A Great Religion Gone Wrong?
During his visit to Washington last week, the U.K.’s Prime Minister David Cameron spoke of the need for the world to organize better resistance against terrorism. As he put it: “We face a poisonous and fanatical ideology that wants to pervert one of the world’s major religions, Islam, and create conflict, terror, and death.” In this he was repeating his appeals that he made soon after the attacks in Paris, which included a call to Muslims to more effectively combat the terrorists in their midst. Yes, there can be no doubt that Islam is one of world’s major religions, even President George W. Bush, after 9/11 repeated over and over again how Islam is a vibrant and great religion and that even it’s name “Islam” is derived from the Arabic word “salaam” – which means peace.
So how do religions get perverted or corrupted? After all, Islam is not the only religion that has been compromised or failed to live up to its ideals. (There are some church historians who believe that the same sort of thing began to happen to Christianity as far back as 313 when Emperor Constantine declared Christianity legal, then gradually turned it into an arm or instrument of the imperial state.) Nevertheless, I think that there are several aspects of Islam that has made it especially vulnerable in this regard:
One is that part of its goal from it very beginning is that it would unite people into a single society that would be both religious and politically one. Although rarely achieved in practice, this seems to be the same goal in the ISIS/ISIL (now just IS) or the Islamic State’s drive to revive the old idea of a “Caliphate” where the “Caliph”, meaning a “successor” to Mohammed who both founded Islam and ruled as its head of state. That he ended up having to take up arms and lead battles against those who opposed him, was seen by Muslims as just part of his job.
Another factor leading to Islam’s tendency to fanaticism is its almost total reliance on one book, the Koran or Qur-an, which Muslims believe was not written by Mohammed (who they claim couldn’t read or write) but dictated to him directly by God through the Archangel Gabriel for Mohammed to memorize and then recite for others to write down. In this belief, Muslims differ from Jews and Christians, who generally see the Bible as being a collection of sacred books which were written by many different authors, who, although considered to be inspired by God or the Holy Spirit, were still free to pick different literary forms (legends, history, poetry, sermons, letters, etc.) to express themselves ― leaving us a wide range of latitude to form different opinions of just what God intends.
Finally, it seems to me that the simplicity of the Muslim Creed “There is no God but God and Mohammed is his prophet”, turned out to be a great attraction back in those early centuries when Christians were especially divided among themselves over arguments concerning just exactly who Jesus was while he was here on earth ― a man, or God pretending to be a man, or something else? It was just then that Mohammed (who seems to have been understandingly very confused over just what Christians believed) appeared on the scene to declare that Jesus had been a great prophet, that he did not actually die on a cross, but was taken directly to heaven, and that who or what else he was will only become clear when Jesus is vindicated at the great judgment at the end of time. This simplicity of the Muslim beliefs, with no mysterious Trinity to ponder or argue about, or with no Savior who, out of love for humanity died a tragic death before being taken to glory, and you end up with an image of God who is supposed to be merciful and compassionate, but too often lends itself as an excuse for those who would turn their image of God into an angry tyrant and avenger who approves of floggings and beheadings and stonings to death.
The problem for Muslims is that in the meantime the world has changed a lot, and what they once thought of as the center of the world’s greatest civilization has become kind of cultural backwater, suffering both severe droughts in some places and catastrophic floods in others, with a huge number of youth facing high underemployment, and you have the makings of a “perfect storm”.
So, no doubt we must organize to try to prevent terrorism. But even more, we must organize to try to help a part of the human race that, having once been on the top of the world, struggles to cope with, or even stay alive, in the modern world.
R W Kropf 1/18/15 A Great Religion.doc 15/01/18 htm