Is Romney Right About Culture?

Governor Mitt Romney seems to have stirred up some controversy by the remarks he made to a gathering in Jerusalem the other week. Contrasting Israel and the Palestinian territories, he said, “You notice a stark difference in economic vitality. And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things.” This is not the first time Romney has said such things. In his 2010 book, No Apology, Romney declared that “culture makes all the difference” in regard to differences between Israelis and Palestinians. Romney attributes the larger point on the significance of culture to Harvard Professor David Landes’sWealth and Poverty of Nations.

Of course, howls of protest went up over his statement. Back home, Romney tried to explain his position in NRO online. He wrote that:

“During my recent trip to Israel, I had suggested that the choices a society makes about its culture play a role in creating prosperity, and that the significant disparity between Israeli and Palestinian living standards was powerfully influenced by it. In some quarters, that comment became the subject of controversy.”

Mitt Romney in Jerusalem

One of those quarters was the Palestinian one. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Mr Romney’s remarks were racist and betrayed his ignorance of the region and the conflict in the Middle East. Actually, it is this criticism that betrays ignorance. The truth of what Mr Romney said can be easily seen if the topic is broadened out to a comparison of the Judeo-Christian West with the Arab Muslim Middle East.

First of all, culture is not based on race; it is based on cult. Therefore, cultural distinctions are not a form of racism. Since cultures are based on cults, their differences can be expressed in how they define man and God. Culture is constituted by the answers to the most profound questions in life: who is God; who is man; and what is the relationship between the two? The answers then seep into and affect every aspect of life. Different answers constitute different cultures.

Let us then consider the differences in Judeo-Christian civilization as compared to the Arab Muslim one. In the first case, Judaism and Christianity share the view that man is made in the image and likeness of God. In Islam this statement constitutes blasphemy. Nothing is comparable to God, certainly not man, who is not made in God’s image. For the Jew and Christian, part of God’s image in man is man’s rational faculty. It is the divine origin of reason that gives it its impregnable status and provides for the origin of the inviolability of conscience. For a Sunni Muslim, reason does not have this status, nor is there a basis for such thing as freedom of conscience (indeed, there was not even a word for conscience in Arabic).

In Judeo-Christian civilization, God is Logos or reason. His reason is manifested in the rational order of creation, which is apprehensible by man’s reason. In the dominant form of Sunni Islam in the Middle East (Ash’arism), Allah is not reason, nor is He constrained by reason in any way. He may choose to behave reasonably, or He may choose not to. Reason does not provide any criteria by which to understand God, who is without or beyond reason. God is pure will and power. He is an unreasoning, willful God. Creation is therefore not invested with a rational order.

In the Judeo-Christian West, man, through his reason, can come to know what is good and what is evil, what is just and what is unjust. Moral knowledge is accessible to all men, which is why they can be held morally accountable for what they freely choose. In Sunni Islam, this knowledge is not available. Man is incapable of knowing good and evil through reason. The great teaching of the Ash’arites is “that there is nothing obligatory by reason” or, as stated by Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali (1058-1111), “no obligations flow from reason but from the Sharia.” Nothing you know by your reason can possibly tell you anything about the goodness or evil of what you might contemplate doing. There is no such thing as moral philosophy. This knowledge is only available through revelation. This is why Sharia is so important to Muslims, and why a significant number of them consider human legislation illegitimate, as it can only express the will of man, as against the will of God.

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, God is considered the first cause of everything, but He constitutes creation in a way that allows for the operation of semi-independent secondary causes, ie, cause and effect in the natural world. In other words, when a rock falls, the direction of its fall is determined by the forces of gravity, not directly by God. For a Sunni Ash’arite Muslim, this is not so. There is no cause and effect in the natural world. God is not only the first cause, but theonly cause. It is, therefore, God who makes the rock fall and who determines the direction in which the rock moves. The rock could just as well have fallen upward or sideways, and it may do so next time, depending on God’s will. Since God can will anything, the direction in which the rock moves is unpredictable. However, God seems to observe certain habits, and his habit appears to be to have rocks fall downward. But it is only that – a habit, and has nothing to do with natural laws.

