The Unending Christian Dispute Over Islam

Over the past few days, I’ve had several sustained exchanges with friends and acquaintances about Islam. The most ardent and influential of these correspondents insisted that my effort to distinguish between Islam and Islamism is a waste of time. He made the following points:

1) Islam itself is the problem. Its objective is not to disseminate a religious vision, but to enforce a body of law upon the rest of the world.

2) Its scriptures are replete not with descriptions of historical violence, but with “how to” varieties of “instructional violence”.

3) Its exhortation to follow Mohammed’s example (even before Koranic teaching, so my friend argues), drives such behaviors as the merciless execution of enemies and the marrying of child-brides.

4) ISIS, Al Qaeda, et al. are merely following Islam to the letter; civil, peaceful, amiable Muslims (of which my friend concedes there are many) are in fact far less true to their faith than the terrorist is.

5) Islam continues to spread unrest of the most sanguinary sort around the world, and has done so without respite throughout its history: e.g., Boko Haram’s predations in Nigeria, which doesn’t “take their oil or support Israel or any of that crap.”

I can’t maintain that I have ever found reading the Koran particularly uplifting—or, I should say, that the uplifting parts seem to me sufficient motive to brush away the disturbing parts. And I will quickly add that parts of the Old Testament have always deeply troubled me, from Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son to the programs of genocide in the books of Samuel. But I rarely hear those sections of the Bible recommended in Christian culture as paradigms for how we should conduct ourselves in daily life or how our nation should construct a foreign policy. Another friend made the oft-repeated point to me that this resistance to ignoring certain bellicose sections of the Koran—or this acquiescence to the decisions of leaders not to ignore them—is a major stumbling block to those of us who would reach across the barriers of traditional practice.

I mentioned Zuhdi Jasser to my most vocal contact. He revealed that he had actually worked with Jasser and found him completely sincere… but that the good doctor’s humane secularism was doomed to failure in the broader Islamic world.

Honesty compels me to say that I can’t disagree with most of the points made in these exchanges. I suppose one of my reservations would qualify as pragmatic. It’s this: I don’t know where moderate Muslims like Jasser and Qanta Ahmed are to turn if we say, “You’re lovely people… but your diabolical faith must either devour you or transform you. Your one chance is to cross entirely over to our side.” Isn’t that an ideal strategy for pushing all of the moderates over to the other side?

I have one more objection, which is not at all pragmatic but has a much stronger grip upon me. As a Christian, I am fully persuaded that God is not morally inscrutable to us, but rather that He speaks very comprehensibly of basic right and wrong to every ear that listens. Nevertheless, I cannot tell a Muslim, “Your god is too distant, too arbitrary and morally unmoored from humanity”—not when it is we who practice wholesale abortion and insist that mainstream culture admit one deviant sexual practice after another. I am ashamed of Christendom, on the whole. Perhaps so many Muslims are convinced that Christianity is not the answer because they see how self-styled Christian populations behave on TV, at the movies, through the medium of pop music, and even in legislative decisions.

Marrying a child-bride is pretty awful. Slipping off on weekend junkets from Frisco or Seattle to Thailand so you can wallow through fields of child-prostitutes… well, I think I’m okay with beheading in those instances.

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Attention-Deficit Narcissism

A friend recently commented to me upon an office-memo (one which I’d never read, apparently: the easier communication becomes, the more garbage suffocates your mailbox) that exhorted us to wear denim “in solidarity”. Seems that an Italian court recently convicted a man of rape and then gave him a slap on the wrist because his victim had been wearing tight-fitting jeans—so tight that her cooperation would have been needed in removing them. Therefore… tomorrow, everybody wear jeans. Brilliant.

I immediately recalled Michelle Obama’s equally scintillant response to Boko Haram’s kidnapping of almost 300 Nigerian schoolgirls: use the hashtag, “Bring Back Our Girls”. Remember how well that worked?

And it did, you know: I mean, it worked as intended. It made the pompous, distracted fantasists who used the hashtag feel better about themselves. They were showing “solidarity” with the kidnapped girls. It didn’t keep the girls from being brutally raped, sold in to sexual slavery, and forcibly “married” to swine whose Satanic religious beliefs promote such practices… but the bored, desperate housewives of the Beltway could collect their morning Starbuck’s knowing that they had fulfilled some kind of lofty mission in Never Never Land.

My friend also reminded me of a recent “solidarity fad” that involved skipping lunch to commiserate with the poor. Apparently no one made the suggestion that the unspent lunch money be dedicated actually to buying canned foods for the Salvation Army. The objective wasn’t to do anything practical or useful: it was to make the participants feel good about themselves during the few minutes of their day when they impersonated someone a hell of a lot less fortunate than they.

Seems to me that there’s a genuine epidemic of this kind of thing—and it indicts a psychological pathology of some sort that we would do well to investigate. Are we not so immersed now in a virtual reality that it has become our default reality? Have we not so many ciphers and so much shorthand—avatars, selfies, Twitter names—to signal our fleeting electronic presence that a stable concept of self has grown a thing of the past? Why, we may not even be male or female for two days in a row! We may look Caucasian… but Caucasians are racists, so we “identify black”. It’s brutal and abusive (“it feels like rape,” in current parlance) to be forced into a group just because Mother Nature has put you there. Mother Nature, that great rapist, seems to have no regard for the purity of our hearts that wars with our disgraceful genes.

And so we are hunger victims for half an hour. We are not helpers of hunger victims—we are those victims. We are the rape victim in tight jeans for a day. We are the parents of kidnapped children. We don’t do any of the sufferers the least practical good, or even extend a shred of real moral support… but that isn’t our intent. We are not in search of solutions or means of offering comfort: we’re in search of drama and anguish that designate us as among the world’s wrongfully abused, its “owed-somethings”. We’re “owed something”. That’s the essence of our restless, protean, electronic self. We should be more noticed and more admired—and we’re just not getting that notice and admiration. The world, the great damned world, doesn’t see us in all our worthiness and high virtue.

If we were actually to help the suffering, that would mean that we had the power and resources to do so; and if we had power and resources, that would mean that we numbered among the privileged. No, no, no! We are not privileged! We are suffering! We’re not receiving our due! We cannot give, because we need!

I would modestly propose that our slippery, shifting sense of self is the precise cause of our feeling constantly disparaged and ignored. For how can something receive notice and admiration which is always turning into something else? We would be narcissists if we could only focus better on our own person… but with us, it’s as if Narcissus has been distracted from his handsome reflection in the pool by a dragonfly, a goldfish, a falling leaf that creates a ripple. Our all-exclusive image keeps fading from our view. Where did it go? Where are we now? Did you see where I went? I have to find me!

How can this be characterized as anything other than a mental illness?