De libero arbitrio et IX/XI - On free will and 9/11
by Joe Palmer
[ opinion - october 03 ]
Da mihi castitatem et continentiam, sed noli modo.
"Give me chastity and continence, but not yet." - St Augustine of Hippo
"Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you mad." - Aldous Huxley
What kind of maniac flies a large airplane into a tall building or explodes a bomb on a bus? I don't mean the guy who goes postal and starts shooting. I mean the man or woman who thinks about it and then goes out and does it. You'd have to believe strongly in something in order to commit such an act, or to live in a state of mind beyond belief or skepticism, in a hypnotic state of mind.
I think I know the type, not the Bushido warrior who values honor more than life or the Mameluke who rides bravely into Napoleon's cannon fire waving a scimitar, but the enthusiast, the one possessed by revelations of the Holy Spirit (en + theos), the one who has taken his consciousness back to its source and left it there. Such people hear voices telling them what to do. They are mad by any definition but their own. Like the assassins, the secret order of 12th Century Shi'ite Muslims commanded by the Old Man of the Mountain, they kill their enemies without remorse, as if they were high on hashish. Such people obey without thinking. They are brainwashed from birth, conditioned by their culture to do what they are told, for within their way of life there is no difference between their civil responsibilities and their religion. For them the state and its laws and the church and its rules are one entity. Laws and rules for them are not just man-made guidelines. For them the rules and laws are divinely ordained. The king, the president, the minister, the legislator, the judge, and the priest are the same person. There is little or no separation of church and state in countries dominated by Islam.
In contrast, the United States Constitution says that the church and the state must never be confused. The men who invented the United States looked back through history and saw the sort of evil theocracy brings. Religion has no place in public affairs, popular delusions and the madness of crowds having no adaptive value.
When individuals who have grown up in the Muslim traditions come up against European ways, as they must do these days because of the media, they have to get used to the freedom and dignity of Western life. They have to learn to understand the European pluralistic secularism that allows people to live and let live. If they do not, some of them are thrown into the state of mind of the terrorist. As Bernard-Henri Lévy observes and asks, "The enemy of the West is a product of the West... is terrorism the bastard child of a demonic couple: Islam and Europe?"(Who killed Daniel Pearl?)
My purpose here is to look at two basic, fundamental cultural concepts that underlie Western thought - free will and predestination - and how they inform religious beliefs and personality, not to look at the proximate causes of 9/11, which, I think, stem from the challenge of the creation, maintenance, and expansion of Israel, at the expense of Palestine. If the United States did not have its colony, Israel, in the Holy Land...
This essay is about cultural conditioning, that is, about values that are second nature to us because of the way we live together, and about popular theological arguments at the time of the fall of Rome.
When I was living in Somalia 40 years ago, I used to take my dog Yeller in our Volkswagen south of Mogadishu on the sand track that goes along the limestone plain above the beach all along the coast. It is a rising coastline with grass near the ocean because of the wet breezes; the rest of the land is mostly savannah scrub where grass grows only after rain occasionally comes. The sea breezes off the Indian Ocean always made me happy. We would walk for miles without seeing another person, only the sea birds and gazelle keeping their distance from us. Yeller was a sort of German shepherd, the kind the Italians call canelupe, or wolf dog. I had bought him and two of his brothers, paying for them with a bottle of Seagram's Seven rye whisky, from a merchant in the capital city. One dog was run over by the Pepsi-Cola truck, the other was no good, and so I gave it to Smiley, the proprietor of the only Chinese restaurant in Somalia, to do with as he pleased.
One morning I drove a few miles farther along the coast, just to see what was there. We left the car as usual, and as we started walking we spied a flock of fat-tailed sheep grazing on the shelf ahead of us, and in the near distance on a bluff a group of grass houses, a small village surrounded by a zariba, a thorn fence. Somalis are almost always nomads who follow the rains. There, because of the grass, was a village. Fat-tailed sheep are white with black tails that store excess food as fat, like a camel's hump.
