"There are 10^11 stars in the galaxy. That used to be a huge number. But it's only a hundred billion. It's less than the national deficit! We used to call them astronomical numbers. Now we should call them economical numbers." ~ Richard Feynman
What the West Doesn't Get About the Danish 'Cartoons'
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Western culture and politics is secular down to its core. Even self-described Christians, Jews, and the other followers of theistic faiths are secular. It isn't that they don't believe anymore, though. My grandfather had a quaint but apt expression for this phenomenon. He called people like this 'Sunday Christians.' They appear at church on the Sabbath, they observe all the practices and ritual, and pray daily to God to express devotion and for guidance. But deep at their core of individual personhood, they are either unconscious or unadmitted deists.
'Sunday Christians' attribute the ups and downs of daily life and the ebb and flow of the natural world to materialistic causes based on the very un-Godlike laws of chemistry, physics, and biology. They do not believe what happens to them and around them has any connection with the God they believe in or worship.
The 'Sunday Christians' and their counterparts in the other theistic faiths in the West view the Torah, Bible, Quran, and the rest of the Holy Texts as unattributed collections of folklore, parables, and fables and not the literal words of God. Perhaps these Texts are divinely inspired and perhaps not, but certainly they are not to be taken literally as guidance for daily living and understanding man's place in the cosmos. Most will readily admit that by using selective quotations from the Texts, one can make any point or justify any belief or practice no matter how dubious or bizarre.
Deep down the 'Sunday Christians' and their counterparts in the other Faiths just don't believe anymore. Certainly not where it counts anyhow. When an event or phenomenon occurs in this world, whether wrought by man or a natural phenomenon, they look to materialistic causes or reasons for it. To say such things are an 'act of God' is viewed even by most believers as silly, childish, simplistic, na've, or unsophisticated.
If one doubts this, consider: When Pat Robertson said that the Christmas 2004 tsunami that devastated the Indian Ocean region was God's retribution for allowing nude beaches, gambling, and lax morals and such, what do you suppose the reaction, even among the faithful, was? It was an outpouring of denial and smirking contempt for Robertson's obviously childish and silly scriptural literalism. More examples exist but it serves no purpose to cite them further. The distinction is clear I trust between the atheist, agnostic, or deist Western people and most of the Islamic faithful.
What the secular-oriented West just cannot believe or fathom to any extent is that a great many of the world's 1.2 billion Islamic faithful do think that daily events are the direct, purposeful, and conscious acts of God in response to human activity. When a secular Westerner contracts a disease or is the victim of misfortune, he looks to biology, chemistry, psychology, or history for answers as to why he is afflicted. Not the faithful Muslim, though. He believes one is sick or victimized because Allah wishes him so, and that it is the victim's lot to fathom the 'why' in His actions.
I do not justify this worldview on the part of Islamic believers. I only state that it exists. The West has its 'true believers' too, and while Christian and other fundamentalists are often a pesky, obnoxious, and marginalized lot, they are certainly not without influence either politically or culturally.
When cultural, political, or artistic works appear (that to the fundamentalist view) are sacrilegious, blasphemous, or sinful, the fundamentalists mount campaigns to make their disapproval and outrage known. And sometimes with violence as well. The only real difference between those instances and the Muslim reaction to the Danish cartoons is that the Muslims are in greater numbers.
I offer no solutions here, I only wish to point out what for me is obvious. Perhaps in time the Islamic world will change. And then again maybe it won't. Until then, we should not needlessly provoke them and they should understand that our way is not their way and respect that as well. Whatever creed or belief one has, it is not wrong to demand that people who wish tolerance and respect for themselves and their beliefs grant it to others even in the face of outrageous provocation.