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John Schindler 3: his latest

[ by Charles Cameron — third of three, almost caught up ]

Schindler a few days back:

Schindler’s latest:


Today’s John Schindler post, The West, Islam, and the Last Stand of the WEIRD, is another blockbuster must-read, but for my purposes in this series I’ll just quote a short excerpt. It’s the middle paragraph here that’s key, but I’ll give you a little before and after for context:

While Christian Europe of the last century still had some common ground with believing Muslims, the gap today between our societal values and those of most Muslims is vast and cannot be overcome without huge changes, perhaps on both sides, that seem unlikely to happen without bloodshed.

To make matters worse, the only European country that is making an effort to appeal to normal people of faith in dangerous times is Vladimir Putin’s Russia. In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, the Kremlin, speaking through its religious mouthpieces, has staked out a clear position that terrorism is unacceptable, but so is intentionally offending religious people with blasphemy. In this formulation, Russia — and Russia alone — offers a welcoming home to Christians and Muslims alike, while driving extremists of all sorts, whether they be jihadists or Communist cartoonists, out of the public square. Religion is not the problem, Russia makes clear, and its support for traditional religions here is consistent — extremism is.

WEIRDos in the West naturally find all this a tad comedic, and they were mightily surprised when Pope Francis (“One cannot provoke; one cannot insult other people’s faith; one cannot make fun of faith”) came alarmingly close to towing the Kremlin line about Charlie Hebdo. Yet again, post-moderns were distressed to discover that the Pope of Rome is actually a Catholic. You have to be part of the WEIRD demographic to find it “shocking” when traditional religion stands up against aggressive blasphemy.


I still haven’t quite figured out how almost everybody comes to have an opinion about almost everything: I know enough about a small archipelago of topics to have a sense of how much I don’t know, even in my areas of interest, in between my islands — and I am vividly aware that my chosen archipelago is only one of many, many, many — oh, why don’t I just quote Newton, and let him speak for us all:

I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.

There are areas of knowledge that John explores, in this post in particular, that I don’t know enough about to trust my own opinions on, but one point he keeps making keeps on shining through: that the western secular mindset has a blind spot wherever religious intensity appears.

And by religious intensity I don’t necessarily mean piety, or deep theological knowledge — which are the criteria that pollsters use to judge such things. The disciples of Christ were fishermen, he talked with prostitutes and (oy!) centurions among others, they were his peeps. The test, then, is not mosque, church or synagogue attendance, nor dietary behavior: religion happens, first and foremost, to humans, and that’s something John captures neatly, as it applies to Muslims, in this para about the majority of Muslims world-wide:

They try, they fail, they keep trying. They usually make an effort during Ramadan, at least, and if a life crisis appears, they will pray and seek the comfort of the mosque; the rest of the time their lived faith is rather hit-or-miss. In other words, they are completely normal human beings.

Human beings, that is, with an available transcendant perspective that can be activated by crisis, by global dissonance, by perceived injustice — as the supreme justification for brutality among those so disposed, and as the supreme invitation to good works among the likes of Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, and many less known but no less generous souls.

Heaven and Hell, no less than East and West, are present in human reality, as John Milton knew. We should permit them, with caution and understanding, into our minds and models, and onto our maps. First, though, we should understand and sense what they mean, within human hearts and minds — no easy task.

17 Responses to “John Schindler 3: his latest”

  1. Cheryl Rofer Says:

    How do we know that as many people think like Schindler as he thinks think like him?

  2. Charles Cameron Says:

    I dunno, Cheryl — I get the impression he doesn’t suffer fools gladly, which may mean he doesn’t think many people think like him, if any. Then again, he’s clealr a “thought leader” for a bunch of people who don’t trust Snpwden and take espionage seriously. I was initially interested in him because he seemed to know more about NSA than the journos did, and I’ve reason not to trust G Greenwald in particular — but more recently it has been his participation and interest in orthodoxy that has been my focus.
    BTW, that was a fine tongue-twister in the mode of “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck”!

  3. T. Greer Says:

    Wasn’t there a longer comment by Cheryl here just a moment ago? One that discussed how there essentially two sides and it is hard to figure out how they could ever live in harmony…?


    It was a thought provoking comment–I even wrote up a response to it–but now it is gone!

