To understand the cause of the recent event in San Bernardino we need to understand the cause of Radical Islamic Terrorism. To understand the cause of Radical Islamic Terrorism we need to understand the European Enlightenment and how it affected Judaism and Christianity.
The 17/18th century period of European Enlightenment ushered in a challenge to Jewish and Christian meaning. Islam, routed in the same thought process, played no part. It lay dormant, encapsulated within a disintegrating Ottoman Empire. Today this encapsulation is the underlying reason for the wide differences between Islamic thought and modern post “Western Enlightenment” thought; Jewish and Christian and secular.
That historical fact explains today’s radical extremist Islamic reaction to (our) secular Post Enlightenment western/eastern world. Radical Islam is revolting against it.
The present day radical Islamic response has come in a form that parallels other such forms of puritanical religious response in the past. The unequivocal pronouncement is always the same; we are the pure ones and you are not. Our inner conviction makes us superior to you. In the Eye of God you are irrelevant.
Also there is often revulsion toward secularism. Asceticism overtakes the mind of the believer. It should be noted that Osama bin Laden, even though from a very wealthy Saudi family, led what can be described as an ascetic life; in caves and compounds with very few material possessions. As such, he was following originating Islamic precepts. We must keep in mind the fact that Islam began as a radically ascetic religion. In conquered lands there was a disdain by its warriors for the hierarchal societies and the luxuries of that hierarchy. That is what gave Islam such sudden and wide acceptance among the dispossessed.
Osama bin Laden’s desire was for the world to revert to that originating ascetic purity. To quote him after 9/11 from a cave in Afghanistan:
“Indeed, I’m a trustworthy adviser to you. I invite you to the happiness of this world and the hereafter and to escape your dry, miserable, materialistic life that is without soul. I invite you to Islam, that calls to follow of the path of Allah alone who has no partners, the path which calls for justice and forbids oppression and crimes.”
In the aftermath of the Enlightenment, human civilization changed markedly toward the materialistic secular life to which Osama bin Laden was referring. An industrial world society was being born. It defines world society today. The inability of Islam (most pronounced in Salafism/Wahhabism) to accept this secularism is at the core of the radical reaction now being seen throughout the Middle East. It provides a convenient escape valve for disenfranchised frustrated male unemployed young Muslims, even some young girls. At the same time it provides religious inspiration and grounding for many intellectual Muslims – as we saw with Osama bin Laden.
Can we learn something from Islam and even from one of the most diabolical of its followers? Yes we can. He did identify our own post enlightenment weakness – as well as the weakness of many of his westernized fellow Muslims. The hard truth is that many in the world today are living a “dry, miserable, materialistic life that is without soul.”
His reference therefore is valid. It is the reason Pope Francis recently said that the “world is at the limits of suicide.” Our obsession with materialism is destroying our planet and our future as a viable planetary species on it. We all need to enter a second “Enlightenment,” one assuring that we will be able to live in consonance with our planet’s Gaia (Natural) rhythm.
The civilizational challenge will be enormous since it calls for a contradiction of our own underlying 17/18th century rationale as to the beneficence of the market place (Adan Smith’s “hidden hand”) as the ultimate controller of the provision of goods and services for all humanity. Ecologists are warning us that this hidden hand is destroying our Biosphere and may even bring about an end to human civilization.
Living in concert with that rhythm will be a challenge to those of all religions, as well as those with no religion. Muslims, take note. It challenges much of your modern society too and notably the many oil rich jet-setting adherents to your religion.
Islam in its extremist form cannot meet this new 21st century planetary challenge. Its Koran and Sunnah do not speak to it in adequate terms. To meet every aspect of its complexity Muslims first will have to reexamine their Koran and acknowledge that it came to them from the mind of a seventh century human being strongly influenced by the best – and the worst, of Jewish and Christian thought as it existed in the seventh century. They will have to recognize that aspects of the Quran, Sunnah and sharia law are intrinsically misogynistic, sociopathic toward non-believers, internally oppressive and violent. They will have to acknowledge that their meaning is not complete and can never be. The words are from a human being and his followers in their honest attempt at revelation during a particular period of time.
Nor can Judaism and Christianity escape this scrutiny of its thought process where it too at the extremes is intrinsically misogynistic, sociopathic toward non-believers, internally oppressive and violent; with the saddest examples found in Orthodox Judaism, Evangelical Fundamentalist Christianity and doctrinal Roman Catholicism. As with Muslims, in search for new human/planetary/cosmic meaning they too will have to acknowledge the incompleteness of and the error in what they have believed to be their God’s exclusivity and truth.
This does not spell the end of Abrahamic religious belief, only an acknowledgement that it always has been and is today nuanced by human frailty. Adherents will have to acknowledge that revelation as illuminated in creeds and texts and rituals and law was always filtered through the mind of man.
A metamorphosis in all of Jewish, Christian and Muslim thought will have to begin with the abandonment of apocalyptic thought; as well as all thought relating to the second coming of one who will save humanity. The hard truth is that only humanity can save itself. Homo sapiens cannot survive on this planet unless it can live:
in consonant ecological relationship
in consonant inter human relationship
How can we of our various faiths come to terms with this “hard truth,” this reality? First we need to change the way we think about the beginnings of our religions. To say that all revelation ended in some past period is an affront to the revelatory power of the human mind. It is an affront to the capacity of that mind to comprehend what is continuing to be revealed and will continue to be revealed as our species fulfills its potential on this planet and beyond in the infinite reach of the cosmos.
We were destined to be more than what our orthodoxy has bequeathed us.
As Homo sapiens we were created to be open to the presence of revelation. Jews and Christians, along with Muslims – and all others – by way of a new Enlightenment must understand that this openness is ongoing, never ending.
David Anderson brings together a wide range of interests in his writings, namely; theology, history, evolutionary anthropology, philosophy, geopolitics, and economics. Visit David’s Blog Here.