Here is the problem with this view of things: if there is no continuous narrative of cause and effect tying events together in a comprehensible way, the world becomes incomprehensible. Each thing that happens is a discrete event, directly willed by God, which has nothing to do with the events that precede or follow it. There is no connection whatsoever – outside of God’s volition in placing these events in an arbitrary sequence. There is no natural sequence. This makes reality unintelligible. As a result, the Muslim mind becomes prey to wild conspiracy theories as substitutes for rational explanations.

The denial of causality has very practical consequences in Muslim life. For instance, between 1983 and 1984, weather forecasts were suspended by the Pakistani media. This was because Muslim scholars had complained that the prediction of rain lies outside of what can be lawfully known to man. If God is unpredictable, and He directly causes the weather, how can one forecast it? The attempt to predict the weather is a blasphemous presumption.

Here is a more recent example in the same vein from the Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram. Its founder Mohammed Yusuf proclaimed that “All knowledge that contradicts Islam is prohibited by the Almighty.” Like the weather. Yusuf said, “There are prominent Islamic preachers who have seen and understood that the present Western-style education is mixed with issues that run contrary to our beliefs in Islam. Like rain. We believe it is a creation of God rather than an evaporation caused by the sun that condenses and becomes rain. Like saying the world is a sphere. If it runs contrary to the teachings of Allah, we reject it.”

The broader consequence of the denial of causality is the dearth of science in the Sunni Muslim world. The denial of natural law, occasioned by the Ash’arite conception of God as pure will and power, removes the very objective of science from the Muslim mind. Since the effort of science is to discover nature’s laws, the teaching that these laws do not, in fact, exist obviously discourages the scientific enterprise. There are people in Saudi Arabia today who still do not believe man has been to the moon. This is not because they are ignorant; it is because accepting the fact that man was on the moon would mean also accepting the chain of causal relationships – gravity, thrust weight, trajectory, etc. – that put him there, which is simply theologically unacceptable to them.

However, the devastation extends far beyond science, and here we come to the broader truth of Romney’s observation. Were it not for sub-Saharan Africa, the Arab world would find itself at the bottom of the scale in every category of human development – productivity, per capita GDP, healthcare, education, literacy. The grim statistics are laid out in the UN Arab Human Development Reports, all written by Arab scholars themselves. Why is it that a country like Spain can by itself produce more than the entire Arab world? Or how can little Finland export more than the Arab world, when oil exports are removed from the equation? How come Greece translates five times as many books a year as the whole Arab world does?

The 2003 Report states, “In being connected with and at the same time contradictory to knowledge, Arab intellectual heritage nowadays raises basic knowledge problems.” Indeed, it does. The report is bold enough to refer to “sometimes a disregard of reality” in the Arab world. This disregard, with its devastating consequences, is the direct result of a deformed idea of God that disallows causality, reason’s ability to know reality, the intelligibility of the world, and the integrity of creation. It has produced a dysfunctional culture. A poor economy is one effect of this dysfunctional culture, which is why Romney was correct in pointing to it as the culprit. He is spot on that “culture makes all the difference.”


Robert Reilly has worked in foreign policy, the military, and the arts. His most recent book is The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis.

Robert R. Reilly


Robert Reilly has worked in foreign policy, the military, and the arts. His most recent book is The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis. This article courtesy of MercatorNet.

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  • Guest

    I’m sure that is what Romney meant, since Mormonism is so in line with the Judeo-Christian viewpoint.

  • Annamarie5391353

    Robert Reilly has done us all a favor by explaining how the beliefs of Sunni Muslims (the largest group of Muslims) impacts their “culture.”  Just as I thought, they have no logic in deciding what they will and will not do.  I have tried to explain this point over and over to family and friends, only to be called “racist” for my trouble.
    When those SOBs flew those planes into the Twin Towers, all of us were left wondering, “Why?”  “What possible good did they imagine they were doing by murdering all those innocent women and men?”  The simple, true, and terrifyingly honest answer is, they had no such thoughts or aims.  Somehow they got it into their pin heads that that was what Allah wanted them to do.  How can any group of people who think and believe in this manner EVER be thought of as anything other than irrational enemies?
    Instead of yanking elderly nuns, children, and average businessmen out of lines waiting to board planes these days, the TSA should get real and look under the burqa they just allowed to sail through because they feared “racial profiling.”  Bah!  Race IS part of any good profile!  Just ask the FBI.
    I truly fear that it will take another tragedy in the skies by a burqa wearing terrorist to even begin to wake up this country.
    While I’m at it, what does Mr. Romney’s Mormonism have to do with his vision of what was right in front of him?  Maybe I’m slow, but I can’t make any sense out of “Guest’s” comment.