  4. Cheryl Rofer Says:

    Yes, there was. But there was too much in it I didn’t like, so I asked Charles to delete it.
    The part you’re mentioning was okay, and it really bothers me, so here it is again, more or less.
    Schindler seems to write as an advocate for a point of view. There’s a lot of snark mixed in, so it’s hard to be sure what he thinks, but it looks like he tends to agree with the religious point of view. In any case, he doesn’t much like the secular liberal point of view, at which much of his snark is aimed.
    I think the religious pov needs to be considered, although I think that what we can learn from history is more important for dealing with terrorism and other things. I almost wrote “Similarly for the secular liberal pov,” and that’s where the problem comes in.
    We have two ways of approaching the world. One set of countries tends toward “live and let live.” Its laws mostly prohibit actions that harm or unduly limit others. There are some perhaps unfair cultural things mixed in, but overall its goal is to be open and impose minimally on citizens. There is another set of countries and movements that says “We have God’s own word, and God says we must impose it everywhere.” It’s usually God, although not necessarily.
    I’ve been trying to think of how these two live together on a planet that gets smaller when people try to impose on others. Both sides claim the other is guilty of this: the second says that the unGodly secular liberals are insisting they give up a part of their religion, the part that says that they must impose it everywhere. And my secular liberal response to that is “Yes indeed.”
    It seems to me that the second pov leads inevitably to war when the dreaded secular liberals won’t convert and even insist that for civil society, others must end the attempt to force others to their viewpoint. Of course, “God’s own word” involves some serious coercion toward those who don’t share that pov.
    So how do we live together? In the US, we have the Christian fundamentalists with that second pov. Internationally, we have extreme Islamist groups, along with groups from other religions that make the news from time to time, and Vladimir Putin. I would like to find a way to let them have their viewpoints unmolested, but, as they say, I feel that their right to swing their arms around ends at my nose.

  5. Lynn C. Rees Says:

    The varied strains that make up secularism do not constitute one of two discrete points of view. They are just one of many points of view, another species of belief made up of an uneven measure of self-justifying fact and wishful fiction. Like other dogmas, secularism is a spectrum of opinion between those who would use coercion to spread their notions and those whose preaching is more measured. Its primary novelty in the past two hundred years is how ardent its true believers have sought to proselyte through coercion. The most blood spattered fanatics who sought to spread their faith by the sword in the last 100 years were blood-spattered secularist fanatics, be they Fascist, Marxist, nationalist, or some other belief focused on this world and this world alone.


    Some strains of secularism seek to spread their faith by softer forms of coercion by suborning government institutions like public schools, universities, &tc. It is only natural that these proselyting efforts draw a response, some of it extreme in response to secular extremism. Politics is the division of power and the most prized power is violent power. Some believers want to control it and use it more than others. The solution is a balance of power where no single strain of belief can win final victory and those who would baptize by the sword, whether they serve God or the not-God, come nowhere near a sword. That involves removing as many secular cultists from government sinecures as it involves removing other species of cultists from government sinecures. They remain free to preach but not with the power of government at their back.


    Belief doesn’t kill people. Politics kills people.

  6. Cheryl Rofer Says:

    Actually, I was contrasting “live and let live” with “My God (or whatever justification) says you must obey.” I happen to be a liberal secularist and live in a country where the law of the land is closer to the first than to the second. There might be a spectrum of religious belief or nonbelief backing either position.
    It seems to me that there is a paradox involved in reconciling the first and second. Those adhering to “Obey” feel that the “live and let live” faction is imposing an unfair limit in insisting that they not impose their often detailed rules for life on others. I think there’s a difference: we all give up something in order to live together, and insisting that, for example, those who don’t share your religious beliefs follow them anyway is something that one must give up for peace.
    So could we just talk about that instead of a blanket condemnation of liberal secularism?

  7. Scott Says:

    I’d just like to note here that I just finished Bill Lind’s book, “On War” (His collected columns from 2003 – 2009] and in it, he says that Russia is important to the West to stand against Islam. Now that was in 2008 that he wrote that, but it shows that this is not an uncommon point of view.

  8. Lynn C. Rees Says:

    My condemnation here was not a general condemnation of the miscellaneous dogmas categorized as secular materialism. My condemnation was targeted at violence-backed proselyting, especially those, more often than not secular materialists, who don’t think they and their fellow believers ever indulge in violence backed proselyting.


    Here in the United States, they seek a state-sponsored establishment of their preferred religions by demanding that their clergy be able to proselyte on the taxpayer dime. Many publicly funded institutions of learning are controlled by self-selecting and thus self-perpetuating secular materialist clergies. Since most institutions of learning in the United States don’t enforce a hard separation of instruction and credentialing, those seeking one or the other are often forced to satisfy the cultic convictions of this or that strain of secular materialism even where they disagree with them.


    The dogmatic secular materialist has no objection to such goings on. Equally, they have no objection to state subsidies for secular materialist proselyting: after all, secular materialists are right. That many of their beliefs are no more falsifiable as those of their self-selected opponents is something they, as with all humans, are unlikely to see.


