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Noah Feldman: “The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State” — Alex

And yet there have been times when the public – private distinction was upheld, and what unislamic things were done in the privacy of people’s homes didn’t compel the powers that be to act. The remnants of ummayyad tolerance in Andalusia, for instance. I don’t think their penchant for wine songs and erotica was entirely academic!

Even then, though, there was a sort of understanding that the public square is where you conform, while the private space is your business as long as you’re not in open rebellion against the state.

I’m not sure I can conceive of a religious government, at least from among the world’s existing options, that can go a step farther and condone blasphemy in the public square.

And really, without the ability to blaspheme without violent consequence, who is really making the choice to commit? Faith as the path of least resistance, as the state’s heavily favored option, strikes me as a poorer instigator of ethical revolutions than faith chosen as an alternative to an existing order.

I think in our time, and maybe at all times, faith needs a secular framework to be a meaningful social catalyst. And is maybe at its most valuable when that framework is failing to protect the weak from oppression.

Can we think of a prophet who wasn’t railing against a morally objectionable status quo? Sometimes the objects of criticism were the establishment religion (Jeremiah’s fellow priests, Jesus’ former colleagues, the pagan aristocracy of Mecca). Sometimes they were openly godless, and greed alone ran their society (Sodom, the Noah’s generation).

It seems like religion becomes a lot less potent as an ethical force when it’s given the powers and responsibilities of running a government. I don’t know if that that inevitably means it yields bad government and bad religion… But that’s been pretty much every data point of recent memory.

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By AFarooqui

I write about the dichotomies present in religion, gathered mostly from discussions with average Jews, Christians, Muslims and atheists.

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