Yeller grew excited at the sight of the sheep. He barked and ran among them. One sheep ran out of the flock with Yeller on its heels in a circle around the dozen animals. Then that sheep ran directly into the ocean and swam out perhaps 100 yards, out of sight. Yeller tasted the water, and quickly gave up the chase. He came back to me wagging his tail, expecting praise. At that moment an old Somali man wearing a sarong and shouting curses came running from the village to intercept the dog and me.
The owner of the sheep was furious. My dog had killed his sheep! I was the fool who allowed that vicious beast to attack his flock. Somalis despise dogs. They have not domesticated any of the several sorts of wild dog in the bush. Dogs are dangerous. White people are insane to live with dogs. My large dog was particularly malicious. The man's sheep was dead. How could he afford to replace his sheep? It was a young male, one he prized above all others. I must make amends.
By the time this rant had been twice repeated in my face, a crowd was gathering. A cool-headed elder sent a child to fetch the policeman from the village, and immediately a young man, who had been visiting his girlfriend, appeared, clambering down the hill, pulling on his tunic with its silver badge of authority and his sandals. Several men and boys joined us.
We all hunkered down, sitting on our heels in a circle, to palaver. The owner of the sheep, Omar Rahman, introduced himself. I introduced myself. Omar started telling the story, from the beginning, his beginning. He had been watching his sheep from the shade of his niece's aqal, when he saw this white man and the dog attacking his sheep.
"Maya, no," I insisted. "The dog was chasing the sheep back into the flock. That's what dogs do. He's a sheepdog." The concept was impossible to grasp. This crazy white man lives with a dog. He should ask forgiveness, apologize, and shut up.
Everyone had an opinion. The sheep was dead, drowned. I caused the death. I owed Omar Rahman the price of the sheep. What was the price of a sheep? Nobody sells one sheep. Who has sold a sheep? Sheep are for eating, not for selling. Why does the Infidel bring his dog to kill your sheep? The neighbors made Omar forget me for a few seconds.
At that point the constable asked me to give Omar 50 shillings, about five dollars. Yes, that was fair, a good price; everyone had an opinion. It was too much and therefore sufficient.
I agreed. "That sounds right," I said," but if I pay Omar, I want the drowned sheep."
Why does the Infidel want a dead sheep?
"To eat it. Even Infidels eat sheep," I replied.
At that very moment, looking over Omar's shoulder I alone watched the sheep walk out of the surf and, shaking itself violently, rejoin the flock.
"Maya, maya, maya," Omar shouted. The drowned sheep was Omar's. The money was recompense for causing trouble, disturbing the peace, and killing his sheep.
"But what will you do with a dead sheep?" I asked.
"Eat it, stupid Infidel," Omar replied.
"You cannot eat the sheep," I said, and then in Arabic, the Holy Language, "Ma feesh halal!" - it is unclean, not ritually slaughtered. No one had slit its throat and turned its face towards Mecca.
Everybody laughed at Omar.
Omar squatted, stunned, his mouth open in amazement as the truth of what I had said formed in his mind. Suddenly he slapped his own forehead so hard that he fell flat on his back, writhing in humiliation in the sand. Omar's neighbors were all arguing among themselves.
"Go, go," the constable shouted at me. "Give me the money. I'll pay him. Get out of here!"
"I want the sheep, if I pay for it," I shouted, counting out coins from my pocket.
Omar had covered his face with both hands, and was sobbing and moaning.
"Get in your car," the constable ordered. Yeller jumped into the back seat and I rolled up the windows. The constable sent a boy to fetch the sodden sheep. He came running, and put the sheep in the back seat with Yeller. I looked back as I drove away across the sand to see the constable with his arms raised, calling the crowd to gather for discussion, a rabble not yet a mob.
Yeller and Lawrence of Somalia, for that is the name the boys gave the sheep, lived together at our villa, sharing a pallet in the carport, Lawrence running with the dog to greet arrivals at the gate, and leaving little turds for the houseboy Dahir to sweep up.
Then it happened that the mother-in-law of our night guard Abdul Kareem died. We had guards at the gate of the villa day and night, against all evil and envy. It was Abdul's responsibility to serve the funeral dinner for his wife's family. We gave him Lawrence of Somalia.
