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Joseph Sobran’s
Washington Watch

The Plight of Pluto

(Reprinted from the issue of August 24, 2006)

Capitol Bldg, Washington Watch logo for The Plight of PlutoNothing is safe these days. As if we haven’t had enough unsettling news lately, The New York Times reports on its front page: “Pluto dodged a bullet today.”

 Plight of 
PlutoThe scientific community has been debating whether to count Pluto as a planet. In fact, the very definition of a planet is in dispute. Depending on how you define the term, the solar system may consist of anywhere from 8 to 53 (or more) planets. So far, Pluto has retained its planetary status; the Planet Definition Committee has just voted to recognize not only Pluto, but Ceres and the recently discovered Xena (a.k.a 2003 UB313).

 Plight of 
PlutoStandard criteria include size, shape, shape of orbit, and composition (is the object rock or ice or what?). Pluto is only one-fiftieth of the Earth’s size and its orbit is described as “unusually elliptical.” Whether it is ice or mineral is uncertain.

 Plight of 
PlutoThe issue is stirring surprising passion. “Plutophiles,” as they are called, ardently insist that Pluto should remain a member in good standing of the so-called solar system. I suppose their opponents must be called “Plutophobes.” Personally, I have no dog in this fight.

 Plight of 
PlutoSpeaking of dogs, thousands of schoolchildren have written letters on behalf of the beleaguered little planet, perhaps influenced, I can’t help thinking, by affection for the Disney canine.

 Plight of 
PlutoWhat does it all mean? Well, it appears that astronomy is far from being the settled science we have supposed it to be — to say nothing of the implications for astrology. How can we place any faith in our horoscopes as long as so many basic questions about celestial bodies remain unresolved? Astrology has never quite recovered from the Copernican theory, and Pluto wasn’t discovered until 1930. The head spins.

 Plight of 
PlutoWith its usual liberal bias, the Times refers to “the solar system,” a term that of course presupposes the Copernican theory.

The Mystery of Islam

Why is Islam so baffling to the West? I think the reason is both simple and elusive. Someone has defined religion as what a man does with his solitude. But this epigram describes the Muslim very poorly.

 Plight of 
PlutoHilaire Belloc, who (in his book The Great Heresies) long ago predicted today’s Islamic revival, also observed (in Survivals and New Arrivals) that Protestantism had turned religion into a matter of mere opinion, a private option of the individual. Those who see religion this way are bound to find Islam hard to comprehend.

 Plight of 
PlutoWhen an ancient Roman asked if you were a Christian, Belloc went on, he wasn’t asking your opinion about Jesus; he was asking whether you belonged to a certain quite visible society and practiced its rites.

 Plight of 
PlutoThat is what religion meant in those days; Read Joe Sobran's columns the day he writes them!a religion could hardly exist in solitude. The Romans didn’t care much about your opinions, as long as you paid ritual tribute to their gods, including divinized emperors.

 Plight of 
PlutoWe have to think of Islam as the exact opposite of mere private opinion. It claims to be a public and universal truth, demanding everyone’s submission and denying any rights to unbelievers, except provisionally and on strict conditions. It isn’t a mere department of life, as religion is for most modern Westerners; it has little or no interest in “dialogue” with other faiths. Its rites and worship bear little resemblance to the Christian sacraments.

 Plight of 
PlutoTo a Christian, Islam seems opaque for several reasons. Its claim to have superseded Christianity seems worse than absurd; the Prophet seems to have been a cruel and vindictive fanatic who has impressed his own personality on his creed; according to Srdja Trifkovic, the Jews he tried to convert regarded him as “a poorly educated Arab refugee,” with only a “superficial, secondhand knowledge of [their] tradition,” and rebuffed him, whereupon, in rage, he arbitrarily altered his teaching to condemn them and to justify persecution of them.

 Plight of 
PlutoIn one episode, Trifkovic notes, his followers beheaded 900 Jewish men who refused conversion in front of their wives and children, then raped the widows, one of whom the Prophet took as his own concubine; “such treatment had already been sanctioned by prophetic revelation.” (His “revelations” were remarkably convenient for his purposes.)

 Plight of 
PlutoIf all this is so, it’s no wonder that the Koran teaches that “Verily, Allah teaches us, and we believe it, that for a Muslim to kill a Jew, or for him to be killed by a Jew, ensures him an immediate entry into paradise and into the august presence of Allah.” No wonder it also teaches that anyone who denies any of its verses may be beheaded, and that believers in the Trinity are damned forever.

 Plight of 
PlutoFurthermore, the Koran contradicts the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures in what seem purely fanciful ways: Ishmael, son of Abraham, was the father of the Arab race, for instance, and Jesus neither died on the cross nor was resurrected. At times the Koran even contradicts itself.

 Plight of 
PlutoIslam still bears the whims of its founder. Even today, startlingly crude and violent slanders of Jews remain current in the Arab press and respectable among even educated Muslims. Trifkovic speaks of a “darkly psychotic hatred” that is rarely reciprocated by Israeli Jews. This aspect of Islam is almost incredible; until recently, I myself could hardly believe it. But it can hardly be overstated, and the Jewish presence in a Jewish state has only inflamed it further.

 Plight of 
PlutoWhile limiting ordinary believers to four wives, the Prophet exempted himself and took nine (some for social and political alliances), plus concubines. The confusion he left in his wake resulted in the endlessly bitter Sunni-Shi’ite schism, which continues today. Whatever his faults, he must have had singular charm and magnetism as well as military prowess.

 Plight of 
PlutoThe continuity of Islam with Judaism and Christianity has been grossly exaggerated. In fact, there is little. The Jewish prophets and Jesus are hardly more than names in Islam, which adopts few of their teachings and rejects or neglects most of them.

 Plight of 
PlutoLoving one’s enemies and praying for one’s persecutors are alien to the spirit of Islam. So, it seems, is the simple critical reason the secularized West takes for granted.
Today’s Headlines

 Plight of 
PlutoI hate to sound so negative, because in my experience most Muslims are quite decent people. But this seems to be more in spite of their religion than because of it. Maybe I’m missing something, but some of the most alarming facts I’ve read about Islam and the Muslim world seem to be undisputed.

 Plight of 
PlutoIt would be one thing if we found them only in recent anti-Muslim propaganda; but when we find them in dispassionate, scholarly books written long before today’s wars, they are pretty hard to doubt.

 Plight of 
PlutoThe horrors of today’s headlines seem prefigured in the Koran.

 Plight of 
PlutoCarry a little fun in your purse or pocket. Regime Change Begins at Home — a new selection of my Confessions of a Reactionary Utopian — is just off the presses! And we’ll send you a free copy if you subscribe to SOBRANS for one year (at $44.95) or two ($85.00). Call 800-513-5053 to order by credit card or check, or send payment to P.O. Box 1383, Vienna, VA 22183. If you have not seen my monthly newsletter yet, give my office a call at 800-513-5053 and request a free sample. More details can be found at the Subscription page of my website.

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Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2006 by The Wanderer,
the National Catholic Weekly founded in 1867
Reprinted with permission

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