    Many Americans less doctrinaire about secular materialism and its schisms and fine hairsplittings see their beliefs as under attack from secular materialists. That’s because because they are under attack. For many secular materialist activists, suborning the coercive apparatus of government in their favor was a deliberate stratagem. They turn American ideals like public education, freedom of speech, &tc. and use it make a state establishment of their religion.


    There’s always a tradeoff between economies of scale and liberty. The economies of scale yielded by consolidating publicly funded instruction and credentialing in the same institution have unfortunately been suborned by a small circle of cultists, as is often the case where centralized institutions are allowed to achieve economies of scale. It’s gotten to the point where any publicly funded institution of learning that tightly bundles instruction with credentialing is a de facto state establishment of religion complete with a shiny new state-sponsored clergy.


    Since publicly funded education is needed by any republic to cultivate political equality and counter hereditary privilege, it’s time to separate instruction from credentialing in institutions that receive state funding. Implementation of learning, verification of learning, and granting of title based on demonstrated learning should be split between feuding interest groups more interested in protecting turf than consolidation into a universal church. Their governance should be restricted to mutualized organizations whose administrating councils are selected by lot and term-limited.


    Parents and responsible students should be allowed to find their instruction from the source they find most useful. If self-study will allow them to achieve credentialing, let it be done. By no means should they be subject to superfluous mandatory indoctrination from a parochial academic department to become credentialed, such as the “diversity” requirement enforced at some local universities near me as a less than transparent government subsidy to certain strands of secular materialist superstition.


    The high tide of secular materialism in the mid-20th century saw some of its adherents carry out aggressive violence-backed proselyting across the globe, including in the Moslem world. Though Moslem fundamentalism has historically been guaranteed to arise whenever some Moslems turn toward libertinism, mid-century secular materialism brought in its wake a particularly virulent ideology of social licentiousness which it sought to inflict along with its other objectionable cultic practices. This aggression added a novel element of incitement and reinforcement to the broader historical Moslem pattern. They followed the political logic of the secular materialists and either acquired (Iran, &tc.) or consolidated their existing hold (Saudi Arabia, &tc.) over state institutions of learning to impose fundamentalist Islam instead of fundamentalist secular materialism. That unification of indoctrination, instruction, and credentialing has a deep history in the Middle East made this relatively straightforward.


    The solution to Moslem fundamentalism is to destroy their means of coercion. That means devaluing their petroleum deposits and making their capital illiquid. The primary support of contemporary institutional Moslem fundamentalism is funding from the reactionary regimes we subsidize in the Middle East, whether its the Islamic clergy in Saudi Arabia or the libertine prince of some Gulf emirate whose taken up Sunni extremism as one of his many hobbies. Takifiri provides the raw material but it’s Western capital reaching Arab aristocratic hands that gives it global reach.

  9. Cheryl Rofer Says:

    I see. I guess you are the wrong person to talk to about living together peacefully.

  10. zen Says:

    Lynn is peaceful in person but not in strategy. His co-religionists have a greater claim than most in the US for having been on the historical receiving end of secular private and public policy violence/coercion from an intolerant Protestant majority and I think that colors his comments here. As I interpret it, Lynn is not referring entirely to 1970’s liberal policies but a legacy of armed violence
    I tend to take a fairly stark position on 1st amendment issues that implies that folks on both sides are constitutionally obligated to tolerate a lot more discomfort from the unvarnished and sometimes obnoxiously demonstrated opinions and non-violent expression of beliefs of their zealously pious/rabidly secular fellow citizens than many would like. I have zero sympathy with calls for the state to regulate and enforce beliefs on unwilling Americans outside a narrow zone of compelling interest. This is why the PC speech codes and ideological bullying at universities drives me nuts. The same impulse that says gay marriage is none of my (or an employer’s) business is the same one that says you can’t force the Born Again Bakery to bake a cake for your gay wedding or require a Catholic hospital to perform abortions or to ban abortions for women who need them. It means blasphemous satire and strident proselytizing both have a place in the public square, even if people get angry and are uncomfortable. Life as a free citizen does not guarantee comfort and insulation from contrary views

  11. carl Says:

    The most striking thing about Mr. Schindler’s piece was his apparent belief that the potential for extreme violence is very high and the Europeans govs may not be able to handle it. Europe tearing itself apart again. I don’t know of anybody else ringing that bell on this side of the pond.

  12. Charles Cameron Says:

    Thanks. I’m not in a position to assess that myself, but I note in passing that most observers of human affairs tend to evaluate surfaces, not undertows — and it’s the undertows that have the potential to surprise us.

  13. T. Greer Says:



    Thanks for reposting that and I am sorry I have not gotten back to this conversation sooner. Indeed, I am still very pressed for time so i am going to condense my original response to something smaller and less pretty than I had original planned.


    Three thoughts come to mind.