  • Guest

     “In Judeo-Christian civilization, God is Logos or reason.”

    Yet in Mormonism, God is some ascended former human who lives on his own planet, there’s very little reason to it. That was my point, however unclear I was there. I don’t argue the rest of the article, just the premise that Judeo-Christian philosophies are how Romney arrived at his conclusion.

    And you can’t be slow, you at least know there are Sunni and Shia. Even politicians don’t all get that.

    However I would argue that while Israel has done some amazing things, don’t overlook some of their roots. If, for example, Hezbolla went into a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon and beat, threatened, and killed other Palestinians in order to get them to come fight for Hezbollah, they would be (rightfully) hunted down. But they would just be taking a page from the Irgun and the Haganah, using the methods they used to conscript military age Jews out of the diaspora camps right after WWII to fight for Eretz Israel. Take the bad with the good so we remember to do better next time.

    And as for the Arab culture, yes, fundamentalist Islam is as idiotic as fundamentalist (insert religion here), much to their own detriment. Not every Muslim is a Salafi-Jihadist, so not all Sunni’s are the same. Thankfully, if the cards are played right, a good majority of the fundamentalist leaders in key Islamic countries will die of old age over the next 5-10 years, and the youth of those countries have already shown they like Islam, but they don’t believe reason and individual thought is outside the purview of their religion. Hopefully we don’t galvanize another generation to remain in the Stone Age philosophically.

    Two last things, while I think the TSA is not needed (we could just use the Archie Bunker method of everyone getting issued a pistol as they board the plane), they should check burqas and nuns. Because if you don’t check the nuns, someone who looks, walks, and talks like a nun will be used  to circumvent security. I think that while everyone is worried about another plane being flown into a building, the a**clowns of al-Qaeda et al are looking at other means, such as containers, LP gas ships, FCG’s, and so on.


  • FTH1974

    Heß (Physiker) This is the most massage
    you ever heard please use an german-english translater perhaps google

    Ein anerkennungswürdiger Evolutionsforscher ebnet den Weg zu

    Als Herr Svante Pääbo einmal von Herrn Stefan Klein im
    ZEITmagazin beim Thema Genetik (Titel: “Alle Menschen sind miteinander
    verwandt”) gefragt wurde, warum die Frage, woher wir kommen, die Fantasie
    der Menschen dermaßen anrege, antwortete dieser, weil wir wissen wollen, wer
    wir eigentlich sind und weil wir hoffen, die Geschichte werde es uns verraten. Zum
    Schluss wurde er dann gefragt, ob er verstünde, warum sich die Menschen nach
    einfacheren religiösen Erklärungen sehnen und antwortete:

    (Svante Pääbo ZEITmagazin): Ich verstehe, dass Menschen, die vor
    existenziellen Herausforderungen stehen, religiöse Bedürfnisse haben. Die habe
    ich auch. Manchmal stelle ich mir vor, dass ich mit mir nahestehenden
    Verstorbenen geistig Kontakt aufnehmen kann. Das hilft mir dann, die Trennung
    zu verarbeiten. Trotzdem finde ich es naiv, an einen persönlichen Schöpfer zu

    Daraufhin wurde er gefragt, ob das nicht inkonsequent sei
    und er antwortete:

    (Svante Pääbo ZEITmagazin): Wer ist schon immer konsequent? Ich hatte
    einmal einen Doktoranden, der war fundamentalistischer Muslim. Er litt, denn
    natürlich glaubte er an die Schöpfung. Doch wir konnten uns einigen. Denn
    können wir kategorisch ausschließen, dass es einen allmächtigen und
    unergründlichen Gott gibt? Vielleicht ist die molekulare Evolution sein Plan,
    den wir nur nicht durchschauen.

    Ein zweifelsohne brillanter diplomatischer Forscher – der
    den Mut zur Offenheit hat. Denn diese Inkonsequenz, auf der einen Seite wie
    jeder Mensch, schwere Schicksalsschläge verarbeiten und am Ende den größten
    Verlust einsehen müsste, wohl wissend aber auf der anderen Seite die kritische
    Rationalität als Wissenschaftler nicht aus den Augen zu verlieren zu dürfen,
    führt in der gesamten Forschung zu einem Bruch der Objektivität und dies wird
    in ganz natürlicher Weise übersehen.