In Somalia, Islam is the way of life. In Islam, there is a rule for every aspect of daily living, a strict commandment. Among most other people, rules are there to be broken, according to circumstances. Among the followers of Islam there are few provisions for choice. That which is trivial or meaningless to others may be crucially determinative, looming large and making all the difference to them.
Such a cast of mind is essential to Islam, or Mohammedanism, the religion based on the ethics of life in tribal society and the principle of predestination, which is the certain hope that Allah [God], being omnipotent and omniscient, determines from eternity the salvation and damnation of individuals. Adherents of Islam are called Muslims, sometimes Moslems or Mohammedans. They believe that whatever happens is a manifestation of God, that people are put on earth to do His bidding, and that no one individual has the free will, or volition, to do otherwise.
The people who perpetrated 9/11 are Muslims.
In his book Why I am Not a Muslim, ibn Warraq, a modern apostate, claims that "all religions are sick men's dreams, false - demonstrably false - and pernicious." Yes, but some are more pernicious than others, and among adherents there is great variety of belief. The Sufi Muslims believe, for example, that all religions are true, and that even atheists go to Heaven, which contrasts conversely with the assertion that all religions are false and even believers go to Hell. It takes little thought to see that both positions are nonsense, in the sense that "This statement is false" is nonsense. However, both assertions are evidently true in the sense that they are conformable to an essential reality, to an invented standard or pattern, to a made-up, perhaps traditional worldview, to a fully realized or fulfilled dream, idea, vision, theology, myth, or story, but not in accordance with the actual, existential state of affairs.
Sufism is heretical to most Muslims, but as Emerson reminded us "The religions we call false were once true." ('Character')
One can read ibn Warraq for a thorough demonisation of Islam, the fundamentalist, fanatic, religious fascism spread and maintained by the sword. He gives a description of the incapacity of adherents of Islam for critical thought, of their moral poverty, their pitiful secular institutions, and their lack of scientific attitude.
The holy book of Islam, the Koran, the name sometimes transliterated Qur'an in scholarly texts, is the world's most influential book after the Holy Bible, which consists of the Hebrew Bible, that is, the Old Testament, and the New Testament dating from Christian times. These three books are the sources of the three great monotheistic religions: Judaism, its variant Christianity, and Islam, faiths that come from the teachings of the prophets Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed.
Revealed by the angel Gabriel to Mohammed, the Koran was assembled by the Prophet's secretary Zaid ibn Thabit in its canonical form under Caliph Othman 651-52 AD. It holds that man must surrender his will and purpose to that of the Lord. Islam means submission to the will of God and surrender of free will, which is the choice between righteousness and sinfulness, right and wrong. Free will is the freedom humans have to make choices without Divine intervention. It is moral liberty.
Muslims, adherents of Islam, which means "submission", hold that all knowledge is a commentary on the Koran, a handbook of tribal practices such as fasting, alms giving, praying, going on pilgrimage, and declaring that there is only one God and Mohammed is his Prophet, and the consequences of that declaration. The Koran teaches that humans are God's vice-regents (caliphs) on Earth who have the responsibility of fulfilling His scheme for creation. Therefore, no human act can occur if God does not will it. To Muslims we are sinners in the hands of an angry God. Yet at the same time, Allah is the merciful, the compassionate. And the Koran is scientific insofar as terms used in the Arabic text can be interpreted as foretelling modern scientific theories (such as the Big Bang), exercises in sophistry reminiscent of astrology.
Moslems are taught that human actions are futile in face of Divine will, and that everyone will be judged for their deeds. They hold that it is God's will that humans make free choices. Therefore, humans are accountable and guilty. But it's not their fault. As in Calvinistic Puritanism, there is nothing one can do to earn the grace of God. Redemption cannot be won by doing good deeds.
The primary result of these confusing and contradictory claims is the obliterating of personality, the giving up of the critical faculties, the removing of doubt, and ultimately the criminalising of skepticism. Belief in God or man comes not from revelation or ratiocination, but from assertion. The "truth" is proclaimed, projected, and so accepted and believed entirely, without reservation or filtering through a bullshit detector.