    1. Schindler divdes the world into ‘normals’ and non-normals. He is right to make the division, but the terms he uses are kind of funny. My impression is that the ‘normals’ are now in the minority and in the future (of America) they will be very much so. But I will stick with his terms.

    2. With that said, I am a bit suspicious of the idea that on one side of the divide are those who want to live and let live and on the other are those who won’t to punish those who do not speak or believe as they do. It is probably a bit easier for me to say this, as I am one of those dying ‘normals’ discussed above. I recall the saga of Brandon Eich, forced out of his job for holding the wrong political views. I share those views. I am ever aware that I must be careful where I voice them lest I too be forced from a career and community for such blasphemy.


    Eich’s problems was rather tame though — there are much worse types of heresy. Racism, neo-facism, the lot. If there is any difference between the impulse that gets someone fired from their job for a racist tweet and one that gets someone fired from their job from printing heresies I don’t see it. Live and let live does not describe the Western world that I know.


    One can only take this argument so far though. Eich was not shot or beheaded for his heresy. But the difference between the two worlds does not so much seem a difference in kind as much as a difference in degree.
    2. I thought by far the most interesting and useful part of Schindler’s essay was this:

    The tragedy is that European powers were, until recently, able to inspire loyalty from their Muslims. France got millions of African Muslims, like A.’s grandfather, to fight for their empire in both World Wars, and Britain managed the same. The Ottoman Empire’s pompous declaration of jihad in 1914, on behalf of the Central Powers, went nowhere as Muslim soldiers of the Indian Army turned out to be loyal to the British Empire, the world’s biggest Muslim power, even in battle against fellow Muslims.


    Muslims in Russia proved equally faithful to the Tsar during World War I, that country’s aggressive Orthodox Christianity notwithstanding, while Austria-Hungary found that their Bosnian Muslim subjects were their most loyal and combative soldiers. In the Habsburgs’ last war, the 2nd Bosnian Regiment, the legendary Zweier Bosniaken, won more valor decorations than any other of the emperor’s regiments, while Bosnian Muslims died at the front at the highest rate of any of Vienna’s many ethnic groups.


    There is a tad bit of romanticism here, but Schindler’s point is basically correct. There was once a time where two cultures who both believed they knew God’s will were in direct and constant interaction with each other–and the result was not terrorism, or bloodshed. So what was going on? To figure out how to reconcile today’s problems it is probably worth it to take a hard long look at those days and see what they were doing to right to avoid today’s ills.

  14. Cheryl Rofer Says:

    T. Greer – Thanks for returning. I have been wondering what your comment would be!
    1. I agree that it’s convenient to divide the world into “normals” and “not-normals.” But, oddly, as a normal, I find many of my beliefs at odds with those Schindler attributes to “normals.” [The point I am making is that all of us like to consider ourselves “normals.” One of the reasons I find Schindler less than helpful is his overuse of loaded language and value judgments.]
    2. Thanks for putting your concerns forward without condemning me. What I’m trying to get at with my distinction (perhaps not the best) is that if one’s freedom to swing one’s arms ends at other people’s noses, somebody is going to feel like their freedom is being truncated. We have usually opted in the modern world to limit arm-swinging to protect noses. Mark gets at this with his free-speech stand: he’s candid that those who find his speech “wrong” in some way can just live with their truncated freedom. But there’s the thing about not yelling “Fire” in a crowded theater. It’s not an easy question or decision.
    I don’t want to relitigate the Eich situation, just pointing out that people who have his prejudices (preferences?) often truncate the freedom of people of some genders unnecessarily – or at least that “unnecessarily” seems to be the consensus our society is coming to. So it’s an example of the problem I’m concerned with: whose freedom gets truncated? If we’re going to live together in a society, someone’s will, with all those noses and arms.
    Your example from Schindler’s piece also illustrates what I’m trying to get at. (It also illustrates that there is some good stuff in Schindler’s rants, which is the only reason I continue to follow him on Twitter and occasionally read his blog.) One would need to look at a bit more history to understand why those Muslims were loyal to the imperial powers, but it’s an example worth looking at.

  15. Charles Cameron Says:

    Reading along, thinking, nothing much to say as yet..

  16. carl Says:

    I don’t know enough about the history of Muslim allegiance to really judge Mr. Schindler’s point but I wonder if it is a little bit overdrawn. He using the loyalty of military units, it seems to me, to say something about the overall loyalty of subject people of various colonial empires. And those people, or most of them anyway, were subjected by force of arms and held in check by force or the threat of it if they misbehaved. I don’t believe we have the moxie for that kind of thing anymore.

  17. Cheryl Rofer Says:

    That was why I said one would need to look at a bit more history, Carl. Nobody seems to do empire well any more, even Mr. Putin.

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