Over Here, Diogenes

Stopping by Gates Of Vienna today, I read an item about yet another “interfaith dialogue” conference, this time in Macedonia. Given that religious acrimony has been such a mighty engine of sanguinary conflict throughout all of recorded history, people generally take a hopeful view of these little pow-wows, and their participants, for rising above the fray to engage the “Other”, are customarily treated to a generous helping of public praise.

Not from me, however; I’ve always thought these things generally get nowhere. Although relatively enlightened and supple-minded envoys may on occasion gesture sincerely toward one another, what counts in the real world is the center of gravity of each of the enormous religious communities they claim to represent — and those rarely budge. Religions are incompatible in ways that matter, and no amount of diplomatic jaw-jaw is ever going to change that. Moreover, religions bind and anchor distinct human populations, providing the social glue and self/other immune- responses that help them compete successfully against rival communities, and none of that is about to change, either. And in the particular case of the most expansionist, totalitarian major religion of them all, these conferences simply provide plausible cover, and deflect sensible wariness.

Typically these get-togethers are cautious affairs, full of unctuous assurances of mutual respect and big-tent compatibility. (After all, everyone knows it would be easy enough, upon a careless, too-honest comment, for the whole thing to devolve into a knife-fight, so people watch what they say, and indeed make a point of never saying much at all.) A few platitudes about “many paths, one summit” and our brotherhood under God, followed by a joint statement regarding the importance of continuing dialogue, usually completes the checklist — and the good shepherds, humanitarian credentials burnished, can head back home to the flock, to be fawned over by the press as a rebuke to bigots and xenophobes everywhere.

The outcome of these conferences seems generalizable, varying inversely according to the ambient tension. This leads me to propose Pollack’s Law of Interfaith Dialogue:

To the extent that dialogue between any two religions is necessary, it is unproductive, and to the extent that it is productive, it is unnecessary.

One man who seems to understand this, and who must surely have been the skunk at the Macedonian garden-party, is Bishop Emanuel Aydin of the Syrian Orthodox Church in Austria. He sees right through the whole charade, and doesn’t care who knows it. Here’s some of what he had to say:

It is … destructive when one partner to the dialogue is deemed unworthy of protection as a person or a subject in a common regime. This point is mostly omitted, but it cannot be denied that such an attitude is set down in numerous Koranic verses.

a. Sura 2, 191 Pa: And kill them (infidel opponents) wherever you find them and drive them out of where they have driven you out.
b. Sura 2, 193 Pa: And fight them until no one any longer tries to seduce (believers to leave Islam) and only Allah is worshipped!
c. Sura 8, 12 Pa: Strike (them [the infidels] with the sword) on the neck and strike at each of their fingers.
d. Sura 8, 39 [textually equivalent to Sura 2, 193] Pa: And fight against them until no one (else) tries to seduce (the faithful to leave Islam) and only Allah is worshipped.
e. Sura 9, 5 Pa: And when the sacred months have passed, kill the infidels where you find them, seize them, surround them and ambush them everywhere.
f. Sura 9, 123 Pa: You faithful! Fight against those of the infidels who are close to you! They shall see that you can be hard!
g. Sura 47, 35 Pa: Do not falter (in your combativeness) and do not offer (the enemy) peace too early where you will (ultimately) have the upper hand.
h. Sura 9, 55 Pa: Those who do not believe and will not believe are to Allah as the worst of the animals.
i. Sura 47, 12 Pa: The infidels however enjoy (their short existence) and thoughtlessly take in (literally eat) their sustenance as the animals do. They will have their place in the fires of Hell.

To this day, Muslims have not distanced themselves from such Koranic statements in any conference I know of.

One could also set a more modest goal for the dialogue. “The path is the goal” is a not-infrequent stylish motto. If at the time a goal of perception cannot be realized, the dialogue is justified by the fact that people are dealing peacefully with one another as long as they are speaking and abjure violence as long as they are sitting together at the conference table.

But even this hope proves deceptive.

As we are speaking of dialogue here, Christians are being persecuted for their beliefs in Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan, Iraq, Malaysia, the lands of the Arabian Peninsula and many other countries. Muslims are emboldened to overreaching violence by calling upon the authority of their sacred writings.

My! I don’t think he understands at all how these things are supposed to go, and I doubt he’ll be invited back.

Read the whole thing here.

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