Tag Archives: Islam

Secular vs. Religious Solutions for Europe: Tom Holland

First Things is a conservative intellectual Catholic magazine.  I read it for about a year when I worked with a very devout Catholic physician who challenged me to read it.  First Things authors, in my experience, love to show off their erudition, often at the expense of a coherent message.

I was surprised when The Browser, a nonreligious on-line article aggregator, recently recommended the First Things article “All the East is Moving“. The article is by Tom Holland  and its opening blurb it says, “No longer at war with Islam, Western Europe had less need to define itself as Christ­endom, and could favour secular values over religious ones. We have come to believe that secular values will always prevail in modern societies: Is it time to revisit that assumption?”   Later in the article, he supports his thesis saying, “We don’t have too much Islam,” as German Chancellor Angela Merkel put it, “we have too little Christianity.”

It is a long article with some interesting historical information but disappointingly little support for his main thesis.

Interestingly, I found an article in the British site, “The New Humanist” where the author, Alom Shaha, interviews Tom Holland (a historian, writer and broadcaster) saying , “Tom Holland is a Christian who – by and large – doesn’t believe in God.”

Shaha states further about Holland,

When I ask him if he actually believes in the existence of a god he replies “There’s a sort of nagging, god-shaped hole in the back of my mind and the simulacrum of a god that I use to fill it is a Christian one. I could read the account of the passion, go to church on Easter and feel this is true, feel that it is articulating truths that affect me far more profoundly than I could possibly put into words, I feel myself in communion with the vast inheritance of Christian faith, I find that moving and at moments like that, I think “is this what it’s like to believe in god?” However, he also tells me that “I have seen no evidence that would satisfy me that anything supernatural exists. I have seen no proof for god.”

Tom Holland, seems to identify with an idealized version of Christianity — and he says he does so out of gratitude for his upbringing and inheritance. Tom’s article at one moment shows he knows the problems in Christian history, at the next he blindly idealizes what Christianity has to offer.  Readers can see if they agree. 

Holland’s Christianity involves an idealized non-historical Jesus’ supposed Sermon on the Mount which can be seen when he says, “no text has done more to underpin the construction of a new and multicultural identity for the [European] continent than the Sermon on the Mount.”

But the Sermon on the Mount seems to be a mishmash of sayings (probably even prior to a supposed Jesus), some contradictory to other sayings and some just nonsense. Several authors have pointed out these problems with the Sermon on the Mount, but see this article for an example “Iron Chariots“.

Holland’s article talks about the fascinating connections between Tolkien, magic weapons and the Nazis.  So if you want to read a typical Catholic “First Things” article which shows off erudition, rambles a bit and all the while it does not show the best evidence for their thesis, read Holland’s article (a non-believer in god(s) but who embraces Christianity in his identity).  I actually enjoyed the Nazi and Tolkien stuff.

Questions for Readers:  Do any of you non-theist readers have a “ simulacrum of a god” that you use.  Holland does, and uses it to label himself a Christian.  What do you think of that move?

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Your Death Theology

death-cult-leunigThe horrors of fundamental and even of moderate Islam are obvious. But when Christians criticize the supposedly sacred ideas and writings upon which these Muslim’s support their horrible ideas (the Qur’an and Hadith), the Christians’ ignorant irony is laughable.  The above cartoon by the famous Australian cartoonist Michael Leunig captures that same tragic irony that I also expressed in my 2010 post “Your God is weird!”.  Death theology, Exclusivist theology, Tribal theology and all such wrong thoughts must be fought constantly — sacred or secular.  Freedom from stupidity is not a right, it is the tenuous fruit of constant effort.


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Djinn & Muslim Mental Illness

I made the above poster after being inspired by this short, interesting post in www.livescience.com entitled Supernatural ‘Jinn’ seen as Cause of Mental Illness Among Muslims which begins:

It may be common for psychiatric patients who are Muslim to attribute their hallucinations or other symptoms to “jinn,” the invisible, devilish creatures in Islamic mythology, researchers in the Netherlands have found.



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Mazin & Wadjda: a friend and a film

Mazin's Tree

Mazin_and_SabioThe above photograph is the family tree of my good friend Mazin. Mazin and I have known each other for 30 years.  We first met in Taiwan and later in Japan, China and England — where he lives now. My daughter and I visited him and his wonderful family in England this summer. And here, on a walk through a park, we took a picture of ourselves.

When I first saw Mazin on this trip, I greeted him with the standard Arab greeting, to which my daughter responded by whispering to me in astonishment, “Dad, you kissed Mazin!”

“Mazin is a dear friend, honey, and that his how Arab friends greet each other” I replied. She nodded.

wadjdaMazin is an Iraqi Arab whose father married an Welsh woman. Mazin was raise in Iraq until he was thirteen and then spent the next 8 years in England and then 5 years in China, where we met. During our summer stay with Mazin, he proudly showed me his family tree. It was wonderful as he used the tree to guide me through many of his family stories.

