Blogs > Cliopatria > methodismofascism ...

Sep 10, 2004 9:21 am

methodismofascism ...

Bear with me, if you will. I'm trying to figure this out. There is something particularly perverse about identifying the most offensive qualities in the other by the religious heritage it claims, but shares with a much larger Other. So offensive are these qualities in the other that you go to war against them. In the fog of war, lots of bad things happen. For one thing, war on the other means that many of the Other will suffer and die. Apart from the fogic of war, there's no reason that they should, because in some places the other is waging its most offensive self against the Other. But, in order to pump the organs of war, we give the other the most offensive possible name.

Now, I'm trying to keep this discussion polite and all, since some folks have quit speaking to other folks over related matters. So, I'm not going to talk about the Other. I'm going to talk about my own sect and cast it in the worst possible light. So, let's talk about methodismofascism. Now, if you've known a Methodist or two, you may even count one or two of us among your friends; you may even live in the same neighborhood with some Methodists and noticed that their residence has not damaged property values in the area. So, you may think that it's ludicrous to imagine such a thing as methodismofacism. But, bear with me.

In the first place, there are a couple of pretty notoriouswarmongers who claim to be Methodists. Under color of" counter-insurgency," they even command terrorist acts and have abetted torture. And, in order to perpetuate themselves in power, they would make us afraid. Be very afraid. There's little I can do about that, but I was a Methodist before these Wesley-come-latelies. So, I just call them methodists. But it's also true that there's a peculiar odor that clings to my particular sect. We've a strong tendency to heart religion rather than head religion and, in everyday affairs, that translates into a sort of cloying, provincial moralism. If you get close enough, you can even smell it on me. Our greatest national political achievement was the nation's greatest constitutional disaster: prohibition. It was a function of who we were and our determination to make our best the nation's best. Of course, it wasn't and we've backed off of it far enough that some methodists have even been known to be alcoholics. But that's another story.

Anyway, my point is simply this: that you can't both identify the other as methodismofacists and then come back around on the other side of the case and demand that Methodists must give up all those harmless enough, odious but distinctly identifying qualities that make us who we are. If there is such a thing as"methodismofascism," then you must hope that it is overcome. But if terror is an accident of Methodism, rather than where its heart beats, then pray that the daughters and sons of John Wesley will prevail against these imposters. And then let us be who we are and worship in peace.

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Jonathan Dresner - 9/13/2004

"Regarding the limitations of what I realize, please consider that a post focused on subject A does not imply the absence of reflection on subject B."

How funny! I almost said precisely the same thing in response to your comments.

Alastair Mackay - 9/13/2004

With apologies for the false advertising of "Some final thoughts from my perch" (41656):

Dr. Dresner (#41660),

Thanks for making that distinction on judgements. We therefore agree on the principals.

We also agree on your view of coexistence, and on your narrow statement on Temperance.

Regarding the limitations of what I realize, please consider that a post focused on subject A does not imply the absence of reflection on subject B. Perhaps open-ended queries would better serve your curiosity in such cases.

Dr. Luker (#41662),

> My sense is that, like most of us, you only want to read those things that you are predisposed to think.
> You've not been personally insulted here.

Like you, some readers won’t see a relationship between the first and second sentences quoted. Like me, others will.

Again, thanks for the dialogue.

Ralph E. Luker - 9/12/2004

Mr. Mackay, No shifting sands or shifting goal posts here. Speaking of shifting goal posts, I really _don't_ understand why you think diversity of ideas at Cliopatria obliges me to outline the weaknesses of John F Kerry in a post which draws an analogy between Methodism and Islam. Is he a Methodist? Is he a Muslim? My sense is that, like most of us, you only want to read those things that you are predisposed to think. You've not been personally insulted here. Nor have you been insulting. We simply disagree. Your welcome to return and participate here in a forum in which agreement is not obligatory.

Jonathan Dresner - 9/12/2004

Mr. Mackey,

You are missing an important distinction about judgements which I was trying to make: there is a difference between making judgements -- which I do constantly -- and imposing them on others -- which I am reluctant to do without careful consideration.

Regarding your question about Prohibition I would remind you that the Temperance movement in its heyday was as violent as the anti-abortion movement is today, arguably more so, though less murderous. It is not an exact analogy (though I think Ralph's analogy is much more successful on Burke's criteria than you did) though I can easily think of several that are more exact though not perhaps as clever. Ralph's concern about his co-religionists who lead us is a much more difficult and interesting question than you seem to realize.

