Jesus and Muhammad and the Question of the State

Author: Juan Cole
Juan Cole; public intellectual, prominent blogger, essayist and professor of history. (photo: Informed Comment)

I’ve always liked Andrew Sullivan even when I disagree with him. I’m going to disagree with him, or more specifically Alexis de Tocqueville and one of his readers who quotes him:

“Muhammad brought down from heaven and put into the Koran not religious doctrines only, but political maxims, criminal and civil laws, and scientific theories. The Gospels, on the other hand, deal only with the general relations between man and God and between man and man. Beyond that, they teach nothing and do not oblige people to believe anything. That alone, among a thousand reasons, is enough to show that Islam will not be able to hold its power long in ages of enlightenment and democracy, while Christianity is destined to reign in such ages, as in all others.”

 

This quote, from Democracy in America, is a typical sort of nineteenth century Orientalism (Edward Said’s book was published in 1978; has every thinking person not read it by now?) It is a little bizarre that de Tocqueville was eager to accommodate Christianity to Enlightenment principles, given that much of the Enlightenment was hostile to… Christianity. De Tocqueville, a strange mixture of conservatism and modernism, thought Roman Catholicism was the religion best suited to a democratic society, at a time when the popes were fulminating against . . . democracy (see below).

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