    Was ist ein persönlicher Gott? Ist es ein deistischer Gott,
    der die Dominoreihe anschubst, und wer schubst dann seine Existenz auf die gleiche
    Weise an und in diesem Moment meinen Gedanken, ganz gleich wie abstrakt und
    allgemein sich dieser über das Ganze vorentwickelt, gefangen in der Detektion
    einer Kernspinresonanz? Genau hier beginnt die Naivität und Inkonsequenz der
    naturwissenschaftlichen Forschung letztendlich durch uns alle, da wir glauben,
    unsere Gedanken seinen prinzipiell materiell nicht existent, nicht
    detektierbar, unterschlagen diese, wie von Geisterhand und eben „Totengeistern“.
    Ist diese Kette aller „fallenden Dominosteine“, seiner ganzen Verzweigungen,
    dann eine Menge, genauer die Menge aller möglichen Mengen und existiert diese?
    Und mit welcher bildet diese eine Identität mit der Russelschen Antinomie oder
    Ihrem exakten Gegenteil? Wir können also behaupten, dass wir selbst dort
    drinnen nicht enthalten seien, dann müssten wir selbst die Obermenge der
    Russelschen Antinomie verkörpern, und könnten damit unsere Klasse nicht mehr ad
    hoc verbieten, um ein Widerspruch zu bilden, also eben wie dann zu erwarten ist
    nicht existieren, durch solche unmögliche Gedanken. Daraus folgt dann das
    Gegenteil, und diese Menge, all der Mengen, die sich selbst enthalten, bildet
    mit der Menge aller Mengen eine Identität (Johannes 6 NT), die Russelsche Menge
    schließt sich also auch dadurch ganz aus. Enthält sich die Menge aller Mengen,
    könnten wir uns fragen und schon würde in unsere Endlichkeit die Allmenge aufs
    Neue hineinlegt, unendlich oft. Wir liegen aber eben in dieser und der Grund,
    warum diese über alle Zeiten sich selbst enthält, liegt daran, dass der bereits
    dargelegte Widerspruchsbeweis, über alle Zeiten, schon längst über alle Zeiten
    gesetzt ist, auch das Nachvollziehen in der Gegenwart, man denke auch dabei
    etwa an die vollständige Induktion. Dass auch Allgemeingültigkeit, man denke an
    die physikalischen Gesetze, immer gilt, liegt daran, weil das determiniert ist,
    also so beschlossen ist. Der lebensunmögliche ewigliche Zustand des Big Chill
    müsste also schon längst aus statistischen Gründen eingetroffen sein und das
    ist nicht der Fall, weil der Zufall unendlich, also in einem unendlichen
    Willen, in dem wir gesetzt sind, ausgeschlossen ist. Sonst wäre also dieser
    Wahn, diese Staubwolke des Big Chill, gleich einer allumfassenden
    Nuklearexplosion aus den besagten statistischen Gründen längst eingetreten. Aktuell
    und in einem endlichen Rahmen kann angenommen werden, dass die Entropie
    zunimmt, aber auf sehr lange Sicht, endet diese nicht in der Divergenz, im
    Kältetod, sondern die unendliche Real-Existenz gegen den Zufall, wie ich es
    ausdrücken würde, endet, weil partikuläre Systeme, eben nie abgeschlossen sein
    können, in ewiger Existenz einer Persönlichkeit, die nun verstanden werden
    kann, in der wir gesetzt wandeln. Sie werden also, wenn auch in für Sie nicht
    vorstellbaren Zeit- oder Entwicklungsabschnitten zurückgerufen, weil alles
    andere ausgeschlossen ist. Weitere Informationen stelle ich unter
    dort dann unter Konsequenzen einer bestimmten Welt, Nathanprogramm, Jesus ein
    wachsendes Vermächtnis, bereit. Bitte die Adresse genau in Ihre Adressleiste
    kopieren. Gott kann also nur in Bestimmung bewiesen werden, weil er sonst ganz
    durch das Erklärungswerk unserer Unvollkommenheit, der Immanenz relativiert
    würde. Ich schicke das noch nicht einmal als Leserbrief, sondern nur als
    Kommentar, als Anregung, still und leise, den Wert dieser Nachricht
    einzuschätzen, stelle ich dem Leser allerdings anheim.