And a short answer to your query about coexistence: no, I don't think that the values of an open liberal society coexist well with any sort of totalitarian theology or ideology, and I have intention of surrendering my or anyone else's fundamental freedoms without an argument and, if necessary, a fight. But we must be careful about the path we choose towards our end, else we wind up undercutting our own foundations.

I am a moderate, and I am an historian: I take a long view, and I want to build something that lasts.

Jonathan Dresner - 9/12/2004

I think part of our problem with the "secular public sphere" is that I've been using 'public sphere' to roughly mean policy/government affairs, and you're using the term in the broader (and more correct) Habermasian sense. In that regard, I would agree that 'pluralistic' is more appropriate, but that as the discussion turns more towards matters of law and policy the importance of secular language and shared values increases.

I still disagree about the availability of secular discourse as neutral ground, though it is hard to distinguish between secular and secularism.....

Alastair Mackay - 9/12/2004

Dr. Luker,

To recap:

--I entered this conversation with my points #1, #2, #3--a reflection on style.
--Without responding directly to me, you defended analogical analysis with reference to Burke’s four points.
--I, gamely, described what I saw in terms of the framework you brought up.
--You did not address this critique except to agree that Methodism::Islam didn’t measure up to Burke’s ideals.
--You challenged me to offer specific, substantive deficiencies in the Medodism::Islam analogy, despite our agreement(?) on its shortcomings.
--I offered same (#41642, above).

Now, (#41643, above), the charge is that I "spend several comments insisting that [you] show [me] how it meets [Burke’s] standard."

These are ever-shifting sands.

You continue,

>I acknowledge that the analogy has failed in your case because it has failed to persuade you
All-righty….hard to take issue with that!

>and I am berated for saying that it might not fail with others.
Er, I berate you by paying attention to your writing, and making the effort to respond analytically and with civility?

>the analogy was offered with some tongue in cheek
Yes. Understood.

>and you subject it to a microscopy no analogy would survive.
Looking beyond the labor-of-love aspect, at what level does the analogy illuminate?

Here is what I see: "A person will generally dislike criticisms directed towards a group with which s/he self-identifies, irrespective of their merits with respect to the traits of the group or the behavior of the individual in question."
35 words.

>GWB or OBL would be your model …
It is indeed telling that GWB’s glaring defects lead you to find him the moral equivalent of OBL, while remaining mute on the subject of JFK’s glaring defects. "I’m sorry that you feel that way:" the point that you thought to make may not bear much similarity to the conclusion that the critical reader draws.

>Read more widely.
Good advice I intend to take. This experience of writing to the comments section is a separate issue from the merits of the ideas expressed on this blog.

>One other point, Mr. Mackay [on the] offenses abetted by my Methodist president … (#41644, immediately prior)
How to respond. Perhaps "I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of any party advocating torture of detainees, either at Abu Ghraib or in American prisons."

In closing, I’ve contributed these comments to Cliopatria as my own small labor-of-love. It was fun to start off, imagining how the thread might play out. And it was fun to respond to Prof. Dresner’s points (#41633).

Otherwise, Prof. Luker, we have had a tense conversation. That I’ve tried to hold to ideas does not mean that your pointed asides have gone unnoticed. Like most guests at most parties, I won’t stick around where I don’t feel welcome. It isn’t fun, and I do know what that’s like--my insights have been valued at other web-logs, even at some run by academics.

Building diversity-of-ideas at Cliopatria isn’t my responsibility, if it’s anyone’s concern at all.

I’ll leave the judgement to any interested readers who chance this way. Thanks, throughout, for you able and fast responses here. And, of course, as owner of this printing press, the last word is yours.

Regards, Alastair Mackay

Ralph E. Luker - 9/12/2004

One other point, Mr. Mackay, the offenses abetted by my Methodist president at Abu Ghraib are quite shocking enough to the sensibilities of conscientious Muslims to confirm their worst fears about Western Civilization. I trust that you have similar reservations about the example we set there -- an example which apparently is followed in some American prisons on some American prisoners.