In 1967 in Somalia an American, Scott Street, the chief of party of an aid mission, went with one of his colleagues and his family to see them off on a cruise to South Africa from the port of Mogadishu. There is no harbor there, so they had to go out to the Italian cruise ship in a small boat. On the ship Street took photographs of the man and his wife and two daughters. On returning to the dock Street was arrested and charged with spying. The next day the English language newspaper ran a banner headline: STREET THE SPY.
Street was shortly released with an apology, after it was seen that the photos he took were of little girls. There was an Italian newspaper too, but no Somali newspaper because the Somali could not agree on which alphabet to use to write their language, Arabic or Roman, so they did not write Somali. The only literate Somalis were sort of literate in Italian, English or Arabic. During the 1967 war between Egypt and Israel, that same newspaper ran this headline: Somalia To Send Troods. The newspapers were paid for by UNESCO.
The week after Street was arrested, I was walking home from swimming in the ocean at a beach near the airport in Mogadishu, carrying wet bathing trunks wrapped in a towel. Taking a shortcut over a hill, I was accosted and arrested by a policeman carrying an old Italian rifle. He marched me at gunpoint to a substation and announced that he had caught "una spia," there being no concept of spionaggio in Somali. I must have a camera wrapped in the towel. The guard, as an African, had no reason to know anything about swimming trunks and towels. For example, my friend Marcel Yao Cacou from the Ivory Coast did not complete the requirements for his degree in mechanical engineering at Oregon State University in good time because he had to earn three credits in Swimming. He didn't know how to swim. He had to learn how. Africans don't swim; there is always danger in the water in Africa. Yao Cacou is the only swimmer today in the Ivory Coast. Rolled towels do not hide wet trunks in Africa. The corporal in charge and the enthusiastic guard were disappointed when the sergeant apologized to me.
One should not assume that I am going to belittle courageous men who follow their consciences. To counter any aspersions or calumny on Muslims that you may think you read here, you should read Tolstoy's novella Haji Murad about one of the bravest men who ever lived, a Chechen leader who resisted the Tsar's encroachment in the 19th Century. Haji Murad fought for his principles and his identity against overpowering odds. The book is available on line at Christian Classics Ethereal. Harold Bloom, the Sage of Yale, a most respected literary critic, calls Haji Murad "my personal touchstone for the sublime of prose fiction, to me the best story in the world, or at least the best I have ever read."
The courage of the men who immolated themselves on 9/11 is not my topic here. A popular American television personality, Bill Maher, lost his job because he suggested that they were not cowards, but brave beyond belief. My intention here is to try to understand how they gained such courage. What was in their backgrounds that gave them the backbone for martyrdom?
I am told that in Islam, submission to Allah is negation of the critical faculty. Whatever happens happens. Whatever appears to be the case is true. It is as if the right side of the brain sends messages to the left side of the brain instantly at the moment of apprehension. There is no stage of consideration. Seeing is believing. It is as if the individual is always a member of a mob, having no personality.
In earlier theology before the advent of Islam, the Hebrews believed "if you do good, will there not be a special privilege? And if you do not do good, sin is crouching at the door. It lusts after you, but you can dominate it." [Genesis 4:7]
In the King James Bible the story goes that the Lord disrespected Cain's offering to Him, but He liked that of Cain's brother Abel. "And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. And the Lord said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him. And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him." [Genesis 4:5-8] And so 3,000 people were slain on 9/11.
In Being Jewish Mordecai Kresel reports that "The Torah (the wisdom and law of Jewish scripture) gives us 613 Commandments and tells us to do good and not to do evil. This means it is within our power to do either type of act."
Later Christian theology took the Jewish ethic and added the Gospel to it, resulting in a reaffirmation and an objective correlative of Goodness in the person of Jesus.
Early Christian apologists disagreed as to the extent of each man's responsibility in deciding his own fate, in determining what happens to him. Three of the early disputants were Pelagius, Augustine, and Donatus. In their positions on the doctrine of free will we can see a cline of acceptance that goes from Pelagius' embrace of Christian existentialism through Augustine's ambiguous waffling to Donatus' horrifying Puritanism.