Today, back in the USA, my daughter and I watched the fantastic Saudi film Wadjda (2012). I was amazed such a film could be made in Saudi Arabia — it subtly criticizes much about Saudi culture. Watching this and other foreign films reminds me of couchsurfing where I get to step into other lives and cultures which I may not otherwise see. I get to taste experiences far different from my own.

The picture below is from the film.  Here you see Wadjda looking at her father’s family tree as her mother tells her “You aren’t included, it only includes men’s names.” Later in the movie, Wadjda tapes her name to the tree, only to have it removed by someone else later. Saudi Arab culture has its very dark site.

Wadjda_family_treeThough very Arab in wonderful ways, Mazin is not a typical Arab by any stretch. In fact, you will note on his family tree that he has pictures of women members taped on. He proudly bragged about the women in his family as he told me stories.  And Mazin has a fantastic relationship with his incredibly talented and beautiful Swiss wife, Pia.

But having met Mazin, and seen his family tree, I felt more involved in the film about Wadjda because I now knew the family tree tradition personally.

Wadjda is a great film — slow, with subtitles, but you’ll learn about Saudi Arabia in ways books and articles can’t teach you. Though I had to continually explain parts of the film to my daughter, she thoroughly enjoyed it. If you are more interested in the film, google around for proper reviews.


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Eid Sa’id, to the good side of Islam

Indonesians Celebrate the Eid (source)

Indonesians celebrate Eid-al-Fitr (source)

Here is wishing peaceful Muslims around the world “Eid Sa’id” (Happy Eid). Today is Eid-al-Fitr which is a feast day ending their month of day-time fasting (Ramadan).

Festivals, sacred and secular, can be a joyous experiences. Depending on rhetoric and propaganda, people can use that joy to improve and of the following:

  • their inner life (like peace, love or taqwa -the ultimate goal of Ramadan)
  • their generosity and other virtues
  • their community

But joyous religious festivals can be used to also build negative attributes like:

  • a holier-than-the-pagan idea
  • a us-vs-them idea
  • their subservience to their government or religious rulers
  • licentiousness and lawlessness

Mind you, even secular holidays can do the same. So I only offer “Eid Sa’id” to the healthy side of Islam and hope the ugly practices in the name of Islam fade a little more today.

As an addition to my sacrilegious post here which proposes a fictitious medicine for constipation experienced during Ramadan, clicking here you will see a Saudi article about the complaint of weight gain that Eid-al-Fitr brings to doctor offices among many binging celebrates.  So next week, I may see folks for that.  Heck, my proposed medicine may work for that too (sorry, just can’t help myself).



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Ramadan Constipation

Allah_LaxMore than 450 students from Saudi Arabia attend a University near my clinic and in the last few days I have seen several of these young men complaining of constipation. “Odd, I thought,” but then I remembered, “Ah, it is Ramadan!”  The change in their diet during Ramadan is binding them up. Don’t believe me? Read Islam 101 here.


Realizing that Ramadan Constipation is a worldwide problem I’ve thought of this product as both a financial opportunity and a service to the spiritual and physical needs of Allah’s devote followers at this time of year.  Above I have created the brand name and packaging.  Dear readers, can you think of other halal ingredients besides senna that could help our Muslim brothers?

And so that readers don’t think I am picking on just Muslims, please click on this picture to the right to see how I also offer Buddhists relief from their spiritipation also.


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Iraq: More than Religion

Iraq_landHuge numbers of Americans barely know where Iraq is, yet alone know anything about her. And of those who do, most have a simple impression of the conflict in Iraq. Their media-fed view is that an evil jihadi militia is gruesomely sweeping through Iraq turning the country to convert Iran into an Islamist oppressive state. More sophisticated Americans supplement this view by actually knowing the two words “Shiite” and “Sunni” and thinking that the problems has something to do with a centuries-old conflict between these two sects. Some even know a bit of the Islamic history behind these two sects. But according to this excellent NYbooks post, the Iraq conflict is not fundamentally about a conflict between Islamic sects, but is “mostly about politics: access to government revenue and services, a say in decision-making, and a modicum of social justice.”

It is this level of analysis that I also push for when we study religion in general. Sure, looking at theological arguing points may seem important, but to truly understand religion is to see how doctrines serve politics, relationships, decision-making, and the human psyche. Sure, many believers may think that real religion is about metaphysical truth propositions, but they too are misunderstanding the large part of how such ideas work.

So, be suspect of the media when they dumb down events. Be suspect of simple labels as they tempt you to understand a country, a religion, a person or even yourself. The under workings of reality are much more interesting that the easy-to-remember labels.

This post is not necessarily meant to discuss Iraq, anyone’s lack of understanding, Islam or any such thing.  There is too much to understand in this world, ignorance is inevitable. Instead, I am merely pointing out how easily we buy into simple, convenient explanations — and worse yet, how we take our own superficial understandings seriously.



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