Ralph E. Luker - 9/12/2004

Mr. Mackay,
In the very comment in which I recommended Professor Burke's criteria for analogies, I said that the one I offered may fail by their standard. So, you spend several comments insisting that I show you how it meets their standard. I acknowledge that the analogy has failed in your case because it has failed to persuade you and I am berated for saying that it might not fail with others. I observe that the analogy was offered with some tongue in cheek and you subject it to a microscopy no analogy would survive. I doubt that either GWB or OBL would be your model of the "classically-liberal secular humanist," but if you can't see the parallels in their rather simple absolutisms, I can't help you. I can assure you that your doubts that your "frame of reference, that of a classically-liberal secular humanist" is well represented on this blog. I won't measure my colleagues by your standard, but I assume that your claim was made in ignorance. Read more widely. There's much to be learned here.

Alastair Mackay - 9/12/2004

Comments to Dr. Luker, 9:13pm (#41631)

> My guess is that your mind was pretty firmly made up about these matters well before the conversation began.

Actually, no. I began by indicating what I thought were the post’s shortcomings; perhaps ideas and facts would change my view? I followed up on your suggestion by looking at the analogy per Burke’s criteria (see #41560); perhaps that would deepen my appreciation? Or perhaps you would add additional insight? If, today, I answer these three questions in the negative, that is not evidence that my mind was made up before the conversation began.

> If, by your own criterion #1…

Same reasoning.

>in order for you to show that it fails with all other people…

A curious challenge that I haven’t taken up. I speak only for myself.

>You have never yet addressed any of the substance of the analogy…

Not really true, review the discussion of Burke’s criteria in #41560, above. A challenge to distinguish between 20th/21st Century Methodism and Militant Islam is either very subtle, or not subtle at all. I’ll take the point on face value.

--The Islamic Brotherhood is today a powerful force for reforming government to eliminate the mosque/state boundary and institute Sharia Law. Methodist analogs?
--The widely-read philosopher Sayyid Qutb advanced the theory of jihad and government by Sharia, and in his books promoted both non-violent and violent opposition to secularism, and foreign (Western) concepts of individual rights. Methodist analog?
--Sheikh Rahman, Dr. Zawahiri, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Osaka bin Laden. Methodist analogs?
--Fate of religious minorities in Iran post-1979, Algerian Civil War, Southern Sudan, Northern Nigeria, Dafur. Methodist analogs?
--You will be aware of the writers who have elaborated lists such as this; one such (Ajami) was mocked in an earlier thread. So rather than go on, here is a pointer to an excellent article in the 9/11 Washington Post on the Muslim Brotherhood in America, as it raises many questions of its own.

A point on style--I find it more helpful to direct comments to what is written, rather than to what I suppose is in the mind of the writer, unsaid.

Comments to Dr. Dresner, 10:30pm (#41633)

>… on the extent to which the reader can, as Ralph has done, step outside of the "Christianity is benign/good" trope…

Works for me. I hadn’t realized that this trope is very important to the discussion, either way. Speaking for myself (again), I don’t take the benign nature of Christianity or any of its sects as a given.

> In fact, any specific religion … will have elements which can be pathological
Agreed! But no sect is pathological as seen from within the boundaries of that sect…by definition. So it becomes a question, first, of frame of reference. And secondly, to admit to the existence of various degrees of various pathologies is to be a short step away from being willing to (gasp) make judgements.

It seems to me that my frame of reference, that of a classically-liberal secular humanist, is not widely shared on this blog. I think differences on these two points--the "right" to make a judgement regarding ‘The Other’, and the writer’s frame of reference--explain most of the ‘difficulty’ I’ve had here in the conversations I have entered.

>Persuasion in open discourse, respect for the rule of law, a secular public sphere, and an historically-grounded understanding of the wages of intolerance and the benefits of living in close proximity to diverse people and peoples.

These are among the concepts of Civilization that are worth defending. Defending from enemies without (a difficult sell around here) as well as enemies within (easily oversold). Are the ideas compatible with Salafism, Wahhibism, or the Iranian Shi’ia model? On the evidence (e.g. Qutb’s writings), I do not see how that is a tenable claim.
So is Prohibition--repealed--a compelling Methodist counterpart to the GIA or the Janjaweed?

