Modernism in religion

By Lorenzo

One of the most enjoyable polemics I have read in recent years is Christopher Beckwith’s denunciation of modernism.  Not modernity, but modernism — the belief that the new is always better than the old. A monstrously destructive delusion that consigns centuries, even millennia, of human experience, striving and achievement to the tediously passe, beneath the concern of the so-much-more-enlightened present.

One of the great ironies of the modern age is that those forms of religion which most proclaim their devotion to the origins of their faith are most in thrall to this delusion. All the experience and wrestling with faith and life that has happened between those origins and now is consigned to the dustbin of history as corrupting pollution of the pristine original faith. That original faith as currently imagined, of course.

This modernism in religion manifests in modernism in architecture. The Wahhabism the al-Saud are allied to is just such a rejection of the history of Islam to return to its alleged roots. A return which includes obliterating historical buildings in Mecca — even those intimately connected to Muhammad’s family and companions — to build modernist monstrosities, such as the tallest clock tower on top of the building with the biggest floor space overlooking the mosque which holds the Kaaba, the focus of the hajj and the lodestone for the direction of the prayers of believers.

No connection to that history is safe. This obliteration of the past includes:

the house of the prophet’s wife, Khadijah, was razed to make way for public lavatories; the house of his companion, Abu Bakr, is now the site of a Hilton hotel; and his grandson’s house was flattened by the King’s palace.

But more is to come. Much of the Kaaba mosque itself, along with the core of the Old City of Mecca, is to be obliterated to construct 400,000 sq metres of prayer halls notionally able to peer at the Kaaba and to allow 130,000 pilgrims an hour to be funnelled through the holy centre. Stark modernist functionality literally built on the obliteration of the history of Mecca.

There is a profound arrogance involved in this rejection of human experience, achievement and striving in favour of present obsessions. An arrogance which is profoundly destructive. In this case, quite literally and physically so.

This is also the Saturday chit-chat post.


  1. kvd
    Posted November 3, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    LE are you going to fit in a comment at some stage on the Victorian “payments to charity” court case? I find it quite interesting, and wondered what your thoughts might be.

  2. Posted November 3, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    Currently in the middle of another rewrite of my protocol design. Depending how you count, this makes round 7.

  3. Posted November 3, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been busy having my real life exam nightmares. Who numbers buildings such that consecutive building numbers are on opposite sides of the campus?

    Jacques, what sort of protocol are you designing?

  4. Posted November 3, 2012 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    LE, I thought you’d like it 😀

    Still, remember: foxes are better at prediction than hedgehogs. But in the big picture, not by very much.

    desipis — a long story which this margin is too narrow contain (and also I’m hoping to patent it, so …)

  5. Posted November 3, 2012 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    Wow, that’s some insanely fugly architecture right there.

  6. Posted November 4, 2012 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    [email protected] With modern tunnelling technology, you could go underground — would keep air-conditioning costs down too. The Hajj subway!

    [email protected] Yup.

  7. derrida derider
    Posted November 5, 2012 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    [email protected] is right – people actually die by the hundreds some years because of failure to knock down the old streets around the Kaaba. But that’s no excuse for replacing them with such spectatulary ugly things as that building.

    I wonder if we could persuade the Saudis to make bad architecture a capital offence under sharia – after all the cumulative loss of human welfare it creates is greater than that of your run-of-the-mill murder. There’s bound to be a hadith somewhere that could be given a sufficiently allegoric interpretation by their imams to command it.

  8. John H.
    Posted November 6, 2012 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    Psychiatry, Psychology, and Philosophy

  9. paul walter
    Posted November 7, 2012 at 12:58 am | Permalink

    I actually find a LOT to like in this thread-starter.
    It’s nice to see sheer crassness is not exclusively a Western problem.

  10. Mel
    Posted November 7, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    Fuck, I’m depressed. I was hoping Romney would win the US election and inflict some “expansionary austerity” on the US. Now where I am I supposed guy for my daily dose of schadenfreude? Dave Cameron’s dreary old England? It just ain’t the same …

  11. Mel
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    Do you agree with this, LOrenzo:

    “The National Debt…Since the national debt began climbing in 1981, a clear partisan pattern has emerged: Republican presidents have tended to expand the deficit more than Democratic ones…Has the pattern been broken [under Obama]?…[There is] a hugely important difference between Obama and his debt-ballooning Republican counterparts – Obama’s deficits have come during a historic recession, while Reagan and Bush borrowed money while the economy was expanding…So Obama’s deficits at least might be a temporary phenomenon, while the Reagan and Bush deficits were clear indicators of a short-sighted, unsustainable policy…This suggests that if we care about reversing the deficit once the economy recovers (as it now seems to be doing), we should go with Obama over Romney, despite Obama’s large deficits… ”

    The right appears to have built a thick wall of mythology around Reagan.

