Religious formalism and appeal to authority

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Reply Sat 8 May, 2010 04:44 am
"You wouldn't go to a dentist to repair your brakes, nor go to your local mechanic when you have a toothache. Therefore, you should go to trained religious scholars when you need to know about religion."

The above is the most common reasoning you will find to justify a ruling class of religious scholars. All religious discourse should happen within this small group. They should have a monopoly on religious polemics.

What is the answer to this? The background to this question is that I've found that there is real hostility to Islamic intellectualism amongst Muslims. Academics should have no business getting involved in Islamic issues because they haven't gone through the classical accredited training.

The classical training consists of studying what the previous scholars have said. Therefore, the best and most respected contemporary scholars are those who can refer back to as many clasical scholars in their works as possible. This constitues the 'strongest opinion.' I imagine this is true of other religions too, to varying extents. The obvious problem here is that there can never be any new ideas.

This kind of heavy appeal to authority causes stagnation in religious scholarship. What reasoning can you use to show that scholars should not have a monopoly on religious discourse? This is not specific to Islam, but religion in general.
 
Fido
 
Reply Sat 8 May, 2010 05:26 am
@josh0335,
I think you make a huge mistake that is often made in philosophy of trying to transfer the logic of the physical world (autos and teeth) to the moral world... It does not matter how much respect a person has or what training or lineage; not one person is better able to pronounce upon moral truths than any other...If you want to go to some expert and ask if his dogma is free of contradiction, or in accord with any other set of beliefs then fine...

When we start handing over our own moral authority to others we are doomed... We have then failed the greatest intelligence test of all, of whether we are able and willing to reason things out, or learn from observation what is good for us, and good for all, and able to reconcile ourselves with that truth...

Religions give moral support for specific groups and so make wars and violence- as the most ungodly of arts -more common instead of less so... They do not seek a universal morality, but pick up and support the morality they find so that they are themselves supported...Religions do not lead the people, but follow them and often hold them back from good...Since they rest on the spiritual conception of reality rather than progressing from it they are trapped in ignorance, and are reactionary...
 
josh0335
 
Reply Sat 8 May, 2010 06:59 am
@Fido,
So authority is fine for the physical world?
 
Arjuna
 
Reply Sat 8 May, 2010 07:29 am
@josh0335,
josh0335;161660 wrote:
So authority is fine for the physical world?
Is there a difference in the way Sunnis and Shiites think about religious authority? There's a difference historically between Protestants and Catholics. A feature of the Protestant outlook is that you are your own priest, so to speak.
 
Night Ripper
 
Reply Sat 8 May, 2010 07:39 am
@josh0335,
josh0335;161632 wrote:
"You wouldn't go to a dentist to repair your brakes, nor go to your local mechanic when you have a toothache. Therefore, you should go to trained religious scholars when you need to know about religion."


Yes, it reminds me of how every poor slob off the street is qualified to say "I believe in God". However, it takes a graduate degree in theology to say "I don't believe in God".
 
josh0335
 
Reply Sat 8 May, 2010 08:25 am
@Night Ripper,
Arjuna;161665 wrote:
Is there a difference in the way Sunnis and Shiites think about religious authority? There's a difference historically between Protestants and Catholics. A feature of the Protestant outlook is that you are your own priest, so to speak.


That's a really interesting point. So you feel Protestant Christianity was more progressive because of the break away from the Pope?

There's no real difference between how Shias and Sunnis view the scholarly class. Jurisprudence is seen as a complex field which requires scholarship to understand. This is where the comparison with doctors and mechanics comes from. But unlike a complex subject like physics, where the scholars acknowledge that nothing is absolute and new truths can always be uncovered, modern Islamic scholarship has been renderd paralysed by heavy appeal to authority.
 
salima
 
Reply Sat 8 May, 2010 09:08 am
@josh0335,
i think one of the problems is that the word 'authority' is being used to designate someone who can tell other people what to do rather than one who is an expert in something.

i go to the doctor and i generally know what is wrong with me first and the various ways it can be treated, the side effects and advantages of each type of treatment, etc. because i have done all i can to find out. i am consulting the doctor in as knowledgeable a way as possible according to the amount of time i want to put into the issue and the capacity for understanding that i have. i do the same with my computer, but to a lesser degree because i care more about my health and i cant replace my body with a newer and better one.

