiety and trauma.

In their success, the New York painters robbed Paris of its mantle as leader of modern art, and set the stage forAmerica’s post-war dominance of the international art world.

Most of the artists associated with Abstract Expressionism matured in the 1930s. They were influenced by the era’s leftist politics, and came to value an art grounded in personal experience. Few would maintain their earlier radical political views, but many continued to adopt the posture of outspoken avant-gardists protesting from the margins.

Having matured as artists at a time when America suffered economically and felt culturally isolated and provincial, the Abstract Expressionists were later welcomed as the first authentically American avant-garde. Their art was championed for being emphatically American in spirit – monumental in scale, romantic in mood, and expressive of a rugged individual freedom.

The milieu of Abstract Expressionism united sculptors such as David Smith as well as photographers like Aaron Siskind, but above all the movement was one of painters.

Political instability in Europe in the 1930s brought several leading Surrealists to New York, and many of the Abstract Expressionists were profoundly influenced by the style and by its interest in the unconscious. It encouraged their interest in myth and archetypal symbols and it shaped their understanding of painting itself as a struggle between self-expression and the chaos of the unconscious.

Beginnings

It is one of the many paradoxes of Abstract Expressionism that the roots of the movement lay in the figurative painting of the 1930s. Almost all the artists who would later become abstract painters in New York in the 1940s and 1950s were stamped by the experience of the Depression, and they came to maturity whilst painting in styles influenced by social realism and the Regionalist movement. By the late 1940s most had left those styles behind, but they learned much from their early work. It encouraged them in their commitment to an art based on personal experience. Time spent painting murals would later encourage them to create abstract paintings on a similarly monumental scale. And the experience of working for the government sponsored Works Progress Administration also brought many disparate figures together, and this would make it easier for them to band together again in the late 1940s and early 1950s when the new style was being promoted.

Artists living in New York in the 1930s were the beneficiaries of an increasingly sophisticated network of museums and galleries which staged major exhibitions of modern art. TheMuseum of Modern Art mounted shows such as “Cubism and Abstract Art,” “Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism,” and a major retrospective of Picasso. And 1939 saw the opening of the Museum of Non-Objective Painting, (later to be called the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum), which boasted an important collection of Kandinsky’s works.

 New York in the 1930s and 1940s

Many European modernists began to come to New York in the 1930s and 1940s to escape political upheaval and war. Some, such as the painter and teacher Hans Hoffman, would prove directly influential: Hofmann had spent the early years of the century in Paris; he had met the likes of Picasso, Matisse, and Braque, who had acquired titanic reputations in artists’ circles in New York, and he was able to impart many of their ideas to his students. Hofmann arrived with a sophisticated understanding of Cubism, and also a love of Matisse’s Fauvism, which was underappreciated by many in New York.

All this activity meant that New York’s artists were extraordinarily knowledgeable about trends in modern European art. It left many with feelings of inferiority, yet these were slowly overcome in the 1940s. Personal encounters with many displaced Europeans, such as Andre Breton, Max Ernst, and Andre Masson, helped to rob some artists of the mythic status they had acquired. And, as Europe suffered under totalitarian regimes in the 1930s, and later became mired in war, many Americans felt emboldened to transcend European influence, to develop a rhetoric of painting that was appropriate to their own nation, and, not least, to take the helm of advanced culture at a time when some of its oldest citadels were under threat. It was no accident that critic Clement Greenberg, in one of his first important responses to the new movement, described it as “‘American-Type’ Painting”.

  The Formation of the Movement

By the late 1940s, many of the factors were in place to give birth to the new movement – however varied and disparate its artists’ work. In 1947 Jackson Pollock found his way to the drip technique. The following year, de kooning had an influential show at the Charles Egan Gallery; Barnett Newman arrived at his breakthrough picture Onement I; and Mark Rothko began painting the “multi-form” paintings that would soon lead to the signature works of his mature period. And after eighteen like-minded artists mounted a boycott of an exhibition of contemporary art at the Metropolitan Museum, and in January 1951 were cajoled into posing for a photo for Life magazine, they were baptized as “The Irascibles”. Finally, the movement had a sense of common, group identity and purpose.

Impact of Surrealism on Abstract Expressionism

The most significant influence on the themes and concepts of the Abstract Expressionists was Surrealism. The American painters were uneasy with the overt Freudian symbolism of the European movement, but they were inspired by its interests in the unconscious, as well as its strain of primitivism and preoccupation with mythology. Many were particularly interested in the ideas of the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, who believed that elements of a collective unconscious had been handed down through the ages by means of archetypal symbols – primordial images which had become recurrent motifs.

This gave many artists the impetus to move away from the biomorphic Surrealism of Miró and Picasso, and towards an increasingly reductive style. Rothko and Newman are typical of this progress: Rothko experimented with abstract symbols in the early 1940s before moving towards entirely abstract fields of color; Newman similarly sought an approach which might strip away all extraneous motifs and communicate everything through one powerfully resonant symbol – in his case, the so-called ‘zip’ paintings.

