by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro
Commentary of the Day - October 5, 2001: A Real World Education - Guest Commentary by Tom Cordle.
All anyone wants to talk about right now is our national tragedy. But that doesn't have anything to do with education–does it? Yes, it has everything to do with education. First and foremost is the lesson that we can no longer afford to remain blithely ignorant of the rest of the world. While we were busy being titillated by the sexual escapades of Bill Clinton and Gary Condit, parts of the world were stoking the fires of Hell; and we paid no attention.
Afghanistan has been on my radar screen for at least four years now as I began to learn of the radical excesses of the Taliban. I heard messages that seemed to come from the pages of a story by Franz Kafka. This was not the ordinary thuggery of dictators, this was inhuman absurdity. For example, in Afghanistan, women are not allowed to be seen by male doctors. But women are not allowed to be doctors since women are not allowed to work. Therefore by law, women cannot be treated by doctors. Therefore, women die.
This is the Taliban reading of the Koran; a reading claimed as a protection of women. Such twisted logic ought to be recognized by anyone with a freshman class in rhetoric for the foolishness it is. Whatever God is, God is not foolish; and such readings can only be the work of fools. A truly educated mind could not hold with such an idea. But the religious fanatic holds there is nothing worth learning outside his religious texts. Theirs is the logic of Caliph Ali who presided over the burning of the greatest library in the ancient world at Alexandria. As the texts were tossed into the flames to fire the baths of the city, Caliph Ali offered his justification. "If these books disagree with the Koran, they are blasphemous and should be destroyed. If they agree, they are unnecessary." The perfect logic of a fool–burn, Baby, burn!
Will James once said "The mark of an educated mind is the ability to hold two diametrically opposed views at the same time." But religious fanatics have no such conflicts; that is what makes them dangerous.
This argument was made quite forcefully by our Founding Fathers: keep government and God apart. The lesson of history is that whenever a nation is under clerical control, it engages in such oppressive behavior. Perhaps this is another example of the dictum that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. For to control the earthly realm and admission to the heavenly realm gives absolute power over ordinary men.
For the most part, America has taken that lesson to heart. But it has been a struggle even here against religious fanatics who want to impose their view of religion by force of law. It is now more important than ever to resist the temptation to put our nation in the hands of those who would lead us down that dangerous path in the guise of putting us under God's protection. In our fear, it is all too easy to fall into the trap that snared Reverend Jerry Falwell. But a just God does not punish the innocent.
We are given the choice of defending truth and goodness, or surrendering to evil fools. The first line of that defense is recognizing the difference between the two. And for that we must be educated.
The Irascible Professor comments: In his original text Tom used the term "religious fundamentalist". The IP has changed that to "religious fanatics". In the IP's view there is a difference between the two. The fundamentalist adheres to a literal interpretation of religious scripture. While the fundamentalist may attempt to convince others of the correctness of his religious views, he (or she) does not force those views on others. The fanatic, on the other hand, is quite willing to coerce others to adopt his views.
© 2001 Dr. Mark H. Shapiro - All rights reserved.