General · 10th May 2015
Islamic terrorism is destroying the remnant of hope that humanity will be sane enough to stop the environmental degradation now undermining the foundations of our modern civilization. At a time when the human family should be bound together in common cause against the multiple threats to our crucially important ecologies, Sunni and Shia are killing each other because of an arcane and esoteric theological dispute that has been argued with bloodshed since the 7th century.
Even more concerning than this bloodshed is the Muslim dispute with the Christian West. This is a strange dispute because both religions come from the same source and share some of the Old Testament prophets, not to mention the same deity—Yahweh and Allah each began as the same god. The two religions have the same prophetic sense of an End Time, a Last Hour, an Armageddon, and a final conclusion, “devoutly to be wished for” as Shakespeare wrote in the context of a personal rather than a collective death.
Both Christianity and Islam expect a concluding cataclysm for humanity's existence on Earth. In most cases, they passively await it. In more extreme cases, both religions are either actively preparing for it or deliberately fomenting the conditions that will precipitate it. The longterm objective underlying the Islamic State's terrorism is to instigate the last great battle between the armies of the Muslims and their heretical enemies so that the predicted apocalypse will bring about the final resolution. The purpose for establishing a Caliphate in the Levant is to provide a place where the Muslim forces can be marshalled in preparation for this last battle. So the Caliphate is not intended to be just a political entity; it is also intended to be a theological one with a clear and final objective.
But terrorism is just the most dramatic manifestation of a theological pathology that infects far too many human beings—homo sapiens, or literally wise man, has become a term much too exaggerated to be taken seriously. Catholics and Protestants went through centuries of religious wars over theological differences that historical perspective has since revealed to be insignificant. In comparing their religious differences to a feud over which end to open a hardboiled egg, the 18th century satirist, Jonathan Swift, used his book, Gulliver's Travels, to describe these two branches of Christianity as the “Big Endians” and “Little Endians”.
Such theological differences, however, have a way of escalating from minor distinctions to major conflicts. When placed in the context of Earth's essential ecologies that we are busily destabilizing and destroying at a scale unprecedented in human history, religiously inspired bickering and hostility seem both dangerous and discouraging. As we try to reduce carbon dioxide emissions so we don't kill the world's oceans or cook ourselves off the planet, diverting valuable time and energy to religious bickering contains an inherent absurdity.
Too many examples are available to illustrate the escalation of religious bickering to feuding and then to hostility, but one of the most tragic and pertinent comes from refugees currently fleeing war-torn Libya. An original group of 105 were trying to escape from Africa in a crowded, large rubber boat, according to a report by the international press on April 17, 2015. Somewhere on their hazardous journey across the Mediterranean to Europe, the Muslims from Ivory Coast, Mali and Senegal got into a theological argument with the Christians from Nigeria and Ghana. The details are not yet known but imagination can undoubtedly concoct an interesting scenario. Apparently the argument became so violent that the Muslims threw 12 Christians overboard. The remaining Christians saved themselves by interlocking into a human chain. When the boat of refugees was finally intercepted by the Italian navy and brought to Palermo, the story of the conflict emerged and the Muslim assailants were charged with murder.
Sadly, this story is our world in microcosm. We are adrift on Earth, precariously afloat on a sea of hostile space. Somehow we have to keep our boat buoyant and our life-support systems functioning, employing whatever ingenuity and resourcefulness we can muster to live peacefully and cooperatively in a confined and crowded place. Under the circumstances, whether anyone chooses to pray to Yahweh or Allah seems to be an unimportant detail. Except for those who are devoutly religious Muslim and Christian literalists, most of the refugees on this planet don't believe we are going to be rescued by the divine equivalent of the Italian navy. We will live or die by our wits, wisdom, ingenuity, caring and tolerance.
In an insightful analysis that comes from direct experience, Ayaan Hirsi Ali divides the world's estimated 1.6 billion Muslims into three groups. The first and largest group which she calls the “Mecca Muslims” just want to be left alone to practice their religion in peace. A second and smaller group which she calls the “reformers” want to adapt Islam to the modern world and live harmoniously within its diversity. The third group which she calls the “Medina Muslims” represent approximately 3 percent or about 48 million of the total. These are the Islamic radical literalists who comprise the states, leaders and individuals sponsoring, financing, fomenting or committing the terrorism.
We don't know if the Muslim refugees on that crowded rubber boat bound from Africa to Europe were Islamic radicals. But we can predict the fate of Christian and other designated heretics if the members of Islamic State reach their ultimate global objective. Their strategy is to use the gruesomely barbaric brutality of the 7th century to generate fear and incite conflict, to employ this conflict to summon to the Caliphate their Islamic supporters from around the world, and then to defeat the armies of their enemies in a last great battle. This is destined to create the conditions for the arrival of “The End”, to realize the promised victory of Islam over other religions, and to fulfill the prophesy of the Qur'an. Whatever is left of the planet's environment will presumably be fixed in an imaginary future that offers little hope for those concerned about the present.