WPoF Talk: 070215

Mr Philip Goldenberg


 1        Preamble


  • 1964 US Presidential Election: Lyndon Johnson -v- Barry Goldwater
  • Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.
  • “In your heart you know he’s right”; “In your guts, you know he’s nuts!”
  • UKIP three weeks ago!!!


2        Schema


  • Judaism
  • Extremism
    • internal
    • external


3        Judaism


  • mishmash
    • religion
    • ethical values
    • cultural heritage
    • ethnic origin
    • Chaim Bermant re Rothschilds


  • seven types!
    • atheist
    • agnostic
    • Liberal
    • Reform
    • Masorti [Conservative]: Orthodox by tradition but non-fundamentalist by belief [Me]
    • Orthodox
    • ultra-Orthodox = fruitcake


  • Lib/Ref/Mas overtly liberal and tolerant: Anglican balance (Frost!) between received wisdom & modern insight.  “Honest to God” = “We have reason to believe”.        


  • Einstein
    • religion without science blind
    • science without religion deaf


 4        Internal Extremism within (primarily) Judaism


  • Good/bad religion
    • liberal or fundamentalist?
    • literal/scriptural or evolving insight?
    • exclusive or tolerant [Haredim/Jerusalem]?


  • Torah
    • Min Ha-Shamayim (inherently ludicrous) or divinely inspired (nation-building, ethics)?
    • Homer
    • Gospels ex post facto propaganda, as Christianity Pauline construct [Vermes]


  • Insight  [all three Abrahamic faiths]


  • gays [10%: all God’s children]
  • rôle of women (kinde, kirche, kuche)
  • Shlain: left/right brain
  • if scriptural literalists right, all bishops would have to be male and Jewish!


5        External Extremism


  • Judaism has always recognized there is more than one way to salvation: never sought converts
  • Proselytisation one of the changes Judaism/Christianity
  • Christianity and Islam have more chequered records:
    • Crusades/N Ireland
    • Jihadists (Tim Winter re Aquinas)

      but modernists have moved beyond these

  • hallmarks of intolerance
    • conversion/evangelism (incompatible with mutual respect: male: knob joke)
    • apostasy
    • supremacist (eg abortion)
    • public discourse
      • USA
      • Pakistan etc
      • Israel  (Israeli politics -v- Jewish ethical values)
  • hallmarks of tolerance
    • mutual respect and courtesy
    • mutual understanding

humility not pride

  • Micah 6.8: what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
  • “Still, small,quiet voice”



Second Talk

Rev Dr Peter Harwood

Religious Extremism - vice or virtue


Christian pacifism – violence is incompatible with the Christian faith.

         Jesus was a pacificist?



–     violence was a mark down against people.  E.g. David forbidden to build God’s house because he was a man of war and shed so much blood.  1 Chron 22:8

–     Isaiah sees a peaceful Messianic age.  Is 2:4 – beat swords into ploughshares.

–     You shall not murder



–     You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.  If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also’ Mt 5:38-39)

–     Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.  (Mt 5:43-48, Lk 6:27-28

–     Put your sword back in its place…for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.  Mt 26:52

–     Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the songs of God.  (Mt 5:9).

–     Jesus advocated non-violence.



         Soldier –

Lk 3 – c.f. soldiers – asked John what they need to do to be saved.  Not to abuse their power (and be satisfied with pay).  Not leave but serve well and use your power fairly.

Mt 8 – centurion.  ‘give the word of command’.  Jesus is astonished.  No-one in Israel with such faith.  Mt 8:11 – surprising people will enter kingdom of heaven.  

Acts 10 – Cornelius – devout, God-fearing.  Peter announces how true it is that God doesn’t show favoritism.  Baptizes him.  1st Gentile Christian family.


Lk 10 – c.f. 22:36 – reverses the instructions.  If have a purse take it.  If you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.  Why find a sword?


No-where is a soldier told to leave his army.


Early church

–     pacifist.

–     Changed when Roman Emperor Constantine became a Christian in AD 312 – began to ‘conquer’ in Christ’s name.  Warfare and violence justified by influential Christians.


To our most bitter opponents we say: ‘We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you.’

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), “Loving your Enemies” in Strength to Love[20]

         Peace Churches

                 Church of the Brethren, Mennonites (e.g. Amish) & Quakers.     


Definition: is an ideology considered to be far outside the mainstream of society or to violate common moral standards.