Ralph E. Luker - 9/12/2004

I wish I had said that! The only point at which you and I have some differences, as I think you know, is the "secular public sphere" thing. My own sense is that secularism is not the neutral ground you mean by that. My sense is that it is its own, alternative ground, which is, in some sense, rival to traditional religious traditions. We need not call "secularism" an alternative religious tradition in order to recognize that it does expect alternative loyalties. My fear is that, in a secular public sphere, the state becomes an absolute alternative loyalty and its claims over-ride all else. I want the prophet still to be able to stand before King David and, in the name of G_d, say: "Thou art the man" without fear of the state's ultimate punishment. I suppose that means that I have to argue for a pluralistic public sphere in which there are competing and rival claims. I think that can be managed with a keen sense of reserved rights and mutual respect.

Jonathan Dresner - 9/12/2004

Since the discussion is about analogies, let me point something out. Whether this analogy succeeds or fails depends, I think, on the extent to which the reader can, as Ralph has done, step outside of the "Christianity is benign/good" trope which permeates Western culture. It worked for me.

In fact, any specific religion -- Catholicism, Orthodox Judaism, Mormon, Sufi, Pure Land, Vaishnava, etc. -- will have elements which can be pathological when taken to extremes, and a component of intolerance and exclusivity that must be moderated in a religiously diverse community (such as the world).

That does not mean that religion should be reviled in general, nor even that those religions whose pathological wings are currently dominating our interest should be the object of scorn. We have only very limited power to change people's belief systems and practices, and we should use that power with the full terror of knowing that others would use it on us as well.

Persuasion in open discourse, respect for the rule of law (tempered by a devotion to justice as well as procedure), a secular public sphere, and an historically-grounded understanding of the wages of intolerance and the benefits of living in close proximity to diverse people and peoples. This is what we need.

Ralph E. Luker - 9/12/2004

Mr. Mackay,
My guess is that your mind was pretty firmly made up about these matters well before the conversation began. If, by your own criterion #1, my analogy failed to change your mind, convince you that you were wrong, or convert you, then I suppose that the analogy fails _with you_. Right? That's what I just said. That, you apparently find offensive. But, in order for you to show that it fails with all other people who hold opinions similar to your own, you'd have to drag a whole lot more folk into court here to register their opinions than I've seen hanging around the place or registering their opinions. That's not moving goalposts. That's just reminding you that you don't speak for everyone who holds your opinion. You have, in fact, never yet addressed any of the substance of the analogy, so I'm not sure how you can expect to have had a discussion about it.

Alastair Mackay - 9/11/2004

Umm..."I'll take your word for your opinion"? Let's review.

You offered an analogy. I criticized it. You offered Burke's characterization of a good historical analogy. Dresner chimed in with an attaboy. I discussed your analogy according to the terms you offered up. You agreed, sorta, that it didn't do well by Burke's criteria, and added some snarky asides. I commented.

Now you say it's a question of you taking my word for what I think my opinion is...

Naw, I know what my opinion is, I was looking--all along--for a good discussion of what seemed on the surface to be a pretty inapt analogy. This being a history bloig and all.

These moving goalposts aren't as satisfying as they might seem, at first.

Ralph E. Luker - 9/11/2004

I'll take your word for your opinion in what flunks and what does not flunk. I also think it's probably best to let other people expression their opinions about the benighted state of their cultures and civilizations. I'll express my opinion about the benighted state of mine.

Alastair Mackay - 9/11/2004

Dr. Luker,

"Sneer quotes" don't advance your argument. Arab commentators have plenty to say about the benighted state of their cultures, notably in last year's UN-sponsored report and this past week's commentary by an Al-Arabiya news executive on the overall poverty of the Islamic world's responses to the Beslan atrocity. Sorry, this is written on the fly so no URLs, but the links are very easy to find for anyone so inclined. Or I can post them tomorrow.

Yes, your Methodism::Islam argument got Burke's #1, but flunks #2, #3, and #4. Re. chest-thumping, refer back to my number 3 in comparison to numbers 1 and 2.

Thanks for responding.

Ralph E. Luker - 9/11/2004

Mr. Mackay,
I think you gave me #1, right? On the remaining points, the analogy doesn't attempt to explain the universe or make any absolute claims. As I said above, I wasn't even sure that it would stand up to Tim Burke's thoughtful criteria. It was done, frankly, with some tongue in cheek, but it _was_ also meant to be suggestive and to provoke some discussion. In that, I think that it succeeds. I hoped in it to exemplify the sort of self-criticism which is sorely lacking in much of our chest-thumping public discussion. And I mean a self-criticism which doesn't demand of the other that they altogether give up their identities, but a self-criticism which is aware of the weaknesses and flaws, as well as the strengths, of one's own tradition. I am, frankly, less certain than some others in America's chattering classes that the United States is obliged to deliver "the benighted peoples" of the world into the glories of a capitalist democracy. Do not mistake me, I prefer those forms. I don't know that I feel duty bound to impose them on the unwilling.

