Wednesday, March 25, 2020

On Medium: The Audacity of the Quran

The Quran is supposed to lay bare the essence of monotheism that's been obscured by Jewish and Christian backsliding. So is monotheism still respectable? Here's an article that examines the themes of the Quran and explains the source of the Quran's audacity.


  1. Why did God create these deadly viruses? : < )

  2. Thanks for the article. The Governor of Washington has ordered the lobby of every fast food restaurant closed & I have no internet connection of my own, so I haven't accessed your site in quite some time. My neighbor is letting me use his WiFi, but the connection is weak, so I'll be brief.

    When I first read the Quran I was struck, not by its poetic genius, reasonableness or spirituality (for it lacks all of these), but by its strangeness. By then I had read most of the world's scriptures & the Quran stood out amongst them like a piece of abstract art would in a museum devoted to the Renaissance. I've never read anything before or since that could rival the disorganized polemics of Islam's holy book. The ravings of any alienated lunatic you care to name are more coherent & systematic than anything in that book (go ahead, read the SCUM Manifesto or Charlie Manson's soliloquies & compare to Muhammad's).

    It's almost unbelievable that any adult who had never read it before could conclude that these are the words of God & convert to Islam. But when I thought about it more deeply I began to wonder if the Quran's very strangeness might be its best selling point. God, if he exists, must himself be very strange. You've already explained how psychologically warped the monotheistic God would need to be if he existed in some of your essays, so I need not restate the case here; but it seems to me that the defensiveness, paranoia & obsession evinced by the author of Quran fits God's psycho-pathological profile as snug as a glove.

    Am I saying I believe the Quran truly is the word of God? No, but at the same time I can't utterly dismiss the possibility. Muhammad is most likely the true author; but if God ever did write a book, I suspect it would be a lot like the Quran.

    1. That's roughly the point I was going for. Islam is consistent with the most unflattering presentation of monotheism, which gives us the chance to assess this kind of religion without the Jewish or Christian obfuscations. The question is whether we agree with the idea of what Hitchens called a "celestial dictatorship."

      Of course, God's resentfulness could be explained if the choice between Hell or Heaven really were on the line. God might get angry to provoke us into avoiding everlasting torture. But that only pushes the problem back a step: why should Hell be at stake for disbelief in monotheism and in Islam, in particular, especially after the ancient teleological presuppositions have become archaic? God waited too long to end the world and issue his Judgment. He should have returned before the Scientific Revolution.

      Stay safe.

  3. I agree that it seems silly for the Allah to be angry at those who either sincerely reject him on scientific grounds or are just evil & rebellious by nature; in neither case can they help it. But humans often do the same thing. We express anger at lower animals & even inanimate objects though we know that the fault, if there is any, lies within ourselves, not the cat who knocked down our tea or the stone we stubbed our toe on. Even the most enlightened people still hate rapists & serial killers, though the behavior of these people seems to be compulsive & certainly isn't something any free being would choose.

    Of course, we naturally expect God to be above all these human failings just as children expect their parents to be wiser & more mature than they are; but in both cases that expectation is unrealistic. Children can outgrow their parents long before they reach adulthood & if we are children of God, why should it be any different for us? Monotheism assumes that in the beginning everything was perfect, so the only way to go is down. But the scientific worldview assumes the opposite: things start out savage & primitive but gradually evolve in the direction of perfection. Look at monotheism's claims from outside its own paradigm of perfection preceeding imperfection, turn it upside-down, & the monotheist's God's many flaws begin to make sense.

    This all goes back to Greek philosophy. You have Plato who says that in the beginning there was only the Good & everything went downhill from there; that's basically what monotheists believe in their own unenlightened, Plato-abjuring way. Then you had Heraclitus who believed in constant change & evolution through which the Nous is ceaselessly sorting through the chaos & forging it into omnifarious forms; everything is in a dialectical process of becoming something else - that's the progressive, scientific spirit in its most elemental form. Finally you have Parmenides, the inspiration behind much of Platonism, who reasoned that since the universe has always existed, it must have achieved either perfection or ultimate decadence an eternity ago, hence all change (as well as multiplicity) is only apparent; on a fundamental level all things are really one thing & all temporal reference points constitute an eternal now - on the macro-scale there is no becoming, only being.

    All three of those views have pragmatic value & I have found it useful to look at a given question through each of those lenses. The seeming absurdities of monotheism actually make a lot more sense through a Heraclitean lense than they do through their native Platonic one; which seems to imply that the first theists did not believed in a perfect God or a fall from grace (and indeed the Greek polytheists did not). But the Platonic perspective is really a lot more consistent with Deism than any brand of Theism. The Good of Platonism is not a person, so it wouldn't be susceptible to the insanity that would likely befall a personal God; the same is true of Parmenides' One. A person presupposes a community of persons as well as the possibility of growth. The gods of polytheism were persons who lived within a community of gods who were born, experienced personal growth & could die. Monotheism is incoherent because it attempts to personalize the 'God' of the philosophers, who never for a moment believed that the fundamental principle behind the cosmos could be a person. The whole point of philosophy was to explain nature in impersonal terms that didn't rely upon gods or spirits. Monotheism can be seen as an attempt to reconcile Greek polytheism with Greek philosophy - it can't work because the two systems are mutually exclusive.