Before the rise of Islam in the Seventh Century and the split between the Eastern [Orthodox] and Western churches in the 11th Century, there were many different versions of Christianity in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. Among them were the Roman Christians, the Arians, Nestorians, Monophysites [Copts, Armenians], and other sects.
The theologian Pelagius (c.355-425?), a Celtic monk, held that man is master of his own fate, rather like WE Henley (1849-1903) - "I am the master of my fate;/ I am the captain of my soul. ('Invictus') Pelagius was the first recorded "existentialist."
Pelagius wrote his treatise De Libero Arbitrio to counter criticism from Augustine and Jerome, who had to get rid of that free thinker Pelagius in order to save their business, the Roman Catholic Church.
"There is no salvation outside the Church," Augustine thundered. Without the sacraments to redeem original sin, mankind is doomed to perdition.
"Roma locuta est; causa finita est," Rome has spoken; the case is closed, Augustine proclaimed in Sermons, Bk I.
Pelagius countered with the assertion that there is no such thing as original sin. Mankind has perfect freedom to do right or wrong. "Grace" is created by good actions supported by natural attributes -- liberum arbitrium (free will) and reason - and understanding the Gospel. So anybody can enter Heaven, even pagans. The sacraments are merely social rituals. Pelagius was ahead of his time, not behind his time.
A Celtic ascetic monk and contemporary of St Patrick, Morgan Pelagius, known to his friends as "Brito," a big, jovial man (grandis et corpulentus) and a rugged individualist, had gone to Rome where he found repellent what he saw: Papal grandeur, opulence, laxity and incontinence among clerics, what we today call sexual promiscuity and molestation.
Pelagius called for a practical faith based on man's good moral nature, holding that each individual must take the responsibility for his own daily life and his own spiritual advancement. In regard to Original Sin, that cornerstone of Catholicism, Pelagius taught that Adam died, just like all children, but not because he had sinned. He held that the Mosaic Law was just as good as the Gospel, with many sinless people having lived before and after Jesus.
Augustine saw right away that Pelagius' ideas threatened his entire enterprise, the Roman Church, and so he and St Jerome (Hieronymus) did all they could to destroy his teachings on predestination and grace. Jerome wrote that Pelagius was full of beans. What he actually wrote was that Pelagius suffered from a weak memory because he was "stuffed with Scottish porridge" (Scotorum pultibus proegravatus). The Scots lived in Hibernia, the Emerald Isle, Saorstát Éireann, in those days.
After Pelagius, unwilling to recant, was excommunicated following the Council of Carthage (410 AD), he went to Palestine, where he lived out his life in a monastery. His teachings were typical of the older faith among the British, the Celtic peoples who had practiced some aspects of the Mosaic Law even before becoming Christians. The claim of the Anglican Church to primacy rests on this fact: it existed before the Roman Church was established. Today the British live their faith rather than display it, or so they would have us believe, church attendance being a poor gauge of morality.
St Augustine, bishop of Hippo Regius in what is now Algeria (354-430 AD), stands squarely in the middle of the arguments about moral choice. His Confessions and his City of God explain the differences between the actual and the ideal within Roman Christianity, which is largely his invention.
The quotation from Augustine "Give me chastity and continence, but not yet," demonstrates his middle way between free will and predestination. For Augustine, Providence, that is, grace from God, gives us freedom to choose to sin, to corrupt ourselves. This same Providence forgives us.
According to Augustine we can't blame God for this travesty of Heaven that is life on earth. The concept of grace means that God takes credit for everything good, and since free will exists, the consequence of Original Sin, man must take the blame for evil and suffering. We cannot blame the Devil. The Manichaean heretics, the Zoroastrians, and the Mithraists, not the Christians, blamed Him, the Evil One.
Augustine held that "we make ourselves a ladder out of our vices if we trample the vices themselves underfoot." Augustine was not merely using magniloquent rhetoric about sins of the flesh. He knew what he was talking about. When he was young he was one of the boys. His first mistress left him because she was too young to marry. The next woman he lived with out of wedlock might be the mother of his son Adeodatus, who died at age 17. He was a teacher of the art of arguing like a lawyer, that is, of rhetoric, which Plato held was a public nuisance, you will remember.