Many artists attempted to channel into art by means of what André Breton called ‘pure psychic automatism’, which in practice often meant the involvement of chance in the creation of art. Pollock considered his drip technique to be at least in part a means of harnessing his unconscious; and the approach left effects to chance for all to see on the surface of the canvas. But like many others, Pollock also insisted on an element of control in his method – as he once said, “No chaos, damn it!” – and he believed that the “drips” were powerfully expressive, rather than being merely random accumulations of paint. Indeed, they were self-expressive. The ambivalence in Pollock’s attitude was shared by many Abstract Expressionists’, whose embrace of chaos was balanced by an impulse towards control. This paradox explains much of the energetic tumult one finds in the work of many of the so-called “action painters”, including de Kooning, Kline and Motherwell. In part it led to the so-called “all-over” effect which one sees in Pollock’s mature work, and in de Kooning’s abstract paintings of the late 1940s, in which forms seem to be dispersed evenly across the canvas; when chaos threatened, everything in the image could shatter into pieces.

 Existentialism and Rosenberg

 Another impetus for the Abstract Expressionists to retool Surrealism was a feeling that certain aspects of the style were no longer suited to the post-war world. The reigning philosophy of the period, Existentialism, would never be an important influence on the Abstract Expressionists, but it contributed to the rhetoric of anxiety and alienation which pervaded discussion. It was also a key influence on one of the movement’s critics, Harold Rosenberg, who delved into it for this influential formulation which appeared in an 1952 article for Art News entitled “The American Action Painters”: “At a certain moment the canvas began to appear to one American painter after another as an arena in which to act – rather than a space in which to reproduce, redesign, analyze or ‘express’ an object, actual or imagined. What was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event.” It was this notion that birthed the idea of “action painting”: it didn’t quite accommodate the work of artists like Rothko and Newman, but it was an insightful realization of what painters like Pollock, Kline and de Kooning all had in common.

 Formalism and Greenberg

 The other critic who proved crucial in promoting the movement – and the one whose influence has far out-lasted it – was Clement Greenberg. He was uncomfortable with any discussion of content and ideas in art, and argued instead that modern art had evolved along formal lines.

Greenberg saw in Pollock the next important step in this process, and championed his work vigorously. Indeed, he championed all of the Abstract Expressionists as a triumphant American answer to the shortcomings of the European avant-garde. He also encouraged the idea of ‘color field’ painting. Some would later argue that color field painting represented a new manifestation of a long tradition of sublime landscape. But Greenberg viewed the work of Rothko, Still and Newman as part of a tendency in modern painting to apply color in extended areas, or ‘fields’. He would later return to this notion in championing a second generation of painters, which included Helen Frankenthaler, Joan Mitchell and Morris Louis.

The Legacy of Abstract Expressionism

Like any group of artists whose work achieves widespread recognition, Abstract Expressionism was eventually imperilled by its success. An extensive network of dealers, museums and galleries reached out to support it; even the government covertly embraced it and promoted it vigorously overseas as a testament to free-expression in America, in contrast to the repressions of the Stalinist Eastern Bloc. Inevitably, by the mid 1950s, the style had attracted a multitude of young followers, and what began as an impulse to expression, threatened to become stale and academic.

By the mid 1950s the style had also run its course in other ways. The movement’s greatest achievements were often built on a conflict between chaos and control which could only be played out in so many ways. Some artists, such as Newman and Rothko, had evolved a style so reductive that there was little room for development – and to change course would have shrunk the grandeur of their bold trademark solutions. Younger artists following the development of this generation were less and less persuaded by artists who were said to put forth one sublime expression after another, often in series; and they grew tired of their postures of heroism. Homosexual artists, such as Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol and Ellsworth Kelly, also felt little affinity with the macho styles and rhetoric of the New York School. Some, like Johns, would learn much from the Abstract Expressionists, and carry their interest in the autographic gesture in fresh directions, introducing qualities of irony, ambiguity and reticence which the older generation could never have countenanced. Others, like Warhol, were too enthralled by the pop culture of the streets to have much in common with the lofty ambitions of hard-drinking womanizers such as Pollock and de Kooning.

By the late 1950s, Abstract Expressionism had entirely lost its place at the center of critical debate and a new generation was on the cusp of success. Yet the legacy of the movement was to be considerable. Allan Kaprow sensed this as early as 1958 when he wrote an article for Art News entitled “What is the legacy of Jackson Pollock?” His answer pointed beyond painting, and Pollock’s influence was certainly felt in areas where performance had a role: he was to be important to the Japanese Gutai movement as well as the Viennese Actionists. But the influence of the movement as a whole would continue to be felt by painters maturing in subsequent decades. It was important for the likes of Dorothea Rockburne, Pat Steir, Susan Rothenberg and Jack Whitten in the 1970s. Its rhetoric – if not its direct example – would be important for many Neo-Expressionists in the 1980s such as Julian Schnabel and Jean-Michel Basquait (He was a brilliant artist who tragically died of a drug overdose at 27).

And in the 1990s it again provided an example to painters such as Cecily Brown. The themes and concepts which informed Abstract Expressionism may have lost the power to compel young artists, but the movement’s achievements continue to supply them with standards against which to be measured.

 References

Triumph of American Painting: A History of Abstract Expressionism by Irving Sandler

Abstract Expressionism by A. Everitt

Abstract Expressionism (World of Art) by David Anfam

Abstract expressionism, the formative years by Robert Carleton Hobbs

Modern Art: The Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries by Meyer Schapiro

World Wide Web

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