  • contrasted with moderates or centrists
  • Dawkins - even moderate faith, by teaching a faith is a virtue, fosters religious extremism.
  • usually pejorative.
  • difficult to define - what is ‘ordinary’? Subjective.  Freedom fighting vs terrorism.
  • those in power are often not thought of as extreme - e.g. apartheid
  • often violent but not necessarily so.  Mahatma Ghandi - non-violent protest.
  • real problem is ‘closed, fixed, and intolerant nature of extremist attitudes - such they are impervious to change.’



Economist Ronald Wintrobe[6] argues that many extremist movements, even though having completely different ideologies share a common set of characteristics. As an example, he lists the following common characteristics between "Jewish fundamentalists" and "the extremists of Hamas":[7]

   •     Both are against any compromise with the other side.

   •     Both are entirely sure of their position.

   •     Both advocate and sometimes use violence to achieve their ends.

   •     Both are nationalistic.

   •     Both are intolerant of dissent within their group.

   •     Both demonize the other side



Robert F. Kennedy said, "What is objectionable, what is dangerous about extremists is not that they are extreme but that they are intolerant. The evil is not what they say about their cause, but what they say about their opponents."


Extreme secularism


Pol-Pot – communist.  Caused the death of 25% of the population through executions, forced labour, malnutrition and poor medical care.


Stalin – under his regime, killed something between 3-60 million people.  Official records of 800k executions.  1.7 million in the Gulag, 400k during forced resettlement => 3 million official.  But many more e.g. Katyn Massacre – 22000 polish killed in a forest.


         C.f. Dawkins


Hermeneutics – important.

         Understanding the dangers of literalism.


Just War

                 Right to go to war

                 Right way to conduct a war – begins with St Augustine


  1. Just cause. – not just recapture or punishment, but life must be in danger and intervention must be to protect life.

A contemporary view of just cause was expressed in 1993 when the US Catholic Conference said: "Force may be used only to correct a grave, public evil, i.e., aggression or massive violation of the basic human rights of whole populations."


  1. Comparative justice – injustice suffered by one party must outweigh that suffered by the other.
  2. Competent authority.  Needs to be by political authority – not dictatorships etc.
  3. Right intention.  Not about punishment or gain.
  4. Probability of success
  5. Last resort
  6. Proportionality.



Third Talk

Mrs Kauser Akhtar

Religious Extremism: vice or virtue

What is extremism? It is important to define extremism because nowadays without even thinking we assume it is something negative and something linked to Terrorism. Definition of extremism: The holding of extreme political or religious views and extreme means reaching a high or the highest degree or being far from moderate.

So let’s apply this definition to ‘religious’ extremism in terms of Islam.

God commands Muslims to be righteous:

  • "Do no evil nor mischief on the (face of the) earth." (2:60)
  • "Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right, and forbidding what is wrong." (3:104)
  • "Do good to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbours who are of kin, neighbours who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer (you meet), and what your right hands possess." (4:36)

So if a person was to be extreme in this command, they would not harm a living thing on this planet. He/she would be ‘extremely’ careful about doing good to people.

In terms of worship, God Commands: "Celebrate the praises of your Lord, and be of those who prostrate themselves in adoration." (15:98)

So if a person was extreme in praising God and prostrating God, it means they would not do anything else in their life except this because extreme means the highest degree. The highest degree of worship can only be done by spending all ones time in prostrating and praising God – leaving no time for the other Commands of God, the rights of others and one’s own duties.

PURITY: "[God] loves those who keep themselves pure and clean." (2:222)

In this case, a person who is extreme in cleanliness and purity could be seen as OCD! Many saints in Islam went to extremes in worship and inner purification to reach inner perfection and union with God. How? They left their homes, lived in jungles, fasted for not days or months, but years. They would remain in worship all day and night with very little sleep. They erased themselves, their own desires and replaced them with only pleasing God.

So pleasing God and being extreme about it, is a virtue, but it becomes a vice when it contradicts the teachings and commands of God.

Human virtues, like justice, truth, fairness and integrity and so on manifested into a person’s actions and thoughts for the pleasure of God indeed has goodness. How advanced this goodness is depends on how unconditional it becomes. The more virtue a person uses to bring unconditional good to this world, the more he has climbed up the ladder of humanity. A person who is able to harm someone and see it as a good deed is not a religious extremist but a complex mind, which has been manipulated or influenced to thinking that way.

This is a self-righteous person gone too far. Some examples that come to mind would be the born-again Christian who killed the abortion doctor or other examples of Muslims who kill the innocent in the name of defending Muslims or Islam or the Monks who destroy an orphanage and barbarically kill Muslims in Burma.

