Tariq Ramadam is an intellectual and orator who i much admire. He’s brave enough to stand up to a berated Christopher Hitches and defend his faith (www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-spKm13v6c), but also question and confront the authority of those within the faith. As a religious apologist, his rational and anti-literalist critique of Islam presents real hope for reconciliation with post enlightenment thought and for internal evolution and progress in the faith. An imminent critique that Islam can shy away from no longer.
However, It is a fact that cannot be omitted, that Professor Ramadam is a rational thinker who owe’s much of his clarity of though to the western philosophical tradition, something he too often denies. In this fascinating but misleading lecture Ramadam claims to talk of ‘Religion’ and ‘spirituality’…. but, he speaks only of reason and Philosophy.
He starts with Isaiah Berlin and Rousseau of freedom. Rousseau famously declared that we must be “forced to be free,” eluding to a distinction Berlin would make over a century later, between positive and negative freedom. I’m with Hegel on this one, Freedom is a ‘social achievement.’ Western, liberal, consumer society constantly reminds us of how we are (negatively) free to get an education, get rich and buy a BMW, but consistently fails to tell us how we are positively free to achieve anything – be that material, ethical or ‘spiritual.’ My freedom to extend my fist ends at your nose, but my freedom to find affluence and peace begins with my society. Finding freedom is a complex and sometimes contradictory process. To be free we must be restrained and those restrictions must be self-legislating but also universal. Only Philosophy can tackle this issues, Religion is impotent in the face of such complexity.
Then Professor Ramadan deplores rule base, dogmatic moral systems – precisely the sort of closed deontologies religions peddle. In a diverse, modern, liberal society only openminded secularism stands any chance of rectifying the plurality of thought on ethical issues we see, with the aim of create cohesive, peaceful societies. Religious dogmatism appeals to emotion and superstition and it makes little room for disagreement, which can only lead to conflict.
And, through-out, Mr Ramadam claims to promote social and cultural understanding and cohesion. But, once again, normatively it is his treasured religion that arrogantly preach moral superiority and the need to convert others to your way of thinking.
This is not a ‘spiritual’ man – this is a rational man. I encourage religious thinkers to follow Mr Ramadam in rationalising their theology. But it would be better still if the religious simply appealed to the source of such rationality, spared the apologists such a Ramadam the painful and laborious task of rectifying and revamping religious dogma and embraced reason and philosophy in it’s purest form as the only source of just and proper moral systems in the modern world.