The main stream media is making a big deal of Pokémon Go, and the spreading degree of its fame is stupefying.
It appears to me that the chief feature of culture today is the drive to be superficial. We are like schools of minnows, swerving this way and then that, with no settled direction or steadfast purpose except to keep ourselves distracted at all costs. Is that the true fate of ,mankind? To idolatrize gadgets and fiddle ourselves into inanity?
Is knowledge no longer valued for its own sake? What use is it? Why ponder over a thing, when you can turn on the TV. Do you think any TV listener could pass a quiz on what they just saw? Could they form a sound conjecture about its importance? Don’t things of real intellectual or moral worth require our focused attention? Popularity today is incessantly confused with the superior. Most of our TV programs end up being popularity contests where the less worthy opinions are listened to the most.
Why should we apply ourselves to the study of art or history? Why does history matter? The TV news incessantly mentions Islam. People’s reaction is to cringe. But what do people know about it? There is much more historical fact that corroborates Mohammed’s career than that of Jesus. The first gospels were written almost a century later after he died. But to many of the American public, Islam is a synonym for something distasteful that makes them afraid. Such a reaction is merely ignorant. Daniel Defoe once said that there were hundreds of warriors who vowed to end Popery without knowing if Popery was a man or a horse. That sums up the prejudice of most Americans about Islam.
Mohammed was a great man, but he was also a man of his time and place. The religion of the Arabs before him was a primitive one. Their holy of holies was the Kaaba, the black stone of Mecca. The black stone was the one to which the Amazons used to pray, according to Apollonius. Before Mohammad, the Arabs worshipped various goddesses. Allah himself was ancient. A thousand years before Mohammed, the Persians wrote,” Allah is exalted,” but he was only one of many deities.
Mohammed was not a man of the desert. He was a man of Mecca, a prosperous city on a major caravan route which largely controlled the trade between India and the Mediterranean. The prophet soon encountered the differences between the rich and the poor and took note of them. Aside from the Kaaba, he revered another accomplishment of the Arabs -- their poetry. Because most Arabs were illiterate, they developed a prodigious capacity for memorization, and that talent preserved the Koran. In Mecca, there were colonies of Jews and Christians, and Mohammed knew a bit of the Jewish scriptures, once observing that the Jews worshipped Ezra as the son of God. (This was not true, however.) But he denied the divinity of Jesus and thought the Crucifixion was a Jewish falsehood. But for some explained reason Mohammad accepted the Virgin birth. (There were paintings of Jesus and Mary on the walls of the Kaaba.) He identified Allah with the Jewish and Christian God. He borrowed the idea of the Last Judgment and the resurrection of the flesh. ( I had always been suspicious of the Resurrection since one of my teachers at Columbia College told me of how Zoroaster, the Persian prophet, was torn to pieces by his followers but had risen after three days.)
After forty years of leading an obscure live of a successful businessman, Mohammad married a rich widow, and it was then that he was visited by the Angel Gabriel who dictated to him the revelation of Islam. It was a moment very much like that of St. Paul on the road to Damascus. From the beginning, Mohammed was opposed by the powerful and respectable at Mecca who thought him quite mad, and he fled to Medina. After he became a political and spiritual leadrs of his community, He waged war against the Meccans, intiating hostilities by raiding their caravans in the holy month of of the pilgrimmace when war was forbidden. He justified his aggression by preaching war against idolators as a sacred duty (jihad.) With a force of three hundred he routed a thousand Meccans in the battle of Badr and proved his generalship by holding off numerous counterattacks.
He may have preached an other worldly message, but he himself was a worldly man. He had a shrewd grasp of economic and political topics. He had eleven wives and enjoyed the company of concubines. He was addicted to war, but at that time who was not? Europe was going through the Dark Ages. If Mohammed could be ruthless he could also be kind, generous and magnanimous, He was an attractive person, shy, fond of jokes and fun, and was unfailingly courteous. He loved honey. He humbly shared his household chores with his wife, and was very indulgent of people’s failures. He died quietly and fearlessly.