Benno Barnard's Unpresented Talk in Antwerp
I recently inquired about Benno Barnard's unpresented talk in Antwerp, "Long Live God, Away with Allah," and I see today that he has supplied excerpts to the Dutch-language newspaper Knack, from which I freely translate selections here, again courtesy of Google Translate and my many years in Germany:
Knack for Benno Barnard, who writes freely what he could and could not tell on the platform of academic freedom.Thus Barnard's talk. Some of it, anyway. I've left out a few passages, but anyone interested can go to Knack to copy and paste the whole article into Google Translate and obtain a readable English version of the excerpts provided by Barnard.
Note from the Author:
At the request of the editors, I post here some excerpts from my aborted reading the "Free Service" of the University of Antwerp. The title is indeed a provocation -- although I intended to provoke an audience of middle-class liberals. Meanwhile, to my mind, there is nothing in the following that I have not already said, but repetition is the servant of truth. Also, of course, of the lie, but you have to look elsewhere for that, for example in [the Belgian newspaper] De Morgan.
Prologue (Paraphrasing Shakespeare)
I warn you, dear audience -- I have not come to praise liberalism, I have come to bury its fundamental mistake. That fallacy is that 'religion' is the enemy of any intellectual independence and spiritual progression. And the premise of this fallacy is that the legacy of Moses and Christ can be interpreted in a similar way could as the legacy of the Prophet.
I want to prove that this is dangerous nonsense, that liberalism is precisely a logical product of the Jewish and Christian tradition -- yes, that atheism has biblical roots!
. . .
The Jewish roots of Christianity
As a connoisseur of the ancient Hebrew language and Hebrew literature, my father raised me with the realization that Christianity at its core is a large sect of Judaism. In summary, this means the following.
The ancient Jews decided that scapegoating an actual goat with sins was better than scapegoating a man. The Lamb of God in Christianity took the role of this scapegoat itself . . . and allowed atheism to penetrate religion. A dead God! Isn't that a paradox that twists your neck into a corkscrew?
. . .
The Christian roots of humanism and liberalism
If we do not want to surrender our culture to Islam, we must . . . take from our Judeo-Christian heritage a different attitude than we nowadays do. We will have to recognize that our humanist and modernist ideas, our liberal democratic tradition, and our ideas about human rights are not only superior to all existing alternatives, but also the products of that legacy. If you want to renounce Christian civilization for its ungodly acts in the past, you will also have to reject all social democratic parties for their legacy of Stalinism.
. . .
Ritual and ethics
What many God-renouncers do not grasp is that religion is not a cognitive system of truths, but initially a liturgical, ritual praxis to keep us from going insane in this universe -- this place [of infinite spaces] that so frightened Pascal. I don't cry aloud in some virile manner that we should be happy with the futility of everything. I think that death is a scandal. Or to put it another way: death in itself is not a problem, its implications in our specific case is our problem. And I think that in Christianity, at least a respectable attempt has made to respond to these implications.
But there is more [to Christianity] than the ritual with its a very calming effect on a nervous system prone to anxiety. There is also the ethic of the Gospel . . . .
In an unprecedentedly cruel social system -- that of the Roman Empire -- a small, quick-tempered man preached a difficult, almost impossible ethic, one that I personally find much too vexing in character. Two millennia later, we have grown collectively insensitive to the radical nature of such notions as forgiveness and sacrifice, precisely because the Christian teaching has shaped us for so long . . . .
Separating Church and State in Christianity
. . . .
The conservative English philosopher Roger Scruton defends the thesis that the separation of church and state from the outset was built into Christianity. The Apostle Paul, who combined his Roman citizenship with legal knowledge, advocated that the early church be protected under law by the secular power of Rome -- and the thought of overthrowing the legal order never occurred to him. "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and unto God what is God's" -- as Jesus said about paying taxes. In the Christian vision -- again according to Scruton -- man is both servant of God and subject to a secular order. That this order, after an extended period of brilliance and horror, finally become democratic, we owe to the Christian heritage -- in Scruton's opinion. The Enlightenment was the product of the Gospel, our ideas about human rights are translations of the Ten Commandments in the dialect of our time. We should not seek to realize God's kingdom on earth, but aim for mild and reasonable laws to live together.
Primacy of religion in Islam
Political misery is mostly the result of bad intentions . . . and of good intentions. Once you have founded the 'Kingdom of God' on earth, you will discover that you have imitated hell. Realistic intentions would be more realistic. According to Scruton, and I agree, the Judeo-Christian conception of social organization is fundamentally different than Islam's. Islam's legal system -- for all dominant Islamic traditions -- is to be based on divine commandment, and the only logical Islamic state is theocracy, with the code of Sharia. Human rights? Equality of men and women? Tolerance of other beliefs? All weaknesses reflecting Western superstition! Intolerable decadence! Fortunately, the vast majority of Muslims have enough common sense to reject theocracy and Sharia.
Aside from the title, "Long Live God, Away with Allah," there's very little controversial in Barnard's talk. Muslims wouldn't agree with his views on the inevitable failure of attempts to build heaven on earth, and many Christians would disagree with his point "that religion is not a cognitive system of truths, but initially a liturgical, ritual praxis" -- though the idea is interesting to consider.
Anyway, I've done my part. Do with it what you will.