Sunday, April 22, 2012

Pinker blames Inquisition

Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature is an impressive work, but it is hard to get past his weak historical analysis, hostility to Christianity, squishy view of science, and leftist political bias.
The historian Bernard Lewis is not the only one who has asked, "What wrong?" In 2002 a committee of Arab intellectuals under the auspices of United Nations published the candid Arab Human Development Report, said be "written by Arabs for Arabs." The authors documented that Arab nations were plagued by political repression, economic backwardness, oppression of women, widespread illiteracy, and a self imposed isolation from the world of ideas. At the time of the report, the entire Arab world exported fewer manufactured goods than the Philippines, had poorer Internet connectivity than sub-Saharan Africa, registered 2 percent as many patents per year as South Korea and translated about a fifth as many books into Arabic as Greece translates into Greek.

It wasn't always that way. During the Middle Ages, Islamic civilization was unquestionably more refined than Christendom. While Europeans were applying their ingenuity to the design of instruments of torture, Muslims were preserving classical Greek culture, absorbing the knowledge of the civilizations of India and China, and advancing astronomy, architecture, cartography, medicine, chemistry, physics, and mathematics. Among the symbolic legacies of this age are the "Arabic numbers" (adapted from India) and loan words such as alcohol, algebra, alchemy, alkali, azimuth, alembic, and algorithm. Just as the West had to come from behind to overtake Islam in science, so it was a laggard in human rights. [p.364]
No, Islamic civilization was not more refined than Christendom. That list of Islamic accomplishments is mostly borrowed from non-Islamic cultures. Yes, we got 7 words from the Arabs, but we got far more from medieval Europe, no matter how you measure it.

Pinker then quotes Bernard Lewis, a Jewish Princeton professor:
Lewis notes:
In most tests of tolerance, Islam, both in theory and in practice, compares unfavorably with the Western democracies as they have developed during the last two or three centuries, but very favorably with most other Christian and post Christian societies and regimes. There is nothing in Islamic history to compare with the emancipation, acceptance, and integration of other believers and non believers in the West; but equally, there is nothing in Islamic history to compare with the Spanish expulsion of Jews and Muslims, the Inquisition the Auto da fe's the wars of religion not to speak of more recent crimes of commission and acquiescence.
Why did Islam blow its lead and fail to have an Age of Reason, an Enlightenment, and a Humanitarian Revolution? Some historians point to bellicose passages in the Koran, but compared to our own genocidal scriptures, they are nothing that some clever exegesis and evolving norms couldn't spin-doctor away.

Lewis points instead to the historical lack of separation between mosque and state. Muhammad was not just a spiritual leader but a political and military one, and only recently have any Islamic states had the concept of a distinction between the secular and the sacred. With every potential intellectual contribution filtered through religious spectacles, opportunities for absorbing and combining new ideas were lost. ...

Whatever the historical reasons, a large chasm appears to separate Western and Islamic cultures today. [p.365]
The Auto-da-fé (literally "act of faith") was a public penance ritual associated to the Spanish Inquisition. I don't know how a mideast scholar could say something so silly as "there is nothing in Islamic history to compare with the Spanish expulsion of Jews and Muslims". This expulsion was no more exceptional than the Moors invading and subjugating Christian Spain in the first place. To this day, peaceful Christians and Jews are being driven out of Islamic countries such as Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, and Iran. And the Mohammedans would drive the Jews out of Israel, if they could. Islam has always compared unfavorably to Christianity.
Here is a news story from a couple of days ago:
A Sri Lankan woman has been arrested on suspicion of casting a spell on a 13-year-old girl on a shopping trip in Saudi Arabia. She may face the death penalty as the Middle Eastern country is known to behead convicted sorcerers.
Pinker describes himself as a "Jewish atheist" who identifies with Zionists [p.374], so of course he has much to say about later persecutions of the Jews, such as the Nazis expelling them from Germany. But Hitler was no Christian, and Pinker subscribes to the view that there never would have been a Holocaust without Hitler. [p.209]

Pinker and Lewis are anti-Christian bigots. The Moors invaded Spain and Spain eventually kicked them out. Pinker and Lewis act as if it was one of the great crimes of human civilization for Spain to kick the Moors out, while denying that the Moors ever did anything wrong. Pinker and Lewis are essentially saying that it is okey for anti-Christian forces to try to destroy a Christian culture, but wrong for the Christians to fight back.

Lewis is correct that Islam is not just a religion, and Muhammad mixed his religious, political, and military teachings. You cannot separate the religion from the military jihad against nonbelievers. Christianity is not like that. Europe has a history of wars, but those wars were driven by politics, not religion.

Europe would have been destroyed by Mohammedan invaders if the Christians had been unwilling to fight back. Europe was saved by the 732 Battle of Tours, 1492 Reconquista, 1571 Battle of Lepanto, and 1683 Battle of Vienna. Christian-haters like Pinker and Lewis continue to complain about Spain defending itself against the Moors, and even argue that it was worse than anything that Islamic countries have done. Spain was defending itself from oppressive invaders.

Pinker's book talks about "better angels" but his explanation for the decline of violence involves Jewish atheists and others becoming enlightened enough to reject Christianity and joining liberal causes that eventually embraced feminism, gay rights, and animal rights. Seems dubious to me. I think Christianity did much more to reduce violence. Sure, some Christian countries fought medieval wars, but repelling the Mohammedans had the long-term effect of reducing violence, as well as making modern civilization and prosperity possible.


Igor Alexander said...

"But Hitler was no Christian..."

A quote from Mein Kampf:

"I believe today that I am acting in the sense of the Almighty Creator: By warding off the Jews I am fighting for the Lord's work."

Mein Kampf is littered with such passages, as well as praise for such institutions as the Catholic Church.

If Hitler wasn't a Christian, then what was he?

Roger said...

That quote does not sound Christian to me. See Religious views of Adolf Hitler for details about his beliefs.