Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Freedom and Structure: A Balancing Act

I've been listening to a book on tape called "Aristotle's Children: How Christians, Muslims, and Jews Rediscovered Ancient Wisdom and Illuminated the Dark Ages" by Richard E. Rubenstein. This book is NOT Christian but it is an extremely interesting book of history which involves the Christian faith. One of the chapters contrasts the organization of the Muslims in medieval Spain with the Christians in Europe. The Muslims basically had religious teachers but not central headquarters. In essence, they had no denomination, Islam was a way of life. The Muslim scholars who studied Aristotle did not entirely connect with Muslim orthodoxy, nor was there mechanism for checking academic freedom they were working within against an official position.

The reconciliation of Aristotle with Muslim thought was attempted by individuals and eventually fizzled. But they did pass on their attempts to Christian scholars in Spain, who took the study of Aristotle to a whole new level. However, they accomplished this by within the medieval Catholic church, not along side her. Rubenstein says that the Christian scholars had "the advantage of backwardness". If I understand it correctly, this means that the lack of sophistication means that they could afford inconstancy for a while and as the scholars continued to study. But a separate advantage that the medieval Christian scholars had over the Muslim scholars is that they had a structure to work within the church. In contrast the Muslim scholars were Muslims of secular professions, like court lawyer, who came in conflict with the clerics. By working within the confines of the church organizational structure, the Christian scholars had less freedom and more oversight from the church. As I understand it, I'm not claim to be an expert here, is that the oversight gave them a rigor in their study which forced them to work harder at reconciling the Aristotelian philosophy with their Christian faith. The Muslim scholars in contrast were allowed a lot of freedom and after they had accomplished the bulk of their work, it was marginalized by the community which it attempted to serve.


(Mind you, I'm not attempting to criticize Islam, I'm addressing the social phenomena. In other ages, Islam spread quickly and powerfully because they were masters of reconciling their faith to the diverse cultures to which they were spreading. As a Christian, I see reconciling worldveiws with faith as a essential component of spreading the faith.)

Some Reflections Inspired By This Book

The Open Source programming community has rigor imposed by the computer itself. Programming requires a program to work. In contrast, Open Source Theology can actually be done without such rigor; sloppy theological coding so to speak.

In our modern over idealization of academic freedom, we could actually be hurting ourselves by not requiring a rigor in our study that checks our worst tendencies in study. Engineering has a hazing process called calculus to bring rigor to its study. In the past, mastery of Latin and Greek were components which brought rigor to the humanities. In our modern climate we actually have to freedom to be silly. (I don't mean funny either.)

We often seek to influence change by creating new organizations, change may be more effective by coming within and already existing organizations. When reconcile two opposing views, its harder actually reconcile them as an outsider, the tendency is to create a competing idea, an antithesis.

A Bible Text About Reconciling Old Ideas With New

14 Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, [3] but your disciples do not fast?” 15 And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. 16 No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. 17 Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” Matthew 9:14-17 (ESV)
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