After Greg Borse of Chronwatch.com pointed me towards a fascinating interview with the Islamic expert, Bernard Lewis, I spent some time thinking about Lewis’ remarks. The conclusions I reached were not encouraging.
Lewis points out that the current suicide bombing frenzy is a new thing under the sun for Islam. For centuries, Muslims were taught that suicide was a most heinous sin, guaranteed to merit hell. It is only within this last century that the teaching changed to embrace suicide.
This new interpretation combined with another new interpretation to create the current havoc. According to Lewis, non-Muslims have traditionally been only lightly punished if they blasphemed Allah or Mohammed.
In times past, non-Muslims living under non-Muslim rule (such as Americans, the Dutch or the Pope), would not be held to standards of blasphemy appropriate only for Muslims. Even dhimmis, those non-Muslims who were permitted to live as second-class citizens under Muslim rule, were generally not threatened with serious injury or execution for such actions. It was understood that all of these people were pagans, and blasphemy is all anyone could expect from pagans.
But this has all changed. Within the last few years, Muslims have begun treating non-Muslims, even non-Muslims living in traditionally non-Muslim countries, to standards that used to apply only to followers of Islam. Worse, they have taken to punishing us pagans with a kind of violence that used to be entirely proscribed.
And herein lies the rub.
Pagans, Muslims and Christians
I have discussed in numerous other posts how the Judeo-Christian worldview differed radically from the pagan worldview.
Recall that pre-Christian pagans saw the universe as cyclic, with no beginning and no end. Everyone was on an eternal wheel. Most pagans accepted reincarnation, most accepted the idea that there was no point to deep investigation of any event, because every event merely repeated something that had already happened before and would eventually happen again. All of humanity was chained to an endless, meaningless circle with no real hope for escape, no hope that something new under the sun might ever occur.
Christianity changed all that. For Christians, the universe had a definite beginning (Creation) and a definite end (the coming of the Messiah and the Last Judgement). Everything was building, progressing, moving towards a very definite and clear-cut end. Mankind did not live in a circle, endlessly staring at its own tail, but in a story, in which the actors were expected to mature towards a definite goal.
But Christianity and paganism weren’t just two different ways to look at the physical world. The theology was fundamentally different. Pagans saw the gods as quirky, arbitrary. It was necessary to constantly please their vanities, to stay on their good sides lest the gods become angry with you and smite you down. Gods changed, and men had to be nimble enough to follow their caprices.
Christian philosophy, at least Christian philosophy up until the Reformation, took a radically different view. Christians saw God as unchanging Love. He was not vain, He did not anger, no man could get on His good side by being theologically or physically nimble. Rather, you either used the gifts He gave to become like Him, learning to love as He does, or you chose not to love. If you chose against love, then you would spend the rest of eternity without love.
Six hundred years after the first Christians began later, Islam combined Judeo-Christian monotheism with pagan ideas of the quirkiness of the gods and thereby changed a fundamental rule of theology.
According to Islam, God is one but God can change. He might decide tomorrow that idolatry is acceptable and incest is, indeed, best. Whereas Christian theology understands that God holds creation in existence from moment to moment out of sheer love, Islamic theology assumes God keeps existence going simply because He hasn’t gotten bored with it yet (although He might change His mind on that at any point).
So, whereas a Christian strives to imitate God’s love, a Muslim trains himself to blindly and willingly submit to whatever his capricious God may choose to do next.
Reformation theology, coming nearly a millennium after Mohammed made his mark, added a further twist to theological rules by retaining not only Hebrew monotheism and Catholic Trinity, but also the capricious aspects of Allah.
For the Reformationists and their theological descendants, God is love except when He isn’t. He changes at times. For instance, for non-Catholic Christians, God pours out divine wrath on Himself as He hangs on the Cross because man’s sin has alienated God the Father from God the Son. God gets angry at Himself, opposes Himself.
And herein lies the problem. Capitalism, at least capitalism as the West currently promotes it, is primarily a Protestant phenomenon. At this stage of the game, the entire system is designed to create highly emotional consumers, men and women who do not think very clearly but who do feel very strongly. The reason is simple: it is easier to pry money out of the hands of highly emotional people than it is to get it away from essentially rational, stable individuals.
Now, as we have seen, most pagans were not enormously enamored of rational thought. For people ruled by a pantheon of capricious gods in a cyclical universe, rationality has not much use.
Similarly, while Muslims clearly don’t believe Allah is as capricious as, say, Zeus, he has his moments. He can and has cancelled some verses in the Quran and “sent better in its place.” He can change his mind. Allah is beyond rationality, not bound by it.
As for non-Catholic Christianity, Martin Luther essentially set the standard for their theology when he declared reason to be the whore of the devil.
So, as anyone who turns on a television can attest, capitalism is not great at promoting rationalism. It claims to operate according to rational principles, but it actually promotes raw emotion. To put it bluntly, the same kind of raw emotion that drives men and women into car dealerships also drives Moslem crowds into frenzies and suicide bombers into cafes. The only difference is the direction of the emotion.
Given Lewis’ comments on the radical changes in Muslim theology, changes that occurred as Western oil money flowed in during just the last few decades, a rather disturbing thought arises.
We invaded Iraq, we support Israel, because we want to bring Western-style capitalism and democracy to the Middle East. But, while it is possible that Islam can be reformed, it is likewise possible that capitalism, at least as currently practiced in the West, is actually antithetical to that most necessary reform.
The cultural system, particularly the educational system, by which capitalist societies produce emotionally immature, grasping consumers is also perfectly suited to create emotionally immature, violent Muslims – exactly the kind of Muslims we are seeing today. Capitalism is designed to create and appeal to pagans; like Protestantism, Islam possesses a partially paganized worldview.
Thus, it is possible that these Muslim crowds look like 1960’s student radicals because the Western occupation of the region after World War I allowed Western methods of education, i.e., training in consumer-oriented emotionalism, to be widely introduced throughout the Arabian territories. This possibility is especially intriguing given that the most violent Muslim demonstrations have taken place within the most highly educated Middle-Eastern population, by Western standards: the Palestinians.
As Protestant capitalism infiltrates Islam, as secular emotionalism stokes religious emotionalism, it may not break the back of the local religion, as it has in the West. Rather, it may act like gasoline on a fire, causing Islam to erupt into a flame that will destroy them both.
In short, Pope Benedict’s plea to marry faith and reason together, a plea directed towards both the West and Islam, is somewhat more urgent than anyone thought.