but scholars are definitely needed-because i cant spend years trying to learn something if i have to make a decision on a matter. i can then investigate what the scholars have to say about any subject, and have at least a basis for making a more informed decision. also i can investigate the scholars and compare their backgrounds.

scholars should be available in an advisory capacity in all areas, but each individual may use whatever amount of intelligence and understanding he has achieved for the purpose of decision making.

maulana maududi himself explained it very well though i cant find it exactly now. i know he did say that without knowing the history of the changes that have been made in the past to law in the light of the historical changes that were the reason for them, he would be less in a position to make changes as they were needed in the modern world. some people want to get rid of scholars altogether, but that is not necessary, in fact would add to the problem.

here in india there are some people considered scholars who are exceedingly ignorant, but since they have an even more ignorant society around them who take their word for everything they are highly revered and cause a lot of harm. among the labor class and poorest of the poor, there is no motivation for studying religion so they are easy to manipulate. the kind of people who do this are not only not good scholars, they are not good people. the people here who are intelligent enough to understand what is going on either dont care or cant get enough support to change the situation. the clerics also use fear on the ignorant to keep a hold over them.

i think the problem is much worse and more widespread in the undeveloped and developing parts of the world.
 
Fido
 
Reply Sat 8 May, 2010 10:20 am
@josh0335,
josh0335;161660 wrote:
So authority is fine for the physical world?

On any sort of objective scale a doctor may know relatively more about medicine than a carpenter, and one may be called an expert without shame... But there are no objective standards of knowledge of spiritual matters... Ultimately all so called knowledge rests upon the testimony of the ancients...It is not a matter of knowledge at all, which can only be applied to the physical world, but is a matter of belief...With concepts we can capture the essence of the thing.. An artist may capture the essence of the thing...No one can capture the essence of goodness, or virtue, or God... If some one says they have, we must reject their words on faith, or accept them on faith...We know religions and dogma by what comes out of them, and very often that is not good...
 
josh0335
 
Reply Sat 8 May, 2010 10:56 am
@Fido,
Fido;161760 wrote:
On any sort of objective scale a doctor may know relatively more about medicine than a carpenter, and one may be called an expert without shame... But there are no objective standards of knowledge of spiritual matters... Ultimately all so called knowledge rests upon the testimony of the ancients...It is not a matter of knowledge at all, which can only be applied to the physical world, but is a matter of belief...With concepts we can capture the essence of the thing.. An artist may capture the essence of the thing...No one can capture the essence of goodness, or virtue, or God... If some one says they have, we must reject their words on faith, or accept them on faith...We know religions and dogma by what comes out of them, and very often that is not good...


I think with doctors and carpenters etc. we can rely on the fact that when advances are made in the industry, the doctors and capenters will move with the times and adopt these advances. The problem with a class of religious scholars is that there is no way for us to now whether they are really being true to scholarly principles. If they have a monopoly on discourse, there are no checks in place.
 
prothero
 
Reply Sat 8 May, 2010 11:11 am
@josh0335,
Well doctors and carpenters, are licensed by the state and are required to demonstrate some skills and training appropriate to their craft.

On the other hand ministers and preachers are not necessarily required to have any specialized training (varies by denomination), not licensed by the state, and may have poor knowledge of their subject.

The unusal appeal is divine inspiration, divine revelation, revealed relgion based on inspired sacred writings or prohetic individuals. The problem is varying messages, varying interpretations and overall general confusion. Why a god powerful enough to create the universe would choose to reveal him/herself this haphazard way is a mystery itself. For my part religion is a human product and invention and only very loosely based on god.

The very claim to know gods will and gods nature held without extreme humility is dangerous. In short there is no credible reliable human religous authority and god is silent, quiet and still. God dwells in the tender elements of the world.
 
GoshisDead
 
Reply Sat 8 May, 2010 11:15 am
@josh0335,
First of all I'd like to say that I'm happy to see a thread about religion with minimal religion bashing just for the sake of religion bashing. That being said, onto the posting...