In 1861, Charles Guiteau successfully assassinated President James Garfield -- based on the belief that he was God's messenger sent to the US to protect it from an evil administration.

Anders Behring Breivik, the 2011 Norwegian terrorist who claimed in his manifesto to be "100 percent Christian" and Baruch Goldstein, perpetrator of the 1994 Hebron massacre who is considered by some Jews to be a "hero" and a "saint".

Some reasons for people believing in and carrying out these horrendous acts are the world's lack of a moderate, moral and fair role model, in addition to a lack of access to proper education in many places, lack of basic resources for many people, too much repression, autocratic rulers, closed minded and egocentric leaders, personality factors, family upbringing, a tarnished sense of pride, among many others.  

I was doing some research on this subject of Religious Extremism and came across an article ‘What Turns Ordinary People into Religious Extremists?’ by Michelle Roya Rad, she said:

There may be a few general characteristics of people who turn into extremists:

1. They have a sense of absolutism: They have a distorted, non-constructive and irrational thought that the truth, moral or aesthetic values are absolute, universal, set and unchangeable. They do not believe in change and diversity and are usually very low in their tolerance level.

2. They have a sense of righteousness: They usually think that they know the truth and no one else does. Their truth is very limited and based on outdated, contaminated and one-sided information. They usually don't even have enough knowledge about their own religion and only know the surface part.

3. They do confirmation bias: This is where one only brings in information that fits his thought process and dismisses anything else. Any other information, no matter how historically, scientifically and logically valid, will be disregarded.

4. They have a sense of knowing an ultimate meaning: They have a sense of a black and white thinking where the white is a limited definition of how life "should" be for all of us. There is no flexibility, no adaptability and no objectivity. You are either into this small and specific white zone or you are "the other."

5. They dehumanize whoever does not fit their view: They put other people's views inferior to theirs and dehumanize people whose views do not fit theirs. This gives them a sense that they have the right to kill, harm and destroy others. They also do the same to out-groups.

6. They idealize historic figures or stories: Such people usually idealize some figures in their belief system and stories attached to the past and want to fit the present and the future into that idealization.

7. They have an utter certainty that they are right: The objective mind of a rational person knows that at any time, there are so many things he does not know. But an extremist does not have such view and holds a distorted thought that he knows all the answers and has found the "truth" which is the only truth.

8. They have a sense of unwillingness to compromise: For such individuals, there is only one way and that is what matches their definition of truth. They are not willing to find common grounds with other people and cannot find win-win positions.

9. They have too much focus on the life after death: A religious extremist has too little focus on the importance of this life and what makes him feel fulfilled in it and is too attached to the concept of a "great" afterlife.

10. They have many psychological defenses: Such individuals have formed a number of psychological defenses so none of their internal feelings would be challenged.

So this type of individual can exist in any religion or even in an atheist.

Coming back to the position of Islam on terrorism or this type of extremism, God says, "Take not life, which God hath made sacred, except by way of justice and law." (6:151)

“…if any one kills an innocent person it would be as if he killed the whole of mankind: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the whole mankind.” (5:32)

Imagine being extreme about this verse?

Islam is about accepting people and it gives an individual the right to follow which ever religion he/she wants:

"If it had been your Lord's Will, they would all have believed, all who are on earth! Will you then compel mankind, against their will, to believe!" (10:99)

The Glorious Qur'an says, "Let there be no compulsion in the religion: Surely the Right Path is clearly distinct from the crooked path." Al Baqarah, 2:256.

So no one can be forced to believe. In another verse, it says: 

"Let him who wishes to believe, do so; and let him who wishes to disbelieve, do so." (Al-Kahf: 29)

Islam is about Peace

The very word ‘Islam’ (from the Arabic silm) connotes peace. According to a tradition of the Prophet, ‘Peace is Islam’ (Al-Bukhari). This means that peace is one of the prerequisites of Islam. Similarly, a Hadith states: A Muslim is one from whose tongue and hands people are safe. One of the attributes of God described in the Quran is ‘As-Salam’, which means peace and security.’ That is to say that God’s Being itself is a manifestation of peace. Indeed, God is Peace (Al-Bukhari). In the Quran divine guidance is likened to the paths of peace. (5:16)

Islam is a religion of peace in the fullest sense of the word. The Qur’an calls its way ‘the paths of peace’ (5:16). It describes reconciliation as the best policy (4:128), and states that God abhors any disturbance of the peace (2:205).

To conclude, religious extremism manifested in it’s true form is a virtue, religious extremism which is distorted, alientated, manipulated to cause harm to any other human being is definitely a vice.


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