Saturday, November 23, 2013

CULTURIST HISTORY LESSON: MATTHEW ARNOLD AND ISLAM


Britain's Matthew Arnold (1822 – 1888) was the first person to be called a 'culturist.'  As codified in his masterpiece, Culture and Anarchy, the label referred to his wanting to avoid anarchy – and cultivate Britain and its morals – via honoring western culture.
In Arnold's time the word 'culturism' had not yet been invented. Culturism is the opposite of multiculturalism: it defies multiculturalism by affirming that the West has a core culture to guide, protect, and promote; this would have been a truism in Arnold's time; he was a culturist with no need to fight multiculturalists.
Arnold was a Christian atheist of sorts. He noted that science was making literal belief in miracles difficult, but recognized that Christianity was western civilization's bedrock. So he taught the Bible as literature; he fought to unify Christians under the Church of England and to have the Bible taught in public schools.
Even though Arnold's mission concerned the domestic perfection of Britain, he discussed Islam once: in the piece, "A Persian Passion Play." For us modern culturists, who must fight multiculturalists – and thus consider Islam – this historical document has relevance.
Arnold's 1871 essay reviews the play that tells the story of Hussein, the grandson of Muhammad, who helped found the Shia sect with his martyrdom. This play is performed during the holiday Ashura, wherein Muslims beat themselves.
As you would expect from the premier literary critic of his age, Arnold reviews the casting, sets, acting and versions of the play. After the dazzlingly crafted review, Arnold moves on to comparing Islam and Christianity.
The Koran's "inferiority," Arnold divines, "may make the Koran, for certain purposes and for people at a low stage of mental growth, a more powerful instrument than the Bible;" it has an "intensely dogmatic character."
As is the Koran, the Old Testament was also harsh in its righteousness, but "Christianity renewed it, carrying into those hard waters ... a sort of warm gulf-stream of tender emotion," modeled by Jesus's "mildness and sweet reasonableness."  
"Mohomatenism," we read, "had no such renewing." With only harsh righteousness, the more it developed, "the more the faults of its original narrow basis because visible, more and more it became fierce and militant."
Arnold thinks the story of Hussein – the Passion Play – is an attempt to instill some lighter qualities into the harsh religion. After all, the "main confirmation of a religion [is] in its intrinsic correspondence with urgent wants of human nature." But, even with Hussein's story, Islam does not fulfill human needs and so, "the more mankind grows and gains light, the more [Islam] will be felt to have no fellows."  
Blissfully ignorant, Arnold believes, since Europe is solidly Christian, the play will likely be the last time western audiences hear the names "Hussein" and "Ali." And so, coupled with his belief that people will leave the narrow religion for Christianity, he doesn't write about Islam again.
Unfortunately, our 'growth' and 'gains' have not led Muslims to largely convert to Christianity. Unfortunately, the names Hussein and Ali are not foreign to us (and Muhammad is the number one baby name in Britain).
Were Arnold to come back to life, he would, undoubtedly continue his 'culturist' mission of using our cultural heritage to cultivate British beauty, unity, and morals. But he would realize that Islam is currently more of a threat than the anarchy he feared. As such, this founding culturist would denounce Islam more than he did – repudiating multiculturalism in favor of culturism.
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