10 July 2020

Cancel Culture Observations

The quoted material below is from a post by Razib Khan, a conservative atheist blogger who while a geneticist by trade is very knowledgable in history referenced below, who was raised in the U.S. as a Bangladeshi-American Muslim.

I agree with him regarding the historical Muhammad, if there was one, and regarding the historical Joseph Smith. I don't personally, as a general matter, have a problem with the political tactic of "cancel culture" although it isn't always applied in the best way. In particular, I feel that it is important that accusations should be historically accurate if you are going to act on them.
[T]wo billion human beings see in Muhammad an exemplar, but the Muhammad himself is eminently cancelable. 
There are two primary issues I want to bring up: 
1) Muhammad owned slaves. Yes, he was kind to them, but the Prophet of God owned slaves. 
2) The consummation of his marriage to Aisha when she was nine years old seems highly likely if the historical Muhammad existed.
As most of you know, I have been reading Muhammad and the Empires of Faith. The author’s analysis comes to the conclusion that the tradition that Muhammad married Aisha when she was six and consummated the marriage when she was nine is credible. Aside from the traditional textual analysis, it seems that this practice was actually known in Arabia at the time. In other words, it was socially normative in the milieu in which Muhammad existed. Jonathan Brown, a noted historian, and conservative Muslim, also accepts the validity of this tradition of Muhammad and Aisha’s relationship. 

Where does that leave us? I am not a Muslim. I am an atheist. I think someone like Muhammad did exist, but my confidence is modest. Additionally, I’m still not sure that this tradition is accurate, and reflects reality. But, the joint probability is probably in the range of 50% in my estimation. 

But, I was raised a Muslim, and I remember what we were taught about the Prophet, Peace Be Upon Him. He was understood to be an exemplar of humanity. There are various reasons to be skeptical of this…he was, after all, a man of the sword as well as religion. But the fact that may have consummated his marriage with Aisha at the age of nine leaves me appalled in a very deep way. 

At the time I was reading Muhammad and the Empires of Faith this very popular tweet about Joseph Smith was brought to my attention:

There are a few details that need to be fleshed out. Smith had sex with teens. He was technically an ephebophile. Second, Mormonism was not notably racist during the period of Smith’s life. Much of the racism came to the fore under Brigham Young and his successors. Also, Mormon racism was general but particularly notable against people of African ancestry (other nonwhite people were seen somewhat differently). 
I think Joseph Smith is much more likely to be “canceled” than Muhammad. First, Smith lived in the 19th century. That’s much closer to us. Second, the Church of Latter-Day Saints is perceived to be white, even though most of the world’s LDS are now nonwhite. Finally, the LDS and affiliated movements have active memberships in the range of tens of millions. There are two billion Muslims.

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