Re: Islam and extropianism

From: Charlie Stross (
Date: Sat Feb 24 2001 - 12:45:17 MST

On Sat, Feb 24, 2001 at 11:11:38AM -0800, J. R. Molloy wrote:
> > This is 25% of our species we're talking about, folks. They presumably
> > contain the same proportion of geniuses and morons as the rest of us.
> The smartest of them, just like the smartest of other faith-based creeds,
> can recover their sanity and transcend dogma. Religionism that does not
> kill science, makes science stronger.

A point worth noting is the phrase "faith-based creed": it can be
deceptive if used imprecisely. One of the things my recent reading
has brought home is that Islam, Judaism and Christianity, although
historically related, are *different* creeds -- substantially so, and
the manner in which they are expressed is significant.

Judaism as currently practiced lacks the evangelical characteristics
of the other religions. It doesn't demand faith, it demands
self-identification and compliance with a complex code of laws and
commentaries extrapolated by generations of scholars. (Faith is a
useful thing to have when dealing with that little lot, of course.)
It also doesn't say much (or anything, really) about the afterlife:
it isn't some sort of theological life-belt thrown by a deity who wants
you to join him in the hereafter, it's a bunch of complex regulations
dumped on his Chosen People in order that they should, well, live the
way he wants them to. (There's no "why" in that, white boy: you'll shut
up and do as you're told!)

Christianity tends to come with a lot of social and cultural baggage
-- especially the Roman and Orthodox churches -- and has evolved by
syncretism, mopping up a load of mithraistic traditions, converting a
lot of old Roman pagan deities into saints, and absorbing a chunk of
the cult of Isis. But the core message is an evangelical one: "here's a
lifebelt! Pass it on!" -- anyone can be saved if they put their faith
in Jesus. This message is so urgent that a lot of the superstructure
can be jettisoned and you've still got a core Christian belief system.

Islam came third, and it looks like a hybrid. It's got the Jewish
legalistic approach and set of prescriptive lifestyle choices, but it
adds the heavenly afterlife lifebelt and the evangelical urge. It also
takes a "them and us" view of the world, dividing it up into muslims
(those who submit to the will of god) and pagans (the rest of us). There
are some elements that outsiders would characterise as nasty -- notably
the death penalty for apostasy -- but a lot of the things westerners
find objectionable or irritating (regulations over women's clothing,
for example: total prohibition of alcohol) are part of a superstructure
that grew up in its regional base; the original Koranic injunctions,
IIRC, are that both sexes should avoid dressing provocatively, and
that getting drunk isn't clever. One important point is that Islam
stresses the afterlife about as much as Christianity -- both religions
are good at handling martyrs. (Compare that to the rabbinical finding
that it is permissable to break any law except that against murder,
if it is necessary to do so to avoid being murdered. No bonus points
for martyrdom there!)

What does this have to do with faith?

Well, I seem to recall that, just as conventional left/right axes are
inadequate for graphing political views, some people have proposed a
multidimensional system for locating religions. I can't remember all the
bipolar axes, but they include evangelical/tribal, legalistic/informal,
and a couple of others. I'd like to dig this up (if I can) because it
suggests some interesting possibilities in assessing the potential of a
religious belief system for compatability with extropian ideas. It may
also explain why our preconceptions about

-- Charlie (considering proclaiming himself a Pastor in the First
            Reformed Church of Tipler, Astrophysicist) Stross

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