Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Performing critiques of religion

The honorable Rothstein recently wrote a debate article, which was given the title "Religion does not contribute to a better society". Which to be sure is the main thesis of the article, and the main argument for this thesis is that it can be shown using statistics. The argument ends there, without going into specifics, but we have to be understanding of the limited space afforded by such articles.

The honorable Bengtson wrote a reply to this article, given the title "Religion does not exist in general!". The main thesis is that the concept of "religion" is about as wide as the Atlantic Ocean, and that it follows from this that it's hard to draw conclusions about it. That is not to say that it cannot be done, but the concept has to be used in a more specific and explicit manner before embarking on such conclusionary endeavors.

To use an analogy: both football and Starcraft are sports. There are similarities between them. There are also differences, and these differences are of a nature that those things that apply to Starcraft do not automagically also apply to football, and vice versa. It is possible to pontificate on sports in general, but it helps everyone involved to specify whether the discoursing is related to Starcraft, football or some other sport. Just to keep everyone on the same page, as it were.

Before things get heated, I want to apologize to any potential readers with strong religious feelings about sports. Just in case.

We live in a time where many are engaged in criticism of religion. Or, rather, what they think is criticism of religion. Specifically against Islam, which for reasons inexplicable is deemed more in need of criticism than other religions. "It must be allowed to criticize Islam!" they bellow repeatedly, and it's hard to deny that the feelings surrounding this issue are both strong and upset.

But. Do they understand what they mean when they use the words "criticism of religion"?

As stated above, "religion" as a concept is both unspecific and unwieldy. The same goes for the concept of "critique" - even more so since it's one of the least understood concepts of our time.

To simply bellow "ISLAM IS A SHITTY RELIGION THAT DOES NOT BELONG HERE" is not to perform critique. It's just uncouth, inarticulate and headless. Nevertheless, there is no shortage of people who refer to such bellowing when they say they have to be allowed to criticize Islam. While it would be far from me to imply that these people are uncouth, inarticulate and headless, they are indeed wrong.

Critique is something that takes time. And space. Literally. To critique something is to analyze this something (preferably in detail), to relate this something to something else (which preferably also is analyzed in detail), and to then proceed to describe the similarities, differences and points of contact between the two. All the while keeping the readers informed of the steps taken by the analysis, with the aim of having conveyed an understanding of both the analysis and the things analyzed. The purpose of critique is not to find faults and flaws, but to convey an understanding of the thing critiqued - an understanding that includes such faults and flaws.

Which, as you might imagine, requires many words to perform properly. Critiques and understandings are not done in a hurry.

Those who want to critique Islam has a formidable challenge ahead of them. First, they have to grok Islam, its contexts, its core values and its everyday practices. Then they have to build a framework to relate and compare this understanding to. Then begins the hard work of comparing, relating and contrasting, all the while presenting these efforts in such a way that one's understanding of Islam, the framework and eventual conclusions are made explicit to the reader.

It would not be unfair to propose that those who energetically claim their right to criticize Islam does not have this in mind. They do not have criticism in mind at all. They have a completely different verb in mind.

But, if you ever meet someone who energetically claims such a right, point them towards this post. To give them a sportsmanlike chance to say what they actually mean. -

Originally published March 3, 2015

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