  12. Posted November 8, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    Years ago, a former Libertarian candidate for US President said that, under Democrat Presidents, he feared wars and, under Republican Presidents, he feared debt.

    Then Bush’s Snr and Jnr had their Gulf Wars, which ruined the pattern. (The US entered both World Wars, Korea and Vietnam under Democrat Presidents.)

    But the Republicans-create-debt seems to be holding. The Reagan debt can be argued as debt accumulated to (peacefully) with the Cold War, which looks like a bargain. The debt of the two Bushes, much less so.

    The Obama debt was probably unnecessary, but that is an argument over monetary policy and how Larry Summers almost lost the election for Obama.

    Obama now joins a select number of post-Civil War Democrat Presidents to win re-election. Grover Cleveland (an odd case, since he won the popular vote three times but the Electoral College only twice) Wilson, FDR, Truman (sort of, as he inherited the Presidency) Clinton.

  13. Mel
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    So you’ve bought into the argument that Reagan brought down the Soviet Union. I wonder what Russian historians think of that argument.

  14. Posted November 9, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    [email protected]

    that Reagan brought down the Soviet Union

    Not what I said. Reagan’s policy foreclosed options which drove Soviet policy in a different direction. The interaction between structural weaknesses and Soviet policy decisions led to the collapse.

  15. John H.
    Posted November 9, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    Soviet Union. I wonder what Russian historians think of that argument.

    As one former USSR politician noted: Yes, Reagan did help bring us down quicker, by about 2 weeks. Even in the mid-70’s it was clear the USSR was on its last legs. So from a cost\benefit perspective it is doubtful Reagan’s strategy was a good one.

  16. Posted November 10, 2012 at 4:40 am | Permalink

    [email protected] If it was obvious the Soviet Union was on its last legs from the mid-70s, then where were all the predictions of the same? Reagan’s notion that the Cold War could be won was widely derided. A lot of these analyses miss out the dynamic interaction nature of strategic choices.

  17. derrida derider
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    Lorenzo, I was there in the 70s. There were plenty of people arguing the Soviet Union was moribund and therefore no threat, but pretty well all such arguers were on the peacenik Left. It was a deeply unpopular argument with the Cold Warriors for obvious reasons (Kruschhev in his memoirs claimed the Cold War was a conspiracy by the generals on both sides – certainly an exaggeration, but not entirely baseless).

    Of course claiming the SU was moribund is not the same as claiming it was about to collapse, but it was far closer to the mark than “the Russian Bear is so strong it’s about to swallow us all” line that was the actual motive for Reagan’s defence buidup, and that risked a nuclear war (the Russians knew how weak they actually were and were scared and desperate). Reagan was always an incredibly lucky man.

  18. John H.
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] If it was obvious the Soviet Union was on its last legs from the mid-70s, then where were all the predictions of the same?

    I predicted it, it was obvious that the USSR was already in collapse. A whimper not a bang. Reagan spent an enormous amount of money for weapons never fired at a threat that was vanishing before his eyes.

    One Russian minister once stated that what the West forgot is that Russia bore the brunt of homeland devastation in WW2. The last the USSR wanted was for that to happen again and they knew damn well by at least the mid-70’s least that the USA had far superior military capacity in every realm and it was impossible for the USSR to ever catch up even before Reagan’s build up.

  19. Posted November 15, 2012 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] Clearly, it was not obvious, because lots of people failed to notice. For example, Paul Kennedy, in his RIse and Fall of Great Powers, argued that the US, not the USSR, was over-extended.

    Also, the Soviet Union was pushing hard to extend its influence across Africa and Latin America, then invaded Afghanistan; it did not look peaceful.

    [email protected] The peacenik Left suffered from making a lot of dubious claims. The preceding level of Soviet military build up, which was way beyond what was needed for defence, looked threatening.

  20. John H.
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] Clearly, it was not obvious, because lots of people failed to notice.

    That people do not notice does not mean it was not obvious, it just means they were looking at the wrong things. What is obvious for some does not mean it is obvious for everyone. For example it is obvious to me that economics does not qualify as a science yet many economists would dispute that. I have read many scientists who make mocking remarks about “economic science”. Just today I read a book dated 2004 that clearly anticipated the GFC, obvious to that author that trouble was looming. But then he is not an economist preoccupied with questionable assumptions about how the world works.

    Looks can be deceiving, many people regard the USA as a military threat. Not without cause when you count up the number of countries the USA has bombed. The key is to look deeper, to understand what the other is really thinking and the simple truth is most in the West were only listening to Western thinkers and politicians.

  21. Posted November 16, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] That word, ‘obvious‘; I do not think it means what you think it means.

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