Amal Ghazal replied 22nd Jan '15:
A religious moderate assumes a certain position towards religious texts and their interpretation. Such a position implies non-adherence to a literal meaning of the religious text and an inclination to allow flexibility and accommodation in its understanding and interpretation, taking into account the present circumstances rather than the mere historical ones that might have informed past interpretations, now deemed unacceptable or unsuitable.
Both 'religious' and 'moderate' are contentious terms but belong to their own epistemological circumstances that should be taken into account. Thus, there is always a counter argument to what is 'religious' and what is 'moderate' but considered within their own contemporary context, they carry a specific meaning for those who identify with a certain religion and take positions within a wide spectrum of opinions and attitudes that identify them as both 'religious' and 'moderate'. 'Moderate' is not an absolute description but a relative one.
Because 'moderate' is relative, a moderate is by definition someone who is choosing sides. A 'religious moderate' thus is someone who is faced with several options regarding religious practice and interpretation and he/she takes a position that is distinct from other positions, some of which can be considered extreme or radical.
Alix Landmann replied 22nd Jan '15:
Moderate means as adjective :
1. Being within reasonable limits; not excessive or extreme:
2. Not violent or subject to extremes; mild or calm;
3. Opposed to radical or extreme views or measures, especially in politics or religion.
Hence a moderate is someone, who holds or champions moderate views or opinions, especially in politics or religion.
I am not sure what you intend to say by "choosing sides"? If a moderate is generally opposed to radical views, than a moderate has already chosen a point of view, or a standpoint that could be understand as a "side".
If you imply there are only two sides, like right and wrong, true or deviant, than you might want to introspect of your own understanding of religion -
In my view, as religious truth is a very difficult item to prove empirically, being moderate is a "side" and a "choice" - in that the question is to me quite internally inconsistent.
We should not define religions by their fundamentalist strands, but aid progressives in their reformations of their religions while not allowing them to whitewash either the histories or the present stagnant/regressive states of their religions.
Religions are more than just sets of propositions. They are living, historical traditions of myths, rituals, communities, texts, symbols, etc. When debunking fundamentalists and literalists, it is valuable to take seriously their literal propositional beliefs and force them to confront all the ways they are internally contradictory, at odds with their own values, and discomfited with reality.
But the propositional, literalist believer is not the “true” instance of any religion. There is no way to mediate and determine what “true” Christianity or “true” Islam or “true” Hinduism are in propositional terms. These are cultural institutions, they have changed wildly over time and in different places and still can change in drastic unforeseeable ways. There is no reason to say a biblical or koranic literalist is truer to his or her religious tradition than someone who reads those texts allegorically or selectively or who rejects them entirely but still for some reason identifies with the religion.
If someone wants to argue that Islam is against political violence, let them! Who cares what is in the Koran or if it is a good literal interpretation of the text? If it will help the moderates and liberals in the religion to moderate the potential or actual fundamentalists (who would never even listen to non-Islamic appeals), then that is a good thing. When the liberals and moderates of a religion do not sit on their hands and let their fundamentalist brethren continue in errors but instead push for more rationalistic and more morally progressive interpretations, that is a good thing. And insofar as there is no right or necessary meaning to any of these religions, we should side with the interpretations of them that lead them to be more compatible with truth and good ethics and politics rather than less.
If people can use their existing religious forms to advance in actual truths and moral/poltical progress, then, to that extent, at least their religions could even be said to be getting truer and more ethical—even if they still need to shed faith and authoritarianism about belief and practice in order to become the kind of religion I could even think of actively supporting.
Now, the dicey distinction is the following. There are debates about what a religion is like and what it should be like. When a liberal or a moderate really is trying to encourage people that they should see their faith in more rationalistic and more progressive terms, to see how it is compatible with such values, and actively encouraging for the future a more rational and humane approach to their religiosity, then this should be encouraged politically and intellectually. We should support the idea that religions can change and that they should be interpreted in the best ways possible.
But if appeals to the rationalism or moral goodness of a religion are attempts to describe what it is already and if these are ways of saying, “there is no need to reform or challenge this religion because it is already rationalistic and morally progressive” when in practice it really is not (or is not sufficiently so), then this must be opposed. There must be honest accounting of religions’ blameworthiness for their nasty habits, nasty hypocrisies, and nasty consequences. The religions cannot use slogans of peace and reason and goodness as mere ad campaigns and PR for what are actually stagnant swamps of faith-based authoritarianism and regressive values.
So, we should encourage anyone who says, “this religion can be recentered on more rational and progressive terms if it goes with a demonstrably better existing strand than another or if it rejects an actually unnecessary doctrine or accretion, etc.” But we should vigorously challenge anyone who says, “this religion is basically right and basically a source of goodness and worthy of the deference people give it without any drastic reform”, when in fact it is a faith-based mess of stagnation and regressiveness.
And this encouragement is consistent with frankness that we ultimately support an end to faith-based belief and practice. We can support the liberals and moderates against the fundamentalists and then turn around and challenge them on their own irrationalistic and faith-based errors when the topic of conversation changes.
This is not a world of good guys and bad guys. Just people on multiple spectrums who can tug-of-war both with each other one day and against each other the next day depending on whether there is someone further to one side of both of them in a way they both want to oppose and can do so together, on the one hand, or it is just the two of them there to tug of war with each other instead.