Monday, June 2, 2008

Slight shift in tone...

I've accused of being the atheist equivalent of a fundie, that is, so caught up in furthering the cause of Reason and so bent on destroying religion that I fail to see the good points, or that there are moderates out there perfectly capable of using their heads to think and still reconcile that with their faith. Admittedly, my accuser is not familiar with the ferocity of Christopher Hitchens or the intensity of Creation/Evolution "debate"*.

In scientists, religion can occur, but what you'll find is a highly compartmentalised mind, i.e. faith and scripture have absolutely no bearing whatsoever in their work, and thus they can function adequately as scientists. This is significantly more than can be said of nutter charlatans like Kent Hovind and VenomfangX, but I digress. So I'd like to turn my gaze on one outstanding moderate, not in the sciences, but in fact a political commentator and by all accounts a hero of the people and a name to remember when books are written talking about 21st century Malaysian history: Raja Petra Kamarudin, who will be RPK here, coz I'm Chinese and just don't like using long names.

For the benefit of gaijin friends, Malaysia is a relatively moderate Muslim country, and so you get all breeds here, from fundie zombies to atheists who just haven't come out yet and still go through the motions. Judging from his very, very voluminous writings, he appears to be something like 1 or 2 on the Dawkins Scale. He does quote verses from scripture, and like all moderates, he is guilty of cherrypicking the good bits, and ignoring the raving lunacy. This is fair enough, given the consequences of basing one's morality on scripture alone.

Malaysia is home to a market economy largely fueled by hydrocarbon wealth. I'm not sure I should be saying that in public. Lots of oil + Muslim + borderline useless army has attracted lots of unwanted attention from the US in the past. Anyway, that oil/LPG wealth has translated into very, very rapid development at hideous cost in terms of corruption.

Malaysia is also home to one of the last institutionally racist regimes in the world. As such, it's very fortunate indeed that RPK is Malay, otherwise he'd had quietly vanished years ago without a trace. Or maybe some traces. Malaysia is a young country, still relatively new to the cloak and dagger game, so those in power are still a bit ham-fisted in covering up their dirty laundry.

And so we're exceedingly fortunate to have a pair of eyes like RPK's, rooting out the rot and filth endemic in M'sia's government, exposing injustice with NO bias in terms of race, colour or creed. It goes both ways, mind you. When he cusses out the Malays, he usually cusses out the Chinese and Indians, too, so they don't feel left out. Ah, the love... <:-) But what particularly impresses me in his writings is the ire he directs towards Muslims. Here's an extract of one of his more recent entries: "Yes, that’s right; don’t get too impressed and awed by any Arab look-alike, Bin Ladin wannabe. They may dress like Muslims from the Arabian desert. They may talk like Muslims. They may sujud (prostrate) on the ground with their backsides pointing to the sky five times a day. They may go to Mekah twice a year whereas others go only once in their entire life. Their wives and daughters may be ‘properly’ covered with a tudung or headscarf. They may even let loose from their lips a few Arabic words from time to time. But they are not true Muslims. They are munafik and fasik Muslims.

True Muslims practice amar maaruf, nahi munkar. True Muslims treat fardu ‘ain as one aspect of Islam and fardu kifayah as an even more important aspect. This means you uphold good and oppose evil. This also means you serve your community in the name of God while sacrificing your own interest (plus, in particular, party interests) for the good of the community. This means you uphold the teachings of Prophet Muhammad by opposing racism and the Umnoputera ‘caste system’ that exists in Malaysia."

It's nice to see someone so devout having so much in common with secular humanists re: working for the greater good. And this is the kind of thing that kept me agnostic for quite a while, until decent science and reason pointed in the direction of atheism.

"Why," you ask? Why deny God when religion is clearly capable of producing upstanding individuals of solid moral fibre? A question for another time. For now, let me close by saying that I while do acknowledge and respect moderates, I will challenge their beliefs and expect mine to be challenged in return, as a matter of intellectual courtesy. And it is Reason, not Faith that give RPK his insights on M'sian politics.

Do I respect the man? Yes! Do I respect his faith? No! You tell me, is it faith or reason that leads him to pick and choose the sections of the Quran relevant to the present zeitgeist? If you say faith, why then would he choose one particular hadith over any other? And I've no doubt that if he dug deeper, through what he thinks is the core of his morality, he will find the same thing that atheists knew all along: You don't need God to be good.

* It's not a debate. It's scientists talking at air and fundie lawyers in love with the sound of their own voice.

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