As Fido said a claim to religious authority is often a claim to an ancient authority that cannot be verified except through commentary written by other religous authorities. This is not unlike the real academic world in that reference is often taken at face value assuming that the source is trusted. What makes the source trusted is often that sources own knowledge on other trusted sources and on down the line of trusted sources. Much like the claim to authority in religion the claim to authority in academics is as easy/difficult as being accepted to the cabal of elites that "have a higher understanding" of that which is being studied. A person having lived in the realm of academics and who have also been immersed in the realm of religious scholars, especially those academics that do not revovle directly around a hard science very well may notice many similarities between their social structure and even their cultural disciplinary structure.
 
Arjuna
 
Reply Sat 8 May, 2010 11:49 am
@GoshisDead,
josh0335;161682 wrote:
That's a really interesting point. So you feel Protestant Christianity was more progressive because of the break away from the Pope?
You're suggesting that being able to free oneself from the voice of human authority is more progressive. It does open the door to change. But belief in a private connection to God can be a fearsome thing. There are all kinds of voices.

salima;161703 wrote:

maulana maududi himself explained it very well though i cant find it exactly now. i know he did say that without knowing the history of the changes that have been made in the past to law in the light of the historical changes that were the reason for them, he would be less in a position to make changes as they were needed in the modern world. some people want to get rid of scholars altogether, but that is not necessary, in fact would add to the problem.
Yes, law is an accumulation of wisdom. To throw that accumulation away would be to doom future generations to sort out the same stuff over again. This is why the statutes of the State of Virginia contain the Magna Carta.

salima;161703 wrote:
here in india there are some people considered scholars who are exceedingly ignorant, but since they have an even more ignorant society around them who take their word for everything they are highly revered and cause a lot of harm. among the labor class and poorest of the poor, there is no motivation for studying religion so they are easy to manipulate. the kind of people who do this are not only not good scholars, they are not good people. the people here who are intelligent enough to understand what is going on either dont care or cant get enough support to change the situation. the clerics also use fear on the ignorant to keep a hold over them.
Do clerics of this type injure their religion through their actions? Or do they get away with it?
 
josh0335
 
Reply Sat 8 May, 2010 12:23 pm
@Arjuna,
prothero;161780 wrote:
Well doctors and carpenters, are licensed by the state and are required to demonstrate some skills and training appropriate to their craft.

On the other hand ministers and preachers are not necessarily required to have any specialized training (varies by denomination), not licensed by the state, and may have poor knowledge of their subject.


To be fair, Islamic scholarship does require specialized training in linguistics and logic etc. Scholars are accredited, in that they must display competency in these sciences to get a certificate from the teacher. So, in this instance, they are licensed by the state and do show the skills necessary. But if scholarship is completely insular, how can the teacher judge if the knowledge or the skills being demonstrated are actually correct, if others in society are shut out from providing some sort of check?

GoshisDead;161781 wrote:
First of all I'd like to say that I'm happy to see a thread about religion with minimal religion bashing just for the sake of religion bashing. That being said, onto the posting...

As Fido said a claim to religious authority is often a claim to an ancient authority that cannot be verified except through commentary written by other religous authorities. This is not unlike the real academic world in that reference is often taken at face value assuming that the source is trusted. What makes the source trusted is often that sources own knowledge on other trusted sources and on down the line of trusted sources. Much like the claim to authority in religion the claim to authority in academics is as easy/difficult as being accepted to the cabal of elites that "have a higher understanding" of that which is being studied. A person having lived in the realm of academics and who have also been immersed in the realm of religious scholars, especially those academics that do not revovle directly around a hard science very well may notice many similarities between their social structure and even their cultural disciplinary structure.


Nicely put. So in these particular academic circles, how do new ideas come about?
 
1CellOfMany
 
Reply Sat 21 Aug, 2010 01:36 pm
From a larger historical perspective, was it not those who had established authority amongst the Israelites whom His Holiness Christ rebuked and who insisted on His crucifixion? Did not Muhammad (peace be upon Him) chastise those who had established religious authority among the many tribal religions of Arabia? My point is, the Islamic authorities may receive training in law, in logic, and in all of the Hadiths of Islam, but there was a point in the history of Islamic scholarship where worldly authority, power and riches came to outweigh the spiritual teachings and those things that tend to advance civilization.
Most religions reach this point at some time in their history, and movements arise for reform. Those movements may or may not actually improve things on a general level. Individuals often gain insight by investigating religion on their own. At least education of the common people help them gain freedom from the lies told by greedy and rapacious members of the clergy. (Read "Three Cups of Tea" for a practical example.)
 
 

 
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