Tuesday, July 9, 2013

True Believers (Revisited)

Scott Bradley
Original post date: May 25, 2011


I have met a lot of true believers in my day, and they were not, as you might have already anticipated, Christians. There are Christian true believers of a sort, of course, but I'm talking about true, true believers. These are people who have no doubts — have never doubted — could never doubt. I am thinking, for the most part, about Muslims.

I used to teach English as a second language, and worked a year in Morocco and more than six in Saudi Arabia. I have thus had a lot of exposure to Islam.

Most of my Muslim friends have been Pakistanis — some of the nicest guys you could meet. This is because I have traveled in Pakistan and spent a considerable amount of time in India, where I picked up a lot of Hindustani, a mix of Hindi and Urdu, the predominant language of Pakistan. These Pakistani friends were not in Pakistan, however, but in Saudi, expatriate workers like myself. Speak a bit of peoples' mother tongue, and they naturally warm to you.

Long ago something happened in the West that we call the Enlightenment. This was manifest in many ways, but what interests me here is that we began to doubt. We have never been the same since.

The Cartesian Method, as inaugurated by Descartes, begins with doubt — assuming that I do not know it, how can I prove that God exists? Step one was to prove that he himself existed: I think, therefore I am. [Itself a total logical fallacy.] Admittedly, he knew were he was going — the world would all settle back to normalcy — but still the gap was there.

Most Muslims have not experienced this gap. The existence of God is an absolute given, and except for purely apologetic purposes, they would see no need to prove it. Indeed, to even ask if would be a heretical act. (For the record, there are also many Muslims who have experienced a different reality.)

The Islamic Hegira calendar is somewhere near 1500, and from a Western philosophical perspective, this seems about right. I do not say this disparagingly, but factually. Indeed, there is a certain almost enviable simplicity in this kind of certainty. I have more than once looked out at the simple Indian farmer, a Hindu, plowing his field with buffalo or camel, and thought, He is probably a lot happier than I. And if happiness is a worthy value, then I cannot fault his naiveté. True, he's missing out on all that wonderful existential despair and angst, but everything has its price.

To my thinking, that farmer is best left to plow his row. And I, well I must muddle my way through my 'modernity' in search of the peace he has yet to lose.

The truth is, of course, that I wouldn’t trade my existential despair for anything, save transcendence.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

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