Alastair Mackay - 9/10/2004

Dr. Luker,

Thanks for the link to Timothy Burke's essay; very germane.

Dr. Dreisner,

>We disagree on the utility of analogy.

Actually, we probably don't. I'll amend a comment I made above (paragraph 5) to "Some analogies I've read at Cliopatria, including this one, are poorly suited to discussions of variety #1 or #2." This would require some amplification, so here goes, organized according to Prof. Burke's scheme.

1. Commonality
As the analogy is made to 20th/21st Century US Methodism, readers--even us provincial readers--"get it."

2. Causality
Burke: "To be useful, an analogy has to involve a deeper, more fleshed out assertion about causality..."

There are many religions practiced around the world, yet the concern people like me have is with the ideologies and practices of Militant Islam, specifically Wahhibism, Salafism, and some variants of Shi'ism. "To be useful," the analogy to Methodism would need to specify the most germane features of the conflicts between such sects and the post-Enlightenment world.

If the point of the analogy is that "others (Others?) don't like to be labelled or called names, irrespective of whatever the merits of the argument might be or not be," then I think it holds up well. I don't know how "useful" that is, though--and making the plain statement conserves bandwidth.

3. Multiplicity
Methodism will have to take a pass here, as it is the singular offering.

I might take this quote somewhat out of its context: "... unless you’re only trying to smear or celebrate him, in which case you’re not very interested in actual debate or conversation...," because it doesn't stand at a great distance from the point I originally made.

The post's text includes descriptions of "pretty notorious warmongers" who "under color of counter-insurgency, ...command terrorist acts and have abetted torture." And, "in order to perpetuate themselves in power, they would make us afraid." Is it unreasonable for me to infer that, in so writing, Dr. Luker was "not very interested in actual debate or conversation in the first place"?

4. Contingency
I'd invite you to explain how Methodism :: Militant Islam fits Burke's criteria for Contingency, rather than a Null Hypothesis. He wrote:

"The productive use of historical analogy takes a certain amount of humility, a belief in the open-ended and debatable applicability of the analogies that one is suggesting."

Jonathan Dresner - 9/10/2004

Mr. Mackey: We disagree on the utility of analogy. Argument by analogy -- under the name of comparative study -- is one of the chief tools of history as an analytical social science. It is entirely fair and I think quite interesting to turn the arguments about Islam towards a sect considered largely benign.

Ralph: nice work. More later.

Ralph E. Luker - 9/10/2004

I recommend this short essay on the limits of analogy by my colleague Tim Burke. The analogy that I suggested above may fail by Professor Burke's criteria. I'm sorry that you find it baroque. The logic is actually fairly simple; not at all convoluted. But I was interested in exploring how it would feel for my religious community to be identified in some sense as fascist.

Alastair Mackay - 9/10/2004

This essay on Methodism is too oblique for a direct response. Instead, it seems to me that there are three directions one might take in a post on Islamic militancy:

1. Make an argument that convinces one's opposites in the debate that they are wrong and you are right, concerning the point under discussion.

2. Make an argument that speaks to the open-minded in the audience. Some in this category have been inattentive to this point in the debate. It also includes those who don't subscribe to your point of view in toto, but are willing to adjust their thinking when new facts and new theories seem to present an improved picture of reality, or suggest a better policy approach.

3. Make an argument that strenghens the commitment of the folks who already agree with you, or that, at the least, amuses them. With a nod to Wesley, we might call this "preaching to the choir." (NB, other choirs are sometimes accompanied by Steynways.)

I've pointed out elsewhere on that analogies are often poorly suited to discussions of variety #1 or #2. Even for alternative #3, the quality of baroqueness is a vice more often than a virtue. In this regard, to follow up on my piano comment above, here is an essay most readers here are sure to find incorrect (and some will find offensive), but one that is a model of plain and direct speech.

In the absence of Preview, I hope that the URL is formatted correctly.

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