So Augustine's conversion to the Faith was based on experience. He asserted that men are their own devils. Semen is sin. We are born between urine and feces. Nursing babies are lustful, born with original sin, and so they must be baptized. A state of grace can only be obtained through the sacraments of the Church.
Then as today, the doctrine of predestination, the tenet that at birth people are committed to the events of life, and that fate is mapped out for them, and there is nothing they can do about it, was held by the most radical puritans. They are sinners in the hands of an angry God. The Calvinists and Jansenists in early modern times elaborated this doctrine into several sects. In ancient times, in the Fourth Century, Augustine's followers were opposed by and outnumbered by similar puritans, the Donatists, Christians who believed that only the blameless belonged in the church.
So-called "African Christianity," Donatism, was in competition with Augustine's Roman worldview in those early days, the Donatists outnumbering the Romans by far, and so the Romans were a distinct minority among Christians. The schismatic Fourth Century North African sect is named after Donatus, Bishop of Casae Nigrae (fl.313 AD) in Numidia in northwest Africa (now Algiers), which included Augustine's see of Hippo Regius.
In the year 391 AD Christianity became the state religion of Rome under Constantine, after years of persecution. There was war between Rome and North African states. For example, The Donatists stopped shipments of grain from Africa upon which Rome depended. The Roman navy attacked Hippo (now Bône) and killed the Berber Prince Gildo and the Donatist Bishop Optatus of Timgad. And so on.
In Donatism, lapsed Christians were not readmitted to the sacraments of the church, and so they were damned. In the early Fourth Century, Roman persecution of the Christians had been severe, with many Christians abjuring their faith and turning their books over to the Roman authorities for destruction (scrolls and rolls had gone out of use in the Third Century). Denying the Gospel even once that way was sufficient for damnation. The Donatists held that one fallen from grace could not be redeemed: only the blameless belonged in the church, and also the moral state of the priest determined the validity of the sacraments. He had to be 99 and 44/100ths % pure, like the later mullahs and ayatollahs. It was a perfectly logical system, given its enthymemes and premises. One bad move and you're out. There was no redemption.
The Donatists, with their horrible pessimism, persecuted and terrorized the followers of Augustine, and so in return he persecuted the Donatists.
Augustine, with his great rhetorical skill, tried to destroy their arguments by holding that God's determination, or prevision, is subject to revision, depending on the free will and spirituality of the individual, whose salvation is in the Church. So people should get themselves saved the only way possible, through the sacraments of the Church given freely to all subscribers, and then they should go and sin no more, until next time.
Augustine and the Roman team won the game, with St Jerome coaching the defense. By the Seventh Century the remaining Donatists had become Muslims, their idea of free will coinciding with that of the followers of Mohammed, author of the Koran.
An illiterate Bedouin prophet, Mohammed repeated the folk wisdom of his tribe when he composed the Koran, including a theology derived from the teachings of Donatus. Using an old rhetorical trick he claimed that in his divinely inspired teachings he had adapted, clarified, purified, and included all of the old religions, meaning Judaism and Christianity. So Islam is not only ecumenical but as a matter of the one true, simple faith, it supersedes all other religions.
One can see that Islam does not share Pelagius' modern, enlightened view of God and man, which tells us, "Root, hog, or die," to repeat an old folk saying.
Look at this statement made by Dr Abu Meenah Bilal Philips in Muslim World:
"The prophet Esau (Jesus) called the people to surrender their will to the will of Allah (which is Islam), and he warned them to stay away from the false gods of human imagination."
I don't know which Gospel Dr Philips has been reading, but it is not the one I know. The Gospel I know is tempered with the teachings of Pelagius.
In regard to 9/11, to Israel and Palestine, and Bali and wherever violence has replaced reason, as the American diplomat Warren Austin (1877-1962) observed, "The Jews and Arabs should sit down and settle their differences like good Christians."